Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


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

I once wrote an article for “The Christian Century” magazine in which I opined that in all the talk about church renewal and reorganization, the not only neglected, but totally ignored, element is the local church, the congregation, which is actually, finally, the only important element for church life, renewed or otherwise. As such articles, written by no-name small-town pastors, always are, it received some mild praise and was then ignored…

…until the well-known president of a well-known theological school, a president I was surprised read “The Christian Century” at all, a president who was at the time basically the rock star of seminary presidents, admittedly a category without a lot of competition, discovered it.

He took my points, one by one, and made them into a lecture series, fleshing out my points but using each one and what I wrote about it almost verbatim. He did not steal or plagiarize. At the start of the series he acknowledged from whence and from whom he got the ideas. I would not know anything about this, however, if my cousin, Paul, a second-career minister, had not been in attendance at the lecture series.

The series was so popular that the seminary president published it as a book, again with a nod in the Introduction to me and my article, albeit I was described only by name, not by any of my achievements, such as playing bassoon in high school or third base in The Rocking Chair League. Again, I would not know anything about the book, except a copy was sent to “The Christian Century” for review, and my editor there, Victoria Rebeck, sent it on to me. I declined to review it. I was too busy playing bassoon at third base, or something like that, maybe trying to help my congregation grow toward being the Body of Christ in our place, for our time, living out the importance of congregations.

The publisher of the book was one that often declined to publish my books, although they published quite a few of my articles and sermons, but always in anthologies edited by the secretaries of well-known theological school presidents and their ilk. I didn’t have a name or position that sold books.

My nose is not as far out of joint as it sounds. I’m glad the seminary president and his publisher were able to disseminate my ideas, and get them a lot more credibility, than I could have, since my status was not exactly that of a theological rock star.

It’s a tricky thing for writers and speakers. Do we have a responsibility, if we use someone else’s ideas and writings, to let them know of that, beyond an acknowledgement in an introduction? Probably not. I guess I’ll just hope my cousins keep going to conferences.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], 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.

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