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.]

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