Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Precious In Hope-a poem

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

This is finally every life:
an old teddy bear, stuffed
with rags and memories
one eye missing, fur worn
off in the hugging
of the years, destined
for the heap of trash
in the back yard
but precious in its hope


If you think this is bad poetry, you are correct, but my explanation/excuse is that I do not think of it as poetry at all, just my first-of-the-morning musings set down in sort-of poem-like form.

Friday, January 20, 2017

US vs. THEM 1-20-17

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

The IU basketball team lost two games in a row, at home, to start the Big 10 season. Happened only twice in the 128 years of IU basketball. Since then we have lost even more and looked bad even when we won. I am in a funk. The entirety of my identity is the result of IU basketball. I expect any moment to receive a tweet from Donald Trump saying, “Loser!” And I will react maturely, by saying, “No, you are.”

Things have gotten only slightly better for the basketballing Hoosiers. The reasons are clear. We have bad coaches. The referees are against us. Those Indiana high school stars should stay home and play for IU instead of going to foreign places like MI and OH. IU needs to spend more money on basketball instead of irrelevant academic stuff.

Those have to be the reasons. It couldn’t possibly be because the other teams are better, because they aren’t. They can’t possibly be better, because they are not us. [Or “we” if you are one of those types].

All you need to know is that “it’s us against them.”

That’s okay if it’s basketball. Well, almost okay. Too much “us against them” and you get poor sportsmanship, at which most folks these days would blink and say, “Poor what?

I read a Sports Illustrated article recently about Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the National Football League’s Pittsburg Steelers. [1] Everyone agrees that when he was new in the league, he was a real jerk, who thought everyone should give him anything and everything, him giving nothing in return, because he was the star quarterback. Nobody liked him, including his teammates. He was twice accused of sexual assault. He was not convicted in either case, but everyone agreed it was the sort of thing he would do because he just assumed he should have anything he wanted.

By all accounts, he learned his lesson and is now a good teammate, family man, and citizen. Many people, especially women, still don’t trust him, however. Some folks were talking about that and one man pointed out a woman in the room and said, “She’s such a big Steeler’s fan, he could even commit murder and she’d still be for him.” She overheard and laughed and said, “Yes, that’s probably right.”

Now I’m sure she didn’t mean that, but it points up the “us vs. them” mentality of everything we do these days. There is no objective standard of ethics and morality to which everyone needs to adhere. Anything our team does is okay because it’s OUR team. Anything the other team does is wrong, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s THEM.

You can have football, or basketball, that way. You can’t have a nation, a civilization, a culture, that way. Today we inaugurate a president who embodies “us vs. them” more than anyone in our history. Of course, he would not have had a chance at election had not the entire political culture moved toward “us vs. them” over the last 35 years.

One thing I have noticed in recent weeks, on Facebook and elsewhere, is that whenever someone criticizes Trump, the immediate response by Trump supporters is, “Hillary did worse.” While it is true that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump, she is not being inaugurated as president today. From now on, if Trump is criticized, there is no escape through comparison. No one can say, “Well, Hillary…”

My Grandma Pond used to talk about people who were willing “to cut off their nose to spite their face.” Christians these days, above all else, need to be plastic surgeons, helping to restore noses to disfigured faces. Maybe even practicing good sportsmanship.

We won’t survive with “us vs them.” We’ll survive only if it’s all “US.”


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] When our girls were little, the Steelers were in their heyday, the “Steel Curtain” and Terry Bradshaw and “The Immaculate Reception,” and all that. I told them the reason the Stealers played so well was that they were in jail because of their stealing, and were let out on the weekends to play football. If they won, they got to stay out for the week, so they played hard. Also, they weren’t very bright, so they misspelled Stealers as Steelers. They were considerably chagrined when they told this story to friends in graduate school and learned it was not totally correct.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


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

I was a psychology minor at university, and took basic pastoral counseling courses in seminary, and did more extensive academic work in psychology when I was doing doctoral work. Much of my best learning, though, was not in formal academic course work, but occasional workshops or lectures. One of my best teachers in those settings was William Schutz.

I was in my early thirties when I took a day-long workshop that Schutz led. At one point he divided us into groups of four. It was a big room with a lot of people. To get into our groups we had to sit on the floor. We followed the techniques Schutz gave us on how to interact.

The groups did not meet for long. Maybe only 30 minutes, maybe 60. I could not tell because it was such a terrific experience that the time flew by. My group partners were total strangers, but I had never felt closer to anyone in my life. We told one another things we had never told anyone before. Not anything dangerous or embarrassing, like murders or affairs or having voted for morons, but our deepest yearnings and fears.

Then the time was up. Reluctantly we got up off the floor and back into our wooden folding chairs. And it was over. Those people with whom I felt so close were strangers again. I had no desire to continue in relationship to them, and apparently they had no desire to hang out with me, either, even to the extent of saying goodbye when the day was over. It was just “a flight to the moon on gossamer wings.”

What was the problem? Well, maybe it was no problem at all. Some relationships are not meant to be “I & Thou,” not meant to be forever.

But if a problem existed, it was because of technique. Not bad technique, but the very presence of technique. Don’t get me wrong; techniques can be quite valuable. And Schutz had certainly developed a very effective technique for getting people into relationships quickly. But techniques are not valuable for everything. Friendships don’t grow out of technique, despite Sheldon Cooper’s best efforts on “The Big Bang Theory.” Friendships grow out of friendship.

I heard a football coach say that his players were good at running around the field doing football-like activities, but they weren’t good at playing football. Doing friendship-like activities is not the same thing as friendship.

I hold in such great admiration and affection the folks who have been willing to grow a friendship with me over years instead of over minutes. And although I cannot remember their names or faces, I appreciate those folks who spent some time on the floor with me that day; they helped me learn about friendships.


I tweet as yooper1721.

If you have not yet read Katie Kennedy’s wonderful YA novel, Learning to Swear In America, get thee to a bookery!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


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

I sing a lot. Often I’m in public when a song pops into my head, so I don’t sing out loud, or even sub voce, just in my brain. One song that became part of my repertoire when I was only about twelve was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” because my voice was changing to bass, and that song sounds very nice in low bass as you’re walking by yourself on a gravel road, keeping your spirits up in the dark. I hoped it sounded intimidating to any wolves or demons that lurked in the dark, waiting for a tenor.

That’s what I thought “Swing Low” was all about, keeping one’s spirits up in the dark, starting with the slaves in the South, who had to keep their hopes up not only in the night but in the day.

A few years ago Helen and I spent some time at a continuing education event. One of the professors, an heir of slaves, did a workshop on what we have traditionally called “Negro Spirituals.” I had learned in history classes as an undergrad that the Negro Spirituals had a political dimension, and I added to my repertoire songs like “Oh, Freedom,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “We Shall Overcome.” Our professor elaborated on that theme, how the slaves communicated with one another, often right under the noses of their slave masters, by singing directions on how and when to escape. I find that both inspiring and thrilling.

Our professor, however, would not acknowledge any “spiritual” dimension to the “spirituals.” Those songs, for him, were all and only about bodies escaping from slavery, not at all about souls and spirits escaping from slavery.

I understand that, as much as a white person can, which is far from completely. But hope is never one dimensional. Hope is always multi-level.

I’m now in that upper 2%. No, not that 2%, the ones with all the money, but the 2% who will die next. That is where you get just by living long enough. I still have hope for escape from the wolves and the demons, but I have hope for escape of my soul from a declining body into a new reality in a way I could not have when I was in that other 98%. We never move out of one level of hope; we only add new levels.

Hope is different from wishing. Hope pulls us on when there is no hope, in this moment, in this year, in this presidency, in this life. I wish for things to be different and better. My wishes will not all come true. But I can sing, in a now-faltering bass, swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home and know that my hope is built on nothing less… and know that hope is real even when wishes fail.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Jess Bailey’s obit was in my home town newspaper. He was 95. Before mentioning his wife of 73 years, or his children and grandchildren, or his church membership, where he was a trustee, or his profession as a heavy equipment operator, or his military service in WWII, the obit noted, “He played on a sectional winning basketball team.” [1]

That’s how we see basketball in Indiana.


1] This was in the days of the “Hickory” of the movie “Hoosiers,” when there was only one class, and a tiny school like Milan, on which “Hickory” was based, had a chance at a state championship. It wasn’t very likely, though, so the sectional championship, the first of the four levels--followed by regional, semi-state, and state—was basically an ultimate championship for a small school. 

Monday, January 16, 2017


I was surprised, although I should not have been, at the folks who did not understand the “meaning” in my post of yesterday, in which I plead for people to accept me in church even though I wear a suit and tie. I meant it to be mostly funny, a reversal of the old paradigm in which men were expected to wear suits and ties to church and those who could not afford such felt they could not come to church. Now, of course, “proper” church clothing means anything except a suit or a “dressy” dress. Anything goes as long as it looks like it would not have belonged in church twenty years ago.

A lot of folks responded by saying “You look okay” and “I think you look nice,” and “It’s okay to wear what you want.” Well, yes, and thanks, but the response I assumed and wanted was a wry smile and an understanding that we need to be careful about judging others because what is “in” now will be “out” soon, not just in how we dress but in all of our human expectations.

All human communication is tricky, because we have different filters through which we see and hear. That’s especially true with humor.

I remember how certain kinds of humor were not funny at all to me when I was recovering from surgery and undergoing chemotherapy. I did not enjoy Jerry shooting Tom with a cannon, or the Three Stooges sticking their fingers in eyes, or the Road Runner causing Wylie Coyote to fall off a cliff, because I felt their pain. I was in so much pain myself, the pain of someone else was not funny at all to me. That was my filter.

Still is, mostly. I enjoy the reversal of Tweetie besting Sylvester, but I still hope he can do it without causing harm to that poor “puddy tat” as he creeps up on the birdie. [1] After all, Sylvester is a cat. He’s doing what cats are supposed to do.

When Jesus says, in Matthew 5:48, as he did yesterday in the Gospel reading at church, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” he did not mean that we should be like God. Trying to act like God is the root of all sin [see the Garden of Eden story] and giving the finger to the First Commandment. God is perfect because God is always God. Humans are perfect when we act like humans, not like animals. And Jesus has outlined very neatly how humans are supposed to act.


1] As the linguistically challenged Tweetie Bird sings, “I tought I taw a puddy tat a treepin’ up on me…”

Sunday, January 15, 2017


I apologize for mentioning this again, but it is an every-Sunday dilemma. Here it is, Sunday morning, and I am embarrassed to go to church dressed this way. But I am old and on fixed income. I cannot afford to go to the mall to buy proper church clothes, so that I’ll blend in with everyone else. What I have to wear are suits and white shirts and ties. People at church will just have to learn to accept me as I am.