Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, September 29, 2016

WHO IS MY MOTHER, WHO IS MY BROTHER

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

This morning I came across a delightful piece of poetry by Shirley Erena Murray, called “Who is My Mother, Who Is My Brother.” It is based on that intriguing story about Jesus’ relations with his relations. [Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk 8:19-21.]

His family thought he had gone berserk. After all, who goes around claiming to be the Messiah? That wasn’t exactly what he was doing, but close enough. So they went to get him and take him home, hide him in the attic, so he wouldn’t be embarrassing them anymore. A whole lot of family life is based on trying to escape embarrassment by relatives.

He was inside, teaching, and they didn’t even want to be seen with him, so they sent someone in to ask him to come out where they could grab him and secret him away. Folks told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside. They want you to come out for a little chat.”

Jesus saw it as a teaching moment, as he saw most moments. He asked, “Who is my mother? Who is my brother?”

Shirley Murray wrote a poem about it, and Jack Schrader put music to it, so it’s also a hymn, # 2225 in The Faith We Sing.

I haven’t gotten permission to reprint, because that takes so long I’ll be dead by the time it comes through, but you and I are the only ones who know I’m doing this, and if you don’t tell, I won’t.

Who is my mother, who is my brother?
all those who gather round Jesus Christ:
Spirit blown people, born from the Gospel
sit at the table, round Jesus Christ.

Differently abled, differently labeled
widen the circle round Jesus Christ:
Crutches and stigmas, cultures’ enigmas
all come together round Jesus Christ.

Love will relate us—color or status
can’t segregate us, round Jesus Christ:
Family failings, human derailings
all are accepted, round Jesus Christ.

Bound by one vision, met for one mission
we claim each other, round Jesus Christ:
Here is my mother, here is my brother,
kindred in spirit, through Jesus Christ.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

I especially love the images of “Spirit blown people” and “human derailings.”


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith [and, occasionally totally unrelated musings and mutterings] for the Years of Winter

FIRE THE COACH

Wives need something to complain about. That is a major part of their job. If your husband is perfect, though, or at least “going on to perfection,” you can’t do your job. Consequently, while I watch football games on the TV in our living room, Helen does things on her computer, so she’ll have stuff to complain about. Computers are a wonderful source of complaints.

Our joint football/computer living room is the reason Helen is one of the few persons outside the SEC and ESPN who cares about the recent firing of the LSU football coach, because between her mutterings about the computer, she occasionally hears something from the TV.

Thus a year or so ago, she suddenly shouted at the TV, “FEWER miles, not less miles.” It really bothers her when folks on TV get the words for volume and number mixed up.

I said, “But, Honey, the coach’s name is Les Miles.”

“Well,” she retorted, “they should have named him Fewer.”

So she is quite pleased that she won’t have to overhear about Les Miles anymore. Unless he gets hired at Purdue. That will be a real problem.

JRMcF


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

LAYING ON OF HANDS, ON BABIES & PREACHERS

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

It’s Sunday morning, so as I always do, I’m thinking about and praying for my preacher friends, including Ed Boase. I hadn’t thought about Ed for a long time, until Helen and I started talking this past week about my ordination. It reminded me that Ed was one of the two pastors who, along with the bishop, laid hands on me at my ordination.

The other was Otis Collier, my District Superintendent, a kindly man, close to retirement. He baptized our younger daughter, Kathy as we called her back then, in our church at Cedar Lake. [1] Otis kept me out of trouble, as much as possible, so I felt it appropriate to choose him as one of my ordainers. I chose Ed because I owed him since I got him into trouble.

“I didn’t know you and Ed were that close, to choose him as an ordainer,” Helen said.

We weren’t close, in general. He pastored in Lowell, a small town several miles from Cedar Lake, where we lived, a small town but one with a reputation for turning out performers, including Florence Henderson and Jo Anne Worley. [2] Ed was forty years older than I, like Otis, ready for retirement, and, like Otis, kind, and willing to talk to and be seen with a wild young radical at District meetings when most others there were afraid it would hurt their reputation.

That was the extent of our relationship, until the woman from our church left her new baby on his porch.

She wasn’t really a member of our church, but her son, about sixteen, came to our youth group, so they were my pastoral responsibility. It was the teen boy who invited me to their house to talk to his mother, because she was close to forty, and pregnant, and they had no job or money, and she was embarrassed about the baby so wouldn’t talk to anyone about what they should do once the baby came.

So I went. The boy initiated most of the conversation, but his mother talked, too, and it was clear that she was intelligent, but in denial. Nothing was said about a father for the new baby, so it looked like there would be no help from that source. I did the usual things, trying to connect her to social agencies. Mostly, though, she remained in denial about the whole thing… until the baby came. That was when she began not only to accept but to expect help from Helen and me.

Our daughter, Mary Beth, was into her second year, so we had baby things that she had outgrown, or duplicates, that we could give. We tried to help in other ways, but Helen was at home, without a car, with a baby of our own, while I was gone all day to Garrett Theological Seminary, at Northwestern University. So I told her if she got into some emergency, she should call Rev. Boase at Lowell.

She did, except it was more than a telephone call. Ed said there was a knock on the door. He opened it. There stood a woman he had never seen before. “Here’s the baby,” she said, pointing to a box on the floor. “I’ll be back soon.” She left.

Soon turned out to be a couple of days, which was a long time for a bewildered old couple that had not laid hands on a baby in a very long time. They were beginning to think they’d have to give the baby to the social workers when the mother returned, walked in, thanked them, picked up the baby, and left.

That was the end of the story. She had apparently made some living arrangements elsewhere while she was gone, for we never saw her or either of her children again. The end of the story, except for me asking Ed to lay hands on my head at my ordination.

He squeezed much harder than was really necessary.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

1] Older daughter Mary Beth, was baptized by Bishop Richard Raines at annual conference at Purdue University.

2] The 1960s urbanized the entertainment industry. After that, you couldn’t just be a kid from a small town that had a good drama teacher, go off to Hollywood or New York and make it on musicals-in-the-barn talent. You had to grow up in a place where professionals were already producing. Before that, though, a small out-of-the-way town like Danville, IL, could produce Dick and Jerry VanDyke, Bobby Short, and Gene Hackman.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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?”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

FRENCH FRIED BAPTISTS

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

We ate last night with a bunch of retired people. We were there for the speaker, not the food, which was a good thing.

To the management there, food service is a necessary but undesirable backpack to their main business. So it is treated like an unwanted step-child. They change cooks and menus and modes and mottoes with some regularity, but not their attitude, so the result is always the same— mostly passable food with extremely slow service and ever higher prices, because, if you have a fancier slogan and prettier water pitchers, you can charge more.

One thing remains constant: French fries. Well, almost constant. They used to come with the cleverly named burgers. [1] Now we are strongly encouraged to order French fries, but they cost extra. That’s “progress.”

I was once in a group of young people who were talking about how so much of our food talk has French names. Soup du jour, √©clair, souffl√©, etc. “Don’t forget French fries,” Larry said.

That’s the motto of most restaurants: Don’t forget French fries.

Except that the Baptist Church in Monon, IN, when Helen was growing up there in the early 1940s, forgot.

They were having a supper in the church basement. They ran out of fries. The only place in town with a French fry machine was the tavern. Georgia Karr, Helen’s mother, admitted that she knew the tavern owner. She called and got permission to send someone down to use their machine. The only available person for that mission was Mable, head of the local WCTU, who would not even walk by a tavern, yet along go into one. But like a good Baptist woman, she went when she was sent. After all, it was the Lord’s work.

When the meal was over, and cleanup was underway, the women talked of all that happened. They thanked Mable for doing the unthinkable. “It was not too bad,” she said. “I just walked in the front door, went back to the kitchen and used the French fry machine, and walked out again. I didn’t even say a word to anybody.” As she described the escapade, however, the other women realized that she had gone to the wrong tavern!

Georgia was embarrassed. She called up the proprietor of the “wrong” tavern to apologize. “Oh, it was no problem,” he said. “Nobody had any idea who she was. The drunks all thought it was a vision. It will give us something to talk about for years.”

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

1] Clever names are our undoing. Helen and I ordered a Hoosier Hero to split, even though we did not need or want the bacon which was loudly advertised as part of it. That was a good thing, since the new cook forgot the bacon. We decided not to order French fries, since they are bad for old people, but they came on our tray anyway, in a little silver bucket. Yes, we ate them, and we paid for them.

The problem with writing a blog for old people, CHRIST IN WINTER, is an ever-diminishing population, of people who cannot remember to go to the blog site.

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?”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

DOTING ON DAUGHTERS

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

I met Harold Sherman yesterday morning, as he walked, with his little dog, Carly. I have known Harold for a year, and each time I met him it took me about half a day to remember his name was Sherman, because I also knew a Harold Sheldon, and…well, confusion. Yesterday Harold and Carly were walking toward the swimming pool of our condo complex, and I realized, “Of course, Sherman’s march to the sea,” in the Civil War. So now when I meet Harold, I see him marching to the pool, which is sort of a sea, with his troops, Carly, and I have no trouble remembering his name.

I use those mnemonic devices a lot.

We used to do overnight stops at a motel in Mendota, IL because it was in the right place, and sometimes hosted cadaver dog conventions. I could never remember how to look up the motel, though, because I could not remember the word, Mendota. Then I got an image of men doting on children in that spot on the IL prairie. I can remember that, because I dote on my daughters, regular and grand.

For instance, Katie Kennedy, best writer ever, whose LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA you should buy soon, even though you are waiting until closer to Christmas to buy several as Christmas gifts. Publishers judge the success of a book by its sales in the first 8 weeks, and Katie’s 8 weeks are up, so buy now. It’s okay, of course, to buy any time, but why wait when a doting father makes such a plea?

And Michigan State University granddaughter Brigid Kennedy, one of only 20 students, out of 39,000 undergrads, to be invited to a seminar with Ken Burns, and who is being lauded for her research and writing on the ways students and universities and the government are bilked out of billions on student loans.

I’m not even going to mention grandson Joe Kennedy, because he does not fit the category of daughters, and I really like the alliteration of “Doting on Daughters” for the title. Also because his grandmother has pretty well cornered the market on doting on him. Suffice it to say that he has been my hero since he was fifteen months old, for the way he dealt with a year of cancer, and for the way he continues to live life on his own terms, and plays the digeridoo.

Which brings us to the doted daughter of the day, Mary Beth, and the real reason I started this column. Today is the pinnacle day of Birthday Fest, the annual celebration of her birth, which is especially poignant this year, as it comes in the midst of her second bout with breast cancer, third with cancer in general. A lesser woman would have wilted, but she goes gamely on, doing each day what she has to do. I need no mnemonic devices to remember and celebrate her courage.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

The problem with writing a blog for old people, CHRIST IN WINTER, is an ever-diminishing population that cannot remember to go to the blog site.

I tweet as yooper1721

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.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A POEM TO START THE FALL

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

Old barns in autumn
 fit my spirit,
and my body, well

the fading paint
 red in the summer
gray now in the fall

the shrinking boards
 with cracks between
through which the sumac grows

the sagging doors
 tired rusty hinges
dusty smell of hay

sweaty memories
 with their harvest
hopes

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721

They called them heroes. They said, “Thank you for your service.” Then forgot about them. Joe Kirk lost a leg. Lonnie Blifield lost his eyes. Victoria Roundtree lost her skin. “Zan” Zander lost his mind. Four homeless and hopeless Iraqistan VETS who accidentally end up living together on an old school bus. With nowhere to go, and nothing else to do, they lurch from one VAMC to another, getting no help because, like the thousands of other Iraqistan VETS who are homeless, unemployed, and suicidal, they do not trust the system and refuse to “come inside.” After another fruitless stop, at the VAMC in Iron Mountain, Michigan, a doctor is found dead, and the VETS are accused of his murder. Distrustful, strangers to America, to each other, and even to themselves, they must become a unit to learn who really murdered the doctor, so that they can be free. In doing so, they uncover far more, about themselves and about their country, than they dared even to imagine. Available from your local independent book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Books-A-Million, Black Opal Books, and almost any place else that sells books. $12.99 for paperback, and $3.99 for ebook. Free if you can get your library to buy one.

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?”


Monday, September 19, 2016

NAZIS AND STARS WARS

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

 Daughter Katie Kennedy, the author of the marvelous LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA, has alerted me to a current white supremacist tactic.

They go on Goodreads, and possibly other reviewing sites, and give one star reviews [out of five] to the books of authors with Jewish sounding names. They often do this before the book is even released, when there is no chance they could have read it, to drive sales down even before it has a chance. After all, who wants to waste time or money on a one star book?

They often use as their reasons for giving the book a poor review that it is racist and anti-Semitic.

That is, of course, the tactic, straight out of the Roger Ailes and Karl Rove playbook, of current so-called conservatives. Claim that your candidate or position’s greatest weakness is actually his/its greatest strength. Claim that your opponent’s greatest strength is actually her greatest weakness. Repeat it over and over, regardless of how many people come out to say you are lying and you have it backwards, because eventually those folks will get fed up and start ignoring you instead of opposing you, and among the uninformed, your lie becomes truth. Do not engage in debate about your assertion; just keep saying it.

For instance, someone says, “But that’s a lie. Surely you can’t believe that.” Ignore what they have just said, and reply, “What I DO know is that Obama founded Isis,” or whatever falsehood you are pushing. Make it sound like you have some secret source of knowledge.

Of course, an author with a Jewish sounding name may not even be Jewish. I know Methodists with the names of Steinmetz and Rosenthal, et al. I know Jews with names like Richards and Stewart. The white supremacist reviewers don’t bother with niceties like that, of course.

When Katie learned of this reversing-the-truth in the book reviewing of authors who have Jewish names, she started reviewing them herself and giving them the stars they deserved. So the Nazis in retaliation started giving her book one star reviews. The LEAST anyone else has given it is four stars, and about 90% of the time it gets 5 stars.

I don’t know how to deal with this. It’s not worth it to get into a starring war with these sorts of people. They are persistent and devious; they will win a stars war. Goodreads or other review sites might try barring them, but computer savvy folks can create a myriad of aliases so that as soon as one name/address is banned, another takes its place.

For the moment, at least, be aware of this tactic. Don’t trust the reviewer unless that person has been reliable in the past. And if the author has a “Jewish” name, assume that a poor review is false review and judge it for yourself.

JRMcF

I remember the first time I encountered this tactic, at a ministerial association meeting. The minister of a cult/fundamentalist church asserted that his church was the only one in town that practiced the Bible literally, and that they did it all the time, especially following Jesus literally. I, stupidly, said, “Do you wash feet in your services?” “We do it all the time,” he said, “spiritually.” “But that is not literally,” I said. “Yes,” he said, “It is. We follow Jesus literally.” Other pastors began to be amazed and said things like, “But that is not what literal means.” “Yes, it is,” Roger asserted. He was never flustered, never debative, just persistent in repeating a non-sequitur even though he knew no one else there believed him. In a different setting, with more vulnerable people, eventually someone would fall for it.

I tweet as yooper1721

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?”


Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE DIFFERENCE IS IN WHY YOU GO TO JAIL


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

We are having a jazz worship service at our church this morning. I’ll go, and I’ll like it. Still…

My good friend, the much-loved and much-missed George Paterson, was a jazz musician, in addition to being the chaplain at University of Iowa Hospitals and a professor in the university’s School of Religion. He played trombone and often led jazz worship services. People came away from George’s services, and from George’s presence, feeling like they had experienced the Gospel. I’m sure I’ll do that this morning. Still…

Much jazz worship takes familiar hymns, like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and doing them in jazzy tempo and style. I like that. You get to hear that rendering of a Gospel truth in a new way. Still…

Still… in my soul, I’ll be humming, “I love to tell the story.”

I’m a narrativist, a story guy. So much jazz is without a story, at least one I can recognize. That means I’m mostly a folk music guy. Folk music tells a story, a story of the yearnings of common people to be free, to be treated with respect. I don’t hear that in jazz.

The biggest difference between folk and jazz is, jazz musicians go to jail because of their behavior, folk musicians go to jail because of their songs.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Some folks say that if you are playing and you hit a wrong note, you just call it jazz and go on. So I guess I played a lot of jazz in my younger days.

Jazz, of course, by its very nature, cannot be pigeon-holed. Some, like the Ragtime variety, is narrative.

Interestingly, the song “And All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” is not jazz. It’s straight Broadway, all narrative.

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…


Friday, September 16, 2016

WHAT GOD DOES IS NO CONCERN OF MINE

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

I almost missed tea at St. Andrew’s that afternoon. I was studying there, in Scotland, that summer, as part of my doctoral work, listening to lectures by William Barclay, the acclaimed Bible scholar, and others.

I was not much of a golfer, but when you are at the home course of golf, The Ancient & Royal in St. Andrews, you need to play a round just so you can say you did it. I can also almost say that I played with Bing Crosby since he was coming off the course just as I was going onto it, but that would be a stretch. He, however, had the good fortune to miss the rain.

A fellow student and I rented clubs and headed out. About half-way through our round, the heavens opened in a serious attempt to wash St. Andrews into the Firth of Forth. The water got so deep that when we putted, the ball would just run across the top of the cup because it was full of water. We finally gave up and walked in. I was wearing a rain coat, but I was so soaked that even the money in my billfold had to be hung up to dry.

Helen got me into dry clothes and, convinced that tea and scones are a good remedy for any discomfort, sent me down to the tea room to grab a cup before they closed up, while she hung up my wet clothes and wet money. Almost everyone else was gone by that time, but they still had the plenty of tea and scones.

I sat down with Gretchen, one of the few people still sipping. I did not know her well, but I liked her husband, a handsome and well-spoken man, the priest at a large Episcopal church in Florida, and she was a pleasant looking woman. We did the usual talk, about the wet weather and the lectures we had heard. Then I noted that I had seen a lot of poor people trying to get home in the rain as I came off the golf course, and there were so many scones in our tea room that were going to go to waste, it was a shame we couldn’t provide them somehow to people who needed them.

She looked quite puzzled. “If God chooses to give me good things and to withhold them from others, that’s no concern of mine,” she said. That’s a direct quote.

I could not believe what I had heard, but I was in a period of life then when I listened carefully and could remember exactly what I heard, for I had been trained to write “verbatims” for Clinical Pastoral Education. She really said it.

I had no idea even where to begin with reply. We had both been listening to Willie Barclay exposit the scriptures, and we had heard him, and the scriptures, with entirely different ears. I wondered if she had gotten that from her husband’s preaching.

I have heard that same sentiment many times since. Most public religion today is devoted to justifying selfishness and greed. We should not be surprised that Jesus is co-opted by the selfers.

It is what selfer religion does, reversing truth and falsehood, reversing greed and Gospel. Modern selfer politics has taken up the ways of selfer religion, its very foundation, what selfer politics does best, reversing strength and weakness, claiming that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength and your opponent's greatest strength is her greatest weakness.

Modern technology makes lying a viable approach. If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough it becomes the truth.

When we are old, we should have learned by now that everything that is God’s is a concern of mine. And everything is God’s.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

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 Free-Ebooks.net, It says “Download 2048.”

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PERFECT DESIRE


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

I have been thinking about perfection, because at my ordination I pledged to go on to perfection, saying “Yes,” to the question, “Do you expect to be made perfect in this life?” since if you say “no” you don’t get ordained and never make the big bucks. I’m sort of running out of time to get to perfection in this life, though, so I think I need to hurry up the process.

Actually, I don’t know why preachers need to be perfect. Perfection is not very realistic. Not because it’s not attainable, but because there are always some folks in any church for whom perfection in the preacher is not good enough.

It is important to remember that when John Wesley developed the doctrine of Christian Perfection, and started asking the Methodist preachers that question about being made perfect in this life, way back in the 1700s, he was not talking about intellectual perfection—knowing perfectly, or volitional perfection—choosing perfectly, or activity perfection—doing perfectly, but loving perfectly.

So what is love, that we might do it perfectly? Love is desiring that God’s will be done. That means that when I pray for Donald Trump, I do not pray that he will change, but that God’s will may be done in his life. I don’t get to say what God’s will is for Donald, or for me, or for anyone else. I do, however, have the great privilege of praying for him, along with all the others God presents to me along the way.

My much-missed friend, Herb Beuoy, now loving as part of the church triumphant, always reminded me, “It is our business to love people; it is God’s business to change them.”

Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” That is to will the will of God, to will what God wants for each person and for each world.

So, do I really expect “to be made perfect in this life?” Be patient. I’m working on it.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

INVINCIBLE SUMMER

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

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

Sixty years ago this week, I learned that his name was not Albert, as in Prince Albert Tobacco, but Al-bear. And that Camus was not Caymuss, but Ca-moo. I felt so sophisticated, being able to drop the name of Ca-moo at lunch in the cafeteria.

So I chose Camus for my books in my French reading class. I was never very good at speaking French, except for Vous puez de l’aile, which means You smell of garlic, but I got to the place that I was comfortable reading in French, especially in history and theology. I felt so sophisticated on campus that fall, walking around with my copies of Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait and Camus’ L’Etranger and La Peste.

Camus was an existentialist, a nihilist, who contracted TB at age 17. It was then incurable, and he had long periods of great pain. His time of the winter soul came in the springtime of his years. But it is perhaps the most important thing to learn, regardless of when it comes, despite all the nihilism and despair to which this world gives cause: There is in me an invincible summer.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721

Monday, September 12, 2016

HOW TO LOOK GOOD

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

Our daughter, Kathleen “Katie” Kennedy, was choosing an author photo for the jacket of her excellent YA book, Learning to Swear in America, published by Bloomsbury. She asked us to help her choose which photo among the many proofs should go on the book. Her mother chose # 32, because “It looks most like you.” Katie protested, “That’s not what we’re going for.”

What we’re going for, of course, any of us, is something that makes us look better than we are. I would guess that 50% of lies are spoken for that reason. The other 50% is to get or stay out of trouble.

The best way to stay out of trouble, of course, is not by lying, but by refraining from doing bad stuff. The best way to look good is not a better photo but by being helpful to others and doing good stuff.

I recently had to provide a jacket photo for my novel, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped veterans who are accused of murdering a VA doctor. I suggested they use a photo of Robert Redford. Much to my surprise and chagrin, they took it seriously, and explained all the legal ramifications, but suggested they could have an artist do a rendering that would look like Redford but not so much that we could be sued. I don’t know why that would be a problem. Redford always uses my photo.

I figure that letting Bob use my photo is part of my attempt to be helpful to others and do good stuff, and part of my refusal to do bad stuff, like lying.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

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, German, and e-book, from your friendly independent book store, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.

VETS {all CAPS} is also available from Amazon, B&N, etc. My royalties go to help prevent soldier suicide.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

FEAR NOT, 9/11 or 5/19

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

Recently an old high school acquaintance came across my email address via another high school acquaintance. He sends out group emails. I’m now included in that group.

He was a year ahead of me in school. I did not know him well. We did not hang around together. But in a small school, you’re always in some of the same activities, and you get acquainted that way. I remember him as a nice kid, just a regular kid, like all the rest of us.

These days he is very religious. Every day I get several emails from him quoting Bible verses, many of them having to do with love and forgiveness. Also every day he sends several irrational rants, such as: “Obama is a socialist muslim [sic] devil” and “you can tell Moochelle Obama hates America because she holds her hand wrong during the national anthem” and “the Obama daughters are ugly and dress like sluts” and “the supreme court is taking away our freedom” and “the gay agenda is all about taking over and putting straights in concentration camps.”

I think he really wants to be a Christian, to believe in and live in the love of God. But he is pulled between 9/11 and 5/19. On 9/11, Christians can either give in to fear, which is what the terrorist agenda is all about, or we can face our fear with 5/19, II Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, and God has given us this ministry of reconciliation.”

The first thing the angels say to announce the coming of the Christ is, “Fear not.” It’s hard to be a Christian when you are so afraid. Why is my old schoolmate so scared? I don’t know, but I do know he is old. It must be so miserable to live one’s final days in that kind of fear.

I remember him as that regular kid, and I pray for him.

JRMcF


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

WHEELCHAIR ESCAPE

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

I am reluctant to use the wheelchair escape as the title here. It is not the important feature, but that was what first really got my attention.

We were visiting daughter Mary Beth in Chicago last week. I was watching the TV news. A retired pastor in a retirement home had shot another retired pastor over “a religious argument.” Then he “escaped on a motorized wheelchair.”

I posted about it on Facebook. It was ludicrous. Hilarious. The sort of thing that happens in a sitcom, not in real life. Two old preachers, arguing over supralapsarianism vs sublapsarianism, [1] and one shoots the other and escapes in a wheelchair. It doesn’t get any funnier.

Except, I learned later, the old preacher who was shot died. At 80 years of age, one dead and one a murderer. Not so funny.

Old people often complain that younger people don’t understand that we are the same people we have always been, just in weaker bodies. We have the same needs, for love and companionship and acceptance and hope.

We usually don’t mention that we have the same sinful tendencies, the same argumentative spirit, the same assumptions that we are right and others are wrong, the same anger.

St. Augustine said that “the so-called innocence of children is more a matter of weakness of limb than purity of heart.” The same can be said for the so-called wisdom of old people, more weakness of limb than purity of heart.

Yes, we have the same needs as always, including the need to submit our will and impulses to the will of God. We never get too old for that.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

1] I don’t know if the subject in dispute was actually supralapsarianism, but Dr. Wilkey says that is the argument that usually gets out of hand.

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?”

My new novel is VETS, about four homeless Iraqistan veterans accused of murdering a VA doctor, is available from your local independent book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Books-A-Million, Black Opal Books, and almost any place else that sells books. $12.99 for paperback, and $3.99 for ebook. Free if you can get your library to buy one.

Friday, September 9, 2016

CLASSICAL

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

The IU students are back in town, and I am remembering when I was one of them, a new freshman… with a whole new world opening up, including classical music, like The Student Prince, to which I am listening right now.

At least, that’s what I thought The Student Prince was when I first heard it, classical.

I had never really even heard a “record” when I went off to college, except for the 45s used at the “sock hops” at school. My family had only one record player, which took only very long play spoken recordings, because my father was blind, and the Library for the Blind in Indianapolis sent him “talking books” from time to time. No music. Mostly Western novels. It was the highlight of an afternoon or evening when Daddy got out “the record machine,” and all six of us sat around the table, staring at the slowly rotating record as a story of cowboys battling “savages” on The Powder River filled our dining room.

We had a radio, but other than an occasional station that played “popular” music, meaning Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, all the stations featured “hillbilly” music. Yes, that’s what it was called then. “Country” came along much later. PBS classical music stations were decades away.

So when my IU roommate, Tom Cone, brought a “hi-fi” from home, with three records, which included The Student Prince and South Pacific, I thought I was a real classical college man, listening to “classical music.”

I had never heard of Bach or Beethoven or Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov or Vivaldi. Through the years, they have inscribed themselves on my list of favorites. [1] I know what classical music is. I was a history major. I know all about the 18th century. Well, I know a little about it, enough to date the “classical music” period up to 1830.

For me, though, the real classics will always start with Be My Love and Some Enchanted Evening.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.


1] Yes, I’m expanding the usual dates for the “classical” period a bit.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

PLEASE DON’T YELL AT ME

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

I am a big, mature [i.e., old], rugged [i.e., decrepit] Scots man.

Raluca Vucescu is a little, young, cute Romanian woman.

I know it can sound sexist and disrespectful to call a woman “little and cute.” As Katie Couric once said, about always being described as little and cute, “Bob Costas is little and cute, but no one describes him that way.”

I mean that description, however, only as a contrast. She is little and cute and Romanian. I am big and not-cute and Scottish.

That means she should fear me. The only people tougher than the Romanians are the Scots. But it’s the other way around. SHE scares ME.

She is my MD.

If I return to her office as a fat unexercised man, and fail the A1C test, she will yell at me. That’s what our daughters told their friends during high school when we quietly demurred to go along with one of their hare-brained schemes. “My parents YELLED at me!”

That’s what Dr. Vucescu will do. She will look up at me with disappointment, both of us knowing full well that I said last time, “No, I don’t really need any medicine; I can do this on my own with diet and exercise,” and she will quietly say, “We need to talk about medicine.” In other words, she will yell at me.

That’s one of the strange things about old age. Roles are reversed. We used to be the ones who yelled at the young miscreants. Now we are the old miscreants, being yelled at. I liked it better the other way.

The good thing, though, is that Dr. Vucescu specializes in geriatric medicine. The older I get, the more she likes me.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, September 5, 2016

GIVING THANKS FOR OUR LABOR DAY TOMATOES

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

When I was growing up, Indiana produced more tomatoes than any other state except California. I don’t know if that is true now, but I do know that when I picked tomatoes one summer, because Mr. Thiemann, our neighbor, had leased his land to tomato growers, it was the hardest job I ever had, and that is saying a lot, when you’ve also spent a summer detasseling corn.

Detasseling corn was miserable. We walked. The corn stalk heads were way above our sun-blasted heads. We had to bend them down to grab the tassel and pull it out without breaking the stalk. The corn leaves cut our arms and hands and faces. The humidity in among those stalks was 100% and the temperature was in the 90s. We were drenched in sweat. Our overseers were profane and mad that we did not work harder. If we got behind, they left us in the field. There was never enough water. We made fifty cents an hour.

With one proviso. If you worked the entire season, from day one to day last, without ever missing, we got an extra 25 cents per hour. That is a big bonus. I needed that money. Only one other boy and I got that bonus. Others worked a day or two and found out how miserable it was and dropped out. I learned I could stand almost anything if I had to.

Even picking tomatoes. From what I’ve said about detasseling, you’d think tomato picking would not be so bad. No corn leaves to cut, or be down in among with 100% humidity, Mr. Heathman’s well immediately accessible for water, bosses who were marginally nicer than the corn masters. Tomatoes, though, grow down low. That kind of work is correctly called “stoop labor.” At the end of a day, I couldn’t straighten up. And I was only fifteen. Imagine what it was like for folks who were 45 or 65, and there were plenty of them.

So as you put a slice of tomato on your Labor Day hamburger, or squirt some ketchup on, and your neighbor talks about how immigrants just want an easy life at someone else’s expense, think about the folks who picked your tomato, and say a word of thanks.

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.


Friday, September 2, 2016

KEEPING A PROMISE YOU NEVER MADE

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

 I’m thinking this morning of my friend and colleague, Grantland Sharp, may he rest in peace, as he was not allowed to in life.

He was cursed with that classy name. [1] He was cursed with rugged, thoughtful good looks. He was cursed with a pleasant baritone voice.

Unfortunately, he was not any of the things that his name and looks and voice promised.

It wasn’t his fault. It was his parents who chose his name, and, in the genetic way, chose his good looks and his manly voice. It was his parents who reared him to be a nice and caring person. Unfortunately, they did not rear him to live up to his image.

He was not a Grantland Sharp. More of a Wilbur Dull. He was not rugged and thoughtful. More reticent and shallow. His voice was manly, yes, but monotonic.

His entire life and career, people expected him to live up to the promises his name and looks and voice made. When he couldn’t do it, they despised him. They thought he was a fraud, when actually, he was very authentic. He was always himself, but people didn’t want the real Grant. They wanted his image.

Grant was a bit dull, but he was not slow. He knew what people expected, and why they expected it. He once told me, “Yes, it bothered me when I was young. Now, though, I know who I am, and God knows who I am. That’s all that matters.”

JRMcF


1] Grantland Sharp is not his real name, but it’s like that.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

BABES IN BELLICOSE LAND

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

When our granddaughter was in pre-school, about three years old, maybe four, she complained to her mother that a certain boy insisted on calling his tricycle a bicycle. “I explained to him that bi means two and tri means three, so it had to be a tricycle since it has three wheels, but he keeps calling it a bicycle, anyway.” Her amused mother said, “Well, his Latin just isn’t as good as yours.” Our granddaughter replied, “Yes, but he’s quite bellicose about it.”

He’s probably still bellicose, and still calling things, and especially people, by wrong names. I suspect he is cheering at Donald Trump rallies.

Hillary Clinton has been running what to me is a very good TV ad. It shows Donald Trump aggressively calling people names and ridiculing them in typical bellicose, bullying fashion. It shows young children watching him and asks the question of what our children will learn.

As good as the ad is, I don’t think it will be very effective, because many people see nothing wrong with the way Trump treats weaker people. There are some people who are bullies. They see no problem with bullying. And there are those fearful folk who are not bullies themselves, but they are so afraid of the bullies that they try to placate them. They are bully enablers.

Some people just like aggression and force. They like to see the powerful trample on the weak. They applaud when a comedian or politician talks about spanking children. They applaud and cheer when a politician says “Let ‘em die” about people who cannot afford health insurance.

They think that protecting kids from bullies is wussy; you should teach kids to stand up for themselves and fight back. They justify their love of aggression and force by saying that it is the way of the world, that people are going to be violent anyway, and all you can do is protect yourself.

There is some truth in that. There is violence in all of us. St. Augustine was right—there is a God-shaped void in our soul. But there is also a fist-shaped snarl in our brain. I’m not a pacifist. I’m a Niebuhrian realist. [1] Maybe an Amos Wilson realist. Amos is a Presbyterian pastor who served almost his whole career as a prison chaplain. “There are some really bad people in there,” he says, “and they need to be kept there.”

I suspect that 95% of terrorists, as distinct from regular soldiers or people fighting for their homeland against outside invasion, would find a reason to keep on terrorizing even if all their demands were met. That gives credence to those who say, “The only thing they understand is force.” But even terrorists have people who love them and who share their narrative. You can’t eliminate them by force, for every time you do, you create a martyr whose family and friends want to avenge him.

Sharron Angle, former US Senate candidate in Nevada, talked about “Second Amendment remedies,” which has since been echoed by Donald Trump. Since the 2nd Amendment, which to most of its supporters is the whole of the Constitution, is about the right “to bear arms,” there is no question what she was talking about, despite how much she tried to wriggle as the election approached. Lee Harvey Oswald used a 2nd Amendment remedy on John F. Kennedy. John Hinckley tried to use a 2nd Amendment remedy on Ronald Reagan. [2]

Jesus was realistic about this. He understood the world is a dangerous place where people try to control the lives of others through force. But he knew that aggression ultimately does not work. That is the point of “turn the other cheek.” Retribution begets retribution, violence begets violence.

The problem arises when we unthinkingly accept violence and force as the way of the world, and even celebrate it, rather than reluctantly accepting it as an occasional necessary evil.

Many will say, “But Jesus used force, when he drove the money changers out of the temple.” Yes, but that was not bullying. The folks who ran the temple businesses were the ones with the power. Jesus was not bullying them, he was speaking truth to power. He was overturning the accepted financial and religious practices of the day that allowed the powerful to take advantage of the weak. That’s not bullying; that’s doing the work of God.

There are and will always be bullies. They will find various political and theological theories to justify their aggression, but the truth is, they just like to be among the strong who take advantage of the weak. The only real solution is to keep power away from them so they cannot misuse it.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

BTW, Happy September!

I tweet as yooper1721

1] Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the leading theologians through the first two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. See Moral Man and Immoral Society and/or The Nature and Destiny of Man. He also composed “The Serenity Prayer.”


2] I’d like to give Trump the benefit of the doubt and accept his explanation that his statement meant that 2nd Amendment people would vote for him and that was how they would defeat Hillary Clinton, rather than calling for them to assassinate her. Angle never tried to explain “2nd amendment remedies” that way.