Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

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.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ty-D-Bol Remembrances

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


I am reading the obits in the alumni magazine of my undergraduate college. On the same page are obits for a medical doctor and an actor. The MD was the oldest living alumnus of the college. He got 15 lines.

The actor is noted for being “…the Ty-D-Bol man, wearing white pants and a captain’s blazer as he boated around the blue water in a toilet tank.” He got 19 lines, 4 more than the physician.

Nothing is said about either one of them every having a wife, raising children, comforting a friend, playing with a grandchild, contributing to a cause. They are remembered for being real old and wearing a blazer while boating in a toilet tank. This worries me, for I am getting old, and I was once a TV commercial actor.

I was Morgan P. Moneybags, the millionaire, as in “I’m not a millionaire, but I play one on TV.” [1] I wore a top hat and a tux and not only appeared in TV commercials but on the radio and in the newspaper and in parades and on the side of delivery trucks! I “drove” an MG convertible in one of the TV ads. I put “drove” in quotes because they couldn’t get the car to run, so the producer and director pushed it while I waved at the cameraman, who was working hard to keep the pushers out of the frame. [2]

We old folks know we won’t be remembered by many for very long, but we wonder still just how those few will remember us.

If you write my obit, it is okay to mention that I was once “the talent,” as TV directors refer to actors so they don’t have to treat us as persons, just as editors and publishers now refer to me only as a “content provider,” but please mention that I never wore a blue blazer while boating in a toilet tank.

JRMcF

1] Remember that ad for, I think, a headache remedy, where the guy says, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV,” and then goes on to talk about the product as though he’s a real doctor?

2] I gave the proceeds from my acting gig to a special research fund at the U of Iowa Children’s Hospital, where our grandson, Joseph, was treated for cancer. David Morrell, who was a young English prof at U of Iowa, working on his first novel, about a returned Vietnam vet named John Rambo, when I was a grad student there, gives the proceeds from his book, Fireflies, about his son, Matthew, who died of cancer in his early teens, to the same fund.

[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.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The End Is Near

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


The end is near. I figure another 15 years. Then I’ll be old and I’ll be ready. Of course, I’d better be ready right now.

Twenty-five years ago, a university professor left the church I pastored because we weren’t serious enough about divining the end times. I should have been suspicious of her when she first joined. Her PhD was from an ACC school, and they’re much better at basketball than prophecy. [1] I reminded her that Jesus had said that No one knows the day or the hour when the end will come. [Matthew 24:36] She replied, “Yes, but he didn’t say we couldn’t know the month or the year.” Now, that’s just willful perversion!

Still, I was sad to see her go. She could have been a good neighbor, helping others through their days. Instead she chose to waste her time trying to figure out when those days would end. Why not just get ready and stay that way? Jesus said that, too.

When I first went back to pastoring a congregation, following years in campus ministry and graduate school, some folks in my church in Orion, IL were upset because folks in another church were telling them the end was near. Those people knew the end was near because they were reading Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. The end would be soon. That was 1974. The folks in both those congregations who believed the end was near were right; they’re all dead now. Hal Lindsey was right, too. The end is near. He’s 82 years old.

Then of course everybody got worked up about 1984 as the end, just because George Orwell wrote a futuristic novel with that title. That was followed by 2000, and everyone knew the world would end because computers would crash.

When I pastored in Arcola,IL, a NASA engineer with more money than brains paid to send a book to every minister in America. It was titled 88 Reasons the World Will End in 1988. It didn’t. He acknowledged that he had made a mathematical error. It would be 1989. Wrong again. If I were an astronaut, I’d be worried about the engineers they hire. But Edgar Whisenant was basically right. The end was near. For him. It was 2001.

If you’re in your winter years, the end is near. Of course, if you’re any other age, the end might be near, too. Young people get shot down and run over every day. Why waste your time trying to predict? The end is near. You just don’t know when. So get ready and stay that way.

How do you get ready for the end? Hug a friend. Pray for an enemy. Eat some pie. Share the pie. Recall a politician. Go to a ball game. Repeat.

The main thing to do to get ready for the end, of course, is to wear clean underwear. We learned that from our mothers a long time ago. You don’t want to approach the pearly gates and have the angels nudging one another and laughing behind their wings.

JRMcF

1] I am misusing prophecy here. The prophets did not foretell the future, they forth-told the truth. Unfortunately, foretelling is about all anyone wants from a prophet these days, when forth-telling would do us a whole lot more good.


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.)