Meeting Jesus at the Communion Table

August 19, 2015

The Eucharist: Encounters with Jesus at the Table, by Robert D. Cornwall (Gonzales, FL: Energion Publications, 2014)

cornwall-eucharist 1This 34-page essay concerning the central act of Christian worship is volume 10 in a series the publisher describes as Topical Line Drives. They are designed “to demonstrate a point of scholarship or survey a topic directly, clearly, and quickly.”

Cornwall’s focus is stated in his subtitle: “Encounters with Jesus at the Table.” He develops this aspect of eucharistic worship by tracing the historical trajectory of two doctrines: sacrifice, how the Eucharist helps set things right with God; and real presence, how the Eucharist connects us with Jesus.

In the first chapter, he points to the Passover roots of Christian worship at the table and the biblical imagery of Jesus as “the perfect Lamb of God who has been sacrificed for us” (9). He notes other ideas in the biblical accounts: eschatological images, communal meal, and sign of unity. The reference in 1 Corinthians 11 to “discerning the body,” which has been used to “support the idea the idea of Christ’s real presence in the elements,” Cornwall notes, “more likely refers to the presence of Christ in the community itself” (11).

The second chapter summarizes post-apostolic developments. Cornwall cites theologians over an extended period of time, including Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Radbertus, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas. The purpose of this brief survey is to trace the gradually increasing complexity of theological interpretations of how Christ is present in the Eucharist. He concludes the discussion with a brief summary of the developed doctrines.

“The emphasis on Christ’s real presence, as defined by the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice led to the church taking the step of worshiping the host. If the host (bread) had truly become the divine body of Christ, then it, like Christ, ought to be worshiped. Thus the host was elevated and worshiped. Just being in the presence of the host was sufficient to cleanse one from one’s sins. This meant the actual communion became unnecessary. In the host the person of Christ became tangible to the medieval masses” (20).

This summary of the development of eucharistic theology explains why Cornwall’s treatment of the Protestant Reformation begins with the debate between Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, more than a decade after Luther’s initial posting of the 95 Theses protesting abuses in church practice and theology.

Luther affirmed the symbolic nature of the bread and wine but he also believed that “the symbol contained that which it symbolized. In contrast, Zwingli believed that “the Eucharist served to remind Christians of the event of the cross…Therefore, one eats and drinks the elements of the Supper as a sign of thanksgiving for a work of grace already completed by the Spirit” (22–23).

Omitting Calvin’s participation in defining eucharistic theology, Cornwall turns to Cranmer and the English Reformation. Cranmer did not hold that Christ is corporeally present in the eucharistic elements, but he did not agree with Zwingli’s teaching that they were “bare elements or tokens. Instead, he taught that God was present and working in the Eucharistic moment, bringing the fruit of grace to the participants in the Eucharistic service, as long as they received the elements by faith” (25).

In his discussion of ecumenical conversations in our own time, Cornwall calls attention to the renewed emphasis upon thanksgiving and the diminished emphasis upon sacrificial imagery and violence. He disapproves of the continuing separation of Christians into ecclesial communities that limit access to the table, and he affirms the movement toward agreements of full communion new occurring.

The “concluding thoughts” of this essay encourage contemporary Christians to learn from one another across ecclesial and theological lines. The Eucharist could become a bridge to unity rather than a barrier that keeps churches separated. He encourages churches to move toward weekly celebrations even though that may not be their current practice.

Although Cornwall offers a few hints about ceremony, ritual, and cultural aspects of eucharistic worship, these aspects of the topic are largely overlooked. Little is said or implied about the way that the Eucharist has entered into the politics of church and state. The emergence of broad types—Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, etc.—is left untouched as are discussions about uses of vernacular languages in worship. It is true, of course, that a “topical line drive” has to move is a highly disciplined way, and this the author does.

Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy Michigan and earned a PhD degree in historical theology. His blog can be accessed at

Bicycles that have shaped the world

August 11, 2015

The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes, by Tom Ambrose (New York: Rodale, 2013)


A two-line description on the book jacket tells readers what to expect in this artfully designed book: “From the Velocipede to the Pinarello: The Bicycles that Have Shaped the World.” The book presents its information in a manner that invites even casual readers to keep going. Each of its 50 chapters is brief, from two to six pages in length, and consists of a six- or seven-line synopsis in bold type, photos, graphics, main discussion, and brief notes set off to the side or bottom of the page. Readers can skip along or read carefully according to their interest in the topics discussed in each chapter. A bibliography, notes, and picture credits provide information for readers who want to continue their explorations into the history of cycling.

Ambrose skillfully interweaves specific information about the bicycle featured in a chapter and descriptions of other bikes that had similar characteristics or were closely related to that phase of cycling history. Several chapters feature bikes that were important primarily because of the riders who chose to use them rather than because of the technical features of the machinery involved.

Some of the cyclists are highlighted in the titles or subtitles of the chapters in which they appear. Among them are Frank Bartell, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong, and Bradley Wiggins. Competitive cycling on the international level clearly is a primary factor in Ambrose’s selection of bikes. Equally important to cycling history are the biographical sketches of people who developed new uses for bicycles or who established companies that manufactured bicycles. Among them are Jacques Schulz (early mountain climbers), Alex Moulton (folding bikes), Joe Breeze (California-based mountain bikes), Ernesto Colnago, Mike Sinyard (Specialized Bicycle Company), and Alessandro Pinarello (Pinarello Bicycles).

Four chapters focus attention on the development of components rather than bikes: pneumatic tires, lights, internal hub gears, and derailleurs. The final chapter provides a quick summary of futuristic designs.

Ambrose devotes a chapter to the Peugeot PX-10, which was one of the highly acclaimed bikes in the 1970s when I and two of my teenaged children became interested in cycling. It was too expensive for our family, and we had to be satisfied with the less expensive Peugeot PX-8. For several years I owned another bike that is mentioned in a later chapter, a Specialized Allez Epic, one of the earliest bikes using carbon fiber tubing. Although the list price was $800, it cost the family nearly twice that because my wife’s new bass recorder cost nearly the same amount.

Fifty-seven pages (out of 217 pages of text) are devoted to bikes or proto-bicycles that that led to the basic pattern of the bicycle that finally developed late in the 1800s. I was especially interested in the prominence of James Starley and his nephew John Kemp Starley during the pre-history of the modern bicycle. This early history of proto-bikes, however, does not deserve the space that Ambrose gives it. Since there have been so many interesting, trend-setting bicycles, there will always be, disagreements concerning the list to be included in a book like this.

Some of my nominations for bikes and bicycle-related technology that should have been included are these: the development of bicycle tubing by companies such as Reynolds and Columbus, the use of aluminum in bicycle componentry and tubing (as in the Alan bicycle), saddle design with an emphasis upon Brooks leather saddles, the Schwinn family in the United States, the Terry woman’s bike, the Singer or Herse bicycles as examples of touring bicycles, the Kestrel bike, which was a forerunner of the modern carbon fiber molded frames, and the Calfee bamboo bicycle.

Since we are still in the summer season when the emphasis needs to be placed on being out on one’s bike, there may be too little time to read this book right now, and it’s too heavy to carry along on bicycling trips. Cold weather is sure to come, however, which gives you time to buy your copy or make sure that your local library orders one soon. There are other good books on cycling history, but for most people Tom Ambrose’s text is the one most likely to hold their interest.

Bicycling on Portland’s Swan Island

August 4, 2015
Map Study at Swan Island

Map Study at Swan Island


When one of my coffee shop buddies invited me to joint him and a few friends on a bike tour of Swan Island, I gladly accepted. The ride on the next morning was exactly right for a hot summer day: a slow and easy ride filled with interesting things to see and experience.

Swan Island is a sandy spit of land in the Willamette River eight miles upstream from the river’s confluence with the Columbia and close to downtown Portland, Oregon. In the middle 1800s, it was an island with shallow channels on both sides. In order to develop shipping capabilities in the Port of Portland, a deeper channel was dredged on the western side of the island and the excavated material was used to fill in the eastern passage and connect the island to the mainland.

Our guide assured us that the river remembers how it used to be, and when a 500-year flood comes, the river will reclaim its previous right of way.

From 1927 to 1940, the city’s airport was on Swan Island. During World War II, one of the nation’s most productive ship building operations flourished on the island. Today, 70 year’s after the war came to an end, major dry dock repair facilities and ship building operations continue. Other industries maintain major facilities on the island, including Daimler, Cummins, Georgia Pacific, and the Union Pacific Railroad. Major construction of new facilities is currently in progress.

SSignwan Island

Sign at Swan Island

Access to Swan Island is by way of N. Going Street, which is heavily travelled and not friendly to cyclists. On the island itself, motorists sometimes exceed 80 miles per hour as they blast their way along Channel, Lagoon, and Basin Streets, the short, multi-lane arterials that provide access to the manufacturing facilities and office buildings. 11,000 people come to Swan Island on working days.

Fortunately, there is a wide sidewalk on Going Street and sidewalks along the three Island streets. Furthermore, a network of trails suitable for easy but interesting cycling is being developed. They offer the best view of Portland’s traditional harbor-related industrial might that I have seen.

There were only five of us on the tour; we were gray-bearded old men on an interesting array of interesting bicycles. Our guide knew the territory, having spent most of his working career on Swan Island. Currently, he devotes much of his attention to npGREENWAY, an organization that is developing trails through North Portland, with frequent access to the Willamette River, from the Esplanade at the Steel Bridge near downtown to the Columbia 10 miles distant.

The website includes maps of the projected system of trails.

Although I have been closely connected to Portland for more than 70 years, this was the first time I have ever been on Swan Island. During World War II, my dad worked in a shipyard located there. In more recent times, a family friend from Indianapolis spent several years as an executive with one of the Swan Island industries.

For several years my parents in law lived on the bluff overlooking the Island and adjacent industrial land on the eastern bank of the Willamette. The smell of creosote from Mock’s Bottom still comes to mind when I drive or bicycle along the crest on Willamette Boulevard that goes past the house where they lived.

Tribute to a Benefactor

Tribute to a Benefactor

I stopped to have my picture taken in front of a sign for Cummins Engine Company. For generations the family that developed and controlled this company included Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis among the many religious and cultural causes that they supported. I and two of my children are graduates of Butler and I spent most of my career on the faculty of the seminary.

In order to leave Swan Island, our group of cyclists used the Maud Bluff Trail that was opened March 14, 2013. According to an article by Jonathan Maus, this project cost $3.2. Financial support included a grant from a Congressional earmark that Representative Earl Blumenauer had made. The trail itself is 1,700 feet long and includes a steep footbridge over Union Pacific tracks. This part of the bluff hosts the northern-most Madrone-Oak habitat in the Willamette Valley, which persists because the steep hillside faces in a direction that is bathed in direct sunlight much of the day.

Maud Bluff Trail

Maud Bluff Trail

My long-time habit is to be a solo cyclist who pushes hard, taking only an occasional break. I will continue that kind of riding most of the time, but mornings like this one—easy going, with congenial companions, riding in a place of historic interest, with a well-informed guide—will become increasingly important as I move forward into a new phase of my life as an open road cyclist.

(Photos by A. J. Zelada; used with permission)

Easygoing bike ride on Lower River Road

July 30, 2015

Corn Field

July should be a month when the year’s cycling activities reach their high point, but for me family travels got in the way. I was out for solid rides only three times, 60 miles for the month instead of several hundred. For any open road cyclist, this inactivity is a challenge, but for an octogenarian like me it is a potential crisis. With every advancing year, it is harder to keep going. My first rides since coming home have been slow and painful.

Today, with a forecast of 95 by mid afternoon, I did my ride during the morning when the temperature still was temperate. My purpose for the ride was to pick wild blackberries on Lower River Road, Washington State Highway 501, that runs along the Columbia River. From my condo to the new gate that marks the end of the road, the distance is exactly 10 miles. When I started the temperature was 70, with a noticeable NW breeze (

The first two or three miles take travelers through the Port of Vancouver, but then Lower River Road passes through a strip of agricultural land that is unexpected so close to a major urban center. Corn fields and herds of dairy cattle are interspersed with nearly dry swales. Near the north end of the road, the Fazio Bros Sand Company mines sand most of which is used for construction in Clark County and vicinity.


In addition to traffic generated by Fazio, the port, and related industries, Lower River Road also services a marina, prison, power generating station, and three public parks. The road is level, well paved, with wide shoulders, and segments of a walking-biking trail that gradually is being developed.

It is extensively used by cyclists and on today’s ride, despite the fact that it was during the working day, several others on two wheels were enjoying this excursion in a semi rural environment. My goal was to put a few more miles into my legs by cycling at an easy pace and enjoying the scenery.

Osprey 2One of the most interesting stops was 8 miles out, near the marina. Two stubs of trees and a utility post were the building sites for active osprey nests and two more inactive nests were located nearby. A county employee was also stopped to photograph these large, sea-faring hawks. She cautioned me to be careful where I stood. Earlier she had stopped at the foot on one of the trees, not noticing the nest. While photographing the other, she narrowly missed being splattered with a juicy glob from a digestive tract high above.

Most of Lower River Road is separated from the river so that travelers can’t see it. Two places provide for public access to the Columbia. One is a viewpoint with trails to the water, situated at a spot where it is possible to discern the place on the Oregon side where the Willamette River joints the Columbia. Fortunately, an illustrated, permanent exhibit gives a brief account of the discovery of the Willamette by Lewis and Clark and helps visitors to identify the confluence that is largely hidden from view.

Much larger is Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park that was opened in 1997. It was named after Paul Haury, a Frenchman who early in his working life was engaged in fur trading in Alaska. Near Astoria, Oregon, he jumped ship to work in the salmon canneries. Wanting to improve his lot, he bought five acres of land on the Columbia near Vancouver to net fishing of salmon.

Sundrenched blackberriesToday’s ride was part of my plan to recover lost cycling capabilities during the next few weeks. Today’s 20 miles were slow and easy, but they are helping my body remember what it is supposed to be able to do. Most of my forthcoming rides will be much more disciplined and aggressive. I know that I can never be the cyclist I used to be, but I want to recover the ability to do metric centuries and more day after day. My training will include a mixture of easy going, opportunities to enjoy interesting places and hard charging training rides. There still is time for two or three multi-day trips before cold, wet weather returns to the Pacific Northwest.

By the way, I did pick blackberries. The peak of the season was half way through July, but there still are places along Lower River Road where luscious berries await an easygoing cyclists like I was today.

Cycling, science diplomacy, and the fresh water crisis

July 25, 2015

Keith Watkins:

My church (First Christian, Portland) is sponsoring a Middle East Forum on Sunday, July 26, 9:00 am and 11:15, with worship in between. Two years ago I posted the following column that reviews a book which discusses one of the most challenging of the Middle East issues.

Originally posted on Keith Watkins Historian:

Shared Borders Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges by Sharon B. Megdal, Robert G. Varady, and Susanna Eden (CRC Press, 2013)

Shared BordersOf course, I gave my permission when Susanna Eden, PhD, asked if she could use my photo of the San Pedro River as cover art on a new book entitled Shared Borders Shared Waters. I had taken the picture from the bridge on Arizona Highway 82 near Tombstone, while bicycling through the region on PAC Tour’s desert camp. Later, I had used it on blogs about roads and rivers in Southern Arizona.

Eden and two colleagues at the University of Arizona were editing a forthcoming book on Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges. My photo would be paired with one of the Jordan River. My photo, by the way, is the one on the lower right corner of the book.

Since I have always…

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Legacy, Hope, and a Just Peace in the Middle East

July 22, 2015


The most volatile region of the world in our time is the Middle East where religious, political, economic, and environmental challenges defy our attempts to understand or resolve. This year’s General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) provided several opportunities for examining this region, the most impassioned being the international dinner sponsored by the Board of Global Ministries and the Council on Christian Unity.

Five hundred people crowded into a banquet hall and after enjoying a typical hotel dinner listened to an address delivered by Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. He is the third Palestinian to be consecrated to this office, which took place on January 5, 1998, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.

Younan was educated in Palestine and Finland and has been active in several faith organizations throughout his ministry. He was the first to translate the Augsburg Confession, one of the key documents of the Lutheran Church, into Arabic. He is an active participant is several ecumenical and interfaith dialogues in Jerusalem.

Bishop Younan chose not to entertain his audience with a typical after dinner speech. Instead, he proclaimed a long, tightly written exposition of the issues in that region as they are understood by the Arab Christian community.

He emphasized the fact that his people have been Christians for 2,000 years, and have lived peacefully with their Muslim neighbors for 1,400 years. They reject the paternalism that often characterizes the work of Western Christians who want to help. Instead, he told the audience, the Arab Christians of the Middle East have much to teach the rest of us.

With even great fervor, Younan rejected the anti-Islamic language that so often is sounded by some Christian leaders from North American Churches.

A central theme of this comprehensive address was that the religions around the world must be faithful to the central core that is present in all of these traditions. Although expressed in different language, this unifying theme is that our duty in this world is to love God and love our neighbors. The essential corollary is that all people everywhere, and certainly throughout the Middle East, must reject violence.

Boldly, this Arab Christian leader addressed factors the impinge upon American policies with respect to the Middle East and made it clear that resolving disputes revolving around Jerusalem is crucial for reaching a new level of peace in this part of the world.

Younan spoke with a passion that is rare in public lectures, and I eagerly await the release of his address so that it can be widely disseminated and thoroughly discussed by church people everywhere.

Younan was the speaker or seminar leader at other places in the assembly’s program, but this banquet was his major presentation, and the next morning he returned to Jerusalem.

My one regret is that his address had not been scheduled for one of the all-assembly evening programs. A much larger audience would have experienced his passion and received his analysis of the role of American Christian in religious and political issues related to the Middle East. Substantive evening programs is one of the traditions that deserve to be kept in the design of these gatherings.

One of the topics of conversation in this year’s General Assembly is the future of national and international gatherings like this. During the sixty years that I have attended these gatherings, they have changed in several important ways. Of course, they will continue to evolve and I find it difficult to imagine what the future holds.

But whatever that future may be, churches will always need to demonstrate that they exist in various modes of being—in the interpersonal relations of small groups and local congregations, but also as broad-scale communities bound together by faith, well-reasoned theological conviction, vigorous ethical commitments, and limitless courage in the struggles to transform the life of the world.

Lights and music at a church convention

July 20, 2015

Opening Worship

Columbus, Ohio: General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The opening session of this biennial gathering of my small, left-leaning denomination featured a stage full of musicians—a mass choir of singers from churches across the United States and Canada, keyboards galore, other music makers, vocal ensembles, and solo voices. The worship evening included dramatic readers, a full-voiced preacher, and a concluding celebration of Holy Communion at the Welcome Table. All was fast-paced, highly amplified, and bathed in a constantly changing light show.

In quiet time following the benediction, I remembered the first national gathering of my church that I attended. It was in 1953 when the event was called the International Convention of Disciples of Christ. Billie and I had been married for one year and earlier that summer had graduated from our church’s small college in Eugene, Oregon. Since Portland was our hometown, it was easy to attend the Convention.

The evening assemblies, as best I can remember, were held in the Civic Auditorium, which was a standard performance hall with stage in the front and rows of seats filling most of the space. Lighting and sound systems were designed for stage performances, lectures, music events, and high school graduations. Other convention activities were scattered around the central part of Portland, at First Christian Church, other churches nearby, and the Masonic Temple across the shaded arcade that is still a distinctive feature in this part of Portland.

Two experiences from that convention remain as vivid parts of my life’s store of significant memories.

The first was a brief conversation with Orman L. Shelton, dean of the Butler University School of Religion. I had been accepted as a student and later that summer Billie and I would drive to Indianapolis so that I could begin my studies for the standard degree that would lead to ordination. We knew only one person from that school, Ronald E. Osborn, who had taught at our college during our first year and then had moved to the seminary faculty.

I had chosen the School of Religion because of its reputation and because most of the Disciples’ general offices were also located in Indianapolis. Students also were assured that they would be able to secure employment as pastors of small churches through central Indiana.

Shelton was immaculately attired in a light brown, tropical suit, with white shirt and color-coordinated tie. The most memorable aspect of his personal presence, however, was the mesmerizing way that he looked at me. Never before nor in all of the years since have I been so affected by a person’s gaze.

Years later, one of the seminary’s long-time professors, Alfred Edyvean, told me that he too had been affected in that way when he first met Shelton. For him, however, the purpose of the conversation was for Edyvean to come to the faculty to teach public speaking, preaching, and drama.

My second remembrance is the exhibit hall. I had grown up in a small Independent Christian Church, to use the terminology of that period, on Portland’s southwest exurban border. The International Convention, however, was the showcase of the Cooperative Christian Churches. Although in much of the country these two factions had largely parted company, in Oregon they maintained an uneasy continuity of association.

Although I was well acquainted with the issues in this intra-church dispute and leaned slightly toward the Cooperative side, the Portland convention was my first exposure to the character and scope of mainstream Disciples. The exhibit hall was where I could see it clearly displayed. The various program agencies were well represented: the United Christian Missionary Society, the Pension Fund to which I was already subscribed, and the National Benevolent Society whose work at the Beaverton Christian Home was familiar to me. Church related academic institutions, such as Texas Christian University and the seminary where I would be studying, had their representatives on hand.

For the first time, I realized that my church was far more expansive than the family-based congregation in a sub-standard building on an obscure side street near an abandoned railroad track where my Christian life had been formed.

During the sixty-two years since that Portland convention, I have attended many of these national gatherings. My deepest involvement was the year that my colleague and mentor, Ronald E. Osborn, was president of the convention. He asked me to coordinate worship for the evening sessions. Everything was different then. In those days, music would be provided by organizations like the host city’s symphony orchestra, and the choir would sing anthems from the classical repertoire. Scripture readings, prayers, and sermons were the same kind of activity that would take place on Sundays in churches across the country, except elevated to the grander scale called for by the auditoriums where the conventions took place.

Times have changed, and so have the churches. Of course, the national gatherings have to change, too. But is this year’s General Assembly the way things should go? (To be continued; photo by Russ Smith)


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