Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Waiting for Troubled Water

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Reader alert: This is about twice as long as usual, and more of a sermon than a story, but it ends well.

At the beginning of the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to John, there is a story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem for a festival. It’s a crowded and hectic scene. But he notices a man lying by the roadside. He has been there for 38 years. Jesus asks him a question: Do you want to be made well?

Not, “Do you want to BE well?” but “Do you want to be MADE well?”

The man answers indirectly. There is a pool there that has healing powers, he reminds Jesus. When the water is troubled, that is, stirred up from below, presumably by the spirit of healing, whoever gets into the pool will be healed. The pool spirit is stingy, though, or maybe it just tires easily, for only the first person in gets healed, sort of like being the fourth caller. And the man has no friend or family member who is willing to wait with him, perhaps for days, or 38 years, until the receptionist finally calls his name and the spirit troubles the water, no friend who is then strong and nimble enough to drag him into the water before someone else claims the healing. So, yes, is the implication. I’d like to be made well, but there is no one available to do it.

If I had twenty minutes to preach this, and I thought you could listen that long, I would point three times at this story, from different directions, and add a poem. But this is winter, and the daylight is limited. So…

…many of us would like to be well, but we have limits. We think there are only certain times we can be healed, only certain times that the water is troubled. We think there must be some doctor or nurse or preacher to push us into the water. If we notice the stranger walking by in the crowd, we pay him no mind, just keep sitting there, stuck like always.

Some of us want to be well, but not made well. Mark Twain said that he liked to learn but he hated to be taught. Jesus asked the man if he were willing to admit that he needed help. He claimed he was willing to accept help, but Jesus knew better. He was willing to accept only certain kinds of help. He’d been there 38 years, after all. That’s some kind of lazy stubbornness.   

Jesus does not, however, require the man to be articulate to be healed. He got close enough to saying he wanted to be made well. One of the oldest prayers around, “Help me, Lord Jesus,” is good enough.

And furthermore… we could make much of 38 years, like “never give up.” But I’ve already stretched the story too far. And not every one will be healed every time. We all die. Death is the only final cure. The point really is simple. There may not be cure for every disease in this life, but there is healing for every dis-ease. There is wholeness, even in the midst of brokenness. Right now. No need to wait for 38 years…

Oh, good grief, I did three points. Might as well add a poem.

Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while, to auction off the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me?” “A dollar. A dollar? Then two? Only two. Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars once, three dollars twice, and going for three,” but no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow. Then wiping the dust from the old violin and tightening up the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as a caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said “Now what am I bid for the old violin?” and he held it up with the bow. “A thousand dollars! And who’ll make it two? Two thousand, and who’ll make it three? Three thousand once, three thousand twice, and going for three,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them said, “We do not quite understand. What changed its worth?” Quick came the reply, “The touch of a master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred by sin, is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine, a game, and he travels on. He’s going once, he’s going twice, he’s going and almost gone. But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd, never can quite understand, the worth of the soul, or the change that’s wrought, by the touch of the Master’s hand. [Myra Brooks Welch]

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

1] Okay, the Greek word here doesn’t have to be translated as “made well.” Some translations have Jesus saying, “Do you want to get well?” Same thing. Or at least close enough for a preacher.

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trudging Creatively

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The late and lovely Rose Mary Shepherd once said that she needed to plan more serendipity into her schedule. Those don’t really go together.

We don’t normally think of creativity and trudging going together, either. One does not trudge creatively. I have always been a trudger. That is somewhat surprising, since I am also creative, sort of. I can think up a good story, and sometimes a slightly witty remark. And I can trudge.

Strangely, it is when I need the creativity the most that it fails me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I needed to find a creative way to get well. I didn’t; instead I trudged through 13 month of chemotherapy. While doing that, I needed to find a creative way to avoid nausea. I did not; instead I trudged through vomiting and mouth sores and fatigue.

I’m a little bit proud of being a trudger. Not everyone is good at it, so I can look at my trudging self in the mirror and feel comparatively proud. Unfortunately, there are no prizes or medals for trudging, so no one else really knows how good I am at it. The prizes and medals are all for creativity. I don’t have any of those, either.

Also, I don’t display my trudging ability much, because once I have proved I can trudge through something, I’m satisfied. I trudged my way through the 26 miles and 385 yards of a marathon. I don’t feel the need to trudge through another. I feel the same way about chemo.

I think I’ll create a prize, with a medal, for creative trudging. I think I’ll name it for Rose Mary.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Better than Santa

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

One way or another, I tell this story every Christmas…

As Christmas approached when granddaughter Brigid was about four year old, she said to her mother, “You know, Santa and Grandpa are a lot alike. Santa has a bald head, and Grandpa has a bald head. Santa has a white beard, and Grandpa has a white beard. Santa brings toys, and Grandpa brings toys. But Grandpa is better, because he stays and plays.”

That is the message of Christmas. God is not just some Santa, making a quick stop on the roof to throw some toys down the chimney and then hurrying on.

In Jesus, the Christ, God stays and plays.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Death Before Christmas-a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The lady down the street
has died, two weeks before
Christmas. Her children
are clearing out her house.
They have thrown her Christmas
tree along the curb,
still green, but on its side,
in dirty snow, stripped
of its festive trimmings, ‘cept
for straggly tinsel, and one
small, missed ornament,
a smiling angel, peeking
low, through branches that will soon
turn brown.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©


If you know me, or have read this blog before, you have reason to expect a story. That’s what I do. That is what has appeared in this blog before. Some days, though, I do not have a story. I apologize for inflicting upon you rough-draft “poetry,” but some days, that’s what I have.

Some saint proclaimed
that when my name is called
upon that day of final reckoning,
“Settlement Day” come ‘round at last,
I shall be called to task
for every thing of beauty I did not enjoy.
Saints are always right,
but it is not just beauty missed
that is a blot upon the record and the soul.
I shall be called to account for
every chance for love that I did not embrace,
every moment for giving thanks when I was silent,
every step when someone faltered
and I did not extend an arm to steady,
every opportunity for praise
that I squandered in self-pity.
Why lose even one precious second
mired in mud
when my soul
has wings?


John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Songs & Suicides

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

I find that singing is more important to me as I age. I have always enjoyed singing, but now I have so many memories that go with the songs.

A snatch of song comes up from somewhere, and with it a host or memories.

Even simple little songs, like “Jesus Loves Me.” I used to sing that to tiny grandson Joe when he was in the hospital with cancer.

One problem is that when you hear a song in public, and the memories come, people look at your strangely when you are crying during a happy song or laughing during a sad one.

My hippo-campus is sort of like a random-play iPod. This morning “Balm in Gilead” came up. It always makes me think of Catherine and Scott Smith, with appreciation for their friendship. We were already friends when their 20-year-old son, Bob, committed suicide, in the same university building where his father taught Physics, but we became very close through that experience. We sang “Balm in Gilead” at his funeral. Scott and Catherine often spoke of how much that song meant to them.

Old-age singing is a balm, “to heal the sin-sick soul.”

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]


I tweet as yooper1721.

Friday, December 5, 2014

FUNDAMENTAL SINNERS

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

There are three types of fundamentalists—atheistic, scientific, and religious. They commit the same fundamental sin: if I can’t understand it, explain it, and control it, then it cannot be real.

I call it “sin” instead of just a mistake because sin, at its root, is separation. Sin breaks relationship, with the world, with other people, with our own true selves, and with God. In Christian theology, this fundamental sin is called “original” sin.

It is not evil in itself. But it puts us, our understanding and explanations and control, in the place of God. When that happens, when we become God, all sorts of evil, all sorts of breaking of relationships, become not only possible but inevitable. That is why Paul VanBuren and William Hamilton and other theologians of the 1960s proclaimed “the death of God.” They weren’t saying that God does not exist, but that fundamentalists of all three varieties have taken over the world.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Scientific fundamentalists accept that they cannot control the world, but that is only because their understanding is not yet complete. They believe, however, that someday it will be complete. Then they will be able to control thinking, aging, space, whatever. And if it cannot be controlled, they will at least understand why. You see this sort of fundamentalism in the writing of social science fundamentalists like Jared Diamond and physical science writers like Micio Kaku.

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Foes Arrayed Against Me-a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The foes arrayed against me
are many,
and mighty,
filled with violence,
and fueled by hate.
I must be ever ready,
and vigilant,
shield up, high,
sword steady
hand strong, though trembling,
eyes forward, clear.
Although each day I lose,
and retreat a grudging inch,
I shall not admit defeat.
I shall fight until I die
and count that as victory.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Finding Your Priest Quickly

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

In the awful days of dictator Idi Amin in Uganda, a precursor of the Hutu-Tutsi slaughters in Rwanda later, the Church of England asked the Ugandan bishop what they could do to help.

“Send us 100 clerical collars,” he answered.

That seemed terribly irrelevant, but…

“When they come to murder our people,” the bishop explained, “it happens so suddenly. We have no warning. Our people need to be able to find their priests quickly.”

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Have Tried to Treat the World With Kindness--a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

I usually start the day by staring into the fire, or out the window at the snow, and thinking a poem. Sometimes I write it down. I don’t rewrite. It is just the raw musings in the day’s first light, or, more often, its last darkness. I’m reluctant to inflict bad poetry on you, but if you have come here to see if there is something new to read, well, at least, there is something new…

I have tried to treat
the world with kindness,
so that it should not grieve
unduly when I pass.
I have tried to walk softly
on the earth,
cruel and indifferent
as it is, uncaring
if I live or die,
born in darkness
and feeding on the light,
as it has always been,
Original Sin, as the thinkers
name it, capitalized,
to be sure we understand.
Why should I walk softly
or caress with kindness
this world, so prodigal
with its disdain for me,
and you?
But I have tried to treat
the world with kindness.
Do not grieve, unduly,
when I pass…


John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Holidays

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The holiday season is fast upon us. It starts with the annual Dead Antelope Festival Jubilee Celebration Days, which coincides with Deer Days, the opening of deer season in the UP, when schools have to be closed because teachers and students alike, along with everyone else, are out in the woods shooting Bambi’s mother. Since no one in our family hunts, we celebrate Dead Antelope Days, when all who come to the festival bring tribute—Monon rail cars and 1957 Desotos and the like—for the HO railroad grandson Joe and I run in our basement. He named it Dead Antelope, when he was about 7, for its general ambiance and mien. It has lived up nicely to its name.

Following quickly upon Dead Antelope Days are Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Hanukah, and New Year’s, and Festivus [for the Rest of Us].

There is, of course, a great hubbub about “the war on Christmas,” because some folks greet others with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” both in person and with cards. The “war on Christmas” is a rather recent invention, although “Happy Holidays” is not. I first began paying attention to Christmas cards about sixty years ago, and “Happy Holidays” made frequent appearances, usually with symbols indicating both Christmas and New Year’s. It was simply an easy way of expressing good wishes for more than one festival occasion.

We once lived in a small town, about 2500 people, noted for its festivals, which attracted a lot of strangers to town so local organizations and merchants could extract money from them. They were fun, but also exhausting for the locals. When one of the banks in town was robbed, everyone sighed with exasperation, knowing that from then on there would be an annual Bank Robbery Festival, requiring yet more work.

The original intent of a festival, a jubilee, was for rest. It was an extended Sabbath. It gave people a chance to stop and think, a time to have fun together instead of work. Biblically, it was designed to give a respite to those in need of one. Jubilees were held every seven years, and at those occasions debts were wiped out. They were the original black Friday, when those most in need got out of the red. They were festivals of Sabbath, of rest instead of work, of grace instead of greed.

Let me be the first this year to wish for you: Happy Holidays! [And don’t forget to bring some HO track.]

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

There is some debate about how often biblical jubilees were held. Some scholars think it was every 49 years, 7 times 7. At any rate, it would seem jubilees were the reason 7 became a “lucky” number.

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Going On to Perfection

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

John Wesley said that our goal is to be made perfect in love. It is referred to as his “doctrine of Christian perfection.”

Indeed, candidates for ministry in the United Methodist Church are still asked, “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” The only correct answer is “Yes,” regardless of how much the evidence argues against it.

Christian perfection, I think, is a matter of finally recognizing how perfectly God waits for us, waits for us to discover and acknowledge the perfection in love that is God.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Working the Angles--a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

In pickle ball I am not as fast
or strong as those with younger
legs, and so I work
the angles,
paddle turned a few degrees
to guide the ball just inside
the lines, just outside
the reach of those on the wrong
side of the net.
The other players call me
St. John of the Angles.
The rest of the time
I work the angels,
to stay just inside
the lines, just outside
the reach of those on the wrong
side of joy.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Lament of the Pine-a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

I am beautiful, you say,
my boughs weighed down
with snow,
but beauty is a burden
hard to bear.
I long for slanting
summer sun,
to save me
from this beauty.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A sister, not a brother...

Of course, I meant to say that Bettie was the daughter and sister of Alabama preachers, not the daughter and brother....

She Came from A Far--Remembering Bettie Wilson Story

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Bettie Wilson Story was a woman of the Word. She served the Word with her words. That is remarkable, in its own way, because in person, she spoke words so slowly.

She was the daughter and brother of Alabama preachers, both of whom died too young. She was married to an Alabama preacher, too, although GL spent almost his entire career, and their 61 years of faithful marriage, as a New Testament scholar and Religion professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. [1]

Despite all those years on the Illinois flat lands, Bettie never lost her soft Alabama drawl or her gentle  Alabama smile. I can still hear her telling the story of the wise men at Jesus’ manger. Alabamians thought they had ashes on their feet because “They came from a far.”

She wrote the words faster than she spoke them, though, as attested by her books and her many, many news stories and columns as a journalist for United Methodist publications. She served for many years as director of communications for the Central Illinois Conference. In that writing she was concise and thoughtful and insightful.

She didn’t just inform; she communicated. She knew that the purpose of church journalism was more than just stating the facts. In her writing she tried to build community through dialogue.

She was not an insular writer, interested only in her own words. She wanted to make it possible for everyone to read and to write. She spent years on the library board. For two decades she directed the IWU Writer’s Conference, and made it possible for hopeful writers like me to meet accomplished writers like Madeline L’Engle.

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing her could hear her slow and gentle and smiling voice as we read her books and articles.

Bettie had it right. The Word is not in a hurry. The Word knows no time limits. It is the Word that is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The Word does not rush. It takes whatever time is necessary so that it can be heard clearly, in any dialect.

Bettie heard the Word clearly, and spoke it slowly, and wrote it hopefully, In the process, she enhanced our community, and loved us all.

John Robert McFarland

1] One of the many convergences of our lives is Opelika, AL, where Bettie’s father pastored when she met GL, from nearby Beauregard, pronounced Boregard. Our granddaughter was born in Opelika, when daughter Katie taught at Auburn U, and GL’s sister was one of her nurses in the hospital.

[my old charter email address works, too]

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

HOPE IN DARKNESS [poem]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

In the darkness of this morning hour
my vision of the day
is filled with hope.
Yet I know that with the dawn
comes worry,
aches of body, mind, and soul,
concerns for others,
and for my own slowly slipping
footing in this world.
Evil hides in night time, true,
but it brazens forth in daylight,
swinging the sword of power
with lies and swagger,
chanting holy verses as it strides.
Do not despair because of darkness.
In the darkness before daylight
there is hope.  

John Robert McFarland

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/

I tweet as yooper1721.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

COUNT DOWN-a poem

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Life is not lived forward
Not really. It is lived backward
counting down

The most famous count-down
was from your mother
who gave you to the count of three
or else

We shared a whole new world
by counting down
with the astronauts
to blast off

We count down to children
and grand-children
I counted down to retirement’
for four and one-half years

Of all the species
only humans
have brains that can imagine
the future, counting down

I have one more count-down
to blast off
It started the day I was born
But I do not know the number
from which it began…


John Robert McFarland

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in early 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

FOOTBALL PERFECTION

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

As I watched the Florida State-Notre Dame football game last night, I thought of all the problems FSU has had with star quarterback, Jamies Winston [charges of shoplifting, rape, and public obscenity] and of FSU’s history of such players. That sort of thing didn’t happen under Coach Darrel Mudra.

He had been fired at Florida State after only two years, for not winning enough games fast enough, even though he won more his second year than his first. Eastern Illinois University was glad to pick him up.

The year before, the EIU panthers had won only one game. In Mudra’s first year, they won the national championship.

His career record was 200-81-4, 70.9 %. He’s in the national football hall of fame. His nickname is “Dr. Victory.” His expertise and reputation were in taking long-time losing programs and turning them into winners. That’s why FSU hired him. Despite all that, FSU gave Mudra only two years to turn their floundering program around.

Bobby Bowden, who succeeded Mudra at FSU, has said that it was Mudra who really turned FSU football around and made it possible for him to win.

Mark Dantonio, the hugely successful coach at Michigan State U, says that there is no secret to football success. “You recruit one good young man at a time. You help them become better persons, academically, socially, relationally. As they become better persons, they become better players.”

It takes more than two years to turn good young men into better young men. It takes even longer to take young men who have never been expected to be good and get them to see that being a good football player is not as important as being a good person.

It takes a long time to turn anyone into a good person.

Darrel Mudra attended worship services at my church when he coached at EIU. I was a long distance runner in those days and often used the mile-long woodchip trail around the university athletic fields, including the football practice field. Sometimes Coach Mudra would be standing under a tree, watching practice from a distance, as I ran. I’d stop and chat and give him tips, the way people who know just a little about something like to advise folks who know a lot about it.

A number of the football players came to church, too. I asked them about Coach Mudra, who was famous for always coaching from the press box, not on the field. “He hardly ever talks to us about football,” they said. “He asks us what we want to do with our lives, what our goals are, who we want to be.”

One of the questions Methodist preachers are asked as they apply for ordination is: Do you expect to be made perfect in this life? It’s from John Wesley’s “Doctrine of Christian Perfection.” We are not expected to be perfect in knowledge or ability, but we are expected become perfect in love, to be good people.

Wesley said that perfection in love is the work of a lifetime, but it is what God expects of us, not just to be good players, but to be good persons.

On this Sunday morning, I give thanks for the coaches who help us become better persons, and trust that in the process we shall become better players.

John Robert McFarland

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]


I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Running Away to Home

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The knock on the back door of the parsonage. Helen answered. An awkward and somewhat embarrassed couple stood there. They wanted to see the preacher. I got up off the sofa, reluctantly, shoeless, and went to the door. As soon as Helen was out of ear-shot, they announced that they wanted to get married, and needed to do it quickly.

Great. Another run-away couple wanting to get married. They weren’t the first, and they wouldn’t be the last. I told them to walk over to the side door of the church building while I got my shoes on. They said they would rather wait behind the house, where they could not be seen from the street.

After I got my shoes on, they almost ran from parsonage to church building. I was hard-pressed to keep up with them. Once in my office, they explained that they had just that morning decided to get married and needed to do it before their families found out.

I said I could not marry them without a marriage license. The woman produced one out of her purse. I asked why they had a license if they had just decided that day to get married, since our state had a three day waiting period. They did not hesitate to say that had given the clerk an extra twenty dollars to backdate the license by three days. I wasn’t surprised. That was the way business was done in our county.

“Why are your families opposed to your marriage?” I asked.

“Our kids are just selfish,” they replied. “All they think about is money. They are worried about inheritance. But we’re in love.”

I was only twenty-five, and anyone over forty looked about the same to me, so I probably overestimated their age at sixty. They may well have been only fifty or so. They were nicely dressed, polite, well-spoken… and scared.

“They’re out looking for us right now, the kids are,” they said. “We’ve got to get married before they find us. If you can’t do it, we’ve got to get out of here quick and find somebody who will.”

I didn’t have much time to decide how to handle this. I’d had similar requests before, but they came from teen-agers. I felt comfortable dealing with them. But these were people the age of my parents. Surely they were old enough to know what they were doing and to have the right to marry. Didn’t love come ahead of inheritance? What right did their selfish children have to keep them apart?

Also, I’ve always had trouble saying “no,” especially to people on the run. I would have been great as an underground railroad operator.

So I got Helen to come over to witness, along with the part-time janitor, who just happened to be in the building, and stood them up in the chancel and married them. They hurried off, and I never saw them again.

I won’t detail all the problems with this event, and the way I handled it. You can figure those out easily enough. Remember, though, that you are not twenty-five and dealing with people the age of your parents. So I make no apologies. I’m sure I’d do it again, even though I’m older and wiser now.

I’m pro-marriage. Not everyone should marry, not everyone can marry, not everyone should stay married, but if you want to marry, love should come before law. Laws, and in-laws, should help people marry the one they love, not keep them from doing so.

If you want to get married, just go knock on the back door of the parsonage. Thankfully, though, I don’t live there anymore.

John Robert McFarland

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The End of the Stories

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Today I threw three thousand 4x6 note cards into the recycling box, and another thousand 3x5 cards I used for indexing the 4x6s.

I made them, one by one, over 50 years of preaching. On each was an “illustration,” a story, for use in preaching or writing, about the time “the Lord called the rat home,” and Will McLaughlin at the great Iroquois Theater Fire, and grandson Joe learning to tie his shoes during a worship service.

For years I have known this day would come. I was sure it would be one of the hardest things I ever did. It wasn’t. The time had come to let go.

I assumed it would be hard because the stories on those cards are, at least in some ways, the story of my life. But my life is no longer preaching and writing.

I thought about giving the cards to some young preacher, but young people don’t use things that are written by hand on cardboard. They certainly don’t tell stories about one-horse farms, and World War II, and going into the stacks at the library to look up a reference, and my children and grandchildren. Those are the stories told by a man who preached in a different way, in a different time.

I remember well the first of those cards. It was just before my junior year at IU. I attended “The School of the Prophets” at Depauw U, in Greencastle, IN, lectures and workshops for Methodist ministers in Indiana, long before seminaries provided continuing education for ministers. For me, though, it was not continuing education, it was first education. I had been preaching for a year, at three little hamlet churches, Solsberry, Koleen, and Mineral. I was out of material. I needed all the help I could get.

I got it especially from Webb Garrison, who led a workshop on preaching, and told about how he wrote down on 4x6 cards each thing he heard or came across that might be a sermon illustration, and put them in a shoe box, since it was the right size and didn’t cost anything. He said that if you cut something from a magazine, you should put it onto a card with rubber cement instead of tape or library paste. I had a shoe box. I bought rubber cement and 4x6 cards. On the way to Depauw I had seen a road sign for a combination service station-cafĂ© that proclaimed, “Eat At Salty’s and Get Gas.” I thought that would be a marvelous illustration. I wrote it down on a 4x6 card and put it in the shoe box. I was in business. I was a preacher with a box of stories.

Sooner or later you have to let go of even the most important of your artifacts. But that card was the last one that went into the recycling box this morning.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers, a word in the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Everybody Say Amen Tonight [song]

I haven’t written anything for Christ In Winter for a long time. I realized I was writing out of a sense of obligation rather than joy, and that writing for others was keeping me from doing the soul work of old age that must be done within, silently, rather than externally, in broadcast style.

But I came across this song I wrote some time ago, and I thought you might enjoy it…

It starts with a prayer
And goes on from there
Right away you have something to share
Will anybody say Amen tonight?

This is the day
That the lord has made
Get out of the heat and into the shade
Let’s everybody say Amen tonight

Everybody sing
And everybody shout
We’ll drive that gloomy devil out
Everybody say Amen tonight

The road is narrow
The road is straight
There’s no room on that way for hate
Everybody say Amen tonight

The lord will provide
for us somehow
All we need we’ve got right now
Everybody say Amen tonight

Stay right here
With a prayer and a grin’
You must be present if you want to win
Everybody say Amen tonight

I’m a sinner’
You are, too
God’s still got some work to do
Everybody say Amen tonight

I’m a fright
And you’re a mess
We’ve got some sins we’d better confess
Everybody say Amen tonight

It’s sure fun
to have some gold
But it won’t hug you when you’re old
Everybody say Amen tonight

Praise is good
Praise is fine
But you also better walk God’s line
Everybody say Amen tonight.

When they lay me
Beneath the sod
I’ll still be in the hands of god
Everybody say Amen tonight



Monday, July 21, 2014

Leading a Romance Life

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Black Opal Books has a sharing group for its authors. Since BOB will publish my novel VETS in 6 to 8 months, I’m in the group. BOB has up to now published only romance novels, but they are expanding into other genres, hence authors like me [or I, according to which sounds better to you.] Many of the most active contributors and tweeters in the group write paranormal romances.

I am acquainted with some romance writers, including Merline Lovelace --her real name, but one a romance writer should choose if it were not her real name. [She was a colonel in the Air Force before retiring to write romance.] I don’t, however, read romance novels because I don’t need to; I live a romantic life.

Twitter doesn’t understand that, though, and since I “follow” the other authors in the BOB group, Twitter is constantly suggesting non-BOB paranormal romance authors, and romance writers in general, for me to follow.

“Following” sounds a bit too much like stalking, although young people use “stalking” as any attempt to gather information about someone, such as I’m “stalking” Thomas Jefferson if I Google Monticello.

In many ways, it makes sense for Twitter to suggest that I follow paranormal romance writers, but not for the reasons Twitter assumes. I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a communer with God, a mystic experiencer, absorbed in the Holy Spirit, a child of the world for which God provides and continues to create, a follower of one who has risen from the dead but is still among us in Spirit. That is surely a paranormal romance.

So I guess the first writers of paranormal romances were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In “following” them I am “stalking” Jesus. I’m sure he’s cool with it.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers, a word in the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Significance of Numbers 13 & 18

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Today is the All Star game, and so, a baseball CIW…

Helen and I were in Cincinnati to see Ted Kluzewski’s # 18 retired. Our trip to Riverfront Stadium was a sort of pilgrimage. “Big Klu” had been a hero of my youth, when I, too, was a slow hard-hitting first baseman.
           
We were dressed in all our Reds regalia–caps, shirts, sox, all extolling professional baseball’s first team. I was in line to get tickets when Helen tugged at my arm.

“This man says he’ll give us tickets,” she said.

She waved her arm toward a rather scrufty looking young man standing a few feet away. He looked like the kind of guy who would be asking for something rather than giving something. He slouched sideways, like the sullen gunsel in The Maltese Falcon.

He wasn’t highly articulate, but the bottom line was that he had a pair of tickets, and he had just been looking around for the right people to give them to.

All this was highly suspicious. Standing behind him, Helen indicated, non-verbally, that she didn’t think we should take this offer, that it had the odor of scam about it. I agreed. I mean, what if…

…he was a dope dealer and he had mistaken us for someone else and the tickets were a signal and a shifty-eyed woman with too much cleavage would hand us a paper bag and suddenly whistles would blow and cops would appear. Maybe he was an undercover agent investigating scalping and as soon as we took the tickets whistles would blow and cops would appear. In either scenario, we would spend the night in jail with low-life types, Dodgers and Yankees fans.

At the very least, if these were free tickets, they would be high up in right field, where the seats were red because of all the noses that had bled on them, and this being Big Klu’s big night, we had decided to break the budget and get green seats, or maybe even yellow seats, for the first time in all our trips to Riverfront. [Riverfront Stadium is no more. The Reds now play in The Great American Ballpark, where all the seats are red.] But he stuck the tickets out, and I, rather ungraciously, took them, with only a mumbled word of thanks.

We took our pathetic tickets and trudged up, up, up, past the young people who were lounging comfortably on the lower concourses, drinking beer and looking at the river and saving their breath for cheering Big Klu . We presented our tickets to the last usher, who looked like he was about to pass out from altitude sickness. He looked carefully at them, looked again.

“I don’t recognize these numbers,” he said.

Great! We had been given counterfeit tickets. Now we would be thrown out and an ignominious photo of us would appear at the gates of all major league ballparks with the notice to watch out for these old people because they are frauds who use counterfeit tickets.

The usher pulled a wrinkled stadium map from his back pocket. He looked at it for a long time.

“These are way down there,” he said, pointing in the direction of third base. “In the blue seats.”

Blue seats? But the blue seats were the best. We would never be able to afford blue seats, and even if we could, the tickets to them were all sold out before the season even began. Surely nobody had given us free tickets to the blue seats.

It was easier going down than coming up, but it was still a long way. The healthy-looking blue seat usher got us into our seats without demur, just as Big Klu’s widow walked onto the field. The scrufty young man was seated a couple of rows in front of us, with a stunning young woman and three bright and beautiful and well-behaved children.

By asking our neighbors during the game, we learned that we were in the reserved section of a local corporation. On nights when there were not enough of their employees to fill up all the seats they had paid for, they gave them to others. Our young scammer, who moon-lighted as a vice-president of the corporation, had been waiting around to find just the right people to receive his extra tickets. When he saw two old people all dressed up like Reds groupies, he decided we were the ones.

As we sat there, so close we could see the seams of the baseball Mrs Klu used as the first pitch, one of the many announcements over the loud speaker was: “Children, senior citizens, and handicapped persons who become separated from their parties will be taken to Gate 13.”

Senior citizens? Well, yes. Old people lose their bearings and get lost sometimes, just like children. Gate 13 does not sound like a very lucky spot to be taken, but it’s nice to know there is a place where you can get back to your party. It’s in the blue seats, and the tickets are free.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers, a word in the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The nurse thought I should “look in on” Gladys. To be sure I did, she took me by the nose and led me to her room. Her body was still okay, the nurse said, but her mind was troubled. Worse, her soul was in anguish.

It was really my arm, not my nose, but it felt like my nose, and leading me was a wise move. I did not want to stay in that nursing home a minute longer than required, and Gladys was not part of my congregation, so I was not required. At least I didn’t think so. The nurse thought otherwise. I’m sure Jesus did, too, something about “If you’ve visited even the least of the sick and imprisoned, you’ve done it unto me.” [Mt 25:31-46]

Because I did not like to call in nursing homes, I was very faithful about it. I knew that if I waited until I felt like doing it, it would never get done. Because I really wanted to rush in and make quick visits so I could mark them off the list, I made sure I walked slowly down the halls, took my coat off when I got to a patient room, sat down, crossed my legs, and listened carefully as long as my parishioner wanted to talk. But once I reached the end of the hall, I was out the door. Except that Nurse Ratched had hold of my arm.

Gladys was embarrassed in the company of the strange pastor. The nurse, however, assured her that I could help her. Apparently she wanted to know something about the Cincinnati Reds or IU basketball, those being my two main areas of expertise. But no, it was “the unforgivable sin” that troubled her. She was sure she had committed it and thus would go to hell. It had something to do with sex, although she didn’t spell it out.

Gladys was about thirty years older than I. She had committed said sin some fifteen years before I was even born, so she had carried the burden of the unforgiven for almost seventy years. Now she was approaching “the door at the end of the hall,” and she knew it would lead down the stairs to the flames of hell, forever.

She felt like a fraud. All those seventy years she had masqueraded as a faithful wife and mother and church member, a Baptist, for heaven’s sake, a responsible member of the community, all the time knowing she could not be forgiven.

Jesus talked about money more than anything else. Unlike the proponents of the “prosperity Gospel,” one mega-church of which actually proclaims above its open doors to hell, “The Word of God is the Way to Wealth,” Jesus was not an investment counselor. Indeed, he warned against money, reminding us in many ways that you cannot serve both God and money. [Mt 6:24, Lk 16:13]

Next to money, though, he talked about forgiveness the most. According to Jesus, any sin can be forgiven, even the sin of wealth. Except one, and it has nothing to do with sex, drugs, or rock & roll. The unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world and in your own life. [Mt 12:31-32]

Sin is brokenness, separation--from God, from neighbor, from world, from our own true selves. To heal that brokenness, God sends Jesus into the world. Jesus is no longer here, however, in the flesh. The point of the resurrection is not that a body got out of a grave, but that Jesus is still here, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, the spirit of God, the same spirit that indwelt the incarnate [in the flesh] Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because it is through the Spirit that we are forgiven. If we refuse the spirit, we refuse forgiveness, and so we cannot be restored to wholeness. [1]

Gladys, though, did finally accept forgiveness, on a dreary nursing home afternoon. She had not sinned against the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit had been with her all her life, guiding her into ways of righteousness. She just didn’t know it yet.

John Robert McFarland

1] That is why politicians and political pundits [and a lot of other folks] can never admit they are wrong, regardless of how often the facts prove otherwise—they cannot accept forgiveness.

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! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/


I tweet as yooper1721.