Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, September 22, 2016


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

We ate last night with a bunch of retired people. We were there for the speaker, not the food, which was a good thing.

To the management there, food service is a necessary but undesirable backpack to their main business. So it is treated like an unwanted step-child. They change cooks and menus and modes and mottoes with some regularity, but not their attitude, so the result is always the same— mostly passable food with extremely slow service and ever higher prices, because, if you have a fancier slogan and prettier water pitchers, you can charge more.

One thing remains constant: French fries. Well, almost constant. They used to come with the cleverly named burgers. [1] Now we are strongly encouraged to order French fries, but they cost extra. That’s “progress.”

I was once in a group of young people who were talking about how so much of our food talk has French names. Soup du jour, √©clair, souffl√©, etc. “Don’t forget French fries,” Larry said.

That’s the motto of most restaurants: Don’t forget French fries.

Except that the Baptist Church in Monon, IN, when Helen was growing up there in the early 1940s, forgot.

They were having a supper in the church basement. They ran out of fries. The only place in town with a French fry machine was the tavern. Georgia Karr, Helen’s mother, admitted that she knew the tavern owner. She called and got permission to send someone down to use their machine. The only available person for that mission was Mable, head of the local WCTU, who would not even walk by a tavern, yet along go into one. But like a good Baptist woman, she went when she was sent. After all, it was the Lord’s work.

When the meal was over, and cleanup was underway, the women talked of all that happened. They thanked Mable for doing the unthinkable. “It was not too bad,” she said. “I just walked in the front door, went back to the kitchen and used the French fry machine, and walked out again. I didn’t even say a word to anybody.” As she described the escapade, however, the other women realized that she had gone to the wrong tavern!

Georgia was embarrassed. She called up the proprietor of the “wrong” tavern to apologize. “Oh, it was no problem,” he said. “Nobody had any idea who she was. The drunks all thought it was a vision. It will give us something to talk about for years.”


1] Clever names are our undoing. Helen and I ordered a Hoosier Hero to split, even though we did not need or want the bacon which was loudly advertised as part of it. That was a good thing, since the new cook forgot the bacon. We decided not to order French fries, since they are bad for old people, but they came on our tray anyway, in a little silver bucket. Yes, we ate them, and we paid for them.

The problem with writing a blog for old people, CHRIST IN WINTER, is an ever-diminishing population, of people who cannot remember to go to the blog site.

I tweet as yooper1721, because when I started, I thought you were supposed to have a “handle,” like CB radio, instead of a name. I was a Yooper, resident of MI’s UP [Upper Peninsula], and my phone ended in 1721, so…

Here I come to save the day! No, not Mighty Mouse. Yuri Strelnikov, the boy genius of Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but read this book! [What do you mean, you’re not old enough to remember Mighty Mouse?”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


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

I met Harold Sherman yesterday morning, as he walked, with his little dog, Carly. I have known Harold for a year, and each time I met him it took me about half a day to remember his name was Sherman, because I also knew a Harold Sheldon, and…well, confusion. Yesterday Harold and Carly were walking toward the swimming pool of our condo complex, and I realized, “Of course, Sherman’s march to the sea,” in the Civil War. So now when I meet Harold, I see him marching to the pool, which is sort of a sea, with his troops, Carly, and I have no trouble remembering his name.

I use those mnemonic devices a lot.

We used to do overnight stops at a motel in Mendota, IL because it was in the right place, and sometimes hosted cadaver dog conventions. I could never remember how to look up the motel, though, because I could not remember the word, Mendota. Then I got an image of men doting on children in that spot on the IL prairie. I can remember that, because I dote on my daughters, regular and grand.

For instance, Katie Kennedy, best writer ever, whose LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA you should buy soon, even though you are waiting until closer to Christmas to buy several as Christmas gifts. Publishers judge the success of a book by its sales in the first 8 weeks, and Katie’s 8 weeks are up, so buy now. It’s okay, of course, to buy any time, but why wait when a doting father makes such a plea?

And Michigan State University granddaughter Brigid Kennedy, one of only 20 students, out of 39,000 undergrads, to be invited to a seminar with Ken Burns, and who is being lauded for her research and writing on the ways students and universities and the government are bilked out of billions on student loans.

I’m not even going to mention grandson Joe Kennedy, because he does not fit the category of daughters, and I really like the alliteration of “Doting on Daughters” for the title. Also because his grandmother has pretty well cornered the market on doting on him. Suffice it to say that he has been my hero since he was fifteen months old, for the way he dealt with a year of cancer, and for the way he continues to live life on his own terms, and plays the digeridoo.

Which brings us to the doted daughter of the day, Mary Beth, and the real reason I started this column. Today is the pinnacle day of Birthday Fest, the annual celebration of her birth, which is especially poignant this year, as it comes in the midst of her second bout with breast cancer, third with cancer in general. A lesser woman would have wilted, but she goes gamely on, doing each day what she has to do. I need no mnemonic devices to remember and celebrate her courage.


The problem with writing a blog for old people, CHRIST IN WINTER, is an ever-diminishing population that cannot remember to go to the blog site.

I tweet as yooper1721

Russian boy genius Yuri Strelnikov is a 17 year old with a PhD in Physics. The Americans recruit him when they discover an asteroid is blazing toward earth on a collision course with Los Angeles, where NASA has assembled the best and brightest to figure a way out of this deadly impact. Yuri has only a few days to work the math, find a solution, and then convince those much older to accept his anti-matter plan. He meets the quirky teen girl, Dovie, and her equally quirky family, and finds there are more reasons to save the earth than just winning a Nobel Prize.

So goes Katie Kennedy’s marvelous Learning to Swear in America, published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. It has received a rare star review from Publisher’s Weekly and another star review from BCCB [Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books]. It’s on B&N’s, Bustle’s, and PopCrush’s “Most Anticipated” list, and Goodreads “Best New for the Month” list. An IndieNext pick. Available in print, audio, and e-book, from your friendly independent book store, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


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

Old barns in autumn
 fit my spirit,
and my body, well

the fading paint
 red in the summer
gray now in the fall

the shrinking boards
 with cracks between
through which the sumac grows

the sagging doors
 tired rusty hinges
dusty smell of hay

sweaty memories
 with their harvest


I tweet as yooper1721

They called them heroes. They said, “Thank you for your service.” Then forgot about them. Joe Kirk lost a leg. Lonnie Blifield lost his eyes. Victoria Roundtree lost her skin. “Zan” Zander lost his mind. Four homeless and hopeless Iraqistan VETS who accidentally end up living together on an old school bus. With nowhere to go, and nothing else to do, they lurch from one VAMC to another, getting no help because, like the thousands of other Iraqistan VETS who are homeless, unemployed, and suicidal, they do not trust the system and refuse to “come inside.” After another fruitless stop, at the VAMC in Iron Mountain, Michigan, a doctor is found dead, and the VETS are accused of his murder. Distrustful, strangers to America, to each other, and even to themselves, they must become a unit to learn who really murdered the doctor, so that they can be free. In doing so, they uncover far more, about themselves and about their country, than they dared even to imagine. Available from your local independent book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Books-A-Million, Black Opal Books, and almost any place else that sells books. $12.99 for paperback, and $3.99 for ebook. Free if you can get your library to buy one.

Here I come to save the day! No, not Mighty Mouse. Yuri Strelnikov, the boy genius of Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but read this book! [What do you mean, you’re not old enough to remember Mighty Mouse?”

Monday, September 19, 2016


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

 Daughter Katie Kennedy, the author of the marvelous LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA, has alerted me to a current white supremacist tactic.

They go on Goodreads, and possibly other reviewing sites, and give one star reviews [out of five] to the books of authors with Jewish sounding names. They often do this before the book is even released, when there is no chance they could have read it, to drive sales down even before it has a chance. After all, who wants to waste time or money on a one star book?

They often use as their reasons for giving the book a poor review that it is racist and anti-Semitic.

That is, of course, the tactic, straight out of the Roger Ailes and Karl Rove playbook, of current so-called conservatives. Claim that your candidate or position’s greatest weakness is actually his/its greatest strength. Claim that your opponent’s greatest strength is actually her greatest weakness. Repeat it over and over, regardless of how many people come out to say you are lying and you have it backwards, because eventually those folks will get fed up and start ignoring you instead of opposing you, and among the uninformed, your lie becomes truth. Do not engage in debate about your assertion; just keep saying it.

For instance, someone says, “But that’s a lie. Surely you can’t believe that.” Ignore what they have just said, and reply, “What I DO know is that Obama founded Isis,” or whatever falsehood you are pushing. Make it sound like you have some secret source of knowledge.

Of course, an author with a Jewish sounding name may not even be Jewish. I know Methodists with the names of Steinmetz and Rosenthal, et al. I know Jews with names like Richards and Stewart. The white supremacist reviewers don’t bother with niceties like that, of course.

When Katie learned of this reversing-the-truth in the book reviewing of authors who have Jewish names, she started reviewing them herself and giving them the stars they deserved. So the Nazis in retaliation started giving her book one star reviews. The LEAST anyone else has given it is four stars, and about 90% of the time it gets 5 stars.

I don’t know how to deal with this. It’s not worth it to get into a starring war with these sorts of people. They are persistent and devious; they will win a stars war. Goodreads or other review sites might try barring them, but computer savvy folks can create a myriad of aliases so that as soon as one name/address is banned, another takes its place.

For the moment, at least, be aware of this tactic. Don’t trust the reviewer unless that person has been reliable in the past. And if the author has a “Jewish” name, assume that a poor review is false review and judge it for yourself.


I remember the first time I encountered this tactic, at a ministerial association meeting. The minister of a cult/fundamentalist church asserted that his church was the only one in town that practiced the Bible literally, and that they did it all the time, especially following Jesus literally. I, stupidly, said, “Do you wash feet in your services?” “We do it all the time,” he said, “spiritually.” “But that is not literally,” I said. “Yes,” he said, “It is. We follow Jesus literally.” Other pastors began to be amazed and said things like, “But that is not what literal means.” “Yes, it is,” Roger asserted. He was never flustered, never debative, just persistent in repeating a non-sequitur even though he knew no one else there believed him. In a different setting, with more vulnerable people, eventually someone would fall for it.

I tweet as yooper1721

Here I come to save the day! No, not Mighty Mouse. Yuri Strelnikov, the boy genius of Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but read this book! [What do you mean, you’re not old enough to remember Mighty Mouse?”

Sunday, September 18, 2016


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

We are having a jazz worship service at our church this morning. I’ll go, and I’ll like it. Still…

My good friend, the much-loved and much-missed George Paterson, was a jazz musician, in addition to being the chaplain at University of Iowa Hospitals and a professor in the university’s School of Religion. He played trombone and often led jazz worship services. People came away from George’s services, and from George’s presence, feeling like they had experienced the Gospel. I’m sure I’ll do that this morning. Still…

Much jazz worship takes familiar hymns, like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and doing them in jazzy tempo and style. I like that. You get to hear that rendering of a Gospel truth in a new way. Still…

Still… in my soul, I’ll be humming, “I love to tell the story.”

I’m a narrativist, a story guy. So much jazz is without a story, at least one I can recognize. That means I’m mostly a folk music guy. Folk music tells a story, a story of the yearnings of common people to be free, to be treated with respect. I don’t hear that in jazz.

The biggest difference between folk and jazz is, jazz musicians go to jail because of their behavior, folk musicians go to jail because of their songs.


Some folks say that if you are playing and you hit a wrong note, you just call it jazz and go on. So I guess I played a lot of jazz in my younger days.

Jazz, of course, by its very nature, cannot be pigeon-holed. Some, like the Ragtime variety, is narrative.

Interestingly, the song “And All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” is not jazz. It’s straight Broadway, all narrative.

I tweet as yooper1721, because when I started, I thought you were supposed to have a “handle,” like CB radio, instead of a name. I was a Yooper, resident of MI’s UP [Upper Peninsula], and my phone ended in 1721, so…

Friday, September 16, 2016


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

I almost missed tea at St. Andrew’s that afternoon. I was studying there, in Scotland, that summer, as part of my doctoral work, listening to lectures by William Barclay, the acclaimed Bible scholar, and others.

I was not much of a golfer, but when you are at the home course of golf, The Ancient & Royal in St. Andrews, you need to play a round just so you can say you did it. I can also almost say that I played with Bing Crosby since he was coming off the course just as I was going onto it, but that would be a stretch. He, however, had the good fortune to miss the rain.

A fellow student and I rented clubs and headed out. About half-way through our round, the heavens opened in a serious attempt to wash St. Andrews into the Firth of Forth. The water got so deep that when we putted, the ball would just run across the top of the cup because it was full of water. We finally gave up and walked in. I was wearing a rain coat, but I was so soaked that even the money in my billfold had to be hung up to dry.

Helen got me into dry clothes and, convinced that tea and scones are a good remedy for any discomfort, sent me down to the tea room to grab a cup before they closed up, while she hung up my wet clothes and wet money. Almost everyone else was gone by that time, but they still had the plenty of tea and scones.

I sat down with Gretchen, one of the few people still sipping. I did not know her well, but I liked her husband, a handsome and well-spoken man, the priest at a large Episcopal church in Florida, and she was a pleasant looking woman. We did the usual talk, about the wet weather and the lectures we had heard. Then I noted that I had seen a lot of poor people trying to get home in the rain as I came off the golf course, and there were so many scones in our tea room that were going to go to waste, it was a shame we couldn’t provide them somehow to people who needed them.

She looked quite puzzled. “If God chooses to give me good things and to withhold them from others, that’s no concern of mine,” she said. That’s a direct quote.

I could not believe what I had heard, but I was in a period of life then when I listened carefully and could remember exactly what I heard, for I had been trained to write “verbatims” for Clinical Pastoral Education. She really said it.

I had no idea even where to begin with reply. We had both been listening to Willie Barclay exposit the scriptures, and we had heard him, and the scriptures, with entirely different ears. I wondered if she had gotten that from her husband’s preaching.

I have heard that same sentiment many times since. Most public religion today is devoted to justifying selfishness and greed. We should not be surprised that Jesus is co-opted by the selfers.

It is what selfer religion does, reversing truth and falsehood, reversing greed and Gospel. Modern selfer politics has taken up the ways of selfer religion, its very foundation, what selfer politics does best, reversing strength and weakness, claiming that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength and your opponent's greatest strength is her greatest weakness.

Modern technology makes lying a viable approach. If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough it becomes the truth.

When we are old, we should have learned by now that everything that is God’s is a concern of mine. And everything is God’s.


NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published in two editions by AndrewsMcMeel, in audio by HarperAudio, and in Czech and Japanese translations. It’s incredibly inexpensive at many sites on the web. Naturally I’d rather you bought it, but apparently you can download it for free on, It says “Download 2048.”

Thursday, September 15, 2016


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

I have been thinking about perfection, because at my ordination I pledged to go on to perfection, saying “Yes,” to the question, “Do you expect to be made perfect in this life?” since if you say “no” you don’t get ordained and never make the big bucks. I’m sort of running out of time to get to perfection in this life, though, so I think I need to hurry up the process.

Actually, I don’t know why preachers need to be perfect. Perfection is not very realistic. Not because it’s not attainable, but because there are always some folks in any church for whom perfection in the preacher is not good enough.

It is important to remember that when John Wesley developed the doctrine of Christian Perfection, and started asking the Methodist preachers that question about being made perfect in this life, way back in the 1700s, he was not talking about intellectual perfection—knowing perfectly, or volitional perfection—choosing perfectly, or activity perfection—doing perfectly, but loving perfectly.

So what is love, that we might do it perfectly? Love is desiring that God’s will be done. That means that when I pray for Donald Trump, I do not pray that he will change, but that God’s will may be done in his life. I don’t get to say what God’s will is for Donald, or for me, or for anyone else. I do, however, have the great privilege of praying for him, along with all the others God presents to me along the way.

My much-missed friend, Herb Beuoy, now loving as part of the church triumphant, always reminded me, “It is our business to love people; it is God’s business to change them.”

Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” That is to will the will of God, to will what God wants for each person and for each world.

So, do I really expect “to be made perfect in this life?” Be patient. I’m working on it.


I tweet as yooper1721.