Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, October 22, 2016

CREATION-a poem 10-22-16

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

My parents, in their chaotic love,
created me, as God, in love,
created the process
of creation. So when I felt
a pang this morning
in the garage, a flash
of sadness as I crushed
the little cardboard box beneath
my foot and placed it gently
in the bin where stuff must go
to be recycled, an unseen
critic sneered
and said, “How stupid. No soul
in that box. One of millions
just like it.”
Exactly, I replied.
Just like me.


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?”

Thursday, October 20, 2016


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

Daughter Katie’s novel LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA, is YA, but it’s also science fiction. Some people don’t seem to understand what science is. Several folks have given her only 4 stars instead of 5 in reviews because, they say, “The science sounds made up.” They don’t give any examples. It’s just a “feel.”

A statement that “The science sounds made up” is very unscientific. How can you criticize someone for not being scientific when you are just going by “sound” or “feel?” That’s not scientific. If you’re too lazy to check it out yourself, it would be best not to display your ignorance.

And some folks seem not to understand what fiction is. Why criticize made-up science in a FICTION book anyway? Fiction is ALL made up. That’s what it is! MADE UP. A novel is not a science text book.

Katie, however, is an assiduous researcher. If she has a character eating in a restaurant in NYC, she goes on line or calls them and checks the menu for the day the character ate there to be sure they served that day what she had her character eat. She even called The Johnson Space Center to discuss how they run their cafeterias for that scene in her 2017 novel, WHAT GOES UP. Although she says she did make up flying through XD space in What Goes Up, because it’s FICTION!

So what, you say. Isn’t this a blog about old people and how they can still do good faith stuff? Yes, and the first thing you have to know about old people is that we never stop being parents, regardless of how old our kids get!

I think that is the task of old people, even those who have not raised children in their own homes, to be loving parents to all the children of the world.

When my older sister’s husband, Dick Lindquist died, much too young, people noted that “he loved children, anybody’s children, any age.”

What better legacy to leave?

BTW, since you know that Katie is an assiduous researcher, you know she did not make up the science in Learning to Swear in America. She says, “Tell the chief scientist for Homeland Security that it’s made-up science. He’s the one who told me how to do it.” [1]


1] Also the FBI knows her by name, which sort of makes me glad we don’t have the same name anymore.

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. Listed by American Book Sellers as one of their Top Ten new releases. Available in print, audio, and e-book, from your friendly independent book store, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

THE LAST SERMON [10-18-16]

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

I have preached my last sermon.

There are certain unnamed people who will laugh when they read this. They have heard it before, and it wasn’t quite true. That was because it was I who had decided that I would preach no more forever. This time, it is the world that has decided I shall preach no more. That’s different.

Preaching has been a major part of my identity since I was nineteen. It felt right, because I was pretty good at it. It made me use all my abilities, to interpret the Gospel in a way that people could not only understand but feel, in a way that opened the door for folks to come into the presence of God and to live in the way of Christ. That was satisfying.

Of course, being retired, I haven’t preached on an every-Sunday basis for a long time. I have done interims, from a month to a year, but most of my preaching was a Sunday here or there, when the real preacher needed a break.

One of those occasionals was not a Sunday morning, but a Thursday night. A couple of weeks ago, Joan Tuttle Smoke, the first of my “children in the ministry,” was installed as the new priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, IN. She’s officially retired, but serves part-time so that the small but active St. John’s congregation can have a pastor in residence. It was a great honor to preach at her installation.

It also is a nice closing of the circle of my preaching, from when I graduated seminary and became the campus minister at Indiana State University, where Joan was a student, to now.

It feels strange to think that I am no longer a preacher, but the world does not clamber for old preachers. Nor should it. There are plenty of young preachers who speak the language of this generation in a way that old preachers cannot. It’s okay for old preachers to sit down and listen for a change. Besides, Helen sat by herself in church for fifty years. She deserves to have someone to help her hold the hymnal.  

As I think about giving up preaching, though, I realize this giving-up has been the story of my life. I have given up many things that were important to my identity but had lived out their proper time. Degrees, for instance. I have ten years of higher education. I loved taking classes and working on degrees. Yes, I have done lots of “continuing education,” but all the schools in the world got together and said I could have no more degrees. Sports. I loved being an athlete, but I had to give up basketball and golf and long distance running and softball and pickle ball. I loved them all, but each in turn became impossible. Music. I have always thought of myself as a musician, but I have not picked up an instrument for many years.  

I suspect your life story is the same, with different particulars. It’s the way of life, and each time we have to give up some activity from which we get our identity, it reminds us that the one true lasting identity is simply that of human being, God’s child. Eventually, all doing comes to an end, but being remains. That’s good news.

I’ll see you in the pew. I’ll be holding a hymnal with a good-looking woman.


I tweet as yooper1721.

My youthful ambition was to be a journalist, and write a column for a newspaper. So I think of this blog as an online column. I started it several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, ”Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!” [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in “the place of winter.” The grandchildren grew up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I continue to work at understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Monday, October 17, 2016


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

On the way to church yesterday, Helen and I crossed Greenbriar Ave., which made me think of the Greenbrier van that ate my comb.

As I thought about it, I could not remember: was the Greenbrier made by Chevrolet or some different car maker? So I fired up the Google machine to find out. Yes, it was a Chevy, one of those long passenger vans.

That’s the way we old people think, “firing up the Google machine,” even if we don’t talk like that, for fear they’ll put us in “the home," because we grew up and spent most of our lives in a mechanical age, before everything was electronic, digital, computerized.

The Greenbrier was definitely not electronic. It wasn’t even very mechanical. It was a denizen of DePauw University, in Greencastle, IN, and Sam Kirk, the chaplain at DePauw, and I, the campus minister at Indiana State U and Rose Polytechnic in Terre Haute, were taking a Greenbrier load of students to a Methodist Student Movement conference in Cleveland.

Not very fast, though, because the transmission stopped working. We pulled off at a rest stop. A student crawled under the Greenbrier and found that a little link, like a cotter pin, had gone missing, so that the drive train was disconnected. The gear shift could not get its messages through to the back axle. We looked through everything in the van to find a replacement for that little link. The only thing that fit was a tooth from my comb.

I didn’t really need a comb. I still had hair, but this was 1965, when all guys, except violinists, had crewcuts. But I carried a lot of stuff in my pockets, just in case. Like an extra handkerchief. I started carrying it in high school, because the girls I dated cried a lot. So I had a comb. It’s a good thing, too, because those comb teeth weren’t very strong, and every few miles, the linkage would come undone again. We would pull over, and that poor boy would crawl under the van and break off another tooth from my comb and insert it into the cotter pin hole. It’s a good thing I didn’t play the violin.

Teenage grandson Joe said a couple of years ago, “I wish I lived in an age when a guy could fix his own stuff.”

I’m sorry he did not get that chance, because it was a good age. I used to rotate the tires on my cars, and lubricate them, and change the transmission fluid and engine oil and filters and fan belts. I even removed the engine and ground the valves, with my father, on a 1950 Chevy. It was cheaper, and it was satisfying.

I think the change from machine to computer is producing and requiring a spiritual change we have not even begun to recognize or understand. I think the task for each of us is to connect those two, and I hope I still have a few teeth left in my comb.


My latest novel is VETS, about four homeless Iraqistan veterans accused of murdering a VA doctor. It is 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.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

OPEN DOORS 10-16-16

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

I was up late last night, because we went to a Carrie Newcomer concert. So I got up late this morning, too late to get ready to go to church, because it takes my surgically altered semi-colon a long time to get ready to go some place. But I’m going anyway, even though it’s risky, because I need to “enter his gates with praise,” and because my church has open doors, to the restroom as well as to the sanctuary.

Carrie said that when she tells people she’s a Hoosier, it opens doors. The banjo player questioned, because banjo players are like that, if the doors that were opened to her when folks learned she was a Hoosier were so she could come in or so that she would leave. This obviously had not been rehearsed, and the usually unflappable Carrie was flapped. She had no answer. She is a Quaker, and assumes the best in people, and apparently had not considered that people might be opening the doors to her in both directions.

We went to the concert with folks who have been pleased, although a bit embarrassed at their pleasure, because a certain woman in their open-door church finally used the open church doors to leave.

There is almost always someone in a church who claims God speaks directly to them [Yes, I know, the singular “they” grates on me, too.] and so they know what the whole church must do, about anything and everything, even if everyone else in the church thinks differently. God finally got disgusted with her congregation’s refusal to acknowledge her direct line and told her leave. It appears that she is becoming Pentecostal, which is probably a good choice, because Pentecostals know how to handle folks like that better than Methodists do.

I think it was Lyle Schaller I heard say that at any given time, there are some folks who are just in the wrong church. If you are in the wrong church, it’s no sin to leave.

I once pastored a large church with open doors. It was in a town that had a large number of meat-grinder churches. When you walk through their doors, they put you through their grinder until you look and think exactly like everyone else. That works with some, but some get badly damaged in the grinding. That was when they came through our doors to find healing.

Sooner or later, though, they would rather shame-facedly say to me, “We appreciate so much that your doors were open when we were hurting. But your doors are too open. We are okay now, and we feel more comfortable in a church where the doors are not so wide, so we’re using the open doors to leave.”

That always hurt me, because we had become friends, and because it was a little bit hypocritical, and because pastors hate to “lose” people for our own selfish reasons, but it always pleased me, too. Doors are open to come in OR to go out.

This morning, I’ll use the open doors of our church to enter for healing for my distracted soul, and then I’ll use them to go out to “work for the night is coming.”


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


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

Art Poovey was the grayest man I ever knew. Every day, he wore a gray suit, gray shirt, gray tie, gray sox, gray shoes. He was a Lutheran theology professor at Wartburg Seminary.

We were at the same lunch table one day, chili day. On the table was a rather large bowl of chili powder. Art took the spoon out of the communal bowl of chili powder and upended said bowl over his own bowl of chili, until the chili was covered by a mound of chili powder.

He saw the rest of us staring at him.

“Oh, this is nothing,” he said. “I pastored a church in San Anotnio when I was young and learned to eat it this way.”

Never assume that just because a man is old and gray, that there is no fire in his belly.


Friday, October 14, 2016


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

Yesterday I mentioned that one spiritual growth thing I am trying to do is to grow closer to God, experience God, without writing about it.

There is nothing wrong with writing about encounters with God. I myself have profited much by reading the musings of others on this topic. I remember especially how important it was to me to read Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy in philosophy class in college, how it opened up my mind as well as my spirit to possibilities of the divine, of “the other,” that I would not have otherwise considered.

For some folks, writing itself is the process of opening to God.

I find, though, that when I am meditating, trying to be open to God, experience the numinous, if I am thinking about how I might write about it, how to express it so others might understand, I forget about God and concentrate on the writing.

Of course, it’s possible to write only for one’s own understanding, but I have been writing for others for so long that it just seems impossible for me to write without wanting to do it in a way that communicates to others.

One of the tasks of old age is finally to understand ourselves. That’s a point of self-understanding for me, that I need to learn to experience God without writing about it.

So, I’m sorry to say it, but, too bad. Don’t expect any help from me. When it comes to experiencing God, you’re on your own. Except, of course, for God.


I tweet as yooper1721.