Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, January 22, 2018

IT’S OKAY TO STEP ASIDE [Mon, 1-22-18]

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

The women’s marches this weekend reminded me of the time I was awarded one of the prize plums of preaching—an appearance on the radio show known as The Protestant Hour [Even though it was only 30 minutes.] Why the connection? Well, first a little history…

The program had started in 1945, and there had been at least one woman speaker on the show previously, but no ordained women.

It started by featuring preachers from the Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist denominations. The Southern Baptists pulled out, but the Episcopalians took their place. The preachers were almost always bishops or the pastors of large, flag-ship churches. The “speakers” were not always ordained, but they were well known men, like C.S. Lewis.

In the early 1980s, the show’s producers decided to open the pulpit to lesser preachers and unknowns like me. We were invited to send tapes of our sermons. My church did not have a taping system for worship services, so Terry Perkins, a church member and speech communication professor at EIU, arranged for me to use the recording equipment in his department.

I was pretty sure my tape would be well-received, because my preaching was different from the usual. I hesitate to say “entertaining,” but it was.

I won. But the opportunity was given to me with one hand and taken back with the other. “Your tape was the best we heard, but we feel that we need to have a woman preacher on the show at this time.” So, thanks, but no thanks.

I was disappointed, yes, but only slightly. Yes, I missed out on preaching for The Protestant Hour. That would have been a nice feather for my cap. But I had two daughters, then in college. I did not want anyone telling them there were any gender restrictions on them. I wanted models for them, women doing what they had previously been denied

I am a feminist. So many people misunderstand what feminism is. I mean simply that I believe women should have every opportunity and right that men have, and there was no doubt in the 1980s that we had a long way to go to get to the point of that equality. I was fully in favor of women preachers on The Protestant Hour. By that time, I had encouraged a dozen or so young women into seminary and the ordained ministry.

It’s okay to step aside so that those who are always pushed to the back can step forward and get into the parade.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

One of those daughters mentioned above is Katie Kennedy, the rising star in YA lit. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Getting ready for church this morning brings up the old age dilemma: Am I the one who should give the help or am I the one who needs the help.

I try to be helpful in church by staying out of the way of our pastors. I’m the kind of old person I always loved when I was a preacher: I come to worship, give a lot [relatively] of money, keep my mouth shut about the pastor’s many deficiencies, am friendly to newcomers and invite others to come. I occasionally do something to help out with the church’s work, especially if it can be done in secret, like sneaking into the church building without being noticed and loading up the food from Backpack Buddies Sunday and taking it to the Community Kitchen.

My old friend, Father Joe Dooley, always recited the priestly litany for Catholics: pray, pay, and obey. That describes me now that I am a “regular” church member. The perfect church member.

Well, not completely perfect. When I was a pastor, I also wanted old people, if they still had a modicum of energy in brain and body, to work on committees. That is probably the unforgivable sin. That’s where my perfection ends. You can’t be invisible if you are on a committee. You can’t be saved, either.

The problem for old people is this: as we get more decrepit, we really need more attention. We need to be willing to accept it, even ask for it when necessary. But that gets in the way, calls attention to us, makes people do stuff for us. That doesn’t feel right.

I used to park as far away from the door as I could, in any parking lot, in order to leave closer spots for folks who could not walk as well as I. Now when Helen is having one of her leg-problem days or I’m especially tipsy [just speaking gyroscopically, not alcoholically], I park as close to the door as I can get. It feels wrong, but it’s necessary. It’s embarrassing to take a good spot when you look as young as I do, so I intentionally stagger around when I get out of the car, even though I don’t need to, so that people will know I really need to park close. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

WATER WONDERS [sat 1-20-18]

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

I have always been fascinated by Jesus’ references to water. He lived in a land where water was important because there was so little of it. So did I.

When I grew up on the farm, we had no indoor plumbing. Clean water had to be carried in in buckets and dirty water had to be carried out in other buckets.

The water came from a cistern and a well. The cistern caught water off the roof of the house. It was covered by boards. We dipped a bucket in to get the water that we used for washing clothes and other household chores. The well had a pump with a long handle. We kept a jar of water beside it to “prime” it so that it would produce.

It was a deep well and so the water was good. We used it for drinking and cooking. During long summers, though, it would go dry. So did the cistern. It was then that I had to go to the Heathman’s house to carry water in a bucket. Their house was up a hill on our little gravel road, about the distance equivalent of two city blocks. A family of six needed a lot of water. That made for a lot of trips up and down the hill.

My right shoulder is lower than my left. I think that was from carrying water with my right arm from age ten, before I had stopped growing. When my wife made my first pulpit robe, she had to allow for that low shoulder.

We always washed out of a shallow basin on a wash stand. I never took a shower or a bath until I went to college. In college I lived in a decrepit old leftover BOQ building from WWII. It had a very ugly and dank shower room. But it had plenty of water. I thought it was wonderful.

I am careful with water. I don’t waste it, even now, when it comes out of a faucet or a shower head. I know what it’s like not to have water. So does most of the world. WWIII may well be about water rather than oil.

Jesus knew that, too, which is one of the reasons he counts giving water to the thirsty as a chief obligation of his followers. [Matthew 25:44.]

We get caught up too easily in the stories of Jesus turning water into wine and walking on the water. Were those signs he was the Christ? Of course not. Those were just possibilities of the moment. His insistence that anyone who is thirsty should have a drink, especially when the water runs low, now that, I think, is what makes him the Savior.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

Friday, January 19, 2018


I’m going to the eye doctor today. I’m going to stop going to docs, though. Every time I do, they find something wrong with me and want me to take another medicine.

However, since it seems I’ll be going to the doctors more and more, because they keep requiring “follow-up” exams at decreasing time periods, I am making a collection of “public books,” books it is okay to read, or pretend to read, in the waiting room. Here are the rules for public books:

First, small enough. It’s much more impressive to folks on the doc’s staff or other patients to have a big thick book, but they are hard to carry, especially if you have to run from your car to the doc’s office in the rain or snow, carrying an umbrella or on a walker. Last time, I took Margaret Donaldson’s Children’s Minds, about the ways we learn as young children. It’s a good and interesting book, and small in size, and one that fits # two [below], too.

2] Easy to explain to people who ask what you are reading. Of course, if you are reading a Lee Child or a Kate Atkinson, it’s easy enough to say, “It’s an action novel.” Some folks, however, will look down with scorn, especially in the anteroom of an upscale doc, like a plastic surgeon, at such an unworthy pursuit, so a book of poems by Billy Collins or Elaine Palencia is good. If someone says, “Is that poet any good?” just hand them the book and say, “Read page 113.” [Be sure to say a page number that is high enough that it doesn’t look like you brought this book along only to look intellectual.]

3] Don’t make it a book you can’t explain, like Sean Carroll’s The Boson at the End of the Universe. That book is impressive, but if some smart-alec kid sitting with her mom says, “What’s a boson?” or “How does the Geneva particle accelerator work?” you could be in trouble.

4] Take a book that will not embarrass you. Something by Bill Bryson is good.

5] Best to have a book you’re willing to recommend. Yes, it would be impressive to have Proust, but Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere or Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat will do nicely.

6] If you take a book in a foreign language, like Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait, you can be assured you will be seated across from someone who says, Ah, mon cheri, je suis…” so don’t do that, even if it looks as impressive as snails.

7] Don’t take a book that will cause people to want to tell you about their religious or political leanings. Yes, Borg and Yancy are good reading, but their titles, like Reading the Bible Again for the First Time and The Jesus I Never Knew will cause people to move to the other side of the room or cause them to come sit right beside you to tell about their most recent visitation from an angel.

8] If you have a writer in the family, take her Learning to Swear in America or What Goes Up, even though you have read each of them four times. You can fake reading it so others will ask about it. If her last name is Kennedy instead of McFarland, you can push the book shamelessly and not be embarrassed.


I tweet once in a while as yooper1721. Now that I am no longer a Yooper, I would like to change my Twitter handle but don’t know how.

Another good book to take would be NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. Published by AndrewsMcMeel. Available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc. in Czech and Japanese as well as English.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

FAITH V. TWITTER [R, 1-18-17]

Some time back I put a Christian Wiman quote on Twitter. “Faith is the movement of a soul toward God.”

An atheist Tweeted in reply: “There is no evidence for soul or God. Faith is belief without evidence. How can that ever be good?”

The first thing I realized is that the people who respond to my tweets the most are atheists. The second thing I realized is that Twitter is not a very good mode for discussing weighty ideas. 140 characters per tweet does not lend itself to nuanced thinking. [280 isn’t going to make this sort of discussion any easier.] Our own President has led the way in helping us to understand this.

The world will be won or lost not just by who has the best story, but by who tells their story best and widest. There really are only two stories, the Christ story, which is about love and inclusion, and the Anti-Christ story, which is about fear and exclusion.

There is a lot of fear and exclusion on the unsocial media. But in this time and place, the stories are told through social media. We who tell the Christ story, by whatever name, need to flood said media with hope and inclusion, so that it will actually be social instead of unsocial.

Old people don’t have much energy, but we can tweet. Every old person should be working Twitter, to create a Christ inclusion movement, 280 characters at a time, flooding the Twitterverse with mature wisdom. I have faith that the world will be a better place if we convince everybody to stay home on Saturday nights and watch Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS. You know it’s true…

I tweet as yooper1721.


The Wiman quote is from his penetrating book, My Bright Abyss.

The atheist quoted above asked how can belief without evidence ever be good. For the answer, read Neal F. Fisher’s excellent AN INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN FAITH: A Deeper Way of Seeing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


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

 In a church I pastored, the Nominating Committee wanted to ask a particular young woman to take a major leadership position. I was not in favor. I did not know her well, but I did not doubt her competence. My qualms were about her schedule. She had two children and a busy husband. I knew that when Helen was her age and had two children and a busy husband, she would have been appalled at the thought of taking on that kind of responsibility. When the nominating committee’s head hunter returned, however, she said the young woman had readily agreed.

She did an excellent job. At the end of her term, I was chatting with her husband one day after worship and mentioned how well she had done. He said, “Well, the only reason she took that job was that she wanted to work with you.”

I was amazed. Someone was willing to do a difficult and time-consuming and thankless job just to work with me? Then I was amazed at my amazement. Why not? That’s why we do most things, to be with people we like or want to learn from.

I had known and preached for years that our identities are formed by our relationships. I was not surprised if a person appreciated my pastoral care, from talking about their problems to receiving a supportive home or hospital visit. I was not surprised if someone came to worship because they liked me and wanted to hear me preach. Indeed, I tried to be likeable and to preach well in order to get that result.

But I liked pastoral care and preaching. I did not like church administration--committee meetings and all that. My own negative feelings toward church ad made me assume everyone felt like that. It did not occur to me that the same sort of personal relationships—with others and God—that I espoused and tried to practice in pastoring and preaching could be present in church administration.

To me, church business, church administration—especially committee meetings—was just something to endure because it was necessary.

I learned from that young woman that relationships are relationships, regardless of the setting. We can support and learn from one another—grow in our relation to others and to God--in a meeting or the kitchen, as much as in a worship service or a wedding or a funeral.

“Where two or three are gathered together [even in a committee] there am I in the midst of them,” says Jesus.


Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat lector. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Yes, the United States of America is a Christian nation. Because it is NOT a Christian nation.

The American experiment, democracy American style, was possible because of the long struggles of the Judeo-Christian tradition to live out its ethic. Yes, our nation is Christian in origin.

But two thousand years of Christian experience convinced the initiators of the American experiment that a nation could not be Christian if it were Christian. To be able to follow the dictates of Jesus--to love others as one’s self, to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done--would require a nation that did not have an established religion, a nation where everyone had freedom to worship in his or her own way. Not just a religious freedom tolerated by the preachers and priests and scribes and mullahs in charge, but a religious freedom on an even footing with everybody, including those in the religious majority.

Totally religious and totally not religious at the same time. It was a radical concept, one that was hard to grasp, one that is still hard to grasp for many people.

The various groups of European immigrants all came to America to escape religious persecution, to have freedom of worship. Very quickly, though, they turned from persecuted to persecuting, insisting that they alone were to have religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and others realized that the United States didn’t have a chance if it were just an extension of Europe, with all the old animosities of the Old World simply transferred to different geography in the New World. If there were only one acceptable religion, there would always be conflict and persecution. So, all religions were to be accepted.

Acceptance of everyone is a particularly Christian--ie Jesus--idea. There will always be people who claim to follow Jesus, who call themselves Christians, who claim their religion requires them to exclude people unlike themselves. They are hypocrites and mean-spirited, but in America, because of Jesus, hypocritical and mean-spirited religions are accepted, too.

The USA is a Christian nation because it is NOT a Christian nation.


I tweet once in a while as yooper1721.