Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, June 5, 2014


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

Our granddaughter has decided where she is going to college. To do it she had to leaf through a lot of college catalogs. Well, not exactly “leaf through.”

I love college catalogs. I remember my first college catalog better than I remember my first girlfriend.

I was standing beside an old gray Chevy, in a gravel parking lot, outside Oak Grove General Baptist Church, in the open country, on a humid summer day, waiting for my little sister, to drive her home from Vacation Bible School. It was the summer before my senior year in high school.
The windows on the car beside mine were down. On the front seat was the catalog—five by seven, plain white, with a round red seal in restrained red, and underneath, in simple but elegant type, Indiana University. I reached through that car’s window and pulled out the catalog.

As I looked through it, I knew my life had changed forever. I saw there a world where no one in my family had even visited, but I knew it was a world where I wanted to live. I was no longer a simple country boy. I was going to college. One of the greatest sacrifices I ever made was putting that catalog back into that car when VBS was over.

The idea of me going to college made no sense. My father was blind. We were on welfare. There were three other children. No one on either side of the family had ever gone to college. I was already working part-time to help support my family. But when Iva Jane McCrary, our high school Home Economics teacher, asked me what I would do after high school, I said, “I’m going to IU.”

Iva Jane was a large and forbidding woman. In addition to Home Ec, she taught biology to the girls. Because of scheduling problems, I had been in her biology class, one of two misplaced boys. She looked at me strangely and finally said, “Yes, I suppose you are college material.”

Suddenly I was not sure about that catalog. Iva Jane had given me her imprimatur, said that I was college material, more or less, but I had never before considered that I was not. Sure, I knew that I did not have the right clothes or the right money to go to college, but I had not considered that I might not have the right stuff.

I had been class president for three years. I was editor of the school newspaper. Only James Burch got better grades than I. But maybe I wasn’t college material. Ann Turner, the doctor’s daughter, was going to IU. Bob Nation, who was going to be a doctor, went there. So did Shirley Black, the cheerleader, whose father had his own business. Was college for the likes of me?

When I heard that the factory in the next town was hiring, I applied, set the record on their entrance test, [which James Burch later broke], and quit high school to go to work.

My forewoman said that I was their best adjustor of electrical relays and got me a date with her very attractive daughter, but I think she knew my heart wasn’t in the factory. They didn’t have a catalog.

I did go to college. I went to graduate school. I got a doctorate. Altogether, I did ten years of higher education. All the way, though, Iva Jane’s grudging acceptance of me as “college material” pulled sideways on me, trying to get me to put shaky answers on the page.

I think one of the best things I did as a minister was expecting people to be better than they thought they were. I said, in any way I could, “Yes, you are Christian material.” People who had little faith in themselves learned to have great faith in God, because their pastor expected it.

I still love college catalogs. I regret, though, that they are electronic instead of paper. It is unlikely that some poor girl or boy will see a CD on the seat of a car with open windows and pull it out and stick it into the computer that just happens to be sitting there in that gravel parking lot on a humid summer’s day.

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. For some reason it does not appear when Googled, even though it’s a Google blog.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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