Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Borlaug Polka

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter For the Years of Winter…


I woke up two hours past midnight and had to face that question that sooner or later all old people must answer: Did my life have meaning if there is no Finnish polka named for me?

The musical guests for The Second Sunday Folk Dance/Concert [1] last night was Kaivama, [2] composed of fiddler Sara Pajunen, from Hibbing, MN, [3] and guitarist and harmonium player Jonathan Rundman, from Ishpeming, MI. [4] They bill themselves as “Finnish-American Excavators,” meaning they dig up old Finnish and Finnish-American tunes to play, as well as create new ones. [5] One of their new ones is the Norman Borlaug Polka. [Polska in Finnish]

Borlaug was an Iowa farm boy who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and is often called The Father of the Green Revolution. It is said that his third-world agricultural innovations have saved a billion lives.

Jonathan Rundman had never heard of Borlaug until he saw his obituary in 2009. “Why haven’t I heard of this man?” he thought. “Why hasn’t everybody? He deserves to be known.” He did the logical thing; he composed a polka in Borlaug’s honor. Now every Finnish polka aficionado will know about the unassuming but amazing Borlaug.

Most of us won’t have polkas composed in our honor, because we didn’t save the lives of a billion people. About the only thing I have done in the billions is eat cookies, a billion and five if you count last night at the concert. I’m not sure that’s even worth a shanty. Maybe a country song: “He ate a billion cookies and saved a billion Keebler elves…” Or maybe not.

Maybe none of us gets meaning for life finally from what we do here on earth. Maybe meaning is just in what we are, children of God. I believe that.

I’m a Methodist, though, a follower of John Wesley, the great advocate of free will. We believe that what you do matters, too. [6] What Norman Borlaug did was a matter of life and death to a billion people. That’s important. It’s also important that Jonathan and Sara and Dean and Bette made us laugh and dance and sing last night. It’s important that we broke cookies together. Not all of us can do what Norman Borlaug did. But we can add to the storehouse of the world’s love by sharing our music and our cookies.

That’s what Christmas is about, I think. Our lives have meaning because they are the gifts of God. God shares us with the world, gives us as gifts, just as God gives to the world the gift of Christ. So we don’t have to give meaning to our own lives. That’s already God’s gift. That frees me to share my meaning, my songs and my cookies, with the world, even if I don’t have a personal polka. [7]

Merry Christmas.

JRMcF

1] Second Sunday is hosted and fronted [opening set] by White Water (Dean and Bette Premo), with Susan, Emma, and Carrie Dlutkowski.

2] www.kaivama.com

3] There was a Zimmermann boy from Hibbing who used to play and sing a little. I wonder what became of him…

4] Second Sunday is held at Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp, where Jonathan learned to play guitar while a lifeguard at summer camp, so this was a homecoming for him. Summer camp lifeguarding in the UP means wading through the snow with a brandy flask around your neck to chop a hole in the ice…

5] Kaivama also means they both grew in open pit iron ore mining areas. Kaivama comes from the Finnish kaivaa, meaning to delve or dig.

6] I don’t mean that Methodists are the only folk who believe that what we do matters. I’m admitting to my Methodist leanings simply in the interest of full disclosure. And while on that subject, I admit that I made up that last bit about lifeguarding.

7] Hint to Jonathan: A Christ In Winter Polka would be nice, though.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Long Underwear of the Spirit

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Helen and I took off our long underwear yesterday. Actually we did it last April 2. It just seems like yesterday. Now it’s time to put it on again.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say “we took it off” then. Better would be: We “stopped wearing” long underwear April 2. Saying we took it off then indicates that we had not taken it off at all since we put it on last Dec. Helen would be mortified to have people think we did not change underwear all winter, because she did.

Long underwear is supposed to be donned on Dec. 1 and doffed on April 1. We did not change on April 1 because we had a big snowfall that day. We put it on last Dec. 2 because we did not have a big snowfall Dec. 1.

Helen’s father, Tank Karr, always said that spring starts March 1. In the UP there is no such thing as spring; we simply think in terms of short underwear season.

Sometimes the weather fools the underwear. We had to put our long underwear back on last April. In addition to our big April Fool’s snow, we had another 7 inches April 9 and another two on April 11. UP here, April can be not only the cruelest month but the snowiest.

We learned about long underwear season from Arch Davidson of the Stanwood, IA Presbyterian Church, which I pastored while a doctoral student at U of IA. It was the first Sunday in December, which meant communion. It also, that year, meant a record high temperature of around eighty degrees. Arch was dressed in his gray three-piece church suit. As we sang the final hymn, he wavered and began to pass out. He was too hot. Under his church suit was his union suit. Arch was a man of conviction and predestination. It was Dec. 1, and by hokies, that meant long underwear.

Cold is a particular concern of old people. As a pastor, I have visited in the homes of many old people in the winter. I did not wear long underwear then, but I had winter-weight stuff on. I often had to cut the visit short and get out because the thermostat was cranked up to eighty degrees. I never felt the need to go to Florida in the winter; I could just go to Maple Adams’ house.

Many old people go in the wintertime to where the air is hot. I think long underwear is a better solution, for when you are old, you have less tolerance for hot air as well as less tolerance for cold air.

The cold does not seem to affect young people as much. I cannot remember being young myself, but I observe young people. Our granddaughter, Brigid, goes around in short sleeves and bare feet during long underwear season.

There is also an emotional coldness that comes with age. Neither cranking up the thermostat or fleeing to Florida helps that much. I recall talking with a man whose wife had died suddenly. “I just feel cold,” he said. His emotional long underwear had been removed.

That happens each time someone we love is taken from us. That person who kept us warm with love and laughter, who held us close when we shivered at the ways of the world, is gone. We are without the long underwear on which we counted.

I am told that the last test for soldiers in training for arctic duty is to be dropped alone into the arctic wilderness, in regular fatigues, clutching their arctic pack. They will not survive unless they strip completely naked, in brutal temperatures, and don the survival pack.

We do not survive in this cold world without the right long underwear. I am tempted from time to time to try to get along without it. Then some layer of my long underwear is taken away, and I realize how cold I am without it. I give thanks for Filson and L.L. Bean. I save my greatest thanks, however, for those who wrap me in the warmth of love, even though now that warmth comes, from many of them, not in presence, but in memory and in hope.

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)





Friday, December 2, 2011

Occupy the World

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

Folk-singer Jim Manley and I go back a long way together, but I’m sort of sorry that I brought him six thousand miles to sing "Raggedy Band" at IL State U 45 years ago. Now he seems to think we’re kindred spirits, so he sent me his new environment-hugging CD, "Pilgrim on a Brave New Planet: Just and faithful living in a tough and changing world."

Apparently he is such a pilgrim. It’s also obvious he wants me to be such a pilgrim. But I’m too old to be a pilgrim. The problem with blaming old age is that Jim’s older than I am. Who does he think he is, Abraham? [1] Some Old Testament prophet claiming that “old men shall dream dreams?” [2]

The first track is Jim’s famous "Take Off Your Shoes." Great song. I hum it all the time. He wrote some new, very specific lines about taking care of God’s holy ground, but I didn’t pay much attention, because I knew the original lyrics. The second track is "Come, Old Pilgrim." That appealed to me. I figured it would be a nice ditty about old folks gathering around the fire to keep warm as we tell stories of our past victories over the forces of darkness. Wrong! What does he mean, “We’ve pleasured in green pastures as we’ve lived beyond our means?” Now he’s quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’. [3]

On through the tracks he keeps meddlin, in very specific ways:

When “Drill, baby, drill,” turns to “Spill, baby, spill,” God’s counting on me, God’s counting on you.

This is how the world attacks, with car exhaust and chimney stacks.

Feel the temperature arising, no more time for compromising, endless data analyzing, what more do we need?

“Too big to fail” demands revising/New needs prove that “less is more.”

He even got Bob Dylan to let him use "The Times They Are A-Changin’" and add a couple of Jim’s own verses. So gather round people, rise up and stand, Unite with each other on earth’s shifting sand…

I thought old people got to rest a little bit. Shouldn’t young people be responsible for the stewardship of God’s earth now? Everybody? Sheesh!

For earth’s sake, don’t buy this CD or its accompanying songbook at http://manleymusic.com/index.htm, or you’ll be rolling your walker out to the barricades. On the other hand, if each of us bought a copy and sent it to our Senator or Representative…

Please excuse me. I have to stop occupying the sofa and go Occupy the World.

JRMcF

I have told the story of how Jim and I have interacted through the years in “Spirit of Gentleness,” the title of Jim’s most-sung song, in Christ in Winter for Dec. 13, 2010.

1] Abraham was 75 when God told him to leave his native land and strike out for “The Promised Land.” Genesis 12:4.

2] Joel 2:28. “Then afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” NRSV

3] Old preacher joke about the evangelist who condemned booze and the old farmer yelled Amen. He condemned gambling and the farmer yelled Amen. He condemned chewing tobacco and the old farmer yelled, “Now he’s quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’.”

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Missing Piece--An After-Thanksgiving Poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

THE MISSING PIECE—An after-Thanksgiving poem

It is two days after Thanksgiving
And I am still thankful
For turkey and dressing and cranberry salad
And pie
Especially pie
But not potatoes
They were not on the menu this year
And for the jigsaw puzzle
We worked together
[An old-fashioned winter scene]
One piece at a time
Until it was complete
Except one piece was missing
My wife said it might be someone at the factory
Playing a cruel joke
[I suspect the cat]
My wife said it would not be so bad
If it were just a plain piece
Just blue sky
With one innie and two outies
Or just white snow
With innies and outies alternating
As they sometimes do
But the hole
Was right in the middle of the puzzle

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)








Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sound of Memory

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter for the Years of Winter…

THE SOUND OF MEMORY

We picked up Grandson Joe home from school yesterday. He was grinning as he got into our "Inferno Red" PT Cruiser. He is in 6th grade and has just become a member of the band. He got his new clarinet yesterday. He already plays mandolin and ukulele, but those are not band instruments, even though he thinks they should be. He says he chose the clarinet for band just because he likes the sound, which is a very sound reason for choosing an instrument.

When we got to his house, I helped him assemble the clarinet. I knew how to do it, for I, too, was a 6th grade clarinetist. We heard the first sound he made on it. We liked the sound.

I’m not sure I even knew what a clarinet sounded like when I was in 6th grade. I just knew I wanted to be in the band; I wanted to belong. Also, there was something in me that wanted to be a part of making music with others.

I could sing, and did, especially with my older sister, Mary Virginia, as we washed the dishes together. "Down In the Valley" was a favorite. But I wanted to be in the band, too.

We lived on a farm and did not have a car. Starting in 7th grade, I walked and hitch-hiked back and forth to town, but in 6th grade I couldn’t do anything that required staying after school. Transportation was school bus in and school bus out. But band had its own period in the school day. I could be in the band and still ride the bus home and do evening chores. I could be a part of something, like the other kids. I could make music.

But my parents said "no band." They were reluctant to say it, but they had no choice. We didn’t have money for an instrument. I can remember standing out in our back yard, trying to hold back tears. I knew that we lived in poverty, but that was the first time I really understood that my life would be limited by it.

Mary V. came out to talk with me, as she always did when I was unhappy, from the time I was five and she was nine and she talked me out of running away from home. “Let’s see what we can figure out,” she said.

I had a war bond, a gift from Grandma Mac, I suspect, that I could cash in for $20, and a nickel and a dime at a time, we came up with another $5. I became a clarinetist not by choice but simply because one of our teachers, Mr. Grubb, had a used one for sale for $25. It was metal.

It was the only silver-colored clarinet in the band. All the others were black, wood or ebonite. My metal clarinet stuck out, not only for its looks but for its sound.

Thousands of metal clarinets were produced in the first third of the 20th century. They had two good qualities: 1] They were not damaged by weather and so could be used outdoors in marching bands. 2] They could be easily and cheaply mass produced.

The second quality was their downfall. Professional quality metal clarinets had as good a sound as wooden instruments, but the market was flooded with cheap clarinets designed primarily for students. Those did not produce a very good sound, so metal clarinets in general developed a bad reputation. As soon as World War II was over, metal clarinets were over, too. Except for mine.

Together we produced some very strange sounds, that metal clarinet and I. After a year or so, the band director said the clarinet needed a makeover, new pads and such, or it could not remain in the band. It just didn’t sound right. The makeover would cost more than we had paid for it.

But, he said, we need a second bassoonist.

Bassoons and tubas were so expensive that no one could buy one personally. [1] The school furnished them. I could play bassoon and the only cost would be the double reeds, available at Troutman’s Drug Store. I became a bassoonist. Because I was the poorest kid in the band, I played the most expensive instrument.

I like the notes that come from Joe’s new black clarinet, but to this day, when I hear a band or orchestra, I listen for the bassoons. I like that sound.

JRMcF

1] Wikipedia says current prices are $8,000 to $25,000.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sugar Deficit of the Soul

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

I have never been trick-or-treating. I did not realize that until Helen asked me about it on our way home last night.

We had gone to the grandchild house to do our usual duty, handing out candy to princesses and monsters and even a deep-sea diver, while Katie and Patrick walked a discreet distance behind Brigid and Joe as they rang doorbells at other houses to collect enough candy to last at least until Christmas candy canes and chocolate oranges replaced it.

This year, though, was different. Joe, dressed as an evil chef, and his friend, Zach, a gorilla, went out on their own, with no need or desire for trailing parents, and Brigid, a sophisticated high schooler now, did candy handouts along with her parents. Nothing for Helen and me to do except sit on the sofa and admonish the dog for barking whenever the door bell rang.

I have been trick-or-treating with our children, of course, doing the trailing-parent thing, standing out in the street chatting with other young fathers while Cinderella and Daniel Boone and Spiderman went from door to door. But I have never myself rung a doorbell and threatened mayhem if I were not bought off with a Milky Way or a Jesus tract.

Halloween was not a big thing from 1941-1947, the years when I was a kid in Indianapolis. Those were war years, and no material was available for costumes, no sugar for candy. All celebrations were muted, at best. When I was ten we moved to the country and didn’t have a car, so trick-or-treating wasn’t even a possibility.

Now I wonder if the absence of trick-or-treating as a child might be the source of all my problems—the inability to beg or threaten or disguise myself or walk at night without stumbling, a sugar deficit of the soul. It explains a lot about my inadequacies.

On the other hand, it might explain why I am not afraid of ghosts or goblins, of zombies or vampires, of skeletons or monsters. Or death.

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)







Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CAMO GOD

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Dave and Maggie Lamb came UP from IL to see us a month or so ago. I officiated at their wedding fifty years ago, and they apparently wanted me to know that I had done a good job.

Dave and I were high school friends. He was the Art Editor of “Oak Barks,” the mimeographed [1] newspaper of Oakland City, IN, High School, when I was the Editor. We were part of a group, along with Bob Robling and Donald Gene Taylor, that occasionally filled in on Sundays for absent preachers. We sang as a quartet, and I preached. I was very proud when Dave and Maggie asked me, while still in seminary, to officiate at their wedding.

I went to IN U to become a newspaper reporter. He went to U of IL to become a graphic artist. I ended up as a preacher, and he ended up as the premier “mad man” of the last third of the 20th century.

It was Dave who gave the name of “The Me Generation” to the 1970s. He didn’t cause it, but he recognized it, and so he named it, starting the decade with his “Me and My RC” ad campaign. He created the “Bring out your best” ads for Bud Light, plus their Olympic ads, that won awards at the Cannes film festival, plus many of the other iconic ads of the latter part of the 20th century.

When I have talked about him in the past, I always started with those ads. When they were UP to visit, though, Maggie told us about how he once explained to Frank Sinatra, calling on those old quartet days, how to sing. He was directing an ad for Michelob that featured Sinatra, and explained to Old Blueyes, who was acting more like Old Jerkface, “Then you walk over here, singing as you go, Just the way you look tonight…” Dave himself singing it, to be sure that Frank, as Dave calls him, got it. [I was going to say that he had to take Frank by the arm and lead him to his spot, since Frank may have been using the sponsor’s product already, while explaining how to sing, but Dave doesn’t want anyone to think he was pushing Frank around, as The Chairman of the Board still has friends in low places.]

Now I start my stories of Dave with “I have a friend who taught Sinatra how to sing.” [2]

Dave recently mused about the name of this blog. He said…


In the fall season about two years ago we took our grand kids in Arizona to a Pro Bass store. You know, the frozen zoo, with a hundred stuffed animals and fish in giant glass tanks being leered at by would be anglers. Close to the front door to the right was a book section. (Not very complicated types of reading material...mostly pictures.) But as I examined it closer something attracted, or un-attracted my attention. It was a camouflaged book almost causing it’s 9x12 x 2 and1/2 dimensions to disappear in the overall Pro Bass ambiance.

It drew me closer. What great hunter’s secrets were worth this effort?
What price would be put on something of such intellectual importance,
that obviously was meant to not gather dust but become at peace with it?
Drawing closer there was the glint of a small sophisticated font embossed in gold. The title said “HOLY BIBLE”.

Christ not in just Winter, but camouflaged! Along with Job, Moses and Mary! My first thought was of the “boys” out there in the blind reading it between beers waiting for their appointed task of obliterating mother nature. Such comfort.

I refuse to go to Pro Bass now. It has made me feel so undeserving of my Lord’s grace. I am also afraid to go to church . One never knows what might really be in there.

Dave Lamb
***
True to his persuasive abilities, Dave has made me afraid to go to church, too. I’m too old to encounter grace face to face, and our pastor seems determined to take the camo off the Gospel.

JRMcF

1] Recently Helen and I were eating with a couple of nineteen-year-olds at a family gathering. Have you ever tried to explain a mimeograph machine to someone who’s never heard of them?

2] OK, so I didn’t start with that this time, but I will from now on.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sweet Sixteen & a Profile in Courage

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial was dedicated this week. Granddaughter Brigid turns sixteen this week. Two important events that for me go together.

Last year, as a high school freshman, Brigid wrote an essay for a Profiles in Courage assignment. It’s excellent, which isn’t surprising, since her mother is the best writer I know. [1]

I had told Brigid at some time in the past, the way grandparents do, about the "open housing" controversy in Normal, IL shortly after we had moved there in 1966. So when the assignment came up, she chose as her profile in courage, Bill Hammit, Sr.

We moved to Normal in 1966. Civil rights for Negroes, the polite and accepted term at the time, was not yet the law of the land. Many people were committed to keeping civil rights away from Negroes forever. It wasn’t just in the South. That included the otherwise civilized town of Normal, the home of IL State U [2], the chief educating institution for teachers in IL since before the Civil War.

There are some folks who thrive on controversy, but most people don’t like it. There was a lot of resistance to civil rights just because the issue created discomfort. Of course, it had been mighty uncomfortable for black folks for a long time, but when white people had to be discomfited, they just wanted the issue to go away. Another Methodist minister who lived in Normal remonstrated with me that “The country and this town aren’t ready for this yet. You just have to give people time.” I pointed out that it had been over 100 years since the Civil War; that seemed like plenty of time. He was not persuaded. [3]

Open housing became an issue because Charles Morris was hired as a math professor at ISU. Apparently the presence of someone with a PhD from the U of Illinois would drive property rates down, as well as creating other disasters. I agreed publicly, noting if we admitted U of I PhDs, we’d have to admit Purdue people, too, and we all knew what they were like. [4] It turned out, though, that the provenance of his doctorate was not the issue; it was the color of his skin.

There were Normal people who wanted the Morris family to be able to buy a home, but Negroes were legally barred from living in Normal. An open housing ordinance was presented to the seven-man town council. A support movement started. Students led marches. Women, including Helen, hosted coffees for neighbors. Three members of the town council indicated they would vote for the ordinance, but three were against. That left Bill Hammitt, Sr., a Methodist minister, Director of The Baby Fold, a Methodist child care agency [5], as the deciding vote.

Bill asked Gordon White and Clarence Young, the ministers at First Methodist Church, and me, the Methodist campus minister, to meet with him. “You’re my pastors,” he said. “Tell me how I should vote.” Without hesitation, with one voice, we said, “You’ve got to vote for open housing.” “But people will say, ‘Your pastors live in parsonages, houses the churches own. They don’t stand to lose property value.’” Indeed, parsonage life was the rule then, and still is, but none of us lived in a parsonage. All three of us were buying our own homes. “That settles it,” said Bill.

Bill was the deciding vote, and open housing became the Normal law. Over a 30 year career, Charles Morris became a highly valued member of the community and vice-president of the university.

When you are old, it’s nice to remember people of courage, people who stood against those powerful forces that try to deny rights to others, like MLK and Bill Hammit, Sr. Bill doesn’t have a statue, but his profile is up there on that MLK memorial, along with a million other folks who had the courage to say “We shall overcome.” The opportunity to present a profile in courage is always with us, even if the profile is bald and has a double chin.

Even better is to stand with those who are presenting profiles in courage right now, occupying the high ground against injustice, even if the profile is just sixteen.

JRMcF

1] When I was the graduate assistant to James Spalding, the Director of The School of Religion at the U of Iowa, I graded the papers for the class he taught. Brigid’s mother, Katie, was then in 5th grade at Longfellow School, and I also read the papers she wrote. I thought, “Good grief, this fifth grader writes better than these college students!” Later, when she was at Indiana U, Robert Ferrell, the distinguished history professor, asked her, “Where did you learn to write?” “From my father,” she said. “Where did he learn to write?” he asked. “From you,” she said. Needless to say, she was forever after his favorite student.

2] Originally Illinois State Normal College, “normal” meaning a teacher training institution. The college came first, on land a few miles north of Bloomington, so the town that grew up around it became Normal.

3] When I interrupted an Official Board meeting at First Methodist in Normal to tell them that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, several people broke out in applause.

4] Needless to say, Purdue is the chief rival of Indiana U, my alma mater.

5] The Baby Fold was originally a retirement home for deaconesses and gradually became an orphanage and then expanded to encompass adoption and care for children with all kinds of needs, especially severe mental and emotional problems. The name is from the image of Jesus as the good shepherd. A fold is a shelter for sheep. Of course, there are still many jokes about how to fold a baby.
***
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)



Sunday, October 9, 2011

ON HATING HELEN

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Barbara followed me into the kitchen. She was almost in tears. “I hate your wife,” she blurted out.

We were hosting a pot-luck in our parsonage in Hoopeston, IL for the other ministers and their wives. It was a good fellowship. We were a wide range theologically, conservative and liberal and everything in between, but only one minister in town boycotted the Hoopeston Area Ministerial Association. Everybody in the HAMA came to our potlucks.

Barbara was the wife of Dirk, the Lutheran pastor. She looked like a super model, and Dirk was a George Clooney type, except younger and good looking. I figured Helen and I had more reason to hate them than the other way around.

We didn’t hate them, though. In fact, when their church building burned, we invited them to share ours.

We had enough empty classrooms that we could accommodate their Sunday School at the same time as ours, and we worshipped at the same time, too, with Lutherans in the fellowship hall while Methodists were in the sanctuary. It was quite unusual for Missouri Synod Lutherans.

We loved it. There were so many people in the building, so much activity. The way you know your church is a going concern is whether you have to stand in line for the rest room. We felt bereft when their building was rebuilt and they moved out.

I couldn’t believe that Barbara hated Helen. There were people in the churches and towns where I pastored who hated me, but everyone always loved Helen.

Barbara blew who super-model nose into the napkin from the plate she was placing on the counter and said, “She makes being a preacher’s wife look so easy, and it’s not.”

“That’s because she doesn’t try to be a preacher’s wife,” I told Barbara. “She is just herself. That’s a lot easier.”

I don’t know if Barbara ever got to be herself. The Lutherans moved out of our building, and the bishop moved us to Charleston. No more HAMA potlucks at our house. But it’s Sunday morning, and I always pray for my preacher friends on Sunday morning, including all the wives who hated Helen for making it look easy.

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)




Sunday, September 25, 2011

After the Game Is Over

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

There were other folks involved, of course, but since baseball poetry traditionally deals with male intergenerational bonding…

AFTER THE GAME IS OVER

It was the major leagues, almost
The Pirates and the Cubs
But names that fit them best at most
Were the 1.75rates and the Flubs [1]

Hot dogs were twenty smackers
Ice cream was even more
When they saw the price of young Jack’s Crackers
Every chin dropped to the floor.

Each player made a million each
For working half a day
But every ball was out of reach
No one dared to shout “Say hey!” [2]

Every bat let out a sigh
When they saw who came to hit
None of their kind would have to die
Since every pitch was missed

Every pitch was wild as sin
The managers prayed for rain
Home plate doesn’t have to take you in [3]
There was no Spahn or Sain [4]

But for a boy up in the bleachers
With a grandpa old as Never
Watching on the field those wretched creatures
It was the best day in Forever.

JRMcF

1] 1.75 is half of pi, if we accept pi as 3.14 without the “to infinity,” making half-rate Pirates 1.75rates. You can say “half-rates” in that line if the meter offends you.

2] The signature exultation of Willie Mays, for whom no ball was ever out of reach.

3] Poet Robert Frost said that “home is where they have to take you in.” Home plate is where they try to keep you out.

4] The battle cry of the 1948 National League Boston Braves, who became the Milwaukee Braves and later, and currently, the Atlanta Braves, was “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” reflecting the abilities of Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn and his pitching rotation partner, Johnny Sain, compared to the rest of the rotation, who pitched best if rained out. Based on a poem by Boston Post sports editor Gerald Hern: “First we’ll use Spahn, and then we’ll use Sain, then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, and followed we hope by two days of rain.”

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

THE 5TH STAGE

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…


Schools in general, and colleges in particular, used to start classes after harvest season. So it was in this week on the calendar of 1955 that I matriculated at Indiana University.

During Orientation Week of that freshman year, men’s and women’s dorms were paired up for mixers. The point of the mixer was to hook up with a girl, hook up in those days being a benign term that simply meant finding a date, and then going to the campus-wide dance in Alumni Hall in the Union Building, the largest student union building in the world, we are always proud to say. Normally Linden Hall would have been paired with Pine Hall, since the Pine Hall girls, known as Pine Swine for no reason other than the rhyme, were on The Residence Scholarship Plan [for poor but motivated students], as were the boys of Linden Hall-East, boys and girls being what we called boys and girls in those days, instead of men and women, as college boys and girls are called now. For some reason, though, probably because the Pine Hall girls rejected the idea, Linden Hall was paired with Oak Hall instead.

All the Ahaywehs, as the denizens of Linden East were later called, referring to Dante’s abandon hope, all ye who enter here, dutifully trooped over to Oak and began to mix. Somehow I ended up with a slender brunette.

I don’t remember much about that night. We walked to the Union, and I suppose I tried to dance, although it is more likely that I made many trips to the punch bowl to avoid dancing, and then we walked back to Oak Hall. I must have made a better impression than I thought, because as soon as we got inside the door to Oak Hall, she grabbed me in a passionate embrace and began to kiss me like my face was sweet corn and she had missed supper.

I have no idea why she did that. We had known each other for about three hours. I was skinny and awkward and about as average-looking as they came. Maybe it was because she didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of her friends, since all of them were doing the same thing, and she didn’t want to admit she had hooked one that should have been thrown back. Maybe she was just curious to see how a farm boy would react and knew she had nothing to lose, since the Head Resident would soon blow her whistle to indicate visiting hours were over and all of the frustrated lotharios had to go home. I never saw her again after that night, except at a distance in the Arbutus Dining Hall, where all the people who lived in Trees ate. [1]

The fifth of the eight stages of psycho-social adjustment, as outlined by Erik Erikson, is Intimacy vs. Isolation, coinciding with the late teens and early twenties. The eighth stage, in the final years of life, is Integrity vs. Despair, which asks the question: Did my life through the other stages have meaning? Did I negotiate those stages successfully and grow into a mature person?

The way we successfully negotiate Integrity vs. Despair is by going back through the earlier stages, reviewing them so that we can accept them as necessary parts of who we are. I hope as that Oak Hall girl reviews her fifth stage, she doesn’t feel she never made it through Intimacy vs. Isolation because of that awkward boy in that mixer in her freshman year, for I still remember her name, after fifty-six years.

JRMcF

1] Trees Center had 8 wooden two-story dorms that had been built as temporary housing for military personnel during WWII. All were named for trees. I recall Laurel and Hickory as well as those named above. We were “men in trees” long before the TV show of that name.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)



















































Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Norway & The Will of God

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…


I have been struggling with the most recent mass murder, the one in Norway. Trying to understand. Trying to pray. Trying to re-channel my own rage into something constructive.

As usual, I am not being very successful.

I’m not helped by an abcessed tooth. There is this dull, constant, throbbing pain in my head. It beats in disharmony with the dull, constant, throbbing pain in my soul. Why is there so much evil in the world? Why are we so evil?

I have lived a long time, and I am supposed to be wise because of it, but I have no answers, no wisdom. Indeed, one of the worst things about living in the years of winter is the accumulation of evil. When I was twenty, an evil act of destruction was new in my experience. I thought I could do something about it. Now I have observed countless acts of destruction, singular and mass, and I have not been able to do anything about them.

So why not curse God and die? That was the advice Job’s wife gave him. [Job 2:9]

At the end of her life, Isabella Beecher Hooker, the social activist among the thirteen remarkable children of Lyman and Roxana (& Harriet) Beecher [1], was bemoaning the state of the world. “Well, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you did all you could about the world’s evil during your lifetime,” said her granddaughter. “That’s the problem,” said Isabella. “When I was young, I could do something about it. Now I can’t do anything.”

When Steve and Tony, the 18 and 19 year old sons of my older sister were killed in a car crash, I said at their funeral that this was NOT the will of God. “God does not will that beautiful young men should be cut down before they’ve even really started growing. It is the law of physics that when a small car and a large truck collide, the people in the small car will get hurt, but God does not pull strings to cause these things to happen. This was NOT the will of God.” I must have said it ten times in one way or another.

That night, as Dick, their father, and I sat in his darkened study in masculine silence, the president of the sports booster club came by. [Tony was quarterback on the football team.] “Well, as you said earlier,” he said to me, “it was the will of God.”

I was astonished. I know I’m not the world’s best preacher, but I’m a pretty accurate communicator. How could he turn my words around to say the exact opposite of what I had preached? Then it came to me: he wasn’t saying God caused this. He was just saying that in the midst of the tragedy, God was still in charge, that the everlasting arms are still upholding, even in the midst of evil, perhaps especially there, God is the only reason, the only hope, the only cause worth serving.

JRMcF

1] Lyman had 9 children with Roxana Foote. When she died, he married Harriet Porter and had four more. Harriet was Isabella’s mother. The most famous of the children were Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Arthur is my favorite. The first month he was the Presbyterian pastor in Elmira, NY, he was thrown out of the ministerial association for heresy. For the next 37 years he never missed a meeting of the association, although he was never readmitted to membership. Think about that—he got free coffee every month but never had to pay dues or be an officer or serve on a committee!

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)





























































Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blowin' In the Wind

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Recently I have followed an online discussion about the different recorded versions of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind. The discussion was sparked by the publication of Milt Okun’s memoir Along the Cherry Lane. [1]

Okun was the musical director for both The Chad Mitchell Trio [CMT] and Peter, Paul, and Mary. [PPM] The song was originally offered to CMT, but their record company at the time--Okun had not yet established his own record company--said no one would listen to a song that contained a reference to death and so turned it down. Okun then took it to PPM, which had a huge hit with it. Strangely, CMT--having changed companies--actually recorded it first, on an album with the title, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it was already associated so strongly with PPM that most people have always thought it was only a PPM recording.

You can hear both versions on YouTube. They are quite different, but most folk music aficionados refuse to compare them, saying that each is perfect in its own way.

Why so different, when Okun was musical director for both groups? Because Okun was a musical genius. He tailored each arrangement to the musical strengths of each group. The PPM version is wistful, yearning, hoping that there is an answer, and if we listen to the wind, perhaps we can find it. The CMT version is urgent, forceful, proclaiming that there IS an answer, and that it is important to listen to that wind, now. [2]

For Christians, I think the two versions complement each other to make a whole.

The PPM version represents Hope. The wind of the Spirit will continue to blow. [3] The answer will always be there, and whenever you have “ears to hear,” [4] as Jesus put it, you can hear those answers. The CMT version represents “realized eschatology,” [5] the faith that the Kingdom of God—the place where God rather than the greed-of-self reigns—is right here, right now.

The wind in winter can blow very cold, but there is still an answer there, if one has ears to hear. Regardless of age, the place is always here, the time is always now. For hope. For salvation, from fragmentation into wholeness. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, yearningly, urgently.

JRMcF

1] Cherry Lane was the name of Okun’s record production company, because when it started, he lived next to the Cherry Lane Theater. He was the musical director for PPM, but he says it’s just an accident that Leonard Lipton’s and Peter Yarrow’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon” contains the line, “Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.”

2] Paul Prestopino plays backup on both recordings. It is interesting to hear how he plays the same song differently according to the way Okun has arranged for each group.

3] In both biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, the words for wind and spirit are the same word, ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek.

4] I haven’t counted the times Jesus used this phrase, but one site I consulted says he used it 7 times. I know it is in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

5] The term “realized eschatology” is most closely associated with British biblical scholar C.H. Dodd.

***
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)



























































Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hey, Rose...

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…


I’m always reluctant to share dreams. People who know more about them than I do are likely to say, “If you dream about that, it means you’re crazy as a loon.” I don’t need to know that from dreams; I have people to tell me that. Occasionally, though, a dream seems right on the mark…

Last night I dreamt that I had become so lost that I could not find my way home. I was in that dream town, familiar, the town where I live, but only in my dreams. It’s a small town, but it has a lot of large church and college buildings. Many of them are neglected or abandoned. My wife had taken my father to the hospital, and I was trying to go there, but I had walked in from the country, and I was a long way from the hospital. I kept seeing familiar sights and sites, but I kept taking wrong turns. To make matters worse, I tried to call Helen to come get me, but I couldn’t remember her phone number. [Anyone familiar with my life can make a LOT out of all that!]

Old people worry a lot about losing memory. I suspect that one reason for my dream at this time is that I had several conversations this week with other old people about how we can’t remember where we put our glasses or parked our cars. [BTW, a good reason to have a landline as well as a cell phone, or at least two cell phones, is so you can find the phone you’ve lost by calling it. I know that for a fact.]

Men rely on wives for memory. Earl Davis, the grand mentor of The Academy of Parish Clergy, used to say, “I have a perfect memory system. It’s called, ‘Martha, where is that?’” I love the story about the old man who was trying to tell a friend about a new restaurant but couldn’t think of its name. “What’s that flower with the nice smell and thorns?” he said. “A rose? Oh, was the restaurant called The Rose?” “No. Hey, Rose, what was the name of that restaurant we went to?”

Pat Meyerholtz says that all of us who went to high school together have good memories; it’s just that we remember the same things in different ways. I like that. It shows how unique we are.

My wife is especially helpful when I worry about losing memory, because she says, “I’ve know you since you were twenty, and you’ve always been this way.” At least, I think that’s helpful.

Of course, forgetting your glasses or the third thing she told you to get at the grocery is just a frustration. Forgetting where home is, that’s tragedy.

After my friend from age ten, Darrel Guimond, was in a car accident that left him brain-damaged, he was able to remember one thing. He told his wife, Linda, “I know you. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I understand why we worry about losing memory. We lose our history, and thus our identity. I suspect we worry too much about it, though. Loss is the way of this world, isn’t it? When we are dead, none of us will be remembered for very long, not in the grand scheme of things. My identity and history are limited and declining, just like my memory.

I heard a story about a young adult group where each person was invited to pick a card from the deck to say who s/he was. One picked a Jack, another a deuce, another a King. One young man picked up the whole deck, turned it over, and said, “It doesn’t matter which card I am. What matters is whose hand I’m in.”

The good news is this: God doesn’t forget. God knew Darrel even when Darrel didn’t know himself. God remembers even the sparrow that falls to the ground. God knows me, my identity, my history. Even the hairs of my head are numbered. Granted, that’s easier in my case, but still…

JRMcF

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sam's Funeral

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

SAM’S FUNERAL

I’m trying to figure out how to say everything at Sam’s funeral that needs to be said without crying as I say it.

I pass the peace with Sam’s daughter at church each Sunday, but I’ve never met Sam. I don’t do funerals anymore. Or weddings, or anything else I did for 50 years as a pastor. I’m retired. But Pastor Thomas has already moved to her new appointment, and Pastor Mallory isn’t here yet, so when Sam died, Sue had the funeral home call me.

I’m glad to help. The problem is that I can’t read the service in the Book of Worship or think about what I’m going to say about Sam without crying.

I used to cry at the sad times of life. I still do. There is nothing sad, though, about the death of a man of 95, full of years and memories. In the winter of my years, however, I cry whenever I experience fullness, wholeness, beauty. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, I think on these things [Philippians 4:8], and I am filled to the brim with joy, so that my cup overflows, and the overflow comes out through my eyes.

That’s okay. I’m glad to be filled with the wholeness of life, so much so that I can’t find words to express what joy that is, and so all I can do is weep. That’s not a very good way to do a funeral, though.

So I sit here and try to figure out ways I can say what needs to be said without those trigger words that cause me to overflow. Maybe I’ll think about stuff that makes me mad. I don’t cry at stuff that makes me mad, like the Reds’ starting pitchers. Maybe that’s why old people are grumpy so much of the time; we’re trying to keep from crying. I hope Sam will forgive me for doing the funeral with a mental image of him on the mound in a Reds uniform, giving up home runs…

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)


























































Monday, June 20, 2011

Flowers of Winter

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

FLOWERS OF WINTER

Spring and summer are times of planting and of growth. Autumn is a time of harvest. Winter is the fulfillment of all the seasons past, a time to pull all the scattered pieces of seasons past into a final wholeness. In winter we still plant and cultivate and harvest, but in new ways.

When you live in a place of winter, where you dare not plant anything outside until after Memorial Day, or your new plants will be only memorials themselves after the freeze that haunts spring like a zombie craving the brains of vegetarians, you push the season forward any way you can, so a place of winter is in spring and early summer a place of hanging baskets, that can be brought inside when a night is too cold.

The freezes are not the only pillagers of springtime. There are four-legged predators, too, that want to eat the fruits of your work. Rabbits and deer will munch anything you plant, no matter how much you paid for it or how hard you worked on it. So a place of winter in summer is a place of flower boxes, high on railings on porches and decks, too high for rabbits, and where deer will not venture.

Gardeners in their winter years complain about the work but cannot give it up. They get down onto their knees and cannot get back up. That’s okay. If you have to stay on your knees, you can feel a lot of humility and do a lot of praying. But baskets and boxes give you room to plant and dig even if your knees won’t bend.

There is a growing season, even in winter, but it is for flower boxes and hanging baskets. There are predators in winter, freezes and deer and rabbits, that will devour your blooms if you put them out too far. Winter is a time to keep your flowers close at hand, even though they be few, the better to touch and sniff and look .

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)
























































Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deciding to Stay

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

DECIDING TO STAY

Roma Peterson died May 25 at the age of 95, 75 years after she first wanted to do it.

Helen and I have been blessed through the years with older, often retired, pastoral couples who have mentored us as much with their friendship as with their advice. Their very presence was witness that we, too, could survive the church if we were just patiently faithful.

Don and Dee Lemkau, Max and Ruth White, Harvey and Hazel Gaither—all gone to their reward.

Harvey and Hazel were part of an especially rich mentoring fellowship in the Quad Cities, when I was appointed to Orion, IL, several miles south of Moline. They were retired, but their son, the second Harvey, who went by Keith, was a close friend of mine, and Helen and I cavorted socially with Keith and Joyce. Their son, the third Harvey, is a UMC pastor in IL, as were his father and grandfather. That’s a rich heritage.

In that Quad Cities fellowship were Harold and Roma Peterson. Harold retired in 1973, the year before I was appointed to Orion, his last pastorate at Rock Island First. He died in 1993.

Harold was warm and pleasant. Roma was warm and elegant. My late and late-life friend, theologian Mary McDermott Shideler [1], said that elegance is “beauty plus organization.” Our late pastor’s-wife friend, Dianne Bass, fit that description. So did Roma Peterson.

One night in our parsonage in Orion, Roma told us this story. She and Harold had been married only a little while. He was a pastor in the Norwegian Methodist Conference in northern IL, the first pastor of his congregation to speak both Norwegian and English. She suddenly became deathly ill and was rushed to the hospital. [I can’t remember the reason or the illness.] The doctors told Harold there was no hope for her.

This was in the early 1920s. Most people didn’t have telephones or cars. That included Harold’s parents. His father was also a Norwegian Methodist pastor, perhaps a District Superintendent. It was late afternoon, and he was going home. He got to his front porch and was met there by his wife, Harold’s mother, who said that as he stepped onto the porch, he got a strange look on his face. “Harold and Roma need me,” he said. He set his briefcase down on the porch, turned around and walked to the train station, where he caught the train for Harold and Roma’s town.

He arrived at Roma’s hospital room just as she had decided to die. “It just felt so comfortable,” she said. “I knew I was safe and that I could go on to a better place. But I looked up and saw Harold staring down at me. I didn’t recognize him, but I thought, that young man looks so lost. He looks like he needs me. I’d better stay.”

JRMcF

1] Mary and I became correspondence friends when she sent me a gracious and positive note in response to an article I wrote for The Christian Century, “Prayer as an Occasional Thing.” She lived in Boulder, CO. When I was speaking at the 20th anniversary celebration of CANSURMOUNT in Denver, we stayed with Lynn Ringer, co-founder of that organization and ovarian cancer survivor. When Lynn learned that we wanted to visit Mary, and where Mary lived—way, way up the mountain—she insisted on driving us up there herself, which was a very good idea, both because we would never have made it in our rented Hyundai, and because Lynn enjoyed meeting Mary in person as much as we did. I think it was meeting Lynn that caused Mary to tell us her definition of elegance.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)





Thursday, June 2, 2011

Preparing for the Right Question

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Methodist ministers are appointed to a charge, which is one congregation or a circuit of several congregations, by a bishop, for one year at a time. We do not have membership in any one local church or congregation. We belong to a conference, a collection of churches in a geographical area, usually a state, presided over by a bishop. The ministers and laity from each church get together once a year, usually in -June, the annual conference, for inspiration, to transact business, and to receive officially an appointment for the coming church year, which starts July 1.

That means we are a connectional church. I was doing graduate work in Boston one year during the New England Annual Conference. The reporter who covered the conference misunderstood and wrote that Methodism is “a correctional church.” Or maybe it was not a misunderstanding.

The annual conference of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference [1] is meeting this week. Geographically it is 500 miles away from where I now live. Emotionally, it’s right here.

Most clergy feel the connection to others of our ilk very strongly, but unless we live in geographical proximity, we get to see one another only once a year, at Annual Conference. Our far-flung colleagues loved coming to annual conference for the fellowship, but they dreaded seeing me, for I always had a new question each year, especially for my younger friends, something like “What is the most important thing you learned in the past year?” or “What is the most important book you read this year?” They tried to avoid me, but I was like a sore tooth you can’t stop pestering with your tongue. Sooner or later they would sidle up to be interrogated. One year I asked my question of Rod VanScoy, who said, “Darn. I prepared for the wrong question.”

We won’t be able to get away with that when we attend that Great Annual Conference in the Sky [2]. We all know which question to prepare for. Since love is the only thing death does not conquer, the only question there will be, “Did you love?”

JRMcF

1] The lower two-thirds of IL.

2] No, I’ve never heard it called that before, either, but it would make a fun Gospel song.]

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)



Monday, May 9, 2011

Day-Time Demons


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…


THE DAY-TIME DEMONS

Somewhere C.S. Lewis said that the demons of the day time strike at dawn. In his honor, and because I am on a first-name basis with these demons, I wrote this poem:

The demons of the day time strike at dawning
In the dark and inky yielding of the night
When the muscles of the soul are slack and yawning
When the strength of some good memory’s lost to sight

2
When the moon’s faint light has all but lost its glimmer
When the walls around the soul are weak and bare
They come when faith is slim and hopes are slimmer
When the guards are playing whist or solitaire

3
They come gunning for you even out of season
Doubts and fears and angst their stock in trade
They ask you if your life has any reason
Why despite your work you never made the grade

4
They say when you are hungry grab for bread
Seize the power to rule the world, except yourself
Top the temple with a crown upon your head
Put the shrunken heads of others on your shelf

5
They rally at the first faint glimmer of the dawn
Riding on the last weak gleams of murky moon
You must meet them at the door, drive them o’er the lawn
Else they will vex you ‘til their shift is done at noon

6
Then arrives the sneering demon of the noon time
Full of lunch and primed for slow lugubrious fray
It prepares to rub your soul in dull acedia grime
But that verse I’ll write later in the day

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to older folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Stuff of Life

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m glad I don’t have to come up with a gift for my mother. I did not notice my mother’s aversion to gifts until her latter years. When I was young, we had no money for gifts, so there were no gifts to react to. Later, when I had some money and she had needs, because she was cold and couldn’t open a can or get out of her chair, we gave her useful gifts, like cozy shawls and electric can openers and catapulting chairs. She always rejected those gifts. “Get those away from me,” she would gasp. “I’ll never use those.”

So we tried non-useful gifts, like pretty blouses and pretty slippers. “Get those away from me,” she would gasp. “I’ll never use those.” And she didn’t. Later we would find gifts we had insisted she keep. They were in the back of a closet, still in their original gift boxes.

When she saw us coming with gifts, she tried to head us off and send us back to the car before we could even present them. Helen is a creative and persistent gift-giver, though, so one Christmas she was slipping gifts into Mother and Dad’s house in the disguise of grocery sacks.

“What do you have in those bags?” Mother demanded to know.

“Just stuff,” Helen replied.

My father said to Mother, “Don’t you recognize stuff when you see it?”

He was always a wit, which my mother enjoyed saying was half-true, but I think that was one of his best lines ever.

I understand better now why my mother did not want stuff, though. Stuff doesn’t just come in the front door. It crawls in the windows and up from the basement and down from the attic until it just overwhelms you. And it’s not just your stuff. There’s stuff that belongs to your children, stuff that is theirs from years gone by and that they should have taken to their own houses by now.

I need to go through my stuff, just to see what stuff I actually have, and probably to get rid of most of it. Stuff is no good unless you know you have it, and I have lots of mystery stuff. It’s no good if you don’t need it, either, and one gift you can give to those who will have to go through your stuff when you kick the bucket—that reminds me, I think I have a bucket somewhere in my stuff, too—a gift only you can gift, is to go through your stuff.

But I’d rather sit on my sofa and write about how I need to go through my stuff than actually go through it. When you’re old and retired and have no schedule, there is always time tomorrow for stuff.

Since this column is supposed to be faith reflections for old people, I suppose I should tie this idea in somehow with going through the stuff of your memories, and the stuff of your soul, to get ready for what comes next, but there’s plenty of time. I’ll do that tomorrow.

Stuff. Who needs it?

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)





Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting a License to Go On

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Getting Your License To Go On

In support of the doctrine of Original Sin, St. Augustine said that “the so-called innocence of children is more a matter of weakness of limb than purity of heart.” Anyone who has ever worked in a church nursery can attest to the accuracy of that observation.

I suspect that the so-called wisdom of old age is also more a matter of fatigue of limbs than greater intelligence of brain. It’s a lot harder to do stupid things in a recliner.

I sometimes wonder from whence comes this idea that old people should be venerated because of their wisdom. Some of the meanest, nastiest, greediest, most selfish, most self-centered people I have known were in their “golden” years.

Daughter Katie recently took a nursing license exam, on computer. When your score is high enough to pass, the computer program stops. It doesn’t care what score you might get if you go on. All it asks is, “Do you know enough to qualify for a license?” There is no competition with others to see who can score highest. The only competition is with yourself, to see if you know enough.

I wonder if maybe that’s how God has this life set up. The oldest people are actually the stupidest, the ones who haven’t answered enough questions correctly yet to qualify for a license to go on.

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Song for Good Friday

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Jack Newsome and I were sitting around one night with Will Campbell and Doug Marlette. There were about 30 of us, in an easy-chair sort of room. Will picked up his guitar and began to sing…

"I guess you know Jethro went crazy, we’ve all been crazy sometimes
They fixed up his lungs and his fever, but they could not fix up his mind
He married a beautiful woman, of women they say she’s a pearl
She gave her heart to Jethro, and her body to the whole damn world."

Jack and I were at a conference at Lake Junaluska, NC. Doug was a Pulitzer Prize editorial cartoonist. Will never won any prizes for his career as a totally committed grace-full civil rights activist, but he should have. Doug was also a novelist and drew the comic strip Kudzu, which featured a preacher, Will B. Dunn, who looked and dressed just like Will D. Campbell, who went on strumming and singing…

"Well Jethro had someone to talk to, they were monsters and little green men
He never talked to his woman, naw, he spent all his time with his friends
In the evenings she’d drive off and leave him, she’d toss back her long pretty curls,
She gave her heart to Jethro, and her body to the whole damn world."

Doug stepped up to a big pad of paper on an easel and began to sketch out pictures of Jethro and his wife as Will continued to sing…

"Some friends came and begged her to leave him, said “Jethro belongs in a home.”
She said, “My heart is Jethro’s, but my God-given body is my own.”
Now some of her lovers were strangers, she gave everybody a whirl.
She gave her heart to Jethro, and her body to the whole damn world."

Will went to Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, which also produced Wally Amos Criswell, the long-time pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, who was as opposed to rights for black folks in the 1950s and 60s as Will was committed to them. But Will wasn’t just committed to black folks. He was committed to grace for EVERYBODY, and took a lot of criticism for becoming pastor to the KKK at the same time he was working for an end to racial segregation for the National Council of Churches. “Mr. Jesus died for the bigots, too,” he said. [2] He used to sit around with the KKK and strum his guitar and sing, the way he was doing for us…

"I know some will condemn me for writing this song of a man and his wife
A man’s not writing if he can’t relate all the things he sees in his life [3]
I know some will condemn me for cursin, but much can be said for this girl
Who gave her heart to ol’ Jethro, and her body to the whole damn world."

You see, Jethro’s wife was the night nurse in the ER. Jethro couldn’t understand that love was not a possession, but a gift to be given to the whole world, which is indeed damned until the gift is given.

I love "Were You There," but I think this is the best of all Good Friday songs. Maybe I’ll call Jack this Friday, and we’ll sing about ol’ Jethro…

JRMcF

The song is by Tom T. Hall

1] Doug was a southern boy, like Will, and along with the Red Clay Ramblers turned Kudzu into a musical. He died in a car accident in Mississippi when he was only 58. Helen and I saw the Red Clay Ramblers, as part of "Fool Moon," the Broadway production featuring Bill Irwin and David Shiner, the amazing and wonderful "new circus" performers. We were in NYC to record the audio version of my NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE…

2] Will is the author of 18 books.

3] This line goes out especially to all my writing friends.

***
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stealing Donkeys for Jesus

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…


STEALING DONKEYS FOR JESUS

As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples to get a colt that had never been ridden. “If anybody sees you taking it,” he told them, “tell them I need it.” They found the colt and brought it to Jesus and put their coats on it for a saddle and Jesus rode on it into Jerusalem. Many people spread their own clothes on the road, or leafy branches they cut from the trees, and they shouted “Hosanna” as he rode into town. (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19, VSR)
***
“It’s Palm Sunday, so I want you to go into town and steal me a donkey,” Jesus told his disciples. “If anybody catches you, tell them I need it.”

Reminds me of the time “Gunner Bob” Reinhart, one of my colleagues in the “Willing Workers” Sunday School class, happened to notice the keys dangling from the ignition in Mr. Bothwell’s new Olds Rocket 88. It was Palm Sunday afternoon, and Gunner decided to take the car for a Holy Week spin. Mr. Bothwell noticed his car taking off from in front of his house and ran down his driveway after it, house slippers on feet and Sunday funnies in hand.

“Why are you taking my car?” he cried.

Gunner, apparently remembering our lesson on the morning, yelled back, “I need it.”

One of Jesus’ disciples nudged the other as they walked into town. “And if they go for that, I’ve got some nice recreational lots along the Dead Sea I can sell them.”

Both capitalists and communists claim Jesus, but he was neither. His approach was entirely different; he just borrowed everything. He borrowed the water he turned into wine, and he borrowed the stone jars from which that wine was poured. He borrowed a boat from which to teach or by which to cross a lake. He borrowed houses in which to eat, teach, and heal. (Some of them did not fare very well, either–one lost its roof so a paralytic could be lowered in to be healed.) He borrowed sons, brothers and husbands to be his disciples. He borrowed the upper room in which he ate his last supper with his borrowed friends. Borrowed was the manger in which he was born, borrowed his cross, and borrowed his tomb.

We think of Jesus as a giver, not a taker. He was the giver of health, love, truth and even the ultimate, his own life. Yet Jesus throughout his entire career borrowed things.

This was not just his lifestyle as an itinerant preacher. He was teaching us that all we have is borrowed from God. He ignored all strictures against lending and borrowing , be it a cloak or a second mile or even one’s other cheek, because none of us really has any possessions. Bigger barns, Swiss bank accounts, even gaining the whole world–none of that is enough for us to establish a claim upon ourselves. You yourself, your very life, is borrowed, so how can you claim anything you have as your own?

Gunner and I learned in Sunday school the “accounting theory” of faith. You get what you have coming to you. Indeed, Gunner got it when he returned Mr. Bothwell’s car. One doesn’t steal donkeys–or Oldsmobiles–and get away with it in my hometown.

Over against the accounting theory stands the unexpected Jesus, the one who says, “If you would follow me, take up your cross, and steal me a donkey.” Jesus lived the reality of grace, of God being good to us not because we are good but because God is good; not because we have been true to some legalistic plumb line of stewardship but because God is true to the divine identity. To see ourselves as borrowers is to recognize ourselves as those who live by grace, who have no claim upon God except the one that God give in Christ.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia launched the New York City Center of Music and Drama, but he never attended the ballet there. Someone asked him why, since he otherwise seemed to be such a supporter of art. He replied, “I’m a guy who likes to keep score. With ballet, I never know who’s ahead.” There is some kind of relationship calculator built into most of us that causes us to keep score.

Relationships, however, have a way of refusing to go by the numbers. That is why so many of us end up forsaking relationships altogether–relationships to other people, to God and even to ourselves. Unless we can keep score and know who is ahead, we do not even want to attend the performance. We may support the idea, and say that it is beautiful, just as LaGuardia did with ballet, but we do not go.

The unexpected Jesus says to us, “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:421). “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But…lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Luke 6:34-35a). “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us…” (Luke 11:4a).

That’s a clue. The last sentence comes from a prayer; it is a plea to God. “God, you forgive us our sins, for sins–¬those attitudes and actions that keep us so far from you–are our debts, and there is no way we can pay off those debts. The only way we can make right our relationship with you is if you forgive those debts." Each one of us is a Third World nation.

Grace has no contract requirement, nor can it be attained through manipulation. Grace is what we borrow, knowing we can never repay, and knowing that the Lender understands we can never repay

Jesus frees us to be borrowers from God. Perhaps it is too much to expect us to borrow easily from one another. We are not ready to be fellow borrowers until we have borrowed life from God. That is what Jesus teaches. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m a borrower. If I can be a borrower, you can be one, too. Borrow what you need from me.”

Jesus comes to us in a borrowed manger, on a borrowed cross, up from a borrowed tomb, breaking to us the borrowed bread of life, lending us life, forgiveness and hope. “Borrow from me,” he says. “Borrow the things that make for life. Let others borrow as well, and do not hinder them. Hell is a life that is earned. Heaven is a life that is borrowed. Borrowed is best. Go steal me a donkey…:”

JRMcF

Yes, I wrote it. It was originally published in The Christian Century, 3-21-90.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Invitations--to Royal Weddings & Open Minds

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

It’s not surprising that the postal service is in such big trouble, judging from my own situation. They obviously have lost my invitation to the upcoming royal wedding. Some think that it is Kate’s fault, that she put the wrong amount of postage on my invitation. Translating pounds into dollars and then calculating the distance from England to the Upper Peninsula can be a daunting task. Maybe for a commoner, but surely not for a St. Andrew’s University student.

That’s why I’m sure I’m on the guest list, the St. Andrew’s connection. Prince William and Kate Middleton met there. I went there, too, although before they were born, and only for a summer, as part of my doctoral work, but St. Andy connections are strong, regardless of time and distance.

One of my professors that summer was the then-famous biblical scholar, William Barclay. One evening at a stand-up canap├ęs and beverages reception, I saw my wife and teen-aged daughters across the room, in animated and clearly contentious toe-to-toe discussion with the most renowned biblical commentator in the English-speaking world. Thankfully, I was engaged in a conversation that kept me from going over there and admitting I was related to them. After we were back in our rooms, though, I asked what in St. Andrew’s had been going on.

Apparently “Willie” had made a remark that the worst thing that had ever happened in the Church of Scotland was the time they let a woman preach. If the church had stopped at that, it would have been only ONE of the worst things ever in the C of S, but she was pregnant at the time, which made it the very worst thing ever. My wife and daughters had set my professor straight. [1]

The next day in chapel, Dr. Barclay prayed hard and long in the pastoral prayer for those with closed minds to remember that our Lord commanded us to love God with all our mind, [2] which meant they had to be open to new ideas. Helen is not sure of this, but I’m quite convinced that he was praying for himself, that because he wanted to love God with all of his mind, as evidenced by so much excellent Bible research, he had also heard God speak to him through an American home ec teacher and a couple of teen-aged girls.

I have a love-frustration relationship with the United Methodist Church, but the UMC slogan is definitely on the love side: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds. Like most slogans, it is more of a hope than a reality. But it says who we want to be, those who love God with all our minds as well as all our soul and all our strength, because that’s what Jesus told us to do. There are other churches with open minds, even if they don’t sloganeer about it. Unfortunately, there also seem to be more and more churches and Christians who think that an open mind is a sin, that the Bible is a closed book, that the work of the Holy Spirit was to get the words onto the page and into the book rather than off the page and into our lives.

Old people are often accused of having closed minds, not open to new ways. I think that’s a bum rap. Yes, we old folks often don’t adopt new technologies, just because the old stuff is still working for us and we have other things we want to do with our time than learn how they’ve hidden the dad-burn buttons on the phone this time. That’s just good time management, not closed mindedness. Where openness really counts—openness to new life, to other people, to the ways of God—young and old alike can be closed. There’s no age requirement for a closed mind. There’s none for an open one, either.

I’m old, but I can still think, and I still believe it is true that “Jesus came to take away your sins, not your mind.”

JRMcF

1] And Helen complains that I once embarrassed HER! [Actually, she says it was quite a bit more often than once.]

2] Jesus said, “Love God with all your strength, all your soul, and all your mind.” [Matthew 22:37]

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Dave Nash says that the links to my blogs and my email, which I post below, do not work. I apologize for any inconvenience. I have redone them, and so now I hope they work. If they don’t, you can type them in yourself as they are, because they are accurate, even if not workable.

You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at http://periwinklechronicles.blogspot.com/}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at jmcfarland1721@charter.net, and I’ll put you on the email list.)