Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, February 19, 2017


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

“That’s no way to run a railroad.”

That’s what Mr. Gray always said when he disapproved of something. He assumed that once he had said that, the discussion was over.

Mr. Gray was well named. He was definitely the gray eminence, the elder statesman, of our congregation. He had been the vice-president of a large meatpacking company in Chicago. He and his wife had no ties to our community. They had retired to the hills just because they liked the scenery. Our people were delighted when the Grays decided to come to church in our village instead of going to the big church in the county seat town. Whenever Mr. Gray said, “That’s no way to run a railroad,” they whispered to me, “We’ve got to do what he says. He was the vice-president of a big company in Chicago!”

“But he’s wrong,” I would say. “He doesn’t know anything about this community. And a church is not a railroad. You can’t run them the same way.”

Mr. Gray didn’t actually know anything about running a railroad, of course, and neither did I, but that was not the point. It was a phrase everyone used back then, about anything. It simply meant: That’s not the right way to do it, whatever it might be.

I was like the folks in that church. I did understand them and the community. But I was young. And I was poor. Business success and money were assumed both then and now to be marks of intelligence.

One of the reasons the people were so pleased the Grays came to church there was they assumed Mr. Gray would be a generous giver. He was not. That finally got them to thinking that maybe railroads and churches were not the same thing.

Mr. Gray assumed the discussion about anything was over when he said “That’s no way to run a railroad.” The problem was, the discussion ended not on how to get “it” done, but how it couldn’t get done. He didn’t know the right way; he just knew what was not the right way.

It’s ironic. Everyone claimed to know the right way not to run railroads, but no one knew the right way to do it. That’s why railroads are so irrelevant to us now. The right way to run a railroad was the standard for running anything and everything, but no one entrusted with running a railroad got it right.

I’m coming to the end of the line. I still don’t know how to run a railroad, but at least I’m still on the track. Maybe that’s good enough.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


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

 She is the organ
The choir, a whole
Orchestra of bassoons
Singing of prayer
And hope and Jesus
Rockin’ in Jerusalem
A musical Trinity
Is there a God who cares
A whit about this world?
I don’t know
But Mahalia makes us believe
In music
For the moment,
that’s good enough


Friday, February 17, 2017


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

At the fifty year reunion of my high school class, Kenny Liniger recalled the day Mr. Kell, our principal, summoned him and another student into his office and said, “You two will never amount to anything.”

Kenny said, “I think it was just a lucky guess.”

I’m not sure that actually happened, but Kenny raised an issue we were all thinking about, that each of us on an occasion like that thinks about: Have I really been successful? Did I do okay? Did I reach my goals? Did I live up to what my friends thought I would do? Did my life have meaning?

As I looked at those wrinkled and graying people, and assessed what I knew about them, I realized that those who have been successful had one thing in common: they were hosts rather than guests.

It is not as easy it sounds. There is always a conflict between hosting and guesting. Guests expect to be served, to be taken care of. Hosts expect to serve, to take care of others.

Ironically, both success and happiness come in the serving, in being the host.

One of our classmates—I’ll call him Ambrose because nobody in our town has ever been called Ambrose—has been more successful than any of us, because he failed so badly, and reinvented himself.

When he and I talked at our thirty year reunion, he was a bitter man. His wife had divorced him. His children were estranged. “All any of them want from me is money,” he said.

I was not real close to Ambrose in high school, but I liked him. He was always a good friend to me. I hated to see him like that. All I could do was pray for him.

At our forty year reunion, he was a different man. He had met a woman. She had taken him to church. He began to do stuff to maintain the church, cut the grass and such. She broke it off with him, but he liked the church so much, he stayed. He wanted to keep cutting the grass.

He decided to be successful. Yes, it was a decision. He decided to be happy. He reconciled with his children. Then he met another woman. She’s a delight. They’ve been married for a long time now. He stopped being a guest and became a host.

At our sixty year reunion he gave me a gift. I won’t say what it is, because that would reveal Ambrose’s identity, but it is something that says he understands the difference between being a host and a guest.

The great thing about being a host… it’s like prayer. Anybody can do it. Anybody can be successful.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


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

I was twenty. The man standing on the corner told me he was ninety-two. I wasn’t interested in his age, but he told me anyway. He was proud of reaching ninety-two and proud that he was still preaching at that age.

We were standing at a street corner in Greencastle, Indiana, at Depauw University, the site of the now defunct August continuing education conference for Indiana Methodist preachers. It was called The School of the Prophets. 

It was a hot afternoon, but he was dressed in a black suit and white shirt. I was wearing the then-current college student uniform of a vertically striped shirt and Oxford-style tan pants, with the buckle in the back.

He said he had driven over from Indianapolis just for the day. He asked me where the conference was being held. I told him, pointed “that way,” but he made no move in that direction, just stood there.

He didn’t really seem interested in going to a conference session. He just wanted to be close by, to feel like he was still part of “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” to tell a brand-new preacher how he had survived all those years.

He told me his name, but I did not hear it. I did not want to listen to him. His hair was white and his teeth were yellow. His skin was wrinkled and his clothes were old. What did we have in common? Both preachers, but his time was over, and mine was just starting.

I left him on the corner and went back to my friends inside the walls of now.

That slight chance encounter still haunts me. I was not outwardly rude or unkind to him, but I was not interested in him and his story. That might be the unkindest act of all, the non-act of not listening. He is not the last story I failed to hear, but his was the first. I have spent more time wondering about him through the years than it would have taken me to listen to him.

He was born in 1865. If he started preaching at nineteen, as I did, he started only 19 years after the Civil War ended. What stories he must have lived. What stories I could tell now if I had listened to him.

Now I am the old man on the corner. I stop young people and ask them where the action is, what is going on inside the walls of now. I listen to their stories. It doesn’t take long; their stories are short.

That is one of the chief responsibilities of old people, listening to the stories of the young. That is how they find out who they are and what they want to be.

If I listen well enough, they might even want to hear how I survived all these years, might want to listen to the old man on the corner.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


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

I’m glad Mary Ann Orr, of the Orr Funeral Home, did not see my “Girl with No Tattoo” poem yesterday. That’s not exactly a classy poem.

I liked and admired Mary Ann. But I avoided her. I didn’t want her to find out, any more than she already knew, how unclassy I was.

The Orrs were good neighbors and good church members. They lived at the end of our block, above their funeral home.

When we first came to town, Gene, Mary Ann’s husband, assured me that all I had to do to be accepted as the new preacher was to show up and be nice. He explained that one of my predecessors was the worst preacher in history. Indeed, his first sermon in that town, even before his first Sunday service, was for Mary Ann’s mother’s funeral. Her father was the school superintendent. “He laughed at his own wife’s funeral,” Gene told me, “because that funeral sermon was so bad, the only thing you could do was laugh.”

“But,” Gene went on, “I think he was the most beloved preacher we ever had. Every sermon was worse than the last, but it was so obvious that he loved us, we didn’t care.”

It was an excellent story to tell the new preacher. I, however, had a reputation as a good preacher, good in part because I did quirky stuff not expected from a preacher, not just in preaching but in general. I worked hard at keeping that rep. Most people appreciated it, and sometimes told me so. I liked that.

One day, though, my secretaries—Rose and Frances—told me that there was a rumor that I had done a certain thing. I can’t remember at all now what it was. It was nothing despicable, not murder or mooning. But I’m sure it was within my wheelhouse as the cool, unpredictable, “radical priest” preacher. Probably something like that “poem” of yesterday’s blog.

“But,” Rose, or maybe Frances, said, “Mary Ann Orr said that you were much too classy to do something like that.”

Then they waited, cute little snarky smiles on their faces, to see how I would respond, for they knew that I had already done that now-unremembered thing.

All I could do was vow to avoid Mary Ann forever, which, of course, was impossible to do. She came to church, and I went to funerals. Our paths were bound to cross. But she never mentioned it, because she was classy.  

I did also vow, however, never to do that again, and I’m sure I did not, even though I can’t remember what it was. Because I’m classy. When somebody reminds me. Thank goodness for people like Mary Ann, who expect us to be better than we are.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Two problems with writing a blog for old people: an ever smaller # of available people, who can’t remember to click on the blog link.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE GIRL WITH NO TATTOO-A poem of warning for Val’s Day T, 2-14-17

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

Lest any folks who believe the Bible literally think the following poem has nothing to do with religion, I remind you of Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make…any tattoo marks on yourself.” Or if you think certain words are not quite appropriate, either for a faith blog or Valentine’s Day…you are right, but prophets have always had to push the point to get warnings across to old people…

THE GIRL WITH NO TATTOO-A poem of warning for Val’s Day 

There is a girl so lovely, a girl so passing fair,
a girl with ripe and rosy cheeks, a girl with golden hair,
a girl who has a form divine, with a voice like morning dew,
but she’ll never get a man for she’s the girl with no tattoo.

She doesn’t have some neat barbed wire or the Chinese sign for soup,
she doesn’t have a crucifix or the hangman’s loop,
she doesn’t wear a doggy’s face or a lightning bolt from God,
how will she ever get a man with no ink upon her bod?

She doesn’t have a chance, she doesn’t have a clue,
for she doesn’t have an image of a cute ghost saying Boo
upon her lower abdomen or on her throat so fair.
She doesn’t even have a kitty on her derriere.

You can’t know what she’s thinking if it’s not written on her ass.
You’ve got to see her thigh confession when she goes to mass,
You don’t know if she’s weak or if she’s getting bolder.
You don’t know if she loves her child unless it’s written on her shoulder.

She doesn’t have a smokin’ Harley or a skull and crossbones flag,
tattooed upon her biceps or where she’s gonna sag,
when she gets a little older and little children run in fear,
when they see the sloppy sloshing of her inked-on mug of beer.

She doesn’t have a blue bird or tyrannosaurus rex.
She doesn’t have a hairy angel or a scary witch’s hex,
She doesn’t have a running bird that slays coyotes and says beep,
How can she ever get a man when her beauty’s not skin-deep?

They say it’s in the eye of the beholder, where beauty does reside,
even a girl who is a Yooper can be a blushing bride, [1]
but it’s hard to see appeal on skin where no one drew,
how can there be a spot of beauty on a girl with no tattoo?
They say that ink’s an art form, that you’ve no soul without a tatt,
with no Cupid on your buttocks you’re just Cassatt without the hat. [2]
They say it is an art form, that those without it have no soul,
because upon your bum there are no cherries in a bowl.

Jackson Pollock would have made it, but he didn’t have a tatt,
so would that Picasso guy, but his biceps were too flat,
to show a vase of flowers, or even “Mother,” dear,
instead his puny arms just  painted people strange and queer.

Yes, she is quite lovely, yes her life is really rich,
but she’ll never get a man without some art apprich.
She doesn’t sport a swarthy pirate on a coral reef,
she’s just an empty palette, she’s got no bas relief.

She does not have some purple grapes all clustered and all viney,
she is so completely without class there’s no art upon her heiny.
She may be a doctor or in a business that ends with Inc,
but she’ll not break the glassy ceiling unless she has some ink.

She surely is a lesbian or maybe something worse,
perhaps she is a commie, or a writer of blank verse,
maybe she’s from Kenya or she may be a Jew,
you cannot know the faith or creed of a girl with no tattoo.

She doesn’t sport a dragon, she doesn’t have a dagger,
she wears no colored crucifix or a likeness of Mick Jagger,
she does not display Bugs Bunny or near-sighted Mr. Magoo,
she’s the existential loser, the girl with no tattoo.

Her life’s so inefficient, how awful no one knows,
when she wants to show you how she feels, she  has to put on clothes.
It would be much more effective for her to tell you how she felt
if she had an upraised finger forever on her pelt.

I must be a loser, I must be a nerd,
I must be the most pathetic man in this strange graphic world,
I must be a crazy fool who’s brain has gone coo-coo,
for I’m the Valentine’s Day lover of the girl with no tattoo.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Yooper refers to a citizen of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, UP. The idea that a Yooper girl might not be a blushing bride is because brides there must wear parkas and snowshoes at their June weddings.

2] Artist Mary Cassatt is always pictured wearing a big hat.

I started this blog 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.] The grandchildren, though, are grown 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 am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Monday, February 13, 2017


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

I have six categories I think through each day to remind me of how I need to spend my time.

1 = HEALTH, both physical and mental. I put it first because nothing else is possible without health.

2 = FAMILY. Obvious reasons. These are the persons most important to me and for whom I have the greatest responsibility.

3 = HOUSEHOLD. You can’t live very successfully unless someone maintains the infrastructure—cooking, cleaning, shopping, errands, trash and recycling, yard and house, laundry, car maintenance, putting Christmas decorations back up on the shelves in the garage, making more shelves, etc. Life falls apart pretty quickly if you don’t tend to these.

4 = FRIENDS. It’s important to support and uphold and spend time with the people who call you and say, “I’m coming to town and I want a sandwich.”

5 = LAUGHTER. I make that a separate category because it’s so easy to neglect it. Laughter is life’s magic potion. We need to imbibe it every day. If there’s no chance of it coming up on its own, I need to seek it out. A preacher, a priest, and a rabbi walked into a bar. The bartender said, “Is this some sort of joke?”

6 = MISSION. For a long time, I called this category Work. When I retired, I changed it to Writing, because that’s how I wanted to spend my time. But Mission is really what it was all along. If I were still working or writing, they would not really be ends in themselves but part of my mission. Mission includes our work, but is larger. It is vocation, what we are called not so much to do as to be. The doing comes out of the being.

Each of us is called to the vocation of being, being a child of God, and thus acting like a child of God. Or, as my non-believer friends say, acting “like a decent human being.”

Joan Erikson, the wife of psychologist Erik Erikson, says that in his last years, when he needed constant care, he observed his caregivers with the same interested eye through which he had always viewed people, and treated them with the same kindness and graciousness he had always used. The field for his mission, for being a child of God, a decent human being, had been reduced from the whole world, to which he related through his research and teaching, to just a handful of people, but his mission did not change.

The Mission category includes and sets the tone for the others. None of us is ever too old to have a mission.


I tweet as yooper1721.