Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, March 17, 2013


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

 We’re going to church this morning. I’m dreading it. It’s not the sermon or the music or the liturgy; they are always good. It’s the people. Oh, they are very nice, but they say things like “Hello” and “How are you?” and I don’t know how to respond.
I’m not much good at small talk in general, but I’m especially bad at “phatic” communication, the “Hello. How are you?” type of interchange. Phatic communication doesn’t impart information; it just acknowledges presence. You’re not supposed to say how you really are. You’re supposed to respond with “Fine. How are you?”
For some reason, though, I’ve always felt that anything I said, even a reply to “How are you?” has to be entertaining or interesting or both.
Even in the subject line of my emails, which is electronic phatic communication, I try for at least “cute.” Some of my emailing friends don’t put anything at all in the subject line. Others use a minimal “hello” or “thinking of you.” I try to compress the Nicene Creed into six words. [Three-twenty-five. Trinity not Arius.]
When someone asks me at coffee time at church, or even standing around before the Second Sunday folk music concert, how I am, I reply something like, “Better than I deserve.” They look, understandably, blank. They weren’t expecting that. So I continue with, “But that is the nature of grace. If we got what we deserved, we’d be in big trouble.” They blink, nod, perhaps murmur something that sounds like affirmation, and run off to chat with someone who knows the proper way to phate. [I’m not sure this was previously the proper verb form of “doing phatic communication,” but it is now.]
I walk blocks out of my way to avoid meeting people so that I don’t have to phate with them. Others do the same to avoid me. There is a set of little old lady twins who actually take a side path or hide behind a tree when they see me coming toward them on a path in the woods of City Park. This may be because they witnessed me meeting a pair of young women on a path when I yelled, “I’m going to kiss one of you women.” Daughter Katie’s friend, Christine, looked rather shocked. She was even more miffed when Katie ran forward to get the kiss before she could.
I want to phate the right way, but I get confused. I get anxious. My mind races ahead. I anticipate what the other person will say and get my response ready. But people surprise you. I figure she’s going to say, “Thanks for shoveling my driveway,” and when she says “It’s a nice day,” I blurt out “You’re welcome,” as though I had some influence on the weather. If they say “What’s up?” I say “Fine” before I realize they changed the script. If they say “It’s been wet lately,” I might say “Thank you.” If in parting they say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice day,” I might well say “So’s your old man.”
I assume that I have some psychological imbalance, that I am needy of both attention and acceptance and think I can get it only by being entertaining, at all times, even in the most mundane times. Actually, I don’t just assume that; I’ve been told. But those who told me weren’t nearly as interesting and entertaining as I am, so who cares?
I take comfort in that God doesn’t seem to be a phater. God doesn’t work the room before getting around to the important stuff, as in Hey, ladies and germs, howyoualldoing? Anybody here from Nineveh? Seen any Acts of God lately? Hey, I don’t care who you are; that was funny. No, God just says This is my son; listen to him. Jesus said “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” not “Whadayaknow?
I just got in from walking on the water and boy, are my feet wet. Rim shot, please.”
The most important thing in relating to others is to be kind, so I am kind by avoiding people as much as possible so that they don’t have to deal with my phatic fallacy. But Easter is coming. That’s a non-phater’s best time of year. You don’t bother with “How are you?” You just start out by saying “Christ is Risen!”
JRMcF [John Robert McFarland]
{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}
(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at, and I’ll put you on the email list.)


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