Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, July 31, 2016


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

Note carefully these three things:

1] Our friend Kathy’s father, George, used to go fishing with his friend, Siebert. They liked to find new fishing holes that no one else knew about, which took them onto small roads in the boondocks. That meant they were lost a lot. One day, George was driving, with Siebert navigating. George said, “Any idea where we are?”

“We’re on Route E99,” Siebert said confidently, “but I can’t find it on the map.”


“Yes, I saw it on a sign back there.”

“You idiot,” George yelled, “that sign didn’t say E99. It said EGGs.”

2] Yesterday, in the mail, we received an item that said: Death Benefit and Free Wal-Mart Gift Certificate.

3] Last night Helen was trying to read the instructions for Pokémon Go in Hindi.

Forget the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel and the whole book of Revelation. These are the true signs of the Apocalypse.


Saturday, July 30, 2016


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

Bloomington is well-named. From early March to November, it is a blooming town. Late July is the blooming season of the women flowers—Sharon’s roses and Susan’s brown eyes and Zinnia and Lily... and Snotweed.

Now I know that may not sound like a female name, but it is the root of a name for a particular girl, and on Saturdays I like to post something that might be helpful to my preacher friends who are still looking for something to zest up the old sermon, so here is one of my father’s favorite stories:

Two new little girls showed up at school to register. The older went into the principal’s office first. “What’s your name?” asked the principal. “Pukeface Johnson,” the girl replied. “Now, that’s not nice,” said the principal. “You tell me your real name or just go home.”

The girl shrugged, left the office, found her little sister in the hallway, and said, “Come on Snotnose, they won’t believe you, either.”

There are so many biblical principles and life lessons there, if you can’t make that preach, there’s no hope for you.


Interestingly, the spehlchezk on my computer says Pukeface is misspelled, but it accepts Snotnose without demur.

Chicory is an acceptable alternative name for snotweed. It’s also popularly known as Tradescantia ohiensis. If you put it into coffee, as some folks do, probably should call it chicory, especially if you have guests.

Friday, July 29, 2016


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

Just about everybody else had left, but Helen and I were not about to. It’s not every day you get to sit around late into the night with Chad Mitchell and Mike Kobluk and Joe Frazier, “The Chad Mitchell Trio,” the very best of what Dave Van Ronk called “the great folk scare of the 1960s,” singing all their delightful old hits, some of them the songs of John Denver from when he replaced Chad in the Trio when Chad went solo.

Joe announced that he was tired and was leaving to go to bed. He was almost to the door when someone asked Mike, who is originally from Canada, to sing the haunting “Song for Canada,” written by Ian Tyson and Peter Gzowski. Banjoist Paul Prestipino and bassist Ron Greenstein and guitarist Bob Hefferan were in the process of putting their instruments away, but they pulled them back out of their cases when Mike said, “Okay. We’re in Canada. I guess I have to sing it.” [1]

Joe turned around and came back into the room. “No, you go on,” said Mike. “You’re tired. I can sing this by myself.”

“No, you can’t,” said Joe, matter-of-factly. “You can’t do your own woo-woos.”

Mike has such a beautiful voice. He does all of Ian Tyson’s Canadian songs, like “Four Strong Winds,” so feelingly. That’s the way he sang “Song for Canada,” for just a few of us tired but mellow listeners, “Lonely northern river always flowin’ to the sea…”
I, though, was listening to the baritone woo-woos of my friend, Joe, those barely audible sounds like the rippling river, supporting Mike’s flowing bass.

Sometimes your only role is to sing backup, but your woo-woos make all the difference to the song.


1] We were on an autumn “Canadian Foliage Tour,” by Traveling Troubadours, from NYC up the Atlantic coast along Canada.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


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

A young couple had adopted a baby, or so they thought. But after ten days, the social worker came to take the baby back because the birth mother had changed her mind. I spent the day not only with the couple but also talking with social workers and attorneys and another couple which had experienced a similar situation. I do not remember them.

A woman brought her two sons, one a high school drop-out and the other a college drop-out. Neither wanted to work and were mad at her because she didn’t want to support them. I do not remember them.

A woman asked me to tell her husband that she was leaving him because “He always gets violent at first when he doesn’t like something, but then he calms down some.” Better me than her seemed to be her reasoning. I do not remember them.

These incidents come from the 1962 pages in the hand-written [fountain pen] journal I kept, starting in high school. I wasn’t new at the preaching task in 1962. I had been pastoring churches since 1956, when I was nineteen. But 1961-1964 was an especially intense time. I was serving a full-time church, and going to seminary full-time, commuting two hours each way four days per week, and we had a new baby. We received 101 new members that year. It was a busy time. And I don’t remember any of it.

I don’t remember the agonized couple with the ripped-away baby, or the mother with the ne’er-do-well sons, or the violent forsaken husband. I don’t remember any of the similar situations that filled each day and each page. Oh, yes, one or another sounds a bit familiar as I read them, but that’s all.

There’s nothing wrong with my memory. In fact, I have a better memory than most. I can name almost all the people of that church, starting with my first day there, the moving truck still in the driveway, when Leon Look came to tell me 100 year old Ethel Pinkowski was dying and I needed to go see her. When I had not done so an hour later, Leon returned to remind me. I remember Leon.

I remember most of the folks in that church, and can name them, the ones who came to church every Sunday, who worked on committees, who reminded me of who I was and what my job required. But I don’t remember the problems. They came and went. It was just part of a pastor’s day, or week, and then they were replaced by someone else with another problem.

I don’t mean to diminish those folks by saying that they were just the forgetful problem of the day. It’s terrible to have a baby wrested away from you, to think that you have failed as a parent, to fear a violent husband. They were real people with real problems, problems that were going to last them a lifetime.

As the preacher, though, I could not tarry with them. More problems were coming. I had to deal with those problems, too.

I am glad that I remember the people better than I remember the problems.


Saturday, July 23, 2016


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

It’s been hot and humid around the old homestead lately, the old homestead being our modern condo, so I was going through my summer wardrobe, trying to find the cool clothes. And there was the dashiki that Sam Asamoah gave me for healing him.

We had quite a few students from Ghana at Eastern Illinois University when I pastored Wesley UMC in Charleston, and several came to our church. One was Sam, who was a grad student, older than most.

He got sick, sick enough to go to the hospital. Many tests were done. Many medicines were given. None worked. I did not know for a while that Sam was sick, but when someone told me, I did what I always did for any of our folk who went to the hospital. I visited and prayed. Sam immediately got well. He said it was my prayer that did it.

Sort of a typical innocent and naive African understanding of such a thing, I thought.

I picked an African hymn for his first Sunday back at church, one with rhythms that are difficult for Western folks to sing. People always claimed I never picked out hymns they could sing anyway, so it didn’t matter. After church Sam thanked me for healing him and presented the dashiki to me as a gift.

“I bet you liked that hymn, didn’t you?” I said. “Oh, no,” he replied. “I can’t sing that stuff. I grew up in English mission schools. I like God of Our Fathers.

So much for innocent and naïve Africans.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016


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

I have known that daughter Katie was an excellent writer since at least her fourth grade year. At that time, I was the Teaching/Administrative Asst. to James Spalding, the Director of The Iowa School of Religion, while doing doctoral work at the U of IA. One night I was grading papers for one of his university courses after reading an essay Katie had written for a class as Longfellow Elementary. I thought, “Good grief, my fourth grade daughter is a better writer than these university students.”

With the release of Katie’s debut YA [Young Adult] novel, Learning to Swear In America, now everyone knows what I knew then: she’s a terrific writer.

Katie was once a YA herself, and as a student at IU became the BSF [Best Student Forever] of Dr. Robert H. Ferrell, Distinguished Professor of History at Indiana U, now retired.

Dr. Ferrell was rightly amazed at the writing ability of such a young person. “Where did you learn to write like this?” he asked her. “From my father,” she replied. “And where did he learn to write?” he asked. “From you,” she sweetly replied. He liked that. [I was a History major at IU from 1955-59, when Dr. Ferrell was a new young professor.]

The summer after Katie graduated, Dr. Ferrell taught a course at Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston. We lived there at the time, so Helen and I audited the course. When Prof. Ferrell learned we were Katie’s parents, he was ecstatic. Every day he started class telling stories about how to be a good student, using Katie as his example.

In the class was Bob Ubriaco, who looked and talked like he should be working on a garbage truck instead of working on a master’s degree. [Looks can be deceiving; he was an excellent student.]

After getting his MA at EIU that summer, he matriculated at the U of Illinois for his doctorate. Katie also started her doctoral work at the U of IL that fall. The first day of classes, a professor had each of the students do a self-introduction. Upon hearing an exceptionally pretty and sweet curly-haired blond say “I’m Katie McFarland,” Bob Ubriaco yelled from the back row, “I hate you!”

Katie said she knew that the McFarland name could evoke strong responses, especially if it were preceded by “John,” but that was the strangest reaction she had encountered. [1] She was even more chagrined when she learned that the disgusted shouter, while not being all that thrilled with her father, or even her mother, since their presence in that EIU class had brought forth the paeans from Dr. Ferrell about her, was really and actually aiming his disgust at her.

“All summer at EIU I heard nothing except how wonderful Katie McFarland is, and now you’re here, too,” he yelled. “I hate you and I’ve never even met you.” 

Of course, they became good friends.

There are a lot of morals to be learned from this story, but grandson Joe says, “Kids don’t want morals. We just want a good story.” Isn’t that true for everybody? That is why his mother is such a good story-teller, she writes for her children, and kids just want good stories. If you tell a story well enough, the “moral” will be there for the taking.

So, no moral, but everyone thinks that Learning to Swear in America is a pretty good story. [2]


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Our son by reverse adoption, meaning he adopted us, Len Kirkpatrick, is an Illinois state trooper. He once stopped old friend and colleague, Burt McIntosh, for speeding. When Len learned Burt was a UM preacher, he asked him if he knew me. Burt said, “My immediate reaction was, will it help me or hurt me if I admit I know him?” [Yes, I’ve told this story before.]

2] Russian boy genius Yuri Strelnikov is a 17 year old with a PhD in Physics. The Americans recruit him when they discover an asteroid is blazing toward earth on a collision course with Los Angeles, where NASA has assembled the best and brightest to figure a way out of this deadly impact. Yuri has only a few days to work the math, find a solution, and then convince those much older to accept his anti-matter plan. He meets the quirky teen girl, Dovie, and her equally quirky family, and finds there are more reasons to save the earth than just winning a Nobel Prize.

So goes Katie Kennedy’s marvelous Learning to Swear in America, published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. It has received a rare star review from Publisher’s Weekly and another star review from BCCB [Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books]. It’s on B&N’s, Bustle’s, and PopCrush’s “Most Anticipated” list, and Goodreads “Best New for the Month” list. An IndieNext pick. Available in print, audio, and e-book, from your friendly independent book store, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. It is Amazon’s “Best Book of July.”

Monday, July 18, 2016


Like most of us, there are times I say, “Why in h-e-double hockey sticks do I spend any time at all on Facebook?” Well, despite its frustrations, there are some good reasons, one of which is that occasionally you get to see the sign in front of First UMC of Sudan, TX, in a photo by Eric Roberts.

It says, “Too hot to keep changing sign. Sin bad. Jesus good. Details inside.”

In addition to the obvious, that being that it would have to be hot in a place in Texas called Sudan, it’s a marvelous starting point to understand life.

Sin bad. Yes. Sin is a break in relationship, with God, with another person, with society, with the world, with my own true self. Those breaks make life miserable, for me, and for everyone else.

Jesus good. Yes. The way of Jesus is justification, putting broken relationships back together. My old auto mechanic, the late, great “Shammy” Shambarger, used to talk about “justifying” an engine. If it did not run right, it meant the parts were not working together correctly. He put them back into harmony, justified them. [1]

Note that the sign says nothing about God. You don’t have to believe in God to know that sin is bad and that the way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness and justification, is good.

SIN BAD, JESUS GOOD is an excellent starting point for living life. In fact, it may be all that is necessary. However, if you want details, they are available.


1] That’s why we say that there is no peace without justice. Justice and justification come from the same root.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


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

I have been thinking about the “pastoral” prayer I shall give in worship this morning. I am not opposed to writing prayers ahead of time, but I don’t like to do so myself, because almost always as I pray, the Holy Spirit [at least, I HOPE it’s the Holy Spirit] redirects me at a point or two. It’s good, though, to pray ahead of time about the prayer, to be open to the Spirit before I have to open my mouth in worship, to be sure that the hustle and bustle of the worship time does not cause me to ignore some concern that should be a part of our prayers. So, I’ll probably pray something like this come worship time…

Gracious and giving God, we are supposed to start our prayers with praise and thanksgiving, and so we do so now, out of habit and custom, to be sure, but also because these angry times in this dangerous world smack us in the face and wake us up. These violent days and hostile nights, from Dallas to Turkey, from Baton Rouge to Syria, remind us that life is never to be taken for granted, and so we thank you for the rest of the night, and for the opportunity of the day, for the occasion to be here together to worship, for the very air we breathe, for the Spirit that blows over our souls like that very air. Yes, we are alive, and we see each other’s face, and we give thanks.

We confess, though, that we are distracted by many things. We are pulled first one way and then another, and we get so confused and so tired. It’s hard sometimes to believe that life in this world is a good gift. We are tired of the ways of this world, tired of hunger and homelessness, tired of war and disease, tired of greed and anger, tired of being shot at and being yelled at, tired of psychopathic politicians and empty promises, tired of being afraid, tired of taking a step forward and sliding back two. Tired of feeling helpless, tired of settling for prayers and vigils instead of action. Tired of arguing about what it means when we say that lives of any hue matter. We’re tired of being tired. And we’re tired of ourselves.

We remember, though, that Jesus promised his followers not a rose garden, but the Garden of Gethsemane. We know that it is in that garden, of agony and self-sacrifice and finally accepting God’s will, that Christ walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are his own.

And so we give thanks for the lives we bring here this morning, however insignificant they may seem, and we give thanks for the life we find here together. Renew in us the determination to make the world feel “the stubborn ounces of our weight.” ]1]

Hear us now, we ask, as we approach you with prayers for those most precious to our own hearts and lives, as we pray for those who are hungry and homeless, sick and in prison, as we pray for those who have no one else to pray for them.



1] That phrase is from a poem by Bonaro Overstreet.

Friday, July 15, 2016


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

The pastors at our church have many good qualities. Quick learning is not among them, since they have heard me give the pastoral prayer before but still have asked me to do it again this Sunday.

There are many different kinds of prayer, and many different uses. Most of them are personal, and so are useful because they fit the person.

Pastoral prayers are tricky because they aren’t just personal. You are praying for the whole congregation, pulling together the joys and concerns of all the worshipers in a way that allows them to come closer to God.

But some there are joyful, others are sorrowful. Some have too little, some have too much. Some are arrogant as they come before God, others are groveling. How can you pray on behalf of ALL of them?

The temptation is blandness. “Oh, God, you are mighty. We are sinners and ask forgiveness. Help those who need it and help us to do better. Amen.”

Yes, that’s what a pastoral prayer should cover, but it’s not going to help people to move toward God if they are moving faster toward sleep.

When I was myself a young preacher, I heard of a similar creature who had trouble giving pastoral prayers. He wandered all over the prayerverse, trying to include everything. Finally one old lady yelled, “Just call ‘im God, ask ‘im for something, and sit down.”

Well, yes… but, no. That doesn’t do it.

My good friend, the late George W. Loveland, was our campus minister when I preached at the church in Charleston, IL that served Eastern Illinois University. He would use the prayer at the end of the service to correct any theological mistakes I had made during the sermon. That’s probably a good use of pastoral prayer.

Sunday, I’ll do like I always do, trust the Spirit and see what happens.


Thursday, July 14, 2016


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

One of the oldest jokes in the book: The musicians are jamming loudly in their apartment. A man comes to the door and says, “Do you know there’s a little old lady sick upstairs?” “No, but if you hum a few bars, we can fake it.” So…


There’s a little old lady sick upstairs
That’s what her children said
They just want to keep her calm
Keep noise from out her head
So keep those guitars strumming low
Keep those horns on muted blow
But they don’t know…

The little old lady sick upstairs
Wants some music as she goes

Traveling on, with a song
That is the lady’s dream
She longs to hear those notes drift up
Around the ceiling beam
She wants to dance in her memory
To Benny Goodman and Count Basie

They don’t know the old lady wants
Some music as she goes

She used to dance the rumba
She used to trot the fox
She used to swing on the old gym floor
In saddle shoes and bobby sox
She’s not been forever old
She still knows words to the songs of gold

They don’t know the old lady wants
Some music as she goes

Traveling on, with a song
That is the old lady’s dream
She yearns to hear those notes drift up
Around the ceiling beam
She wants to dance in her memory
To Benny Goodman and Count Basie

They don’t know the old lady wants
Some music as she goes

We turn the sound down as we play
But we point the notes the ceiling way
We let them curl up like a dream
Those notes that follow the ceiling beam
The songs that flow through her memory
The songs that soften her reverie
The songs of Goodman and Count Basie
So she’ll have music as she goes.

Traveling on, with a song
That is the old lady’s dream
She wants to hear those notes drift up
Around the ceiling beam
She wants to dance in her memory
To Benny Goodman and Count Basie

They don’t know the old lady wants
Some music as she goes

[If you don’t know the tune, fake it…]


Sunday, July 10, 2016

I Know the Thirst--a poem


I need no dreams
to auger me the way
nor a mariner
of ancient mien
to keep me from
the wedding, with tales
of oceans vast and thirst
that knows no bounds.
I know the way
I know the ocean
I know the thirst