Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

THANK YOU, BUT I MUST GO                               T, 3-21-17

I made a deal with God when I was fourteen years old, to be a preacher. I have been preaching since I was nineteen. When I turned eighty I realized that I have been a “professional” Christian all my life. Every prayer I have prayed, every scripture I have read, every class I have attended, every story I have heard, a part of me, often the largest part, was not saying “How can I come closer to God myself through this means of grace,” but “How can I use this in my work?” I realized that I don’t know how to be a Christian for myself, only how to be a Christian for others.

At eighty, if I’m ever going to learn how to be a “real/regular” Christian, I need to be getting at it. I decided that I need to commit to a “fast,” doing nothing for a year in any way that can be professionally Christian. I told my pastors. They agreed to ask nothing professional—retired pastor variety, like doing the pastoral prayer in worship--of me.

I thought I could continue writing Christ In Winter since it is not pastoral or preachly, just one old guy sharing thoughts with other old people. That turns out not to be the case. Being a professional Christian is so much a part of me that CIW keeps me thinking and writing in the ways I always have. So, I shall write no more forever, if “forever” is a year.

I also find that doing things on Facebook keeps me thinking and acting as a professional Christian, so I’m going to fast from it for a year, too.

Some of you have been such faithful readers of CIW that I feel disloyal in quitting, but I’m sure you will understand. You are exceptionally intelligent, insightful, and empathetic, or you would not have been reading CIW in the first place!

Here is one more poem, that seems appropriate…


When they reached Emmaus
Their hearts were warm and open
They saw him in the breaking of the bread
They said to him
Stay a little longer
The dawn is long off breaking
He said, thank you, friends
But I must go

I held her in my arms
Bounced her on my knee
Walked her off to school
And sang her to sleep
Cried with her through her teens
Told her she was cool
I said, stay a little longer
She said, thank you
But I must go

When my earthly days are over
And my earthly work is done
Not well, but the best that I could do
Do not seek to hold me
Or ask me to stay longer
When the time has come
I’ll say, thank you
But I must go


Monday, March 20, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Life & Faith for the Years of Winter

MY WIFE HAS NO MIDDLE NAME                                   M, 3-20-17

It is not always bad
or wrong, to fall
despite the state
of Adam and Eve
or even the snake
on the way out
through the eastern gate

Neither Adam nor Eve
nor the snake
had a middle name

With no middle name
to mark them different,
it is a miracle
God did not confuse
them with some other Adam or Eve
or snake

My wife has no name
except for Helen

That one name
was enough
to make me fall
and to keep me
in that fallen state


Neither Helen nor her sister, Mary, has a middle name. There are two theories about this. One is that since their father, Earl, was the last Karr, and had no sons, his daughters could extend the family name one more generation by using Karr as their middle name. However, Georgia, their mother, said it was so if they turned out stupid, they could at least spell their names.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

BLINK Sun, 3-19-17

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

BLINK                                                            Sun, 3-19-17

I appreciate anyone who can pull together a lot of research on a complicated subject and present it in a way that I can understand. So I appreciate Malcolm Gladwell.

I had understood for a long time what Gladwell presented in The Tipping Point: there comes a time when everything shifts and goes the other way. I was about fifty when all my body parts shifted and began to go the other way, down.

Gladwell did not mention that, however. He talked more about various sorts of communities, and what happens when the weight of violence or civility becomes great enough to cause a neighborhood or business or church, or even a nation, to slide the other way, like when one more little kid gets on the end of the teeter-totter and the big kid on the other end finally goes up into the air.

Blink is just as interesting, but without as clear a result. In Blink, Gladwell presents the finding on how we make quick judgments on small amounts of evidence.

We get just a slice of evidence, the way a person walks [body language] or the way she moves her head and we immediately decide if she means us harm. We don’t examine her under a microscope and study her history and hire a detective before we make the call. We just know, intuitively, what we call gut instinct. We decide in a blink.

The problem is that we often decide incorrectly. We decide that a person is going to shoot us just because he’s black, or cheat us just because he has slick hair, or wants sex just because she has a short skirt. As likely as not, we end up with a racial discrimination complaint from the black man, a penalty from the slick-haired IRS agent, and a restraining order from Calista Flockhart. [On TV she played Ally McBeal, a notoriously short-skirted lawyer. I never saw the show myself, but I heard about it.]

It only takes a blink to be right, but it only takes a blink to be wrong. So what’s the difference?

Experience, says Gladwell. People with a lifetime of experience usually make accurate blink decisions.

Obviously, that’s selective. If I’ve never been in the ocean before and I go snorkeling for the first time, my lifetime of experience as a people listener isn’t going to do me much good. Is that fish coming this way in order to eat me or just because it’s curious? If it were a puffed-up person, I could make a blink judgment, and I’d probably be right. A puffer fish, I’ll make a blink judgment, because I have to, but it’s not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Just having lots of experience, just being old, doesn’t cause us to be right in each blink judgment moment. We sometimes forget that.

We do have wisdom when we’re older that we did not have before, just because we’ve been there, done that. Fads come along in fashion and food and religion and technology and we don’t fall for them. When we were younger we might have jumped on the wave and ridden it, teased up that beehive hairdo or worn that lime-green leisure suit or waved our hands in the air and yelled “Praise the Lord” while listening to Stryper on an 8 track. Now we laugh at the fads and go for simplicity. We wear cargo pants not because they’re cool but because we need lots of pockets for all our pills.

Our wisdom comes not so much from being smarter now but from being stupider then. We’ve made lots of mistakes, and we’re at least smart enough not to make them again. We make the right decision in a blink not because our guts have better instincts than those of younger people but because we’ve read the signs longer.

We’re not better people just because we’re older, not better than when we were younger, not better than those who are younger now. We’re just better Blinkers. But that is one of the payoffs for going through all those years.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

OLD JERKS Sat, 3-18-17

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

OLD JERKS                                        Sat, 3-18-17

“Why didn’t you sit over there?”

That’s what the old guy, even older than I, just snarled at his wife.

We’re in the doctor’s waiting room. There are twenty-two chairs in the room. I am the only other person here. She is an elegant lady with a hearing aid. She came in by herself and sat down in a chair that faces the door from which the nurse will call for her, so that she would see the nurse even though she might not hear her. My guess is that her husband is late because he stopped in the rest room. She is embarrassed that I am witnessing this exchange, even though I’m sitting here typing on my laptop and acting like I don’t see them. She hastens to sit where he is pointing. It is about three feet from the chair she chose.

Maybe he’s normally a nice guy, but he’s in early Alzheimer’s. Maybe he has a brain tumor that is affecting his behavior. Maybe he’s a jerk.

You can be a jerk as easily at eighty as you can at twenty or forty. You can be a witch at any of those ages, too. Old age doesn’t automatically make one nicer, just as it doesn’t automatically make one wiser. St. Augustine said: “The so-called innocence of children is more weakness of limb than purity of spirit.” If he had lived to be old enough, he might also have said: “The so-called wisdom of old people is more slowness of limb than mellowness of soul.”

At each transition time, from one life stage to another, we have the opportunity to redo ourselves. Erik Erikson said that the task of the last stage is “final integrity vs despair.” I think there may be one more stage, the one in which we are face to face with the clock where the hands are about to signal “Time’s up.” One last stage to stop being a jerk.

There are a lot of nasty old people. Maybe they think they have the right, because they are old and don’t feel good, to tell others where to sit. Maybe they have always been mean and nasty and figured they had the right to tell everybody else where to sit, so they are just being consistent. Either way, time is running out. The last stage is leaving town, the stage away from Jerkville. Get on board.

Now that I am old, I don’t tell people where to sit.


I tweet as yooper1721.

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Friday, March 17, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from the Heart of Winter for the Years of Winter…

MAKING MOONSHINE                     F, 3-17-17                                                                                        
When our daughter, Katie [1], and her husband, Patrick, taught at U of Arkansas in Batesville, a college staff member told them what to do if they were in the woods and came across a moonshine still.

“You won’t see him, but somebody is watching you, and he has a shotgun. What you do is, you pick up a little stick, and you add it to the fire under the still, just a little stick, because the fire has to stay small to cook the shine right, and then you back up real slowly, until you’re out of sight of the still, and then you get the hell out of there.”

“But why add a stick to the fire?” Katie asked.

“Because then you’re an accomplice. You’re helping to cook the shine. It’s a sign to the moonshiner that you aren’t going to the cops, because you have broken the law yourself.”

I’m asked frequently these days to sign petitions. Mostly they are petitions to sharks asking them not to eat swimmers, and petitions to hurricanes asking them not to blow little houses away. Those sorts of petitions don’t do any good. Sharks and hurricanes pay no attention to them, regardless of how many people sign them. There are other actions I can take to try to help the swimmers and the little houses that are more effective. And I take those actions.

But I sign the petitions, too, because they are a symbol that I am an accomplice, tending the fire that must be kept burning.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Katie Kennedy is the author of the highly acclaimed best seller, Leaning to Swear in America, and What Goes Up, which will be published July 18. Although Learning to Swear in America is listed as Young Adult, I know people in their 90s who swear that this story of a 17 year old Russian physicist who has to stop an asteroid from obliterating Los Angeles is one of the best books they’ve ever read. Katie is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Learning to Swear in America is available in hardback, paperback, electronic, and audio editions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

LIFE IN THE CHURCH BASEMENT                   R, 3-16-17

Mary Louise Hopkins was very old. Maybe 35, even. She was my Sunday School teacher, in the basement of Forsythe Church. Her son, Dick Book, was also very old. Fifteen, maybe even 16. He rode my school bus and was kind enough to talk baseball sometimes with this ten year old and my confreres.

When you’re ten--as I was when we moved from Indianapolis to the countryside near Forsythe Methodist Church, outside Oakland City, Indiana, and I began to ride a school bus instead of a street car—everyone the age of your parents is quite elderly, and every teenager is either a frightening bully or a cool and sophisticated and worldly role model.

I don’t know how long Mary Louise had been in the Forsythe basement when I became one of her Sunday School students, along with other “Willing Workers,” like John Kennedy and Kenny Liniger and Philip Buyher and Darrel Guimond. I know she was still there when she worked the meal after my father’s funeral, 57 years later. She was quite young then, 90, maybe even 92. She was younger still when she died, at 95.

No, I’m not demeaning her, by calling her “young lady,” the way some people do to old women. When you’ve lived a lot of years, you’re old, but Mary Louise lived all those years in the church basement. I think that’s what made her young.

We were a genially unruly bunch of boys, the Willing Workers, who hurried to the basement before anyone else could get into our corner so that we could discuss the exploits of our hero, “The Phantom,” of the comic pages. John Kennedy’s uncle bought an Evansville paper out of a kiosk on the street in Oakland City each Sunday morning before coming to the Forsythe countryside to John’s house for breakfast, so John was able to read The Phantom, a nice long half-page on Sunday, and he could give us the skinny on our jungle role model before other kids got the paper in the mail on Monday. That gave us a great advantage on the Monday school bus route of bus driver Jimmy Bigham. We knew stuff other Phantomphiles did not.

So we had two good reasons for going to Sunday School—The Phantom, and Mary Louise. When she arrived, we just automatically settled down. We might be willing to work grief on other people, but not to Mary Louise. We knew she cared about us.

That never changed. She told me how wonderful I was from age ten until I was in my seventies. Every time she saw me. Once when I was in college and came home for the weekend and showed up in church, when I walked in, she jumped up and started applauding. Everyone else joined in. Mary Louise had that effect. I’m not sure anyone else ever saw me quite the way she did. It must have been something about that basement. 


I tweet as yooper1721.

Mary Louise’s actual dates were from Nov. 7, 1917 July 16, 2013.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©


Sally Cone, the wife of my old university roommate, Tom, took Tom’s mother to the library. Mae walked up to the desk with a book she had brought with her and renewed it. “I thought you just read that book,” Sally said. “Oh, I did,” Mae said, “but I can’t remember it, and it’s my favorite book, so I just keep re-reading it.” Well, why not?

An irascible old lady who was known for her temper and rudeness announced to her grandson that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. That surprised him. “Did you make amends with all those people you offended, Grandmother?” he asked. “No, I outlived all the bastards,” she replied.

Research shows that as you get older you get happier. Someone added to that: “It’s amazing what a little memory loss can do for you.”

Is that why we get happier as we age? Because we can’t remember the sad things? Because we outlived the people who were difficult for us?

Of course, not all of us get happier as we age. There’s some truth to the axiom that we get more like ourselves as we age. If you’ve always been miserable, you’ve got a good chance of being miserable in old age, too. In addition, age can bring some great losses, losses that depress us and make us lonely. That’s not a happy state.

In general, though, most of us get happier in old age. That is counter-intuitive. What do old people have to be happy about?

Is it because we’re going to die soon, or at least sooner, going to get away from all the miseries of life, “leave this vale of tears?” Maybe, for some, at least.

Some people would say it’s just physical. Scientifically, we are happier because the brain shrinks. That sounds counter-intuitive, too, but it does give credence to the old saying that Ignorance is bliss.

The geezerpital lobe of the brain shrinks with age, in great part because of stress. Stress hormones gang up on the poor old brain and it just shrivels up. (The actual name for the geezerpital lobe, if I remember correctly, is the interior cingulated cortex, but I think geezerpital is more descriptive.)

Apparently we get happier as we age either because we have less stress or the stress hormones give us Alzheimer’s and we can’t remember why we were unhappy.

Unfortunately, the geezerpital is the lobe that controls unacceptable speech. That’s why old people so often say out loud things that younger people would only think.

I have a priest friend whose mother lived with him, so when he was invited out, she was invited, too. One night they were at a parishoner’s house watching vacation pictures. This was in the day of slides projected on a screen, so the room was dark. Into the darkness, Bob’s mother said, “This is SO boring.” Later he asked her why she had said such a rude thing. “Why, nobody can hear me in the dark,” she said. Brain shrinkage had even caused her to forget just how the senses work. She was happy saying whatever came to mind.

(Now that I am getting close to the age she was then, I don’t think this story is nearly as hilarious as I used to.)

So what is it? Why are we, in general, happier as we age? Is it that we have less stress, or just because we are more forgetful?

I suspect it’s because it’s our last chance. We’ve known all along that the point of life is to be happy, but we’ve looked for happiness in all the wrong places, in the places that have given us stress. Will Rogers used to say that “A person is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.”

Remember: It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Will actually said “A man is just about as happy…” but he meant everybody.