Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, January 3, 2013


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

 As we enter a new calendar year, we get all those retrospective shows and articles about the events of the year just past. In our winter years, we get a retrospective of the events of all our years past.
In my first appointment after seminary, I was standing around at a break in some ministerial meeting, chatting with my colleagues. One was the pastor of a large and prestigious church. He was less than a year from retirement and so prone to looking backward rather than forward. He gave some advice to those of us who were young and looking forward.
“You young fellas need to trust the bishop and the cabinet,” he said. “They’ll do right by you. They always gave me better appointments than I deserved.” [1]
I pointed out that obviously we could not trust the bishop and cabinet, because if they gave him better appointments than he deserved, they gave some of his colleagues lesser appointments than they deserved. You couldn’t be all that pleased or trusting if you were in the latter category.
He was totally befuddled. He didn’t understand at all what I was saying. That, of course, was because he didn’t mean what he said.
In addition to the false modesty to which all men, and women, of “the cloth” are prone, he was just saying, “I accept my past.” His was not a rational, truth-in-a-scientific-way statement. He wasn’t doing arithmetic; he was doing forgiveness. He was forgiving the bishop and the cabinet and his congregations and himself for all that was past. He thought he had to deny the facts of reality to make things come out okay.
Rather than the usual mantra of “forgive and forget,” I suggest that it is better to forgive and remember. Remember the facts of your past, or your past loses meaning. But forgive the reality. Accept the gift of the past, “warts and all.”
Paul Tillich said, “Forgiveness doesn’t change the facts, but it does change the meaning of the facts.”
Remember the past. Forgive the past. Accept the new meaning that forgiveness brings. Accept that which is, thankfully, better than you deserve.
John Robert McFarland
1] In The United Methodist Church, ministers are not hired by the congregation. They are appointed by the bishop and the cabinet, which is the District Superintendents glommed together. We can’t request a particular appointment, and we have to go where we are sent, although we can sometimes weasel out of it. From the beginning of American Methodism through the first half of my career, there was no negotiation of any kind. The bishop told you where you were going, usually through the DS, and that was all there was to it. Sometimes you weren’t even told; sometimes you didn’t know until the appointments were read on the last day of the annual conference where you would move the next week.
2] The instructions of Oliver Cromwell to the artist, Sir Peter Lely, about painting his portrait according to the facts of his face.
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, or make it into a movie or TV series.
{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}





  1. What post does the second footnote go with?

  2. Oops. Sorry about that. I forgot to put the [2] after "warts and all."