Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Who's Your Hoosier? [Not quite CIW]

Not quite a Christ In Winter, but watching basketball is what we do UP here in winter…
With the Indiana Hoosiers atop the college basketball world again, broadcast interlude talk often turns to the derivation of the word “Hoosier.” Some think it was because early settlers in Indiana, using their pioneer patois, would call out “Who’s there?” when someone approached their cabin, but in the pioneer patois, it sounded like “Hoosier?” Others think it was because early Indiana pioneers were brawlers and the next morning after a bar fight, when the pub keeper was cleaning up, he would look at the littered floor and ask, “Who’s ear?” which, again, in the Indiana accent, sounded like “Hoosier?”
One of the most plausible but hardly ever mentioned derivations of Hoosier is that Indiana folk were called after the first and most famous African American Methodist circuit rider, Harry “Black Harry” Hoosier, 1750-1810.
Hoosier was born a slave in NC but obtained his freedom, converted to Methodism, and in 1781 became a preacher. He was a close friend of Francis Asbury, “The Father of American Methodism.” They often traveled together to preach. Asbury noted that he drew big crowds, but that Hoosier’s crowds were even bigger. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, said that Hoosier was “the greatest orator in America,” even though he was illiterate.
Hoosier preached a famous sermon, “The Barren Fig Tree,” which was the first ever recorded by an African American Methodist preacher.
People everywhere thronged to hear Hoosier. Except in the South. Methodists were, with some notable exceptions, strongly outspoken in their anti-slavery sentiments. Southern folks like Virginia Baptists used the word “Hoosier” as a term or derision, denoting a northern Methodist, anti-slavery socially and Arminian [Wesleyan, free will] theologically. Because of the circuit riders on what was then the frontier, Methodism was strong throughout the Midwest, including Indiana.
So, were Hoosiers named for Black Harry? Probably so. After all, the present-day basketball Hoosiers draw Harry Hoosier-sized crowds to hear the Good News of basketball salvation.


Friday, February 15, 2013

CAPE COD CAPERS-Theological Division

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

I think Helen still has not forgiven me. Not for taking her to Cape Cod; she liked that. But we got there because I was the “outside” theologian at a New England theological gathering of the United Church of Christ. [UCC], “outside” meaning I was Methodist, Midwestern, and theologically “narrative” rather than “systematic.” There have always been story-tellers in Christianity, starting with Jesus, but as a theological approach, narrative was in the 1970s new, exotic, and of questionable repute. [It wasn’t “rigorous,” and you didn’t need a Harvard doctorate to do it.]
[The UCC was formed in 1957 by the merger of The Evangelical and Reformed & Congregational Christian denominations.]
I had a pretty good time. We were in a long-time UCC campground, with nice cottages and a big tabernacle and a spacious eating hall. I got to walk around the beautiful grounds and drink coffee and teach a workshop and bop into the tabernacle once in a while to “address” the plenary assembly.
Also my first theological mentor, D.J. Bowden, my professor of The History of Christian Thought at IU, was a Congregational Christian from the Northeast who got his PhD at Yale. I could well imagine him as a boy singing camp songs in the tabernacle, or later being a presenter himself at such a conference. It was quite inspiring to think that I was following in his footsteps.

 Since Helen was a “participant” instead of a presenter, she was required to be a member of a theology work group. She was assigned to the bunch that was writing a new faith statement for the UCC. It was composed mostly of academic theologians and preachers, who argued endlessly about whether “of” should go before or after “parousia.” Or maybe it was “from” instead of “of.” She wasn’t keen on the details. Her participation was mostly rolling her eyes, making snoring sounds, voting “No” on everything, and hitting me on the head, hard, when we were alone.
Sometimes the presenters hung out together, but I didn’t hang if I knew Dr. Austere would be there. [That wasn’t his real name, although it should have been.]  I stayed as far away from him as I could, for several reasons. For one thing, he was a professor of systematic theology in a UCC seminary, and I was running the Gospel through Marshall McLuhan and Hans Frei instead of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. For a second, I had a wife who was doing her best to sabotage the entire belief system of the UCC.
More importantly, before my plenary presentation each day, he gave a theology lecture, austerely, with footnotes and bibliography. Next to him, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Soren Kierkegaard looked like simpletons. His lectures were like the marching band in a parade, every line in step, each instrument playing its own part, only its part, and playing in tune. My presentation was like the clown in the parade, sitting in the back of a pickup throwing candies by the handful and hoping someone caught a peppermint, hoping a root barrel didn’t take out somebody’s eye. During my presentation, Dr. Austere would stand--never sit--in back, with his arms folded over his chest, looking stern. I was intimidated and embarrassed. He was so scholastic, and I was so… well, just a story-teller.
One night, though, the director of this theological institute took the presenters and their wives out to a seafood place. I was trying to avoid both Helen and Dr. Austere, so naturally the director seated me between them, where she could reach across me and tell him what she thought of UCC theology, and he could reach across me and tell her what he thought of MY theology.
I had a mouth-full of crab when he turned to me and said, “How do you DO that?”
“Do what?” I mumbled, thinking that now I had further embarrassed myself by eating crab like a Hoosier hillbilly gnawing a pork-chop.
“Tell those stories,” he said. “I work and work to try to get people to understand, and then you just tell a story that pulls the veil off all my words and makes people see what I was trying to say. I’d love to be able to do that.”
All I could think to do was grab his hand and put it into Helen’s and say, “You two should talk.”
JRMcF [John Robert McFarland]
It’s tempting to pull a “moral” out of this story, such as “Don’t assume you know what a person with crossed arms is thinking,” but grandson Joe says the problem with kid lit stories that win prizes is that “…they have morals. Kids just want good stories.” As Jesus said, “If you want to enter the Kingdom, be like a kid who just wants a good story.”
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}


Tuesday, February 5, 2013


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

The package contained ELEVEN tubes of toothpaste. With a note that said, “Donna will call you and explain.”
There were supposed to be only FIVE. And that was only because we overpaid last time. I am old. I don’t even buy green bananas. How am I doing to use up eleven tubes of toothpaste before I die? [1]
Donna was my high school classmate. She is a distributor for Forever Bright™ toothpaste. We buy from her because a long time ago she asked us to. We don’t say “no” to Donna.
She did call to explain. She owed us five tubes from our previous overpayment and tried to get the company to send them directly to us. She doesn’t have much time for boxing up out-of-town orders. Her mother is well over a hundred years and in a nursing home. Donna slept on a mattress on the floor of her room until her back got so bad she had to have surgery. Now she sleeps at home but spends most of her daytime hours at the nursing home. So why not get headquarters to send directly to us? But apparently eleven is the minimum to mail to a separate address. Who knows why? If 13 is a baker’s dozen, perhaps 11 is a dentist’s dozen.
I knew Donna in school, of course, but not well. We had a class of only 62, and I was class president for 3 years. But we didn’t run in the same social circles. I was high in the work circle of the class and school—class president, Student Council officer, newspaper editor, orchestra bassoonist—but I was not high in the power structure, which was based mostly on money and family, or the social structure, which was based mostly on looks and clothes. [1] Donna was high in the social structure; she was Homecoming Queen.
We expected a high society life for her after school, of course. It didn’t turn out that way. Her first husband divorced her, her second committed suicide. Her two sons died in their twenties, one of cancer and the other in a motorcycle accident. Her only grandchild, Jada, either committed suicide or was murdered in Donna’s house, at the age of 19. Her only family now is her mother and two sisters, one deep into Alzheimer’s, and the other living in a different state and unable to walk. Donna takes care of her mother and sells toothpaste.
Except, Donna makes a life out of nothing. She knows everybody and she knows their stories. Helen says one of the best times she ever had was when we went to lunch with Donna when we were back in Oakland City for our 55 year reunion. She introduced us to everyone in the restaurant, including the pig farmer who was, thankfully, getting take-out and whose clothes were splattered with what Helen devoutly hoped was mud. Young or old or in-between, Donna knew them all, and later she explained why each one needed her special attention, although she didn’t put it that way, because of the difficulties of their lives. We’ve been with her several times through the years at nursing homes. She goes in like a swarm of laughing bees on a summer day, landing on every worker and every patient with a hug and a smile and a “How are you, Sweetie?” And besides, who can’t love a woman in her 70s who is a backup dancer/singer for an Elvis impersonator?
She’s still in the social circle, but she’s in the work circle now, too. She was telling us about how some sorority she belongs to was doing a benefit for some burned-out family or good cause or… I’m not quite sure because it’s hard to stay up with Donna. They were trying to get 25 people to sponsor it at $100 each so they could pay the band and then all the money they raised would go to the good cause. Turns out sponsors got 4 free tickets. Donna found some young married folks who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it and told them, “Pick up tickets at the window. Just tell them you are named McFarland.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.
We decided a long time ago to stop going back for class reunions. 700 miles is just too far away. But through the years we’ve become a talisman for Donna. When it came time for our 50 year reunion, she called and asked us to come. “Everyone will tell about how long they’ve been married, and about their children and grandchildren, and I won’t have anything to say. But I think I can make it through if I can sit between you and Helen.” When it was 55 years, she called and said, “I’ve got to have back surgery the Monday after. I think I can make it through if I can see you first.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.
Helen wrote the following on Jan. 13: So last night I was lying awake in bed, and this morning when I first awoke, I was feeling kind of sorry for myself. Nothing specific—just mid-winter blahs. Seemed like there are so many wrong with the world, and in the lives of people I care about, and in my own diminishing abilities to think and work and affect my world. Just feeling kind of down. I prayed about it, asking God for guidance and direction And what does he do?? Before I finished breakfast, he tapped Donna on the shoulder and said, “Call McFarlands—and be sure you talk to Helen, not just John.” {After Donna and I had talked, she said, “Does Helen have anything she wants to say to me?} Donna!! Of all the people I’ve ever known, Donna is probably the one who makes the most of what she’s been given, stays upbeat when her world is falling apart [which it has several times] and does the most good for the most people. God could have sent any number of reasonably cheerful people into my life today and it would have helped me on my way, but NO—He has to call out Donna—the BIG GUN! After we had talked and I was cheered and inspired as I always am by her, I smiled and said, “God, you really know how to send a message.”
So, we don’t say “no” to Donna, but… do you need some toothpaste?
John Robert McFarland
1] I guess I could put the toothpaste in my will. Daughter Katie looked up McFarland wills in the county courthouse in Xenia, OH. One of my ancestors, Greene Clay McFarland, I think it was, had willed a three-legged stool to the daughter “with a bad eye,” and “the bucket without the hole” to another, etc. Eleven tubes of toothpaste might look pretty good.
2] I experienced the difference of work, power, and social circles primarily in the church, but most groups of humans, and primates generally, are like high school. {Shudder!} There is some overlap between the circles, but also some clear distinctions.
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}