Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, April 18, 2015


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

I was in Springfield, IL and thought I would look up Jean Cramer-Heuerman. Jean and I were friends even though she was about 20 years younger than I, serving on denominational committees together, sitting in the back making witty remarks [or so we thought] to each other, but we were even closer after we got cancer at the same time. Cancer does that.

I called her church. Her cheery voice answered, but it was “the machine.” It told me all about events at the church, including a Sunday School for people of all ages.

I told the machine that I was busy in other places on Sunday mornings, but I would like to come to their Sunday School, since I would fit in, for I was, indeed, a person of all ages. [1]

I am an old man, but I am also a man of all ages. That’s one of the nice things about being old, getting to be of all ages.

Through the years, various folks have said that I seemed to be a mind reader, or that I was able to see from inside their own life.

I suspect most old people, people of all ages, do that, but it may have been more noticeable in me because of my penchant for responding to a problem by telling a story, a story that allows both the teller and the hearer to find their own place. It seemed like I was reading minds or understanding from the inside because we were in the story together.

I started preaching when I was only nineteen. I was fascinated by 3 things about the old people I encountered in my churches: First, their stories. Second, although they had lived a long time, the stories were usually about their childhoods. Third, their willingness to share them with a young kid pastor. At first I thought it was just because old people like to tell stories of their own lives. Then, however, I realized the stories had a point. They were trying to work out, understand the meanings of, those childhood events and feelings, and the ways they had affected their lives through the years.

The last stage of psychological-social growth, the stage of the winter years, is final integrity vs. ultimate despair. Final integrity is the ability to accept all that was our life, even the painful parts. Ultimate despair is the feeling that we just wasted life, that it had no meaning. To get to integrity, we have to work through in our minds, mostly in reverse order, all the stages that we lived through before: trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. identity diffusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation. [2]

A lot of that working through is telling the stories of those earlier years, so we can see them, and see that while they were not perfect, they are OURS, and so they are okay. In the process, we are not just old, we become people of ALL ages

John Robert McFarland

1] After I retired, Jean was serving Wesley UMC in Urbana, IL, where our daughters attended while in graduate school at U of IL. Helen and I occasionally worshipped there while visiting Mary Beth and Katie. One Sunday, I was told by choir members, Jean had looked into the sanctuary, saw us there, came back to the choir room and said, “OMG, he’s out there. Every time I preach about something he’s said, he shows up!” She was using “man of all ages” that Sunday. When she was much too young, she was transferred from the church militant to the church triumphant. She is now preaching where I cannot terrorize her by showing up when she’s going to quote me; I miss that.

2] As defined by Erik H. Erikson. I add a couple more stages for the winter years.

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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