Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, September 8, 2013


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter For the Years of Winter

There are a lot of old men with bald heads and white beards. Whenever I see one, I remark on how handsome he is. Everyone who knows what I look like knows why I do this, but younger people also look a bit askance. I mean, just how good looking can an old bald man be, even with a white beard?
What they don’t understand is that we were once the young rebels, alpha males with a full head of hair, if a crew-cut can be considered full, and ready to take on the smooth-chinned establishment in the war against hair.
And indeed there was a war against hair in the 1960s, the days of Civil Rights and desegregation and Viet Nam. Classical violinists could get away with slightly long hair, but only in back, sort of a mullet-in-the-making, as long as it never actually made. If you did not get a weekly trim, people would ask you, not kindly, “Where’s your violin?” Students who advocated for desegregation or against the war in Viet Nam were told, “Get a haircut.” Middle-aged people seemed to think that the weight of long hair pulled a young man’s brain cells out. Just get a haircut and you’ll understand why black people shouldn’t vote and you should go die in Viet Nam.
Beards were even worse. Only a Communist would wear a beard. Many a past president or general or bishop wore a beard, but the past was past. Now it was possible to judge a man’s patriotism by the number of hairs on his face.
It was in the midst of the war on hair that I began to go bald. I was only in my mid-thirties. Not-enough hair was considered to be almost as bad as too much hair. I did not want to be bald. So I decided to let my hair grow out long enough that I could comb it over the bald spot.
I knew, though, that when people saw I was growing my hair out, it would call attention to my bald spot. My friends would make fun of me and my enemies would accuse me of long-haired perfidy. I also knew that if I grew a beard at the same time, people would fixate on the bottom of my face and not even notice what was taking place on the top of my head.
It worked perfectly. With one exception. I had to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. A crew-cut requires only a swipe of the hand—no mirror time necessary. A smooth chin requires only a quick run with an electric razor, not much mirror time. Now, though, I had to comb and trim just so—a lot of mirror time. I did not like what I saw.
One day Helen was passing by the open bathroom door as I was peering into the mirror. I said, “You know, I am really NOT very good-looking.”
“That’s right,” she said, as she went her merry way.
I realized that I had made my remark in order to get an entirely different reaction from her.
“Hey, wait a minute,” I yelled. “You’re my wife. You’re not supposed to agree with that.”
“Well,” she said, sticking her head back around the door frame, “you’re not very good-looking when you’re only looking at yourself, but you’re very good-looking when you’re looking at me.”
I knew that I had overheard the Gospel.
Helen has always been the best theologian in the family.
John Robert McFarland
“For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face. “ The Apostle, Paul of Tarsus, in I Corinthians 13:12, ASV.
As a student at Garrett Theological Seminary, I took a seminar in Soren Kierkegaard and Friederich Schleiermacher, from Prof. Paul Hessert, along with David Buttrick and Ron Goetz and several other students. I’m not sure I ever understood SK’s theology, but I remember, as well as I remember anything these days, his story of being in a cemetery and overhearing through a hedge a grandfather talking to his grandson about the death of the man who was son to one and father to the other. SK said he “overheard the Gospel.” Fred Craddock turned that into a very helpful book on preaching.
In the spirit of Neil Diamond, who never once said, “I apologize to those of you who have heard Sweet Caroline before, but I’m going to sing it again,” I do not apologize to you who have heard me tell this story before, in the pulpit or in The Strange Calling or in Now That I Have Cancer I Am Whole.
Some of you have wondered how Helen came out in the grape-stomping competition at Iron Mountain’s Italian Fest. Alas, a combination of fasciitis and an out-of-state funeral eliminated her appearance. Next year in the grape pit…
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!
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{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}
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I have nothing to do with those double under-linings Blogger puts into the body of these posts, randomly, it seems, to lead you to advertisements, on the web site, and I wish they would stop that.
I have noticed, when folks reply, the mail programs of some of you leave out much of my punctuation, especially quote marks, apostrophes, and ellipses. I want you to know that I DO know how to punctuate, mostly…

1 comment:

  1. Always enjoy your posts. I get a message I need to hear. And its nice to just drop in again from time to time. I guess I needed to read this today. thank you.