Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, March 17, 2018


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

As I grow older it is hard to know the difference
between resignation and acceptance
two really stupid words to use in a poem

instead, being a poet,
I should write of two identical trees in the forest,
one with a nest of robins in her hair,
the other full of chattering squirrels at play
each reaching to the sky
or heaven if you prefer

one with roots like dachshunds,
the other with roots like Rottweilers
the only real difference being that spehlczech
capitalizes rottweilers but not Dachshunds,
since they are little and can’t bite very hard

and let you try to figure out
if my shoulders are slumped or squared
as I write
or “pen,” this being a poem
about full and empty nests in those trees

or if you’re like me
instead of like the poet I pretend to be
resignation and acceptance
illusion and faith


I do pretend to be a poet, but I’m not one really, which is why I always put “a poem” in lowercase letters in the title, so you are warned and can skip it if you wish.

Friday, March 16, 2018


 Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…

Trains have always been an image for life and Christian faith, at least as long as there have been trains.

Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer who’s brave
We must make this run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels
Never falter, never quail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail

Blessed savior, thou wilt guide us
Till we reach the blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In thy praise for evermore
[There are three more verses that fill out the whole railroad journey.]

Our pastor, Jimmy Moore, used a very helpful railroad image as Bob Epps lead our Lenten Bible study at St Mark’s UMC on “The Song of the Vineyard,” in Isaiah 5:1-7.

Someone asked about people who don’t acknowledge God. Not just theoretical atheists, but “practical atheists,” the vast majority of people who are not aware of the “thin places” in the universe where we actually experience God, who are not aware of the action of God in the world, who do not even consider God unless something bad happens.

Jimmy said that with a train, it’s not about who’s on board, but where the train is going.

I find that to be a very helpful image of the Kingdom of God, a train that is going toward its destination regardless. We can get on board or not, but the train keeps going.

Still, I like to sing as we go along, “Get on board, little children, get on board, little children, get on board, little children, there’s room for many a more.”


“Life’s Railroad to Heaven” was written by Eliza R. Snow and M.E. Abbey.

I think both Madeline L’Engle and CS Lewis spoke of “thin places in the universe.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018


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

“Oh, just one more thing…” That was the line everybody knew and looked forward to as we watched Peter Falk play Detective Columbo so enjoyably on TV in the 1970s.

Columbo was just going out the door, in his ratty raincoat. The suspect he was questioning thought it was all over. Then he turned and said, “Oh, just one more thing…” Unlike his suspect, we all knew Columbo had not forgotten his “one more thing.” He was just using it to trap the perpetrator.

Like Columbo, as I go out the door, I always have one more thing--not because I get distracted easily, certainly not because I am forgetful or absent-minded-- but because I have so many stories on any subject from which to choose.

A few years ago, when we lived in a different place and went to a different church, the preacher asked a young engineer in the congregation, Dan Wallington, to fill the pulpit one Sunday while she was gone. He did a marvelous job, but afterward said, “Oh, there was other stuff I meant to say. I didn’t get it all in.”

I said, “Don’t worry about it. I preached for fifty years and still didn’t get in everything I wanted to say.”

When I was young, I had only one story to apply to a scripture or a theme, so I was never distracted from using it. But now I have 60 years worth of stories, so I often get distracted,

When I was getting ready to retire, a friend said, “I spent the first half of my life building up and the last half using up.” I took that to heart. I had two thousand file cards--which nowadays would be on the computer-- with stories and anecdotes. I tried to make it come out so that on my last Sunday before retirement, I would use my only remaining cards. Didn’t happen.

Trying to use it all up is impossible, regardless of how old we get. I’m sure that as I’m going out that final door, I’ll say, “Oh, wait, just one more thing…”


Many of the stories I wanted to tell, I did, in my book, The Strange Calling, published by Smyth&Helwys, and available just about anywhere on the web.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…

My consultant, Levi, and I were hanging together Wednesday last. He is 14 and working on a “Taking Backpack Buddies Food from the Church Building to the Community Kitchen” Boy Scout merit badge. I had introduced him to Caitlyn at the Kitchen as my assistant. Later we decided that would not look as good on his college admission applications as Consultant, so we changed it.

It is amazing that I got him introduced as anything at all, for I’m dysnomic. Can’t think of nouns. It’s no problem when I am writing. I just use a different word. Or I sip coffee until the preferred one appears. It’s much harder to do that in speaking. People aren’t willing to wait that long.

It’s hereditary. I get it from both sides of my family.

My father, a taciturn man, when he could not think of a noun, would simply sit there in silence until it came to him. Sometimes it went on so long that we had another whole conversation in the meantime. When he finally found his word, he would go on with his original sentence as though no other words or voices had intervened.

My mother had a different approach. She abhorred silence, so when she could not think of a word, she would simply use “stovepipe” in its place. It made for some interesting, and incomprehensible, thoughts.

In emergencies, it’s a real problem to be dysnomic. “Here comes a…what?” Bullet? Dinosaur? Truck?

When pressed, Mother would just yell whatever came to mind. One day at lunch my father was going to pour her some more coffee. She did not want any more but could not think of a word to inform him thus. [Like “no.”] So she yelled, “Get away! Get away!”

This happened to coincide with the appearance of the Watkins man at our back door. Watkins products were sold door to door, like Fuller Brushes, but were “notions”--patent medicines, vanilla flavoring, shoe laces, etc. We lived in the country. On a gravel road. Our driveway was a long distance from our back door so we didn’t hear cars drive up. Nobody ever came to our house anyway. Except for the Watkins man. When he heard mother yell, “Get away! Get away!” he left.

Mother said, “Oh, no. I wanted to buy some… stovepipe… from him.”


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in winter. Also, it has felt quite winterish in Bloomington this week.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


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

There is an old saying: If you have three frogs to swallow, swallow the biggest one first.

When I was an every-Sunday preacher, and was faced each week with four scriptures—one “lesson” each from Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and New Testament] to use as a sermon springboard, I had two principles by which I chose: 1] Preach the Gospel. We are Christ-ians. Preach from the story about or from Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God. 2] Preach from the one that is hardest, most difficult to understand, the one from which I wanted least to preach.

When you have a choice, do the hardest thing. It’s not just the most character-building, it’s the most useful.

My friend, Phyllis Graham Parr, did a PhD in math, because, she said, “At the end of my bachelor’s degree, I felt I understood humanities and arts and sciences pretty well, but I did not really know math. It was hardest. I needed more work in it.”

Each Lent at our church, retired engineer Charlie Matson sets up Tuesday night Bible studies. We have a lot of retired preachers in our congregation, so, in addition to our “active” pastoral staff, he calls on those timorous theologians to lead. For the two years I have been going to these, he has asked those hoary homileticians to reflect on their favorite Bible passages.

I have suggested to him that next year we should ask them to work with us on the one that is most difficult for them. It’s partly because I have a particular one in mind. Mostly, though, it’s just because I want to see them squirm.


Monday, March 12, 2018


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

Bill Verrette is thoughtful, and he appreciates others who are thoughtful, even abstract, even esoteric. But he really appreciates the concrete. In fact, he has poured most of the concrete in the whole land.

Well, he didn’t pour much of it personally. He has peeps for that. He does not now, though, even oversee the pourers of the concrete. He has other peeps for that.

He still goes into his office each day, in Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, because he has an important job that no one else can really do. His business card notes that he is Champion Concrete’s “Keeper of the Culture.”

In his thinking, both abstract and concrete, Bill knows that every organization, even a business, has a culture. Somebody needs to be a living history for a family, a school, a club, a church… Otherwise, the organization loses its identity, its focus, its reason for being—and that leads quickly to failure.

One of the reasons Bill’s businesses have been so successful is that he has adapted to changing times. Keeping the culture does not mean never changing. It means continuity within change. Change will happen whether we want it or not. But in the midst of that change, we shall not remember who we are without someone to keep the culture, who knows and tells the story.

Old people sometimes struggle with irrelevancy. Who needs us? What are we good for? Well, old people can be keepers of the culture in ways that no one else can. That is a gift that God gives us, and one we can give to our culture.


Of course, I am reminded of the workman who chased a child out of his newly poured concrete and was admonished. “Don’t you like children?” He replied, “I like them fine in the abstract, just not in the concrete.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018


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

My wife is a management expert. I mean that factually. She has two degrees in it.

One of her management maxims is about planning: The best time to plan for a recurring event, like a birthday or holiday, is while you are going through it currently, because you will learn now what works and what doesn’t. Make notes so that you’ll have them when you plan for next year.

I learned most of my management techniques from her, so a long time ago I started preparing two sermons each week, one for the immediate Sunday and one for the Sunday a year off. I had a folder for each. In the olden days, it was a paperboard folder I kept in a metal four-drawer cabinet. In my latter days, it was a folder in a computer. I always had some material that would not fit this week but might be useful next year. I had a good start when the Fourth Sunday in Lent—or whatever it was--came around again.

Sometimes, though, that sort of planning seems… well, odd.

A wedding planner told our daughter of a recent client. She said, “She had a binder in which she kept materials and ideas for her wedding. She was making notes in it as we talked. I made a suggestion I thought was pretty good, and she did, too, but she said, ‘Oh, that won’t work because of my color scheme, but I can use that in my next wedding.’ And she pulled out a second binder and put that idea into it. She was assuming this marriage would fail so she was planning for her next wedding already!”

There is surely something that needs to be said about that, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what it might be. I’ll put it in the folder for next year and see if I have something by then.