Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter


As I walked this morning, I met a young man who was running. He was striding well, had good form, smiled and said “Hello.” I wanted to say “Lookin’ good,” to him. That is what we called to one another, as encouragement, back when I was a long distance runner. I wasn’t sure, however, if that is what runners still say to one another. It’s been a long time since I was a runner, since my colon cancer surgery and year of chemotherapy got me so out of shape that I figured I was just better off walking.

“Lookin’ good” doesn’t really have much to do with how good we look. Judging from TV and actors and commercials, there is certainly an obsession with looking good these days, but looking good is different from “Lookin’ good.”

It is okay to look good. Indeed, it is probably preferable, if we have a choice. We feel better about ourselves if we look good, and little children are less frightened when they see us, if we don’t look like witches or trolls, either of which is usually a real possibility for old people, especially before makeup and clothes have been applied.

Some old folks go overboard, though. I know a woman who complains that it takes her husband six hours to get ready to go somewhere. I know him. It’s not worth it. I figure, six hours or six minutes, I’m going to look about the same.

Come to think of it, I did look better in my running days, and it took a lot more than six hours. There were times when I ran for six hours in just one day, although it was usually more like one or two hours per day.

I started running when I was forty. That’s mid-life crisis time, when you think you are stagnating, when everything seems like it’s recycled, when you want a new challenge. I took on the challenge of running in a big way.

For some reason that I can’t now recall, the alumni magazine of my theological alma mater interviewed me during that period. I told them, with a bit too much arrogance, I’m afraid, that I was a runner first and a minister second, that it was running that gave meaning to my life. I thought I had seen and experienced everything ministry had to offer. That was so not true, but when you are forty, everything looks like it’s standing still. You want something to be on the move.

My racing mentor and model was Barney Hance. He was a real runner, fast and durable and bare-chested. I wanted to run like Barney. Since I was neither fast nor durable, my best chance at being like Barney was bare-chestededness. After one race, I bragged to my family that I had bugs on my chest, just like Barney. Daughter Katie said, “Yes, but the bugs on Barney’s chest are dead.” So much for being like Barney Hance. I ran more like Barney Fife. But I loved it.

Most of the races I ran were out-and-back courses. Go out half-way, usually 5 K, and turn around and run back. Out and back are easier courses to manage. The folks putting on the race can use the same race monitors [people, not TV screens] and water stations and cardio surgeons. But that meant we live-bug runners met the dead-bug runners coming back while we were still going out. Our custom was, when you met another runner, in a race or just out practicing, to call out, “Lookin’ good.” I got really good at that on those out and back courses.

We did not look good, not very many of us. We looked tired and sweaty and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable. But it was always great to have someone say, “Lookin’ good.” That meant you looked tired and sweaty and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable, the way a real runner is supposed to look.

As we were moving from Hoopeston, IL, because the bishop was appointing me to a church in Charleston, IL, I was standing beside the moving van when Wheeler T. Hardin, the pastor of First Christian Church, a block down the street, came to say goodbye. He looked good, as he always did, in a dark three-piece suit, with a gold chain across his rather expansive lower chest. I had always been a little jealous of W.T. My members often told me how personable he was, how he came downtown every morning and had coffee and ate a donut with them. I never went downtown for coffee and donut time; that was when I was trying to recover from my morning run.

I figured saying good-bye was a good time to come clean, so I told him about my jealousy. W.T. said, “Yes, but when I’m eating that donut with your members, they look at my middle and say, You know, our pastor runs.”

Next time you’re busy, and on the run, sweaty and tired and dehydrated and fatigued and miserable, so that you have time only to glance up at the cross and see Jesus there, broken and battered and alone, remember to call out to him, “Lookin’ good.” That’s the way a real savior is supposed to look.


I tweet as yooper1721. I’m no longer a Yooper, and probably should change my twitter handle to my name, but I don’t know how.

No, you’re not crazy. I did use some of this same idea in the CIW of 4-13-14.

Monday, June 6, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter


My Academy of Parish Clergy friend, Fred Skaggs, has served as a model for me for a long time, most recently as a model for graceful aging. Like most old preachers, he can’t get completely retired, and so serves as the pastor in a little Baptist church near where he lives.

Recently they were preparing for a business meeting after worship. Most of the folks had left, though. A lady asked him, “Do you think we’ll have enough for a quarrel?”

Fred said, “If there are two Baptists, there are enough for a quarrel.”

She, of course, meant “quorum,” but they are the same thing, really, aren’t they?

Recently I heard Mark Shields talk about Donald Trump. Shields said that as a young man, he raised funds for political candidates, which meant he spent a lot of time with rich people, for the same reason John Dillinger robbed banks, because that’s where the money is. He noticed the no one around them ever challenged a rich person, either on theory or fact. He said he didn’t, either, because they would be less likely to give him money. Rich people like Trump are never challenged, he said, and so they always think they are right. There are never enough for a quarrel when you are rich, except over which greedy child gets the bigger inheritance.

The late Bishop Leroy Hodapp was once asked in what situation he was most comfortable. “Conflict,” he answered. Everyone was aghast. Nobody likes conflict. Except Leroy. “That’s when there is the possibility of change,” he said.

I’m no Leroy Hodapp. I’m not comfortable with conflict, and I don’t like being contradicted, but some of my most important learnings have come when people challenged me, challenged my facts and my assumptions and my theories.

That’s the key, I think. Challenge, not quarreling. A quarrel is a squabble. It’s not real conflict, so there is no possibility of change. We quarrel to avoid change. A quarrelsome attitude is designed to shut conflict down, not to let it be a challenge.

When that woman broke the flask of expensive perfume and spread it on Jesus’ feet with her hair, some of the folks grumbled and said the money could have been better spent on the poor. They were quarrelling. When Jesus answered them, it was a challenge.

Where two or three are gathered, there is Christ in the midst, in the midst of the quarrel, of the quorum, of the discussion, of the talk, with that eternal challenge: What is the will of God in this situation, and are you willing to do it, willing to change, even if it makes you uncomfortable?


I tweet as yooper1721.

Daughter Katie Kennedy’s YA novel, Learning to Swear in America, will be released by Bloomsbury Publishing July 5, so you’d better pre-order your copies now. They’re going to go fast. It is listed by American Book Sellers as one of their Top Ten new releases, and already with a rare starred review by Publishers Weekly. Bloomsbury also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Ask your library to get several copies of Learning to Swear in America. Every young person, and every older person who knows how to read, will want to follow the adventures of teen genius Russian physicist Yuri as he tries to keep an asteroid from destroying Los Angeles. [OK, so maybe she could have chosen a city people would not mind getting asteroid-smacked, but…] Every sentence just sparkles; nobody writes like Katie.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


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

One of the frustrating things about old age, although I’m not sure this frustration is that much different from ever it was, is the inability to be timely. In this instance, Daylight Savings Timely.

This started when old friend Nina Morwell posted on Facebook the Daylight Savings Hymn, at the real most recent DST change time, written by Mary Rose Faust Jensen, and I mentioned seeing it to Mary.

I’m very proud of Mary. I was her pastor when she was just a girl, an across-the-street neighbor, Mary Faust. She became a nurse, and I was honored to officiate at her wedding to Mark. She is a thoughtful and perceptive composer of hymns. You can check them out here.

For fun, she wrote a little hymn to be sung the Sunday before Daylight Savings Time begins, to remind people to get to church on time. [Related joke: What comes after the Postlude at church on Daylight Savings Sunday? The people who did not set their clocks ahead.] It’s called “Darkness In Morning.”

A lot of people liked it and began to repost it in various places. For whatever reason, without mentioning it to Mary or getting her permission, some folks changed some of the words. And then on web sites and in chat rooms where people talk about hymns, some people began to criticize Mary and her song, for the words that other people had put into it!

Mary was astounded for two reasons: First, people should not change your words, especially your copyrighted words, without your permission. Isn’t it rather arrogant to claim that you know the author’s intent better than she and so it’s okay to change the words? Second, aren’t people on “Christian” web sites and in other Christian settings supposed to be at least respectful in their critiques? Apparently not so, in either case.

Having been a preacher for a very long time, I’m used to people “changing” my words, claiming I said something different from what I said. One of the most egregious examples was when Bernice became upset, to put it mildly, because I said in worship that we should not pray for her son-in-law. I had said, of course, the exact opposite. Bernice took her case to many others in the congregation. They all told her, “No, Bernice, that is not what he said.” She was never convinced.

When she finally called me and asked me why I had said not to pray for her son-in-law, I replied, “Well, Bernice, I just wanted to make you mad.” She was delighted. “I thought it was something like that,” she crowed. We were back on such good terms that she gave me the key to her house. [That key rotated among three or four of us, to be used in case of emergency, since she lived alone, but to be held only by the one at whom she was least mad at the time.]

And having been a preacher for a very long time, I’m used to people acting a whole lot less than Christian in Christian settings. Indeed, some people seem to feel that in a church, they can act much more jerkishly than they would dare to do anywhere else, apparently thinking that is one place they can get away with it since others have to act like Christians and be nice to them anyway. [In some ways, that’s a good thing that they feel like that.]

As a preacher and writer, I don’t want my words changed, even if they are not the best choices, except by editors, and then only with my agreement. I think it’s okay to “update” songs, though, especially hymns, if they are in the public domain, to make meanings clearer, for instance, changing the word “silly” in a hymn to “blessed,” since that is what silly originally meant but does not mean anymore. Most of the time it’s okay to change a “thee” or a “thou” to more modern language, or to change “men” to people, if that is clearly what it means. If a current writer, though, puts “silly” or “thee” or “men” into a hymn, leave it alone. That is her work.

I can’t even imagine how God feels, considering the regularity and audacity with which Christians and others change the divine Word and words.

Okay, I’ve gotten off the subject. I started to write about how as old people we get good ideas that are timely but then we let the time slip away until it doesn’t make sense to be sending Christmas cards in June…which reminds me…


I tweet as yooper1721.

NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published in two editions by AndrewsMcMeel, in audio by HarperAudio, and in Czech and Japanese translations. It’s incredibly inexpensive at many sites on the web. Naturally I’d rather you bought it, but apparently you can download it for free on, It says “Download 2048.”

Saturday, June 4, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on faith for the years of winter.

Last week I did the program for the XYZ group at our church. XYZ stands for “Xtra Years of Zest,” a duplicitous way of saying we are old.

I led the group back through the stages of human development, from old age to birth, because that is the way we get “final integrity” in old age, by looking honestly at what was, and accepting it as our own. In the process, we sometimes find episodes that have not been resolved, and cannot be accepted until they are resolved.

There was a significant story I meant to tell about that, but I got distracted and forgot about it. So I’ll tell it now.

Several years ago, I did a program for a group similar to XYZ in another church. When we had worked back to the “initiative vs. guilt” stage, roughly ages three to five, a woman in the group remembered something.

“When I was three, I had a baby brother. He got whooping cough and died. I remember now the story of how he died, that a nurse gave him a cough drop and he choked to death on it. No one said a thing to me about it. No one ever mentioned him again. All these years, without knowing it, I have wondered what I did to cause my baby brother to disappear. I need to let that little three-year-old girl grieve for her baby brother.”

It’s never too late to grieve a loss, never too late to get resolution for any old hurt.


I tweet as yooper 1721.

Friday, June 3, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

Bob Wilson recently said in response to a CIW: “John, you are a complex and complicated man. I love you. I wish I understood you.”

Fantastic! My plan is working!

If anyone might have a shot at understanding me, it would be Bob. We go back together as far as anyone I know, to age ten, when my family moved from the low-crime part of the inner-city of Indianapolis to a hard-scrabble farm a few miles out of Oakland City.

Back in our day, kids born between mid-October and mid-April started school in the middle of the year, at the beginning of the second semester. There were about 30 of us in that class, 5A, first semester of fifth grade, when I joined it. A remarkable group of great kids it was, like Mike Dickey and Jarvis Reed and Shirley Black and, of course, Bob Wilson.

A mid-year start was a good plan educationally, but not bureaucratically, so in 8th grade, our mighty mid-year group was folded back into the amorphous group that started in the autumn after us, to form our high school class. They were all great kids, but slow learners; they elected me class president three years in a row.

Yes, Bob has known me a long time, but I still have him convinced him that I am complex. I’m not nearly as complicated as he thinks. I’m really quite simple. All I want out of life is whatever I want whenever I want it. That’s not all that complicated, is it?

If Bob understood that, though, he might not love me. As long as I can keep him in the dark about how self-centered I really am, he’ll still love me and be my friend.

That’s how we think, isn’t it? We must keep our real, secret, simple self-centered selves hidden behind complicated complexities, or folks won’t love us. Even God.

That, though, is selling Bob short. I think he would love me even if he understood me. God, too. That is the nature of love.

Bottom line: God does understand me, and still loves me. Bob does not understand me, but still loves me. You can’t get better than that.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


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

In helping folks in the XYZ group at our church to look for the hinge moments in their lives, I told about my own.

It was the second semester of our senior year in high school, getting close to prom time. I was in the office practice room by myself, skipping lunch, because I was editor of the school newspaper and was up against a deadline. My workspace was a desktop I shared with the editor of the yearbook, who was my girlfriend. We weren’t “going steady,” but we had been dating for a year and a half and didn’t date anyone else. Everyone in school knew we were a couple.

As I worked, I saw on her part of the desk a list of prom couples that she was compiling for the yearbook, who went to the prom with whom. I ran my finger down the list to my name, but the line in the column across from it was blank. I ran my finger down the list to her name, and across from hers was not my name, but Vance’s.

I was shocked, humiliated, embarrassed. I had just assumed we would go to the prom together. Why not? I was the world’s best boyfriend. Whenever I needed her, I just assumed she would be there, and otherwise I respected her privacy by totally ignoring her and hanging out with my guy friends. What more could a girl want? Apparently, she wanted an actual invitation, and when she got one, she accepted it. To make matters worse, Vance was better looking than I. My girlfriend had traded up!

I quickly ran up and down the columns again. Any girl who might be willing to go to the prom with me was already paired up. I was left out. It was humiliating. My reputation as a cool guy was destroyed. I mean, I was principal bassoonist in the orchestra; you can’t get cooler than that. And I had no prom date.

I did the only logical thing. I immediately dropped out of school. I went to work in a factory on the night shift. That way, when the prom came, everyone would say, “Well, of course, Johney [1] can’t come to the prom, because his father is blind, and his family is on welfare, and he has to work in the factory to help out. He’s such a good boy. The fact that he is such a bad boyfriend that his girlfriend traded up has nothing to do with it.” [2]

That worked perfectly, except it was hot and humid in a metal factory building, and it was lonely, because most of my friends had day jobs. I had nobody to hang out with.

One day, though, I ran into Jim Shaw in town. We chatted about having nothing to do. He said, “Well, let’s drive up to IU and see if they’ll let us in.” It was mid-July, but we knew nothing of college admissions schedules. It sounded like something to do, so we did. Amazingly, they let us in, and even put me on the Residence Scholarship Program, for kids who could not afford college otherwise and who were willing to work their way through.

That was my hinge moment.

Ralph Sockman famously said, “The hinge of history is on a stable door in Bethlehem.” For Christians, Jesus is “the hinge of history,” and for me, going to college, the first in my family to do so, was the hinge of my personal history, when a door swung wide to a new future, the way that door in Bethlehem opened up the future for the world.

It’s important for old people to look back, see where the hinge turned, and realize that so often, “You traded up and broke my heart, but God meant it for good.” [Genesis 50:20] {3}


1] I spelled it that way to distinguish it from my uncle, Johnny Pond, and my father, who was known in my mother’s family as Johnny Mac.

2] I did get to go the prom, because my factory forewoman, who lived in another town, arranged for her daughter to go with me. I tell about that in the CIW for 5-11-15.

3] As usual, the Hebrew is a little uncertain there, so I have translated the first part of that sentence with a generous misuse of Masoretic pointing, and a line from a lot of country songs.


I tweet as yooper1721.

In baseball season, I like to remind folks about my poem for the 100th birthday of Babe Ruth, read at the conference celebrating that birth at Hofstra University, about the time Robert Frost pitched to the Babe, sort of.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


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

Yesterday, Helen and I were in the living room, each absorbed on our respective laptops, or, as Dizzy Dean would have said in his baseball broadcasting days, our “respectable” laptops, as in, “The runners returned to their respectable bases,” when she said, “Oh, happy anniversary.” I was chagrined. I had totally forgotten it was our anniversary. We have both mentioned it several times in recent days. In fact, our daughter, Mary Beth, and her boyfriend, Bill, just spent three days with us to celebrate our anniversary, but when the actual day came, I forgot!

I admitted it. Helen said, “Oh, me, too, but I just noticed it here in an email.”

That, I guess, is the nature of marriage in winter, at least the long-term marriages. One particular day doesn’t stand out from all the rest. “Every day’s a holiday with Mary,” as Burt sang in “Mary Poppins.”

It reminded me, though, of something I wrote seven years ago. I forgot about it, too. Here it is:
We are in the Landmark Inn in Marquette, MI. It is our Golden wedding day. I need to go to the car, to bring in stuff that was too much for us yesterday. And I need to take my walk, to keep my blood sugar even, but I am waiting until Helen is out of the shower. At this age, there is always the danger of falling, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

That is part of marriage after 50 years, marriage in winter, waiting until you know that the one you love is not in danger.

Love in winter includes a lot of watching and waiting. Waiting for each other. Waiting on each other. And upholding, trying to keep each other from slipping on the ice of the days or in the snow of the nights.

It’s not so different from what we have done all our days. Christ told us a long time ago to look out for others, especially “the widows and orphans,” those with no one else to watch over them, and we have tried to do that. Now, though, we step ever closer to being among the widows and orphans ourselves.

In the days of spring and summer and fall, though, we had energy. We did not need to watch and wait. We could spring into action. We saw a need and we could meet it with our strength.

It is a sad thing to have no one to hold and uphold.

I sat recently with a friend from high school days, those days of spring where the buds and shoots are just beginning to push into the sun and air. His wife of almost fifty years had died just a little while ago. We wept a little, the way men do, trying to hold it back. “It’s hard,” he said, “just so hard.”
It is the way of this life, though. At some time, each of us is alone, either to go on, or to remain, but alone. Why do we invest all this energy and time in these love relationships, including marriage, when eventually we have to walk that lonesome valley by our self? Because we are addicted to the gamble that is love, and as gamblers say, “It’s the only game in town.”
This is one reason I am convinced there is more life once this vessel of clay has returned to the earth. We are being released from a body that limits us for something greater, something more, some sort of love that goes beyond even that we know here. No investment in love is lost.

Every day’s a holiday, so Happy Loviversary!


I tweet as yooper1721.

We did get around to celebrating yesterday. Went to Kleindorfer’s Hardware & Variety store, where you can buy any size of pan lid or dowel rod, or even a scythe, if you’ve a hankering to.