Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


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

I posted this story in a slightly different form five years ago, but since most of CIW readers are old, I trust you will have forgotten it by now. Also, I just wrote it again, for a book I’m doing on preaching, and writers hate to get only one use out of a piece, so…

One evening I sat around in a big lounge with Will Campbell and Doug Marlette, the cartoonist. There were about twenty of us. Will started strumming his guitar and singing a story song. As Will sang, Doug sketched images from the song on a big pad on a stand.

The song was about a man who lived in the country begging his beautiful redheaded wife to stay home and not go to town. The refrain of each chapter of the story, as he begs every evening and she eventually leaves, is “She gave her heart to Jethro, but her body to the whole damn town.”

Tom T. Hall later had a hit with that song, but I had never heard it before. I was really upset with that redhead by the time Will finished the song. I mean, “Some of her lovers were strangers.” How bad can a wife be?

Will let us sit there and stew. It was a bunch of preachers, so we were righteously judgmental of this nameless woman. We were sort of intrigued, and wondered if maybe she lived nearby, but mostly we condemned her.

There is nothing in the Tom T. Hall song lyrics about what Will told us next. I just looked them up to be sure. After letting us think shallowly for a while, Will explained that the beautiful redhead was the night nurse in the emergency room at the hospital. I suddenly realized that it was Jethro, not his wife, who was being selfish and unfaithful, unfaithful to all his neighbors who needed help for their afflictions, unfaithful to his wife’s calling. He had her all the rest of the time, but he did not want to share. She gave her heart to Jethro, but her body was a gift from God to give to a suffering world, to the whole damned town.



That time with Will and Doug was one of the highlights of my ministry years. First, I got to spend a lot of time with my great friend, Jack Newsome. We drove down to North Carolina from Illinois together and back again and never stopped talking the whole time. His car’s heater gave out on the way home, and we froze, but that didn’t hinder our talking at all.

Then there was Will Campbell, one of the main civil rights activists of the South, who was an unofficial chaplain to the KKK at the same time. When asked how he could do that, he said, “They’re people, too. They need a pastor, just like everyone else.”

He and Doug Marlette the great Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist for “The Charlotte Observer,” whose cartoons were always picked up and distributed nationally, became friends along the way, and Will was the inspiration for “The Preacher” in Doug’s comic strip, “Kudzu.” 

Will was born in 1924 and died in 2013.

The Will and Doug friendship was unlikely in many ways, including the age difference. Doug was born in 1949. Unfortunately, he died in an automobile accident in 2007. In addition to cartooning, he was a novelist.
To top it off, when one of the attenders at this small conference at Lake Junaluska saw my name tag, he said, “Oh, I know who you are. I read your articles in The Christian Century.” No greater recognition for a writer than recognition.

When you get to spend a week with a friend like Jack Newsome and a legend like Will Campbell and a creator like Doug Marlette and a stranger who knows who you are, that’s a good week!

I tweet as yooper1721

I became disturbed by the huge number of military suicides, both veterans and active duty, so I wrote VETS, about four handicapped and homeless Iraqistan veterans accused of murdering a VA doctor. It’s a darn good tootin’ adventure mystery story. My royalties go to helping prevent veteran suicides. You can buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. [VETS needs to be all caps when you look it up.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


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

Yesterday’s column about my church voting to be a Reconciling Congregation set a record for readers, 742. I don’t check the blogger statistics page very often, but I’m pretty sure the high reader mark in the past was in the low 400s.

742 is not a very big number for real blog writers, but it is for an old man whose ostensible task is to reflect on how to be a Christian in your dotage, while actually just giving him an outlet for any musings that come into his jumbled brain. That high number, of course, was because of the subject. Full rights for LGBTQ people is a hot topic.

I have said for some time, though, that the LGBTQ topic is already cold, that the fight for full acceptance of gay people is over, because of kids like the teen-aged church friend I mentioned in yesterday’s CIW, for whom discrimination against gay folks just doesn’t make sense.

Also, as more and more gay people have “come out,” almost everybody knows someone who is gay, and it’s not easy to discriminate against folks you know and like.

I remember my theology professor, Philip Watson, using the battle of El Alamein to illustrate the victory of Christ on the cross. It was just one battle in the whole of World War II, but it was at that point the war was won by the Allies. There was a lot more war to follow, because the Axis powers did not know yet that they had lost. Looking back, though, it was clear at El Alamein that although the battles were still going on, the war had been won.

So it is, I think, with the battle for full acceptance of gay folks. That conflict is still going on, but victory is assured, because young people have decided it makes no sense to discriminate against LGBTQ people. As noted in the CIW for August 22, a common characteristic of Generation Y is that they don’t like meanness, and it’s mean to discriminate against people for things they can’t control, like gender and race.  

There will still be resistance to full rights, like marriage, for gay folks. There is still a lot of bullying of teen gays, a lot of rejection of gay family members.

It is like the battle for full acceptance of black folks. The battle for full rights for black people was won in the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, fifty years ago. But there is still a strong and virulent strain of racism in this country, a lot of people who want to turn back the clock and put black folks back “in their place.”

There is still conflict. People who don’t want women or blacks or gays or Muslims or… to have a full place at the table, who want them to stay in the kitchen. Lots of skirmishes still to be fought, but the war for justice has been won.

I think our real problem was electing a president whose only point for discrimination was blackness. We should have just elected a black lesbian nun named Stein from Mississippi and dealt with all the prejudices at once.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, August 29, 2016


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

Our church has breakfast every Sunday morning. Nothing special. Just part of the schedule. Sometimes a fund raiser for a mission project. I was eating and chatting with a 14 year old high school freshman who is new to our church. I always try to sit with new folks. That way, they can’t complain later that they didn’t know what they were getting in to.

There was a really big crowd. I wondered aloud why there were so many more folks there than usual. I hadn’t even gotten any of the French-toast casserole. [There is always a pile of bagels and big bowl of fruit if the cooked stuff runs out.] Then I remembered.

Oh, it must be because after worship we are going to vote on whether to be a Reconciling Congregation.

What does that mean? my new friend asked.

The United Methodist denomination, I explained, can’t quite make up its mind whether to accept gay people into full fellowship. We’ve come some of the way. We say that they are children of God, and it’s okay for them to come to church and be church members, and people should not be unkind to them or discriminate against them, but we won’t ordain them as pastors or perform marriages for them. The Reconciling movement is trying to get the entire denomination to accept everyone fully, including gay people. Right now it is doing it one member and one congregation at a time.

Then he looked straight at me and said, What do you think?

Well, I said, for a long time I sort of went along with the official statement. I had nothing against gay folks. I thought everyone should be nice to them, but that there was something ‘unnatural’ about it, mostly because I just couldn’t imagine having sex, or wanting to, with another man. But a number of gay guys have befriended me through the years, and I was talking with one of them about this. In fact, I was trying to get him to “come over to our side,’ so he could marry our daughter, because he is such a great guy and would make her such a great husband, and he said, Could you come over to our side?

I thought about it. Good grief, what an idea! Well, no, I couldn’t.

Of course you couldn’t, he said. You’re so straight you squeak. I tried for a long time to come over to your side, to be straight, but I finally realized that I have no more choice about how I feel about sex than you do. We were both born with a sexual… well, we can’t call it preference, because it’s not. It’s a sexual reality. It’s no different than being born left-handed or black. We used to say that left-handed and black people were inferior and unnatural and should not be accepted, too. A lot of people still think homosexuality is a choice. Why in the world would anyone choose to be vilified and hated and discriminated against, the way so many people do to gays? I am gay because I have no choice, just like I am white and right-handed because I have no choice.

So, I said to my young friend, what I think is: if there’s no choice, there’s no choice. If you have no choice about the way you are, then I have no choice but to accept and love you the way you are.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve always thought, said the fourteen-year-old. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

The vote to accept the acceptable was 197 to 0. My new young friend stood tall in the picture we took, along with 196 others.


I tweet as yooper1721,

THE STRANGE CALLING, is sort of a memoir, a collection of stories from my ministry. When I first felt I was being “called” by God to be a preacher, the ministry was known as “the high calling.” In my experience, it seemed more like a strange calling. You can get it from the publisher, Smyth&Helwys, or lots of places on the web, including Amazon, B&N, etc.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


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

Imagine that we’re in church right now, and I’m in the pulpit. Not many preachers stay in the pulpit anymore. They roam around all over creation. I used to do that. It provides a little more intimacy in communication, and a lot bigger opportunity for the preacher to show off. But I’m old, and I can’t roam around a chancel without falling down, because there are all those steps in odd places at odd angles. So here’s what I’m saying from the pulpit…

 “The church is a great place to hide if you don’t want to be yourself.”

That’s what author Marlon James said in an interview with Charlie Rose. James is Jamaican. He says he knew from an early age that he was gay, but that was such a terrible thing to admit in Jamaica that he could not “come out” until he was in America and 44 years old.

He says that he hid in the church but eventually gave up the church because it was all praise and not much thinking.

So here we are this morning, in church, in hiding.

Psychologically, it is not good to hide. It is best to live in the open. Christians can do that, “come out the wilderness,” because we know we are loved by God as we are, for who we are.

I’m not suggesting you come out of hiding right now, though, out of the closet, or out of the dark, or out of the fear, or out of the past, or wherever else you may be hiding, because we humans, as much as we want to be like Jesus, as much as we are glad to accept the sacrifice of Christ on our own behalf, have trouble forgiving the sins of others, when they are revealed when folks come out of hiding.

There may be a time when you can come out of hiding, regardless of what others think about it. That will be good for you psychologically. It is not necessary spiritually, though.

It is good to be in church, even if we are hiding there, for the church is the place where we find out that even if we are in hiding, we are not hidden. We are known. By God. So in a way it makes no difference if we are hiding or not. If we’re out in the open, or if we are hiding in secret, either, we are known by God and loved by God.

Thus ends my sermon for today. Now it’s time to go to church. Go there to hide, or go there to live in the open, but go, and be reminded there that God knows you and loves you.


I tweet as yooper1721.

In some ways, my cancer book is about coming out of hiding. So if you’re interested…

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, August 27, 2016


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

It has been revealed, although I don’t think it was really a secret, that some countries pay their athletes for winning Olympic medals. Actually, play for pay is not unusual. Don’t professional athletes all get pay for their play? And most Olympians anymore are professionals. I’m not surprised at paying for medals. A medal is just a symbol that you got a high grade. When I was in school, I got paid for high grades.

I went to a progressive public school in Indianapolis. It was a school in a poor white neighborhood, so we were considered fair game for education professors who wanted to try out hare-brained schemes for learning. We were white, so we were the “normal” kids for experiment, the ones for which text books were written, and we were poor, so if the new theories were stupid and we didn’t learn anything, nobody cared. Our teachers were often the writers of text books.

“Progressive” meant no grades. Grades were “old fashioned.” Report cards were just notes from teachers: “John is not the worst student I’ve ever had.” Like that.

Then, in the first semester of 5th grade, we moved to Oakland City. My classmates were very welcoming to the new kid, but they always looked a bit askance when I told them that I knew the authors of our text books, since they often came to my former school to teach.

Oakland City was old-fashioned; they gave grades. Three different unit grades plus a final, semester grade. Four grades per course per semester. Five courses. Twenty different grades. A through F. I had never heard of such a thing.

Uncle Ted, my mother’s oldest brother, who had no children, offered to pay me a dime for each A and a nickel for each B I earned. He had no idea he would die in poverty because of me. I was going to be rich! I could earn $2.00 per semester just by getting good grades. And I was not about to settle for nickels. Just a little more work and I got twice the pay. Who would not be motivated by a deal like that?

We spend our whole lives working for pay. Why not do this with kids in school? Get them used to working harder for more reward. The same with church members. Pay them more for the dirty jobs, like being nice to nasty people and forgiving the unforgivable. That idea breaks down, though, when you think about paying them enough to go to committee meetings. No church has that kind of money.


I tweet as yooper1721, because when I started, I thought you were supposed to have a “handle,” like CB radio, instead of a name. I was a Yooper, resident of MI’s UP [Upper Peninsula], and my phone ended in 1721, so…

Here I come to save the day! No, not Mighty Mouse. Yuri Strelnikov, the boy genius of Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but read this book! [What do you mean, you’re not old enough to remember Mighty Mouse?]

Friday, August 26, 2016


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

A lot of my stories recently have started with, “We were sitting around, late at night…” That’s when everything is mellow, and people remember, and tell about…

We were sitting around late at night on the cruise with The Chad Mitchell Trio. John Martin Meek was there. So were banjoist Paul Prestopino and his wife Sara, and bassist Ron Greenstein, and a few others. Primarily, though, it was John Meek who was telling the stories, quite a few of them, starting with when he was a speech writer for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

You know he was old in 2006, even older than I, if he wrote for JFK and LBJ. [Actually he was only three years older than I.] The great thing about being old is that you have been so many places and met so many people that you have a lot of great stories. Especially if, after a career in journalism, you started and ran the most powerful and prestigious public relations firm in Washington, D.C. John Meek had been plenty of places, and known lots of people, including Arlo Guthrie and Steve Goodman.

“It was after an Arlo concert. This kid went up to Arlo and said his name was Stevie Goodman and he had a song he wanted him to listen to. Arlo said, ‘Buy me a beer, kid, and I’ll listen, but only until I’m done with the beer.’ Stevie grabbed a guitar and started to sing. When he was done, Arlo said, ‘I think I'll have another beer.’

Arlo was the first person to hear “City of New Orleans,” the quintessential song of the American journey. It became his biggest hit.

Hello, America, how are you?
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son.
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans.
We’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done…


John Meek died March 11, 2016. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016


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

“You can’t vote for Birch Bayh and be a Christian.”

That’s exactly what the Baptist preacher in Francisco, IN told his congregation one morning. One very old lady got up and walked out. She never went back.

“I was a member there for seventy years,” she later told an old friend, my mother. “I got saved at a revival meeting at that church and was baptized there when I was twelve. I taught Sunday School for over fifty years. I worked in the kitchen every time there was a meal of any kind. My husband and I tithed, and he helped build that new building they worship in. That church was my life. I didn’t leave my church. The church left me.”

This was quite a few years ago. I’m not even sure which Birch Bayh was running for what office then. I think of it now, though, because some Birch Bayh is running for some office in Indiana, although he goes by Evan, almost his middle name, to distinguish him from his distinguished father. [1]

I’m sure there are preachers who are going to repeat this year what that Francisco preacher said back then. I’m afraid, though, that there will not be many parishioners who will walk out.

I recall a story from the early days of the Nazi regime in Germany. One elderly man had gone out to his flag pole each morning for years and years and hoisted the German Imperial flag. When the Nazis came to power, they decreed that no flag but the swastika could hence be flown. The old man went out into his yard and chopped down his flag pole.

You’re never too old to be faithful, and if the church leaves you, in order to be a Christian, the faithful thing to do is to leave the church.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Evan Bayh’s real middle name is Evans. He is Birch Evans Bayh III. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


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

The kids at our church did Godspell, Jr. for worship last Sunday. It’s a slightly cut-down version of Stephen Schwartz’s original. With a small cast, it can be performed almost anywhere, with minimal props. In our case, it was performed by a marvelously talented bunch of 6th through 12th graders.

Adrian Cox-Thurmond was Jesus. He did a great job of singing and acting.

When it came to the crucifixion scene, I was suddenly struck dumb. I started to cry. I had not felt the force of that crucifixion in 70 years of reading and studying the Bible. Reading and studying are different from experiencing.

I found myself saying, “But I KNOW that boy!”

That makes a difference, that personal connection. But I can’t have a personal connection to every one of the two billion or so folks with whom I have shared this planet. Does that mean I can’t or don’t care about them?

That’s where the stand-in comes on stage. “Stand-in” is a theater term, the one who literally stands in for the star, when there is lighting or blocking that is beneath the star’s status.

But it’s also theological. The crucified Jesus is the stand-in for every person in pain. “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” [Matthew 25:31-46.] On Sunday, Adrian was the stand-in for Jesus, and Jesus was the stand-in for each of us in the congregation. As I look at Jesus, standing-in on the cross, I see every broken body and tortured soul in the world. In Christ, I KNOW that person!


I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, August 22, 2016


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

When you are smart enough that your original research in anti-matter will probably win you the next Nobel Prize, but you’re only 17, and Russian, how do you get old people to listen to you? That is Yuri Strelnikov’s dilemma.

When an asteroid is hurtling toward earth, ready to destroy at least Los Angeles, and maybe a lot more when it hits, how do you avoid that catastrophe? Yuri knows how. But even though the older physicists at NASA have asked for his help, they still won’t listen to him. [1]

It’s not because they are either stupid or perverse. Their own virtual realities keep them “inside the box.”

Child development scholars note that each of us, from an early age, creates our own internal virtual reality in our brains. [2] The world contains so many stimuli and messages, and our brains are so complex, that we have to create that personal virtual reality or we would be overwhelmed and not able to function at all. [3]

So we don’t really react to the reality that is. We react to the virtual reality through which we see the real reality. That’s why we often shake our heads and say, “How could she possibly think that?” It’s because she really does have a different “reality.”

The virtual reality prisms of mature experienced old people contains this: I know more about how to deal with a crisis than does a teen-ager who speaks a foreign language, even if that kid is really smart.

The real dilemma there is: we’d rather let the asteroid hit and destroy Los Angeles than change our virtual reality. Or put another way: we don’t know how to get out of our virtual reality well enough to avoid destruction, even if we’d like to. Either way, we are so completely enmeshed in our own virtual reality we can’t even entertain notions that are not included in it.

Although he’s slightly younger than most Millennials, Yuri has the Generation Y dilemma: their virtual reality is different from that of people in the Baby Boomer generation, which contains Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Importantly, the Millennials, the GenYs, are now a larger demographic than the Baby Boomers.

I recently saw an article that said “Millennials are deserting Trump in droves,” and later saw an interview with an analyst who was asked why this is true. He said, “It’s simpler than we can even imagine. They don’t like meanness, and they perceive Trump as mean.”

Despite political rhetoric and programs of all kinds, all of us vote on the basis of emotion, and that emotion is the main part of our virtual reality.

There is a continuum of emotion, of course.

Some folks vote only on the basis of emotion, 100%, what makes me feel best right now, with no consideration of consequences. “I want to stick a finger in Obama’s eye.” “I want a woman president, regardless of who she is.”

Others come close to total rationality, although no one votes entirely rationally, completely devoid of emotion. “Taking into account every conceivable possibility, the only rational solution is to elect that chess-playing robot, or that red M&M.”

Most of us are somewhere in between. We take consequences into consideration, but only through our personal virtual reality. I know folks who say, “If Trump is elected, he will blow up the world with nuclear weapons.” I know others who say, “If Clinton is elected, she’ll require us to get abortions the way the Chinese do because they gave her foundation secret money.” Reality? No, virtual reality. Put too simply: we believe what we want to believe.

Maybe Yuri’s dilemma is actually Donald’s and Hillary’s dilemma.

Here’s my reality: I think the world will be a better place if we old folks learn from Yuri about how to save the world, by expanding our virtual reality to include the Millennial perspective: Meanness is bad.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Katie Kennedy, Learning to Swear in America {Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling} Buy this book!

2] See for instance, Margaret Donaldson, Children’s Minds

3] See Malcom Gladwell, Blink, for how the brain uses shortcuts to handle the mass of incoming information.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

LISTENING AT 33 & 1/3-a poem

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

The crackling sound
like waxed paper unfolding
to reveal a boloney
sandwich, means the sound
is true, original, from their start
from out a cardboard sleeve
of photographs in technicolor
Their voices, so long gone now
so young and hopeful then
ready to blend every note
so fine, so fine.
I feel their presence
In the words, the melody, the tempo
but mostly in the crackling


I tweet as yooper1721.

“Here I come to save the day.” No, not Mighty Mouse. It’s Yuri Strelnikov, in Katie McFarland Kennedy’s delightful and perceptive Learning to Swear in America. Buy it or borrow it, but be sure to read it.

Friday, August 19, 2016


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

Yesterday, August 17, at the end of the CIW titled Walking Back to the Reset Time, I said that today I would reflect on what I then called “the most wonderful time of my life” as a transfiguration moment.

I said that orientation week of my frosh year in university was the most wonderful time of my life. It seemed like that at the time, and it still carries that aura for me. It was awful. It was confusing. But it was wonderful.

Because it was the freest moment of my life, the most-free I had ever been. At least, it seemed that way. It was the only time in my life I had been free of responsibility.

For a lot of reasons, my family was quite poor. I was a major bread-winner, sometimes the major breadwinner, from the time I was a young teen. I dreamed of going to college, but knew it was probably just a dream. There were far-sighted people, though, at the time and in years before, who knew that a society was best if everybody had a chance to learn how to contribute to it. They established tax supported universities and endowed scholarships, so there I was at college, away from the responsibilities that had always consumed me before. Free.

But it was a transfiguration moment.

Remember the story of how Jesus took Peter and James and John up onto the mountain? The heavens opened, and Moses and Elijah, the two main figures in Hebrew faith, joined them. They were in heady company! [Matthew 17:1-13.] It’s called the transfiguration story, because Jesus was “transfigured before them.” He wasn’t just their pal from Galilee anymore. He was at least on a par with Moses and Elijah.

So Peter said, “Hey, this is great. Let’s just stay up here. I can build some little houses for shelter and we can just hang out with Mo and Lije. No more nights when the fish won’t bite. No mother mothers-in-law living with you and getting sick. No more being put on the spot by people who claim I’m one of the bad guys because I hang out with you, Jesus. Just up here on the mountain forever, without a care.” [This is from the SAT Bible, Slightly Amplified Translation.]

Jesus said, “No. Being up here, palling with the elite, free of responsibilities, all that is great. But we came up here only so we could go back down there again, because at the bottom, not at the top, is where the hurt is, so that is where the real freedom is.”

The real transfiguration was not from being just a commoner to being among the elite, but moving from a freedom in self to a freedom in obedience. There is a freedom in obedience that goes far beyond the absence of responsibility, just living on the mountain top with no cares.

I’ve learned that in many ways over the years. I also suspect that if Jesus had lived as long as I have, from time to time he would have gone back up that mountain, not to stay, but to get refreshed, to get transfigured, so that he could live anew, each time he came back down, the life of freedom in obedience to God.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


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

We are staying home this week. It’s “Welcome Week” at IU. Forty thousand students and their parents are driving on the two narrow one-way streets that lead to campus-- the wrong way on both of them. Except there is really only one street to campus, since the city always waits until August to start reconstruction on one of them.

We called it Orientation Week when I started school here. Now, almost every student, with parents, has had a week of orientation in the summer, so their only task during “Welcome Week” is to move into their room--with their refrigerator, TV, futon, computer, printer, microwave oven, stereo system, coffee maker, pony, and loft bed—and find out where the booze store is and who has a false ID.

For Orientation Week, none of us had been on campus before, except the girls who had attended Girls State, so we met for the first time some stranger with whom we would share a 4x6 room, then went to sessions led by upperclassmen to learn the school song and hear about Greek rush.

Then we filled out, by hand, eleven 3x5 cards, one for each university entity that might need one, like the library and the campus police and the residence halls office, etc. It was actually printed as only one card, but it was perforated into 11 identical smaller cards to be torn apart for the various offices. [1]

Then we stood in lines at tables in the field house to sign up for classes, only to learn each time we got to the front of the line that the only English class—or History or Psychology or Basket Weaving--available was at 5 a.m. [Actually, classes started at 7:30, but to most college students, that might as well have been 5:00.]

Then they gave us a folded paper map of the campus and wished us good luck in finding our way to the classes we didn’t want at the times we didn’t want them.

Boys were required to take two years of ROTC and phys ed, and girls were required to take phys ed. The ROTC classes were conducted only at noon on days when the temperature was 90 F or above, so that marching on the football field in our WWII left-over wool suits would be a more interesting experience.

I lived in Trees Center, 8 “temporary” left-over wooden two-story WWII officer training dorms. The best thing about it was that when someone asked you where you lived, you could say, “In trees.” I was in Linden, the home of the male half of The Residence Scholarship Plan, for bright kids who were too poor to go to college. We got reduced room and board by doing all our own maid and janitorial work.

I loved every moment of it. It was the most wonderful time of my life. [2]

The best part of it was walking back to Linden Hall, after the meals that I worked as a busboy at the center where the grad students lived, called Rogers Center then. There were six or eight of us who walked together, half of them girls from Pine Hall, the female half of The Residence Scholarship Plan. We were young, we were free, we didn’t have to go to classes yet. It was magical.

So I use that week as my reset button. When the world gets too overwhelming, I return to that week and start over. I wrote a song about it. I sing it as I do my reset. It’s to the tune of Love Letters in the Sand.


On a day like today, the skies were never gray
Walking back to good old Linden Hall
The girls were dressed in yellow, our hearts were young and mellow
Walking back to good old linden Hall. [3]

The days were always fair, there was romance in the air
Walking back to good old Linden Hall
Only the sky was blue, there was nothing we could not do
Walking back to good old Linden Hall.

Our hearts back then were full and young and free
We gave no thought to what might come to be
Now that I live in memory, it is so sweet to be
Walking back to good old Linden Hall.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Helen thinks it was only 8, not 11. I think it was an uneven number, so maybe 9?

2] Tomorrow I’ll reflect on how the care-free times of life seem to be the best but are really “transfiguration” moments.

3] The girls who worked in the cafeteria wore yellow uniform dresses, which they had to don and doff at Pine Hall. The boys wore white t-shirts under short white coats, which we put on at the cafeteria.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


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

I encountered two men yesterday. They have no idea the other even exists, yet they are closely interconnected.

The first is Jeremy Bailenson of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford U. He looks more like a cleaned up truck driver than a professor. He was interviewed by Charlie Rose on TV.

The second was a grandfather at the College Hills Mall. He looked like a cleaned up truck driver, too. I first ran into--or more accurately, was run into—by a happy little boy of about four who ran pell-mell, toward me, then turned and looked behind.

“Grandpa?” I couldn’t see anyone. He couldn’t, either. “Grandpa?” Just a slight tremble of uncertainty in his voice. Then we saw the slyly smiling face of a man of sixty or so, peeking from behind one of those free-standing posters that suggest you should come to shop where you already are.

The little boy giggled like a maniac, ran wildly toward the poster, got to it, only to find that Grandpa had switched to the other side, and giggled even harder. I still hear him laughing. What a delightful sound. What delightful memories of playing that way with my own grandchildren.

Jeremy Bailenson says we should not go see our grandchildren because the main cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels for travel. If we want our grandchildren to have a livable world, we have to stop traveling to see them.

He didn’t put it exactly that way, of course. But if the work of his lab continues at its present pace, old folks who have grandchildren in Europe and Vermont and other inaccessible places can play hide and seek with them while staying home and thus not make the future uninhabitable for those grandchildren we love.

Bailenson was not really thinking of grandparent travel. His concern is primarily business travel. If his lab makes virtual interaction even more immediate and available, many, maybe most, people can do their work while staying home. Unlike current versions of Skype and Facetime and the like, you won’t be able to do it in your underwear because it will seem like you are actually there. You can shake hands with the boss and it will feel like you’re really shaking hands.

Most old folks are past worrying about how to shake hands with the boss, but we aren’t past wanting to play with our grandchildren and have coffee with old friends. Wouldn’t that be neat, sitting in a wheel chair in “the home,” to be hiding behind a poster in the mall while giggling children look for you? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit with your Madagascar grandchildren in the Great American Ball Park and cheer for the Reds while sitting in the recliner in your living room? Wouldn’t it be grand to hang out at the coffee shop at the Union Building with your college roommate while she sits in her garden in Georgia and you’re in your parka in the Upper Peninsula?

Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but so did space travel and TV and computers. Sure, it could be used for evil ends, but so can jelly beans. We need to stop thinking like old fossils and embrace new possibilities. Virtually. Maybe even virtuously.

No, I don’t understand virtual reality, but I think it’s a lot like prayer.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


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

One of the things I like best about being in the pew instead of the pulpit is getting to hear Helen pray The Lord’s Prayer. It’s fun just to get to sit in church with her in general, but I especially like to pick out her voice from the two hundred or so who pray that two-thousand-year prayer together on Sunday morning at St. Mark’s UMC.

Just think of how many voices have prayed that prayer, alone and together, in how many languages? And I get to pick out the one that is most meaningful to me.

I like to hear the massed voices, like to hear the two hundred sounding like one. Especially, though, I like to hear that one within the mass.

One of my favorite stories concerns the dog that got onto the field when the As had just moved to Kansas City, before they moved on to Oakland. At first they played in an old minor league stadium, before Kauffman Stadium was built, the kind of old stadium that was porous enough that dogs could get in. [1]

The dog trotted onto the field and began to run the bases, going to first, and then to second, and on to third. When it got to third, it just stopped. Sat down on third base. Everyone began to yell at it. “Run for home!” “Bite the umpire!” “Get off the field!” But it didn’t move. Finally the grounds keepers came out and carried it off.

One insightful dog-savvy sports writer noted, “In that cacophony of voices, the dog did nothing, because it could not pick out the voice of a master.”

There are a lot of voices yelling at us these days. Listen carefully for the one that matters.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Of course, this could happen easily these days in The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, on a “Bark in the Park” night, when people bring their dogs to the game. No, I don’t know why.


I tweet as yooper1721, because when I started on Twitter, I thought you were supposed to have a “handle,” like truckers on CB radio. I was a Yooper, and my telephone # was 1721, so…

Sunday, August 14, 2016


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

Two Sundays ago, before worship, JillAnn told me that her sermon was on the pulpit. JillAnn is home this summer after her second year in seminary, doing CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] at the local hospital, and filling in at her home church pulpit when the regular preachers are too exhausted, by the previously unexperienced joy of watching the Cubs win, to rise up into the pulpit themselves.

I thought it would be a great lesson to slip in ahead of time and take her sermon and hide it in a Pokemon Go gym. It’s important for preachers to know how to improvise when things go wrong.

Helen said, fairly emphatically, “No!”

“But lots of old church people are doing battle in Pokemon Go gyms,” I said. “It will turn up quickly.”

I did not persuade. It did remind me, though, of Gene Matthews’ first sermon.

Gene was a lay preacher from Evansville, 30 miles away, who was assigned to my home church, the open-country Forsythe, whenever he was needed. Gene worked in a factory. He was smart but not academically educated.

As he was in the process of becoming a lay preacher, the District Superintendent sent him one Sunday to preach his first sermon ever in a small church near Evansville, Darmstadt, I think. Gene decided he would impress the folks by not using a manuscript or notes, but simply opening the pulpit Bible [there was always a pulpit Bible in those days] and reading the scripture for his sermon and then preaching straight from the Bible. He had worked hard in preparation and knew what he would say for each verse as he went through the scripture.

The service went fine, the announcements and hymns and prayers. Then it was sermon time. Gene got up and went to the pulpit and opened the Bible. It was in German! Not just German, but the old-fashioned fancy German that even Germans can’t read.

That church had been a German Methodist congregation. We had lots of European language churches well into the twentieth century. Many of my older colleagues when I started preaching in 1956 had started out preaching in Swedish or German. I myself was the first English speaking preacher, in 1958, at Wycliffe Methodist Church in Chicago, where the earlier preachers had all spoken Czech. The Methodist Church recognized all those language churches as part of the denomination. There was no difference in theology, just in language.

It’s strange now, how exercised some folks get about churches that do services in Spanish now. Their forebears a couple of generations ago probably went to churches where worship was in Polish or German or Finnish. 

Christ is “The Word.” That Word was originally “Ho Logos.” That’s the transliteration from the Greek. Even that is a step removed from Christ, who spoke “The Word” in Aramaic.

It’s the Word, not the words, that make it Good News. The Word is still The Word, in any language. That Word is Christ. That Word is Love.


Saturday, August 13, 2016


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

 “They might say I couldn’t sing…” Yes, indeed they might, Florence!

That’s what Florence Foster Jenkins said at the end of her eponymous movie.

Bob and Kathy called yesterday and said, “We’re coming to town to see the Florence Foster Jenkins movie. Do you want to go?”

Of course. That’s the only way we ever see a movie, if Bob and Kathy come to town. They always pick good movies. Well, almost always. They picked really well this time.

It’s about a patron of the music scene in NYC in 1944, for whom music is life. So she wants not just to be a patron, because her parents left her quite a bit of money, but she wants to be a performer, too, a singer. The results are hilarious and tragic.

I recently saw a statement that Meryl Streep could never be tried for anything because she has no peers. She proved that once again in the title role, but, oh, Simon Helberg--better known as Howard Wolowitz in the Big Bang Theory--was magnificent as her befuddled accompanist, and Hugh Grant was great as Hugh Grant, aka St. Clair Bayfield, Florence’s husband and enabler.

Florence is probably the worst singer in history, even worse than Marie, a choir member in one of my early churches, who was remonstrated by the new choir director one day not to sing so loudly because “You sound like a cow bawling.” The new choir director was right, but she didn’t last very long.

After her disastrous Carnegie Hall performance, for which she paid for the hall herself and filled it by giving free tickets to drunken soldiers and sailors, with predictable results, Florence says…

“They might say I couldn’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t sing.”

It runs against everything we are told in our current world, especially in our current political climate, but life is really not about whether you were successful, but whether you tried. It is very nice, at the end of life, to say…

…they might say I couldn’t, but they can’t say I didn’t.


I love films set in that period, because I get to see the old cars. There was one Packard in particular that was magnificent. They did have a couple of anachronisms, though, a 1949 Chevy and a 1951 Chevy. They were only parked in street scenes, so not too noticeable, but they definitely were not around in 1944.

Friday, August 12, 2016


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

One of my CIWs, the one for May 22, 2016, entitled “When Bad Theology is Good Theology,” was reprinted in the current edition of Sharing the Practice: The Journal of The Academy of Parish Clergy. That’s the one about the hymn, “In the Garden.”

In it I mentioned my favorite professor at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, H. Grady Hardin, the “H” for Henry.

A lot of southern boys born around the turn of the century were named after Henry Grady. Most of them went by H. Grady.

Henry Woodfin Grady lived only 39 years, but his impact lived long. He was the managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution newspaper in the 1880s, the advocate of “The New South,” helping the Confederate States reintegrate into the United States, urging industrialization of the South, moving forward with hope instead of looking backward with regret.

H. Grady Hardin was a child of that “new” south, the son of a North Carolina Methodist minister who preached forgiveness and reconciliation. It was a natural to name his son for the great progressive editor. [1]

Grady got his B.A. degree [A.B. back then] from Duke and continued on at Duke Divinity School. Toward the end of his first year in seminary, though, his father suddenly died. Since he and his family lived in a parsonage, and there were no death benefits or retirement accounts in those days, Grady’s mother, and his much younger brother, had no place to live. His brother had a heart condition that required his mother to take care of him 24/7, so there wasn’t even a possibility for her to get a job, not that many jobs were available for women then anyway. So Grady dropped out of seminary and took a pastorate so his mother and brother would have a place to live.

He felt the absence of a seminary education keenly. He knew he would always be behind his peers, so he wrote to his friends who were students in the seminaries, like Union and Yale and Boston, and got their reading lists for all their courses. He read all those books, mostly by borrowing them. He said it was years later that he found out no one else read everything on the lists.

A friend persuaded him to come to Texas. He was appointed to a little church on the edge of Houston. Within ten years, that church had four thousand members. Part of it was that Houston grew in that direction. Part was that Grady was a terrific preacher. He looked the part and he preached the part, and he had a wealth of knowledge from all that reading.

When Perkins School of Theology was looking for a new professor of preaching, Dean Quillian said, “The best and smartest preacher I know is Grady Hardin. We should get him.”

So he did, and it was a great hire. Grady was every bit as good a teacher as he was a preacher. But his hire was not without controversy, and you know why. Perkins is a graduate school. Professors in seminaries typically have three year professional degrees, the equivalent of an MD in medicine, plus a PhD. Grady had only an A.B. That’s the way he was listed in the catalogs. All the other professors had many letters behind their names. His was simply H. Grady Hardin, A.B., Duke University.

I actually had classmates at Perkins who not only refused to take classes from Grady but would not even go to chapel when he was preaching. “His education is inferior,” they said. “He has only an A.B. He should not be on a seminary faculty.”

That mystified me. In the church, surely all God’s children are equals, not in talent or ability, but in status. My guess is that Grady Hardin did more good for the church and the world than any or all of those who wanted a caste system for the church.

There are always those who prefer a caste system, even in a democracy, where all are equal “before the law,” and where merit is the only thing that should separate. It’s part of our original sin, that desire for status, some standing that automatically says we are better than others. Even in the church.

At St. Mark’s UMC, one of our Sunday morning events is breakfast. Last week, I was working the line when our senior pastor came through. “Good morning, Reverend,” I said to him. “Good morning, Reverend,” he replied. If anyone overheard, they might have thought we considered ourselves above the hoi polloi around us. But we were just reminding each other, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, Brother.”


1] Many boys born in late 19th and early 20th centuries were named for cultural heroes, national or local. My Grandma Pond named her sons, Ted and Claude and Jesse and John, for young men from their little town of Francisco, IN who had “made good,” ”gone onto bigger and better things,” “made something of themselves.” That included the Presbyterian preacher’s son, so Uncle Johnny got that boy’s name, Hubert, as his middle name. My mother got confused once, though, and said that her youngest brother was named for the Presbyterian preacher’s dog, which is a much better story, so I try to keep it alive, especially with my cousin, David, Uncle Johnny’s son.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


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

I still have my ball gloves [1] and bats and t-shirts, too. I played baseball and softball for 60 years. I loved playing baseball. I loved the identity it gave me as an athlete, from the age of ten on.

I still wear running shoes, although now they are for walking, and I have all the t-shirts and trophies I won in road races. Running was an important part of my life for fifteen years, until cancer surgery and a year of chemotherapy slowed me so much I could no longer refer to my perambulations as “running.”

I still have my pickleball paddle, and I still wear my pickleball t-shirts. I played pickleball for only two years. [2] Short-lived, but I loved it. I loved feeling like an athlete again.

Pickleball hasn’t been around very long, especially not where we lived, so I did not have opportunity to play until a couple of years ago. Yes, I could have continued when I quit about a month ago. I can still get around the court, still make all the shots. One of the other players called me “St. John of the Angles,” because of my ability to slice the ball just over the net and just inside the sidelines. I liked the people I played with.

I stopped playing, though, because I had a wake-up fall on the court. Backwards. It was a controlled fall. I didn’t hurt anything. But I couldn’t stop it, either. Once it started, I knew I was going down. I have known several old people, two quite recently, who had backward falls, hit their heads, and died, or worse.

Until the day he died, every time my father was in a nursing home, he would proclaim, “I’m going to get out of here and get my own apartment.” Sometimes he did. But he would start falling, and he’d have to go back to “the home.” Then it would start all over again. “I’m going to get out of here and get my own apartment.” One time, Helen replied, “But Daddy, you’ve been falling so much. What if you fall in your own apartment?” “Well, I’ll just have to stop falling,” he said.

It’s not that simple. Sometimes you have to accept reality, and accepting it before you do some damage to yourself or others should be part of that wisdom we always claim comes with old age.

It seems a little silly, keeping my pickleball paddle, and my bats and glove and uniforms. With the end of pickleball, I am not an athlete anymore. That was always an important part of my identity. Where I grew up, and in the US in general, athletes are the most feted [and often the most fetid] of all persons.

But I still have my pulpit robes, and a lot of books I’ll never read again, and pads and pencils and other office supplies I’ll never use since everything now is on computer. They were all part of my identity once, too.

The most important thing is to leave an inheritance for my children. There won’t be any money when I die, but I’m sure they can get a good price for splintered old baseball bats and a King James red letter New Testament, and a 3-hole punch on which 2 of the punches still work.

Don’t spend it all in one place, kids.


1] When granddaughter Brigid was three, she called baseball gloves “ball mittens.”

2] Pickleball is a cut-down version of tennis. It’s lots of fun. You can read all about it, and even see videos, on the web. One day a few months ago a young woman came to the Y to play. I invited her to take my place on the court. “No, she said, “I just want to watch for a while first.” I noticed, though, that during the whole game, she had her head down. She wasn’t watching at all. Then I realized that instead of watching the game right in front of her, she was watching videos of pickleball on her phone. That seemed silly at first, but she undoubtedly learned better how the game should be played.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


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

Helen and I have been driving up to Indianapolis the last couple of weeks to see Joan and Tom in hospital. It’s about fifty miles. To people in their years of winter, in the middle of the most extreme heat of summer, on a road under construction to make it into an interstate, it seems like a hundred. Or a thousand. Miles lose their meaning after a while.

Tom was my college roommate. We were put in a very small room together sixty years ago come September, just because neither of us smoked. We had little in common, but we have remained fast friends throughout that time. I have officiated at the weddings for his children. He suffered a severe stroke several months ago, and has recently had several heart attacks.

Joan is the first of my “children in the ministry.” There were very few women ministers in the Methodist Church when I was her campus minister at IN State U. Indeed, women had been ordainable for only ten years at that time, but she was beginning to feel the call to ordained ministry, and I saw her abilities and encouraged her to go to seminary. Along the way, she decided she fit better in The Episcopal Church than with the Methodists, but, as with Tom, we have been fast friends all these years. She’s officially retired but serves small parishes that cannot afford a full-time priest, so we encouraged her to come to Bedford, where she would be close, only thirty miles south of us. After only ten weeks in Bedford, she had a brain aneurism. She went to a rehab center this weekend, so today we’ll see her there rather than in hospital.

Fairly early in my ministry, I saw a pattern to the hospital calls and funerals that I did. The first couple of years, I called on and buried church members. After that, I was burying friends.

I don’t have church members anymore, members who become friends, but I have a lot of old friends in general, although their ranks are growing thinner on a regular basis. Whenever I go to a hospital or a cemetery now, it’s for a friend, often a long-time friend.

That’s the nature of the years of winter. We care for and then bury our friends. It gets lonely at times. I feel the absence in my life of George and GL and Bettie and Raydean and Bill and Mike and Dianne and Darrel and Don and…

We can either feel sorry for ourselves, that those friends are gone, or we can appreciate how they gifted us with their friendship for so long.

It’s also a good idea to make some younger friends.


I tweet as yooper1721.

An idea for making younger friends: give them copies of Katie Kennedy’s great YA novel, Learning to Swear in America.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


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

There are many preachable moments in the lectionary Gospel for today, which means there are many life themes for Christians in Luke 12:32-40. I was a preacher, though, so I always think first in terms of what will preach best. What preaches best is usually not what is easiest to live.

I did not get around to reading the Gospel for this week, even as preachable as it is, until this morning, for I don’t have to preach on it. Truth be told, there were some weeks when I did not start preparing the sermon until Sunday morning, like the week our second baby was born, but usually I had at least read the scriptures for the day before then.

I am intrigued by the idea in today’s Gospel of keeping your clothes on all night in case God comes and requires some work. I’m old enough to think that it’s too much work to put on night clothes. I don’t think I’d preach that, though, in part because I don’t have a story that echoes it.

It’s good to start a sermon with a story folks can relate to, one that picks up the melody of the scripture and riffs on it. People get involved with the scripture that way and see ways it applies to their own lives.

So I’d preach on that part about not storing your treasure where moths can eat on it. Or a mouse.

We have been BUMBS for fifty years. BUMBS stands for Bakers, Ungers, McFarlands, Basses, and Storys, the five couples who started sharing monthly fellowship meals when our children were all very small and we lived in the same town. We don’t get together nearly that often anymore. We live in varied places. Three have transferred to the church triumphant. But the memories are fresh, like the years when we exchanged simple Christmas gifts.

At some monthly time together, Paul Baker, now Illinois State University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, told of a Christmas as a child when his only gift was an Uncle Wiggly book. His family was very poor, but his mother was a good manager of what little money they had and would get a gift for each child whenever she found an appropriate one at a good price. She found the book at a good price in the summer and hid it in the attic. When she got it out on Christmas morning, she found that a mouse had eaten on the book.

Paul told this story in terms of what it meant to his mother rather than what it meant to him, but when Helen drew his name for the BUMBS gift exchange in October, she immediately set about getting him a new, unchewed, copy of Uncle Wiggly. It was not easy, but she traced one down.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


Saturday, August 6, 2016


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

My current brain is red. It used to be gray. Helen got me the gray one. I found the red one myself at The Dollar Tree.

Since I am old, I need to have my brain with me at all times. Oh, I know, recently in a CIW I bragged about having a better than average memory. That, however, is about stuff from 50 years ago. I need help with the stuff from two seconds ago. That’s why I carry my red brain with me.

Several of us in our family have a problem with finding the right noun. Technically, that’s dysnomia. [Dysnomia is also the name of the only known moon of the dwarf planet Eris.] So in our family we often refer to an object just by its color, because when we started sentences about it, we couldn’t find the noun, so we would say, “You know, the green,,, the thing in the driveway that you get into for going places.” After a while, the car would simply be “The green.”

This did not work well when our daughters were little and we would say, “Stop hitting your sister with the blue hammer” and she would reply, “It’s not blue; it’s azure,” and keep on pounding her sister’s blond.

My red brain is plastic and has a sturdy handle and three compartments. My old gray was nice, and the same size as my red, but it had thin plastic handles that broke and only one compartment. If you need to carry your brain with you, it’s good for it to have a handle. If you have a lot on your mind, it’s good for your brain to have compartments.

I’m learning to use my new red compartmentalized brain. It’s quite exciting. Just today I found a special place to keep my extra hankie, good for wiping glasses lenses and for a quick mop-up of spilled coffee, that makes the hankie more accessible but still not in the way of the poetry part [a 5x7 tablet] of my brain. There are places for a magnifying glass, and tall skinny folder with to-do lists, and a cup for pens and pencils and scissors and a little flashlight and a Swiss army knife and a chapstick, and an address book, and various pairs of glasses, and a Greek New Testament, and two telephones. My red brain is complete.

Now if I could just remember where I left my red brain…