Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, August 25, 2016


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

“You can’t vote for Birch Bayh and be a Christian.”

That’s exactly what the Baptist preacher in Francisco, IN told his congregation one morning. One very old lady got up and walked out. She never went back.

“I was a member there for seventy years,” she later told an old friend, my mother. “I got saved at a revival meeting at that church and was baptized there when I was twelve. I taught Sunday School for over fifty years. I worked in the kitchen every time there was a meal of any kind. My husband and I tithed, and he helped build that new building they worship in. That church was my life. I didn’t leave my church. The church left me.”

This was quite a few years ago. I’m not even sure which Birch Bayh was running for what office then. I think of it now, though, because some Birch Bayh is running for some office in Indiana, although he goes by Evan, almost his middle name, to distinguish him from his distinguished father. [1]

I’m sure there are preachers who are going to repeat this year what that Francisco preacher said back then. I’m afraid, though, that there will not be many parishioners who will walk out.

I recall a story from the early days of the Nazi regime in Germany. One elderly man had gone out to his flag pole each morning for years and years and hoisted the German Imperial flag. When the Nazis came to power, they decreed that no flag but the swastika could hence be flown. The old man went out into his yard and chopped down his flag pole.

You’re never too old to be faithful, and if the church leaves you, in order to be a Christian, the faithful thing to do is to leave the church.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Evan Bayh’s real middle name is Evans. He is Birch Evans Bayh III. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


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

The kids at our church did Godspell, Jr. for worship last Sunday. It’s a slightly cut-down version of Stephen Schwartz’s original. With a small cast, it can be performed almost anywhere, with minimal props. In our case, it was performed by a marvelously talented bunch of 6th through 12th graders.

Adrian Cox-Thurmond was Jesus. He did a great job of singing and acting.

When it came to the crucifixion scene, I was suddenly struck dumb. I started to cry. I had not felt the force of that crucifixion in 70 years of reading and studying the Bible. Reading and studying are different from experiencing.

I found myself saying, “But I KNOW that boy!”

That makes a difference, that personal connection. But I can’t have a personal connection to every one of the two billion or so folks with whom I have shared this planet. Does that mean I can’t or don’t care about them?

That’s where the stand-in comes on stage. “Stand-in” is a theater term, the one who literally stands in for the star, when there is lighting or blocking that is beneath the star’s status.

But it’s also theological. The crucified Jesus is the stand-in for every person in pain. “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” [Matthew 25:31-46.] On Sunday, Adrian was the stand-in for Jesus, and Jesus was the stand-in for each of us in the congregation. As I look at Jesus, standing-in on the cross, I see every broken body and tortured soul in the world. In Christ, I KNOW that person!


I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, August 22, 2016


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

When you are smart enough that your original research in anti-matter will probably win you the next Nobel Prize, but you’re only 17, and Russian, how do you get old people to listen to you? That is Yuri Strelnikov’s dilemma.

When an asteroid is hurtling toward earth, ready to destroy at least Los Angeles, and maybe a lot more when it hits, how do you avoid that catastrophe? Yuri knows how. But even though the older physicists at NASA have asked for his help, they still won’t listen to him. [1]

It’s not because they are either stupid or perverse. Their own virtual realities keep them “inside the box.”

Child development scholars note that each of us, from an early age, creates our own internal virtual reality in our brains. [2] The world contains so many stimuli and messages, and our brains are so complex, that we have to create that personal virtual reality or we would be overwhelmed and not able to function at all. [3]

So we don’t really react to the reality that is. We react to the virtual reality through which we see the real reality. That’s why we often shake our heads and say, “How could she possibly think that?” It’s because she really does have a different “reality.”

The virtual reality prisms of mature experienced old people contains this: I know more about how to deal with a crisis than does a teen-ager who speaks a foreign language, even if that kid is really smart.

The real dilemma there is: we’d rather let the asteroid hit and destroy Los Angeles than change our virtual reality. Or put another way: we don’t know how to get out of our virtual reality well enough to avoid destruction, even if we’d like to. Either way, we are so completely enmeshed in our own virtual reality we can’t even entertain notions that are not included in it.

Although he’s slightly younger than most Millennials, Yuri has the Generation Y dilemma: their virtual reality is different from that of people in the Baby Boomer generation, which contains Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Importantly, the Millennials, the GenYs, are now a larger demographic than the Baby Boomers.

I recently saw an article that said “Millennials are deserting Trump in droves,” and later saw an interview with an analyst who was asked why this is true. He said, “It’s simpler than we can even imagine. They don’t like meanness, and they perceive Trump as mean.”

Despite political rhetoric and programs of all kinds, all of us vote on the basis of emotion, and that emotion is the main part of our virtual reality.

There is a continuum of emotion, of course.

Some folks vote only on the basis of emotion, 100%, what makes me feel best right now, with no consideration of consequences. “I want to stick a finger in Obama’s eye.” “I want a woman president, regardless of who she is.”

Others come close to total rationality, although no one votes entirely rationally, completely devoid of emotion. “Taking into account every conceivable possibility, the only rational solution is to elect that chess-playing robot, or that red M&M.”

Most of us are somewhere in between. We take consequences into consideration, but only through our personal virtual reality. I know folks who say, “If Trump is elected, he will blow up the world with nuclear weapons.” I know others who say, “If Clinton is elected, she’ll require us to get abortions the way the Chinese do because they gave her foundation secret money.” Reality? No, virtual reality. Put too simply: we believe what we want to believe.

Maybe Yuri’s dilemma is actually Donald’s and Hillary’s dilemma.

Here’s my reality: I think the world will be a better place if we old folks learn from Yuri about how to save the world, by expanding our virtual reality to include the Millennial perspective: Meanness is bad.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Katie Kennedy, Learning to Swear in America {Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling} Buy this book!

2] See for instance, Margaret Donaldson, Children’s Minds

3] See Malcom Gladwell, Blink, for how the brain uses shortcuts to handle the mass of incoming information.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

LISTENING AT 33 & 1/3-a poem

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

The crackling sound
like waxed paper unfolding
to reveal a boloney
sandwich, means the sound
is true, original, from their start
from out a cardboard sleeve
of photographs in technicolor
Their voices, so long gone now
so young and hopeful then
ready to blend every note
so fine, so fine.
I feel their presence
In the words, the melody, the tempo
but mostly in the crackling


I tweet as yooper1721.

“Here I come to save the day.” No, not Mighty Mouse. It’s Yuri Strelnikov, in Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful and perceptive Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but be sure to read it.

Friday, August 19, 2016


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

Yesterday, August 17, at the end of the CIW titled Walking Back to the Reset Time, I said that today I would reflect on what I then called “the most wonderful time of my life” as a transfiguration moment.

I said that orientation week of my frosh year in university was the most wonderful time of my life. It seemed like that at the time, and it still carries that aura for me. It was awful. It was confusing. But it was wonderful.

Because it was the freest moment of my life, the most-free I had ever been. At least, it seemed that way. It was the only time in my life I had been free of responsibility.

For a lot of reasons, my family was quite poor. I was a major bread-winner, sometimes the major breadwinner, from the time I was a young teen. I dreamed of going to college, but knew it was probably just a dream. There were far-sighted people, though, at the time and in years before, who knew that a society was best if everybody had a chance to learn how to contribute to it. They established tax supported universities and endowed scholarships, so there I was at college, away from the responsibilities that had always consumed me before. Free.

But it was a transfiguration moment.

Remember the story of how Jesus took Peter and James and John up onto the mountain? The heavens opened, and Moses and Elijah, the two main figures in Hebrew faith, joined them. They were in heady company! [Matthew 17:1-13.] It’s called the transfiguration story, because Jesus was “transfigured before them.” He wasn’t just their pal from Galilee anymore. He was at least on a par with Moses and Elijah.

So Peter said, “Hey, this is great. Let’s just stay up here. I can build some little houses for shelter and we can just hang out with Mo and Lije. No more nights when the fish won’t bite. No mother mothers-in-law living with you and getting sick. No more being put on the spot by people who claim I’m one of the bad guys because I hang out with you, Jesus. Just up here on the mountain forever, without a care.” [This is from the SAT Bible, Slightly Amplified Translation.]

Jesus said, “No. Being up here, palling with the elite, free of responsibilities, all that is great. But we came up here only so we could go back down there again, because at the bottom, not at the top, is where the hurt is, so that is where the real freedom is.”

The real transfiguration was not from being just a commoner to being among the elite, but moving from a freedom in self to a freedom in obedience. There is a freedom in obedience that goes far beyond the absence of responsibility, just living on the mountain top with no cares.

I’ve learned that in many ways over the years. I also suspect that if Jesus had lived as long as I have, from time to time he would have gone back up that mountain, not to stay, but to get refreshed, to get transfigured, so that he could live anew, each time he came back down, the life of freedom in obedience to God.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


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

We are staying home this week. It’s “Welcome Week” at IU. Forty thousand students and their parents are driving on the two narrow one-way streets that lead to campus-- the wrong way on both of them. Except there is really only one street to campus, since the city always waits until August to start reconstruction on one of them.

We called it Orientation Week when I started school here. Now, almost every student, with parents, has had a week of orientation in the summer, so their only task during “Welcome Week” is to move into their room--with their refrigerator, TV, futon, computer, printer, microwave oven, stereo system, coffee maker, pony, and loft bed—and find out where the booze store is and who has a false ID.

For Orientation Week, none of us had been on campus before, except the girls who had attended Girls State, so we met for the first time some stranger with whom we would share a 4x6 room, then went to sessions led by upperclassmen to learn the school song and hear about Greek rush.

Then we filled out, by hand, eleven 3x5 cards, one for each university entity that might need one, like the library and the campus police and the residence halls office, etc. It was actually printed as only one card, but it was perforated into 11 identical smaller cards to be torn apart for the various offices. [1]

Then we stood in lines at tables in the field house to sign up for classes, only to learn each time we got to the front of the line that the only English class—or History or Psychology or Basket Weaving--available was at 5 a.m. [Actually, classes started at 7:30, but to most college students, that might as well have been 5:00.]

Then they gave us a folded paper map of the campus and wished us good luck in finding our way to the classes we didn’t want at the times we didn’t want them.

Boys were required to take two years of ROTC and phys ed, and girls were required to take phys ed. The ROTC classes were conducted only at noon on days when the temperature was 90 F or above, so that marching on the football field in our WWII left-over wool suits would be a more interesting experience.

I lived in Trees Center, 8 “temporary” left-over wooden two-story WWII officer training dorms. The best thing about it was that when someone asked you where you lived, you could say, “In trees.” I was in Linden, the home of the male half of The Residence Scholarship Plan, for bright kids who were too poor to go to college. We got reduced room and board by doing all our own maid and janitorial work.

I loved every moment of it. It was the most wonderful time of my life. [2]

The best part of it was walking back to Linden Hall, after the meals that I worked as a busboy at the center where the grad students lived, called Rogers Center then. There were six or eight of us who walked together, half of them girls from Pine Hall, the female half of The Residence Scholarship Plan. We were young, we were free, we didn’t have to go to classes yet. It was magical.

So I use that week as my reset button. When the world gets too overwhelming, I return to that week and start over. I wrote a song about it. I sing it as I do my reset. It’s to the tune of Love Letters in the Sand.


On a day like today, the skies were never gray
Walking back to good old Linden Hall
The girls were dressed in yellow, our hearts were young and mellow
Walking back to good old linden Hall. [3]

The days were always fair, there was romance in the air
Walking back to good old Linden Hall
Only the sky was blue, there was nothing we could not do
Walking back to good old Linden Hall.

Our hearts back then were full and young and free
We gave no thought to what might come to be
Now that I live in memory, it is so sweet to be
Walking back to good old Linden Hall.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Helen thinks it was only 8, not 11. I think it was an uneven number, so maybe 9?

2] Tomorrow I’ll reflect on how the care-free times of life seem to be the best but are really “transfiguration” moments.

3] The girls who worked in the cafeteria wore yellow uniform dresses, which they had to don and doff at Pine Hall. The boys wore white t-shirts under short white coats, which we put on at the cafeteria.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


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

I encountered two men yesterday. They have no idea the other even exists, yet they are closely interconnected.

The first is Jeremy Bailenson of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford U. He looks more like a cleaned up truck driver than a professor. He was interviewed by Charlie Rose on TV.

The second was a grandfather at the College Hills Mall. He looked like a cleaned up truck driver, too. I first ran into--or more accurately, was run into—by a happy little boy of about four who ran pell-mell, toward me, then turned and looked behind.

“Grandpa?” I couldn’t see anyone. He couldn’t, either. “Grandpa?” Just a slight tremble of uncertainty in his voice. Then we saw the slyly smiling face of a man of sixty or so, peeking from behind one of those free-standing posters that suggest you should come to shop where you already are.

The little boy giggled like a maniac, ran wildly toward the poster, got to it, only to find that Grandpa had switched to the other side, and giggled even harder. I still hear him laughing. What a delightful sound. What delightful memories of playing that way with my own grandchildren.

Jeremy Bailenson says we should not go see our grandchildren because the main cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels for travel. If we want our grandchildren to have a livable world, we have to stop traveling to see them.

He didn’t put it exactly that way, of course. But if the work of his lab continues at its present pace, old folks who have grandchildren in Europe and Vermont and other inaccessible places can play hide and seek with them while staying home and thus not make the future uninhabitable for those grandchildren we love.

Bailenson was not really thinking of grandparent travel. His concern is primarily business travel. If his lab makes virtual interaction even more immediate and available, many, maybe most, people can do their work while staying home. Unlike current versions of Skype and Facetime and the like, you won’t be able to do it in your underwear because it will seem like you are actually there. You can shake hands with the boss and it will feel like you’re really shaking hands.

Most old folks are past worrying about how to shake hands with the boss, but we aren’t past wanting to play with our grandchildren and have coffee with old friends. Wouldn’t that be neat, sitting in a wheel chair in “the home,” to be hiding behind a poster in the mall while giggling children look for you? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit with your Madagascar grandchildren in the Great American Ball Park and cheer for the Reds while sitting in the recliner in your living room? Wouldn’t it be grand to hang out at the coffee shop at the Union Building with your college roommate while she sits in her garden in Georgia and you’re in your parka in the Upper Peninsula?

Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but so did space travel and TV and computers. Sure, it could be used for evil ends, but so can jelly beans. We need to stop thinking like old fossils and embrace new possibilities. Virtually. Maybe even virtuously.

No, I don’t understand virtual reality, but I think it’s a lot like prayer.


I tweet as yooper1721.