Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, January 31, 2011

Calling for Help

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

There is a big snow storm coming, so it’s time for daughter Katie’s call from the store.

When daughter Mary Beth was in graduate school in Champaign, she shopped at the huge new Shunk’s grocery. One day the manager walked by as she was talking on the phone.

“Calling your mother?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“Whenever a young woman is calling from the grocery store, it’s to her mother.”

It’s true. For years, Helen has fielded calls about which kind of meat or pot scratcher to buy, how long it will take for a certain potential purchase to cook, if a persimmon tastes like a peach, if the cheaper cheese will taste okay in the planned casserole, etc.

We still get calls from our daughters when they are at stores, but they are not asking for help. They are offering it.

Katie’s call today will say, “Do you need anything, Mom? I’m right here at the store. I could run it by, so you won’t have to get out on the ice…”

One of the jobs of old age is learning how to accept help. If you can’t learn to accept help, it will be hard to trust God to get it right when you need help the most.

“Tell her to bring us some ice cream…”

JRMcF

{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, January 28, 2011

The Winds of Home

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

I saw Carolyn Waller’s obit in the Princeton, IN paper on line.

Carolyn and I were the bassoonists in the Oakland City HS concert band and orchestra. I think Carolyn played bassoon just because she was good at it. I became a bassoonist because I was too poor to buy an instrument. The bassoons were so expensive that the school owned them. Because I was the poorest kid, I got to play the most expensive instrument.

Carolyn was first chair, because she was three years ahead of me in school, and several eons ahead in ability to control a double reed. She was pretty and kind and tried to teach me how to play. I loved every moment I sat beside her. But she graduated and left me, as the older women we adore are wont to do. I became not just first chair but “only” chair. It was a lonely position.

I was never a confident musician. In the “Dixie Five”, I played saxophone, since bassoons are not a revered part of a Dixieland band. There I practiced “safe sax,” just skipping a note if I wasn’t sure of it. I knew that Bill Burns’ cornet and Bob Keaton’s trombone would cover me. It’s hard to practice safe bassoon when you play “only” chair and there is a three measure solo in a symphony.

I recall my first attempt to play one of those little solos. I demonstrated well why the bassoon is called “an ill wind that nobody plays good.” Everybody in the orchestra laughed. I turned red. Mr. Jack Adams, our director, came to my defense. “He has a dry reed,” he said. “What? He has diarrhea?” yelled John Kennedy from the baritone section. Even I had to laugh at that, since I really did make the bassoon sound flatulent.

I got through three years of playing “only” chair bassoon, and there wasn’t a day of it that I didn’t long for Carolyn.

She and her husband, Kenny Barnard, have lived in Sacramento almost all the 53 years of their marriage, but she will be buried back home, in Oakland City, in Montgomery Cemetery. Come Saturday at 2 p.m., I’ll put on a CD of the great bassoonist, Kim Walker, and listen for that good wind that wills us home.

JRMcF

{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, January 26, 2011

Joyfully Subversive

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

I have a friend named Joe and a grandson named Joe. The friend is Joe Frazier—“Singin’ Joe,” the baritone, not “Smokin’ Joe,” the boxer, although I’m sure “Smokin’ Joe” would be a good friend, too.

The grandson is Joseph Patrick Kennedy, who is 12 years old today. Both Joes are “joyfully subversive,” a phrase someone applied to Joe Frazier when we were on a cruise in September with The Chad Mitchell Trio, the best folk group of the 1960s, in which Joe sings baritone. Joe is also the vicar/priest of St. Columba’s Episcopal Mission in Big Bear Lake, CA.

The following hymn I wrote in honor of their birthdays. Actually Joe Frazier’s birthday was Jan. 14, and that was the day I started writing this, so today, on grandson Joe’s birthday, I finished it.

I sing it to the tune of R. Kelso Carter’s “Standing on the Promises,” a hymn perhaps unknown to Episcopalians, since they are better known for “sitting on the premises.” [Old preacher joke. I can resist any temptation except a bad joke.] Since it is traditional to note the biblical foundations for hymns, I have done so, line by line.

Happy birthdays, you joyfully subversive Joes.

JOYFULLY SUBVERSIVE

Joyfully subversive as we laugh and sing [Judges 5:21.]
To the work of God divine our gifts we bring [John 9:4.]
Carried to the righteous fray upon God’s wing [Isaiah 40:31.]
Joyfully subverting as we go. [Romans 12:2.]

CHORUS
Joyful! Subversive!
Let us join our voices in God’s loving song [I John 4:8.]
Subversive! Joyful!
Standing firm against injustice we are strong [I Cors. 16:13.]

VERSE 2
Subverting hate and prejudice with love divine [Romans 8:38-39.]
Offering to each hopeful mouth the bread and wine [Luke 22:19.]
With god’s children everywhere we shall dine [Mark 2:16.]
Joyfully subverting as we go [Romans 12:2.]

CHORUS
Joyful! Subversive!
Let us join our voices in God’s loving song [I John 4:8.]
Subversive! Joyful!
Standing firm against injustice we are strong [I Cors. 16:13.]

VERSE 3
Joyfully subversive we stand with the poor [Matthew 25:31-46.]
And beat our fists against oppression’s heavy door [Galatians 3:1.]
We’ll sing and work until injustice is no more [Isaiah 11:6. Amos 5:24.]
Joyfully subverting as we go [Romans 12:1.]

CHORUS
Joyful! Subversive!
Let us join our voices in God’s loving song [I John 4:8.]
Subversive! Joyful!
Standing firm against injustice we are strong [I Cors. 16:13.]

VERSE 4
When they draw a circle tight to hide within [Galatians 3:23.]
When they say we can’t come in because we’re sin [Galatians 3:28-29.]
We shall draw a circle that will take them in [Acts 10:28.]
Joyfully subverting as we go [Romans 12:1.]

CHORUS
Joyful! Subversive!
Let us join our voices in God’s loving song [I John 4:8.]
Subversive! Joyful!
Standing firm against injustice we are strong [I Cors. 16:13.]

VERSE 5
When our days of marching here will be no more [Matthew 25:23.]
We’ll keep singing as we land on heaven’s shore. [Luke 6:20.]
While those we served and loved shall open up the door [Revelation 21:25.]
Joyfully subverting as we go. [Romans 12:1.]

CHORUS
Joyful! Subversive!
Let us join our voices in God’s loving song [I John 4:8.]
Subversive! Joyful!
Standing firm against injustice we are strong [I Cors. 16:13.]

JRMcF

{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, January 25, 2011

Death & A Gooseberry Pie

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


I have thought a great deal recently about the tragedy of sudden death and the ways people react to it. That makes me think of Eunice Snider.

Eunice was arguably the best cook in Charleston, IL, with a specialty in baking. When she was dying a couple of years ago, she would sit in the kitchen in her wheelchair and instruct her husband, Art, in how to bake. We spent a night with Art last summer and can verify that she taught him well.

Among the thousand or so people in Wesley UMC in Charleston, Art was in many ways my best friend, and in many ways my biggest problem. He was neither a critic nor an antagonist. He was much worse; he asked questions I couldn’t answer.

Art and Eunice had adopted two sons, John and Bob. I met them first when they were in middle school years. John was a kid who wanted to do the right thing, and often did not know how. He gave Art and Eunice a lot of problems. When he was 20, he hanged himself in the Coles County jail.

Art and Eunice called us. I can’t remember why, but it was several hours before we could get to them. When we arrived, Eunice was ready for us. In the midst of her grief, she had baked me a gooseberry pie, because she knew it is my favorite, and she knew I had a difficult job before me as I did John’s funeral.

Everyone must react to tragedy in his or her own way. Not everyone should be a Eunice. But I am grateful that there are those who, in the midst of tragedy, are hosts in this world, who make the way possible for those around, even in the midst of their own grief.

JRMcF

{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, January 21, 2011

Reflection on Tucson

Today’s Christ in Winter is an email to friends from Vic Stolzfus, retired president of Goshen College. The Stolzfus family was a part Wesley UMC in Charleston, IL when I pastored there, and Vic was the Chair of the Sociology Dept at Eastern IL U. He has kindly granted permission to reprint it here.

From: "Vic Stoltzfus"
Subject: Tragedy in Tucson
Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 3:04 PM

Dear Friends,

Marie and I went to the Safeway Store two miles north of our apartment where the tragedy occurred. We were moved by the growing, informal "shrine" of well wishes in writing, many flowers, photos, Scripture verses etc. Giffords is Jewish but all kinds of religious thoughts were offered. I've always thought of Tucson as quite secular. Under the outward shell for a substantial number of people is the use of religious symbols to respond to the ache and pain of tragedy. It is still raw in this city and there is a kind of awe and restraint. It all happens without any organized planning. We shopped in Safeway because the news mentioned that the stores in the mini plaza have had several days of losses. We also contributed to the victims fund.
>
Then we drove down to University Hospital and saw the much larger memorial in the grassy area in front of the Hospital. It is a trauma center; we saw helicopters coming and going bringing folks to the hospital as we visited. The Gabrielle Giffords memorial has large cardboard signs with hundreds of signatures. School kids have lots of signs. There are hundreds of flowers, photos, sayings of Dr. King, Scriptures, prayers, quotations and tributes to Gabby. Dozens of people were moving about with a kind of reverent spirit. TV stations were interviewing people. It still grows every day.

What does it mean? Even here, people can be shocked, especially jolted by the murder of a child and other beloved friends and neighbors. People turn to faith for strength in grief. I've been thinking about how precious human life is. There has also been a lot of soul searching about our neglect of the mentally ill.

I also find myself so proud of our President. He could have made things worse by getting down and dirty. Instead he has for the short run, affected how we debate issues and invited more respect for healing instead of wounding. Having said that, I can't follow his policies in Afghanistan with bloody drones continuing to kill civilians and all that money blown away to support war with a people we don't understand. Not a single school built in Afghanistan by Gregg Mortenson [1] has been attacked by Taliban.

Love to all of you, Vic and Marie
>
[1] Vic says: Gregg Mortenson is the author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea.” He got lost on a mountain climbing expedition, was saved by Afghans and promised them a school. One school led to another. He is the son of Lutheran missionaries to Tanzania.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Care of the Earth

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

There is a story about an old man on his death bed.

“Is my loving wife here?” he asks.

“Yes,” she whispers.

“Are my beautiful children and grandchildren here?” he asks.

“Yes, we are here,” they reply in choking voices.

“Are all my friends, of my youth and my old age, here?” he asks.

“Yes,” they chorus.

“Then why is the light on in the kitchen?”

Some people seem to think that’s a story about me, through a proleptic forward leap. Daughter Katie even says she is going to tell that story at my funeral.

I grew up in a time of necessary frugality with natural resources. I have continued that frugality for the sake of the planet and those who must live in it in years to come. I think God has given us the stewardship of this happy creation of the divine hand, this planet. It’s a serious but joyful responsibility. I’m not just being cheap; I’m being theological.

I hope Katie does tell that story at my funeral. I don’t think the devil will want a guy who keeps turning down the thermostat.

JRMcF

{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, January 15, 2011

Butterfly Memories

Elaine & Michael Palencia just returned from a Caribbean cruise. The highlight, Elaine says, was “…a butterfly farm, held together by spit and window screens by two eccentric Englishmen.” [1]

That reminded me of our butterflies in Mason City, IA, where we lived from 1998-2002, and where grandson Joe and Helen became cancer survivors.

Helen and I walked along a tree-lined pathway that few others used, because it dead-ended. Most folks prefer to walk in a circle rather than double-back. They don’t like to see the same scenery twice. We have always, however, liked the paths others don’t use.

One day we started down the pathway and were suddenly joined by thousands of large tropically-colored butterflies. They came out of the trees and formed a canopy over us and escorted us to the end of the path. Apparently they didn’t mind doing the double-back, because they escorted us back to the beginning of the pathway, where they returned to their trees.

This happened a second day, and then a third. On the fourth day, they were gone, apparently having rested up enough to continue their migration. We didn’t walk that path anymore. We missed those butterflies too much. Once you have had an escort canopy of butterflies, and then they are gone…

We still miss our butterflies. But in the cold and snow of winter, it’s good to remember walking the unused paths, where the butterflies make memories.

JRMcF


[1] Elaine is the best short-story writer anywhere. Check out her BRIER COUNTRY or SMALL CAUCASIAN WOMAN. [http://www.elainepalencia.com/works.htm]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rules for Living on the Edge

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

I always refer to Bryan Bowers as “the great auto-harpist,” but he’s a lot more. He’s basically a folk singer, with a great voice and a vast repertoire, many songs of which he has written himself, and he plays not only the autoharp, but, like Paul Prestopino, just about anything with strings.

He was at Fortune Lake, about 35 miles from us, last Sunday for the Second Sunday Folk Dance. After Whitewater [Bette and Dean Premo] opened, Bryan did a set, and then Bette and Dean and The Front Parlor Dance Band provided music for dancing.

Bryan beckoned to me while Helen and I took a break during the dancing, and led me to a bench in the back of the room where we could hear the music but still talk.

“My problem,” said Bryan, “is that I live on the edge. And sometimes I go over it.”

“That’s what makes you so good at what you do,” I said. “If you hadn’t gone over the edge of the standard way to play the autoharp, you would not have developed those marvelous new techniques. Occasionally you have to go over the edge.”

Bryan and I are brothers of the edge. I’ve always felt most at home there, too, which is funny, because it’s often a very uncomfortable place to be. But I think I’ve done my best pastoral work, and maybe my best preaching, at times of chaos and tragedy because I was willing to go to people whose lives had taken them over the edge.

So why do Bryan and I worry about going over the edge? Because that’s where the hurt is, too, and it’s possible to hurt people when you go over the edge. I think that the plum-line for edginess is hurt. If going over the edge is going to hurt someone you need to back off. Finding a new way to make music by going over the edge adds to the store of the world’s joy. Setting fire to the hall where the music is played adds to the store of the world’s hurt.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s reached a new screech level in recent times, this business of going over the edge in political speech, and it is hurting, wounding, even killing--a nine year old girl, a federal judge, a US Congresswoman, and many others. Office holders receive threats all the time because politicians and pundits take the speech of vitriol and violence up to the edge, and push others over it, and then try to back away from responsibility.

Speech is an action. It is not “just” speech. Otherwise we would not do it. It’s impossible to divide speech and action neatly. Life is just too complicated for that. Speech has consequences. As has long been established, you do not have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater because of the consequences. Strangely, it is those who spechify most about how people should take responsibility for their own lives and actions who try to avoid responsibility when their over-the-edge speech results in harm to others.

Bryan and I have sometimes made mistakes and hurt people when we have gone over the edge. That is what forgiveness is for. But forgiveness is not possible if you won’t take responsibility.

I think of nine-year-old Christina Green, gun murdered at that political rally in Arizona, a little girl actually born on Sept. 11, 2001. Her parents probably took her to that rally so that she could learn to be a good citizen, part of the political process, perhaps look at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and get a model of what a girl can do for the world when she grows up. Except she will not grow up.

JRMcF

{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, January 9, 2011

Sunday Morning, Going Up

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

I woke up at 3 and laid awake until 4:30, when I rolled out of bed. The thermometer read the same as the clock, 4.5 degrees. I was too excited to sleep, because this afternoon we’re going to the Second Sunday Folk Dance at Fortune Lake, 35 miles up the UP. Bryan Bowers [1], the great auto-harpist, is the special guest, along with our usual hosts, the great “Whitewater,” Dean and Bette Premo. And, oh, yes, I am preaching this morning, too.

I thought I had given up preaching forever when we moved from Sterling, IL to Iron Mountain, MI. That was my intention. I was worn out from filling in for Pastor Nancy whenever she got tickets to Packers games. Now we have Pastor Debbie, another woman who prefers to worship at Lambeau Cathedral. You know how women get when they have a chance to sit outside on bleachers in the cold to watch big men run into one another; there’s just no stopping them. So I’m preaching again, at 9 and 10:30.

Every night I wake up around 2 or 3 and lie awake for an hour or so, praying for my long mental list of people in need. On Sunday, I switch my prayers to preachers and churches. I start with the church in Oxford, OH where I was baptized, and go on from there, every church I’ve ever been a part of, preacher and people, and all of my preaching friends. What a complex and varied array that is.

It’s amazing that people get anything out of worship. Each person there comes from a different experience with different feelings and different hopes and a different idea of God from everyone else there. Each of us gets a different meaning and experience from the hymns and prayers and anthem and sermon. And just one person, the preacher, is charged with taking his or her individual experiences and understandings and creating, or allowing, worship where each individual “can come closer to the throne of God.”

Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, when, according to the church calendar, we focus on the baptism of Jesus. The lectionary Gospel for the day is Matthew 3:13-17, where Jesus is baptized by John and comes out of the river and God smiles and says, “That’s my boy!”

I’m reading that scripture, and preaching on it, but most of the other elements of the service don’t have much to do with the “theme.” I used to work very hard to be sure all the elements of the worship service—hymns, prayers, anthem, etc—followed the theme. But after church one Sunday, older daughter Mary Beth, then a teenager, said she had not gotten anything out of worship because the reality of her life that day had nothing to do with that theme.

So I learned from my children, a never-ending source of education, that every element of worship should not be pulled out of the same basket. Sometimes that particular theme has nothing to do with where you are in your own life, in your own relationship with God. So the worship needs elements that allow each different person a way into the presence of God.

That means that a preacher needs to trust the people. When I was a very new preacher, I heard someone say that a sermon should be like a string of beads rather than a handful of confetti. I believed that then; I’m not sure about it now. These days, I spend a lot of time before the service choosing confetti. Then I stand in the pulpit and toss it out and trust the people to grab what they need.

This afternoon, we’ll worship that way at Fortune Lake. Dean and Bette and Bryan will play and sing the songs that appeal to them, and we’ll listen to the stories in those songs and enjoy what they mean to us. Some of us will laugh as we hear them, some of us will cry, but we’ll be together, and then we’ll get into a circle and join hands and heel and toe our way around the room, some elegantly, some clumpily, but together.

Wherever you go today, to Lambeau Cathedral or WalMart Worship Center or the Bapcathluthmethpresepiscopal Church, may there be some confetti for you to grab. And if not, come on up to Fortune Lake.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
JRMcF

[1] If you’ve never heard Bryan, go on YouTube and listen to his rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He makes the autoharp sound like a whole orchestra.

{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, January 8, 2011

Remembering Max...and How to Do God's Work

Christ In Winter: reflections on faith from a place of winter for the years of winter…

Max Ferguson has died. He was 94. I know pastors should not have favorites among their members, but he was one of my favorites.

Max was newly retired as a physiology professor at Eastern IL U when I came to Charleston. I know from my own fairly recent early retirement days that people looking for committee members see the newly retired as a prime source of fresh, if slightly withered, bottoms to place on the chairs in the committee room. I tried to get Max to be an organization man, but if he had ever been one, he wasn’t anymore. Instead, he suggested that I should play clarinet in his Dixieland band.

Max was more of a people person than an organization man. Bob Butts says that a student once told him that on the first day of class, Max said, “If you ever need me, here’s my home phone number,” and he wrote it on the blackboard. And he was a man of nature. In retirement, he spent long hours running his own apple orchard.

I have been blessed with a lot of those Max types over the years in my churches, those who found God in people and nature and music rather than in committee meetings. I didn’t understand what a blessing they were at the time. I wanted them to give in to my entreaties to chair a committee, or at least be a member, so I could get the District Superintendent to stop hounding me about having names on all the lines of the Charge Conference forms.

I suspect Max had put in plenty of committee hours as a university professor and had learned his lesson: that’s not where you find God. It’s not even where the work of God is done. The work of God is done person to person, or maybe apple to person.

So if you want to do the work of God, don’t try to do it by committee. Go to an orchard and get some apples and give them to folks who are hungry. That’s what Max did. And if the DS doesn’t like it, give her an apple, too. At least it will shut her up for a little while.

JRMcF

{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, January 7, 2011

Apocalyptic Undies

I am deeply indebted to noted [usually flat] theologian, John Wesley Wilkey, who in Arminian humility goes simply by “Wes,” for providing the biblical foundation for the line, “Pinko libs and hard-shell fundies will dance together in their undies,” in my Gospel song, “When All the Saints Are Gathered on the Lawn,” which I posted yesterday, a theological foundation that I knew must surely be there, but which I had not yet articulated. Wes says that not only does the image replicate David’s dance of joyful abandon in his skivvies before the arc, [You may remember said arc from Indiana Jones movies, or even the Bible], but that libs and fundies dancing thus together is a much more apocalyptic image than lions and lambs lying down together.

BTW, that line seems to be quite popular, although Anita Riggio, the creator of the Brindlebeast musical, [brindlebeastmusical.com] which uses sign language as well as the more conventional media of the musical, says her favorite line is “teetotalers decanting.”

BTW, if you’re not sure who “Free Church” is in the line where said folk are chanting, just change it to “Baptists.”

Speaking of Baptists, be sure to celebrate “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday, Jan. 9, appropriately. Traditionally, that includes the autoharp, so we’ll go to hear Bryan Bowers, the great auto-harpist, at The Second Sunday Folk Concert and Dance here in the UP. We shall not dance in our skivvies, however, because it’s way too cold UP here. Oh, and also I have to preach, since our pastor is retreating with our confirmands.

JRMcF

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When All the Saints Are Gathered on the Lawn

From time to time I get a vision that requires a song. This one comes from the southern Indiana days of my youth, when churches used to picnic after worship on the church grounds. I have a tune for it {Not “Bill Grogan’s Goat” this time}, but since I can’t write music, you’ll have to think up your own.

WHEN ALL THE SAINTS ARE GATHERED ON THE LAWN

There is a time to gather, there is a time to scatter,
there is a time to harvest and to sow,
but a time there is that’s coming,
when the banjos will be strumming
and to the final circle we shall go.

Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by,
There’s a better home a waiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky…

REFRAIN
There will be singing and laughter, fried chicken ever after,
when all the saints are gathered on the lawn.
No need for sighing or for moaning,
for weeping or for groaning,
when all the saints are gathered on the lawn.

The winds were blowing harder, the waves were getting higher,
my little boat was splitting from the blast.
Jesus stopped that wind from blowing,
told Michael to get rowing,
Beyond the Jordan we’ll reach that lawn at last.

Michael, row the boat ashore, alleluia
Michael, row the boat ashore, alleluia

Some say if God made you different, then you have no place to be.
You’re second class and have no claim on grace.
It’s time for us to take a stand,
to be a part of that Gospel band,
to see the form of Christ in every face.

I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.

There the Baptists will be chanting, teetotalers decanting,
the Romans and Reformed will sing the blues.
Pinko libs and hardshell fundies,
will dance together in their undies,
when the banjos start picking out good news. [1]

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

REFRAIN
There will be singing and laughter, fried chicken ever after,
when all the saints are gathered on the lawn.
No need for sighing or for moaning,
for weeping or for groaning,
when all the saints are gathered on the lawn.

[1] Okay, YOU try to rhyme something with “fundies.” In case you can’t, here’s an alternate verse:

There the Free Church will be chanting, teetotalers decanting,
The Romans and Reformed will sing the blues.
Hard shell people and mainliners,
Together will be diners,
When the Lord does host his table of good news.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Prophets v. Profits

Christ In Winter: reflections on faith from a place of winter for the years of winter…

I have recently read Jane Smiley’s biography of John Atanasoff, the man who invented the computer. [1] A physics prof at Iowa State, he and his graduate assistant, Clifford Berry, built the first working computer the year I was born. For many years, though, and even today, their work is barely recognized.

Because of WWII service, and other interests later [a true genius, Atanasoff was always eager to move on to something else once he had conquered a field] he didn’t return to computing. Instead, several others who in WWII had developed computing devices for code breaking filed patents for their machines.

Interestingly, the USA is the only country in the world where a patent does not necessarily go to the first to file. If you can prove that you developed something first, and that those who filed for that development used not just your knowledge but your actual work in making their advances, their patent can be broken and awarded to the one who was truly the first.

The real story Smiley tells is an age-old one in science. It was a struggle between those who want knowledge to be available to everyone at no cost, because it would be useful to society, and those who want to monopolize it in order to make money. So it was with the computer.

Atanasoff wasn’t really interested in the money-making aspect of computers. He just wanted to be able to solve physics problems with them. There were others in the WWII crowd who shared his views. There were others who saw the profit possibilities of computers, though, and stabbed one another in the back to be able to claim the computer as their own. Some who had gotten stabbed went to court over it.

That’s where Atanasoff came back in. The claimants showed that those who had won the patents knew very well about the Atanasoff-Berry computer and appropriated both Atanasoff’s ideas and his work.

That’s always the struggle in Christian faith, too, isn’t it, between those who think it should be free to all, and those who either want credit for it or to make money off it. Paul of Tarsus faced that. There were folks who claimed Apollos should get the credit for the church. Others said Paul. Others said Peter. [I Corinthians 3] Today it is: We’re apostolic, or we’re biblical, or we’re the fastest-growing, or we’re America, the new Israel. Or: You should come spend your money here, because we’ve got the biggest cross to see, or we’ve got a Creationism park, or buy my books and DVDs that give you a Christian rationale for being selfish, or we’ve got some Jesus junk for sale, including an olive wood cross that when you rub it, you get anything you want, or send your money to us and God will make you rich, too. [all true]

Paul said: “The good news is for everyone, and it’s free. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So get over it!” [I’ve done some free translation there.]

The final psychological/social task is, in the words of Erik Erikson, “Final integrity vs despair.” If we have based our faith on division or power or money, the things of this world, our final faith will be despair. If it is based on God alone, that is integrity.

JRMcF

[1] SMILEY, Jane. THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE COMPUTER: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer [Doubleday, 2010] I loved Smiley’s MOO, about the shenanigans at an unnamed Midwestern land grant university, which was obviously Iowa State, where she taught. She is better known for A THOUSAND ACRES, her rendering of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR. If you like college novels like MOO and want a good “north woods Midwestern liberal arts college” novel, read Jon Hassler’s ROOKERY BLUES or Marcus Borg’s PUTTING AWAY CHILDISH THINGS.

{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, January 2, 2011

Power In the Blood-And In Those Who Deliver It

Christ In Winter: reflections on faith from a place of winter for years of winter…

Our grandson, Joseph Kennedy, was diagnosed with liver cancer at 15 months of age. Over the next year, he spent most of his time in Children’s Hospital at the University of Iowa or in the hospital in Mason City, IA, where we lived. He survived four surgeries and a ton of chemotherapy so toxic that he weighed two pounds less on his second birthday than on his first.

He is now almost twelve and is as whole a person as I know. Kathy Roberts, who was the director of a mental health center and so knows well the difference between persons who are whole and fragmented, says simply that he is “centered.” Perhaps he was whole and centered when he was one year old and that quality helped him to survive. Perhaps his wholeness and centeredness came out of his ordeal. Perhaps both are true.

Helen and I sometimes speculate about what Joe will do as a job when he grows up. Kids who have been through hospital experiences often gravitate to the medical field. Joe is attracted to the medical field, even as a fifth grader, but does not like the blood part of it. I understand.

I think that maybe he should be a state trooper. I’m not na├»ve about that job. Our para-son, Len Kirkpatrick, is an IL state trooper. [1] We know how dangerous that job is. We worry about him all the time. But…

Joe has a rare blood type, and he needed a lot of transfusions. Especially in Mason City, his type was often in short supply. The closest place to get it was Rochester, MN. It was always an emergency when he needed blood, so to get it into Joe’s veins as quickly as possible, a Minnesota state trooper would go to Mayo’s and pick it up, speed to the IA state line, where an Iowa state trooper would meet him and speed it on to Joe.

Joe is alive and whole because of his own centered being, because of his mother and father and sister and the rest of his family, because of doctors and nurses and technicians and pharmacists and dieticians and ward clerks and custodians and housekeepers in two hospitals, because of friends who raised money, because of people known and unknown who prayed for him, because of people who gave blood…and because of state troopers whose names we never knew, who went back to giving tickets and pulling people out of wrecks without knowing how much power there was in the blood they delivered.

I pray in thanks for all those people every day. And I hope that those troopers live to see old age, and that as they sit around the table at the old troopers home, wondering if their work was worthwhile, looking for final integrity for their lives, they will remember speeding blood to a little boy…

…and if some years from now you are stopped on the highway by a handsome young state trooper, just take your ticket and thank him. He might have just delivered some blood to save a child.

JRMcF

[1] The second question a state trooper asks a speeding motorist, after “Where’s the fire?” is “Do you know John Robert McFarland?” When Len stopped my pastoral colleague in the Central IL Conference, Burt McIntosh, and asked him that question, Burt said, “My first thought was, will it help me or hurt me if I admit I know him?”

{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/}