Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


There are many verses
Sung in blessings and in curses

About strange and dubious breakfast menus
About exotic eats in questionable venues

But pie for breakfast is not weird
Pie for breakfast should not be feared

Pie’s not as strange as Sam-I-Am
Eating for breakfast green eggs and ham

We must give thanks for pie for breakfast
Apple or mince or a pecan repast

Pie for breakfast we must not eschew
Give thanks for mince and give it a chew

For on a cold November day
Breakfast pie is a good reason to pray




We are celebrating Thanksgiving a day early, to continue our time with daughter Mary Beth as she recovers from surgery, and I am thinking of the people for whom I am thankful. One of those is Joe Frazier.

What Dave Van Ronk called “the great folk scare of the 1960s” featured four great trios. I enjoyed Peter, Paul, & Mary, and The Kingston Trio, and The Limeliters, featuring “the man with the voice of an angel,” Glenn Yarbrough. My favorite, though, was The Chad Mitchell Trio, with Chad, Mike Kobluk, and Joe Frazier.

After his time in folk music, Joe became an Episcopal priest. In our roles as fellow clergy, Joe and I became friends. That friendship was short, because it came late in Joe’s life, but Helen and I gained much from it, and we cherish the memory of Joe.

We were talking about teleology one day, and I mentioned that the students at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago did not refer to “the grim reaper,” but to “the international harvester,” since the school was named for Cyrus McCormick, who invented and manufactured The International Harvester. That, of course, produced a story from Joe.

“When I was studying at Yale Divinity School, I worked nights in a care facility for the elderly with mental problems. Cyrus McCormick was one of my patients. I was there when the international harvester got him.”


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Final Home, a poem, sort of

FEBRUARY 19, 2015

We bought the final place today
Not the one that’s in the ground
Called our final resting place
The one just before it
The place where life is pleasant
“Not far from the pool”
Where no little children pester
With their jumps and giggles
Or memories intrude
It’s surely “close to shopping”
And far from all that matters
The place to wind it down
Until the boredom is too much
And we are willing to move on


Another "picked-up piece" from former days on the computer.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Hope Still Comes-a poem

My hope still comes
Not from the hills
Despite what the Psalmist says
Even though the hills are low
the sun yet lower
But from beyond the hills
Above the hills
In spite of the hills

My help comes from the Lord
Who doesn’t give a Creator’s damn
About whether I believe in him
Or worship her
Or praise it

Him and her and it being a sort of
Trinity of pronouns
United in ignoring my creeds and credos


No, I’m not writing again. This is just something I found among my “daily poems” on the computer, already written.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King Sunday

Went to Elmhurst, IL First UMC this morning. Joe Johnson reminded us, from the Luke crucifixion story, that Jesus' only defenders were criminals.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

THE LAST CIW 11-5-16

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

In early June, I stopped writing CIW, and anything else, for about a month. This is the little notice I jobbed up for this column at that time:
This is my last CIW for a while. We are preparing to go to Chicago for our daughter’s second breast cancer experience. Eleven years ago it was lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. This time surgery will be more radical. In between she has had kidney cancer.

We’d appreciate your prayers on her behalf, and you may put Mary Beth McFarland on prayer lists if you wish.

I never got around to posting it. I just stopped. Everything. I was overwhelmed.

We did not, however, make the Chicago trip at that time. Not for that reason. The surgeon and oncologist got together and decided it would be best to do chemotherapy first and surgery after, so the surgery was postponed until after 6 rounds of chemo.

I was so totally immersed in worry about Mary Beth, and some other concerns, that I could not put my mind on anything else.

When the surgery was postponed, I tried to start writing again. Before, I had been writing a CIW every day, as a sort of personal discipline. But I was blank, empty. I had nothing to say. I explained that to, Rebecca, my YGLF [Young Gal Lutheran Friend. I am her OGMF, Old Guy Methodist Friend]. She commended me for not speaking when I had nothing to say.

That jarred me out of my lethargy. My YGLF is only 45. What does she know? I’ve never before ceased speaking just because I have nothing to say. Why should this time be any different?

So, any time when you have read this column, and you thought, “He didn’t say anything,” blame it on my YGLF.

But the rule of “just after” applied. It’s just after you have done something that you realize it’s irrelevant. For instance, it was just after I bought a new suitcase that was perfect for flying on airplanes that I stopped flying on airplanes. It was just after I bought an expensive pickleball paddle that I had to give up pickleball. The suitcase and paddle sit in the back of the closet, along with a bunch of other just-after stuff.

Don’t show this column to Mary Beth. I don’t want her to think she is the reason I have stopped writing. She’s the occasion, but not the reason. The reason is that it’s now “just after,” or maybe long after, the point at which I have nothing to say.

Sometimes the chemo side effects have been very bad, but Mary Beth has stayed positive and keeps looking forward. Please pray for her.

Thank you for listening to me all these years, even when I had nothing to say.


And remember to turn your clocks back Saturday night.

Friday, November 4, 2016

I LOVE THIS CHURCH-A song? For All Saints? 11-4-16

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

For a long time I felt envious of Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick. They had such a neat bar to go to. It was so inclusive. I was embarrassed that my church wasn’t as inclusive as their bar.

Until my church voted 197 to 0 to be just as inclusive as that bar they sing about. So I wrote a song for St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, where Helen and I were the first couple married 57 years ago. [With apologies to Toby & Scotty.]

This coming Sunday is the first of the month, so we’ll have communion, and we’ll also celebrate All Saints. In addition to the other folks in the song, we’ll have some folks who come early, if they don’t forget to let their clocks fall back an hour. Don’t be one of those! And change the batteries in your smoke detectors, too.

            I was glad when they said unto me
            Let us go unto the house of the lord… [Psalm 122]


            We’ve got losers and winners
            Frowners and grinners 
Yuppies and bikers
            Bird-watching hikers
Girls with reputations besmirched
            I love this church

            We’ve got researchers in labs
            And some folks in rehab
            A few a little lazy
            Some a little crazy
            But when we get together
There’s a smile on every face
            I love this place

            Hmm,hmm, I love this church

            We’ve got students and professors
            And lots of sin confessors
            We’ve got doubters and flouters
And even some shouters
We’ve got gamblers and scramblers
And church-hopping ramblers
I love this church

Girls and boys both tall and short
            Old men who sleep and snort
We got doctors, we got truckers
            Broken-hearted fools and suckers
            We got hustlers, we got fighters
            Early birds and all-nighters
            I love this church

            All are welcome at communion
            Any time and any place
            As long as it’s first Sunday
            At 10:30 in this space

            Hmm, hmm, hmm, I love this church

            We’ve got students and grannies
            Little kids with nannies
            Fathers and mothers
            Long lost sisters and brothers
            Health neglectors, sin collectors
            Big talkers, folks on walkers
            I love this church

            We cheer for Cardinals and for Cubs
            And all the other clubs
            Especially ones called Hoosiers
            We’ve got a few boozers
            But we never call folks losers [1]
            Even the Purduers
            I love this church

We’ve got Republicans and Dems
            And hers that once were hims
            We’ve got pray-ers and yea-sayers
            We’ve got folks in classic cars
            Preachers who show their scars
            I love this church

I love this church
            Sometimes we love, sometimes we hate
Sometimes we’re early, sometimes late
            Hot or cold, we are together
            Sun or rain, in any weather
Face to face, we’re in this place
            I love this church

            I love this church
            It’s my kind of place
            Just walkin’ through the door
            Puts a big smile on my face
            It ain’t too far, come as you are
            Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this church

            Hmm, hmm, hmm, I love this church
            Yes, I do

[Sing to the tune of “I Love This Bar.” Irregular]

1] Except in the first stanza


Thursday, November 3, 2016


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

I heard Sylvia McNair, the great opera and Broadway soprano, now an IU music prof, do a TED talk, about light. She started by singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” and then pointed out that we know there are about a hundred billion universes, like ours, meaning a sun [each “star” is a sun] with its planets. I have heard that number before. I still can’t comprehend it.

It’s strange to me that atheism should arise out of awareness of the vastness of the universes. It seems just the opposite to me. Just because I can’t comprehend the vastness of the cosmos does not diminish that vastness. Just because I can’t comprehend the possibility or reality of God does not diminish the possibility or reality of God.

Occasionally I tweet something with “God” in it. In doing so, I have developed a fairly constant group of determined atheists who want to argue that “There is no God, so what you have said is irrelevant at best and more likely misleading.” They must troll for #God.

Interestingly, none has ever suggested that the problem with believing in God is that focusing “outward” on the transcendent means we don’t spend enough time on the imminent, being good citizens of this little planet, this tiny dust fleck in a corner of the cosmos. I think that’s the best atheist argument, and it’s a good one, for a lot of Christians spend so much time thinking about heaven and the after-life that they don’t have time for earth and this life. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

No, these are evangelistic atheists. They don’t want me to be a better citizen of the world. They only want to convert me to the “no God” position.

I don’t really care if atheists believe in God. I do care about whether they believe in the world. Christ didn’t die to get people to believe in God. Christ died to save the world.

Come on, atheists. Get with the program. What you or I believe is of little consequence. What we do is of great consequence. Yes, it’s a little planet in a minor universe, but it’s all we’ve got.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


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

I missed Bassoon Day at IU last Saturday. It’s too bad. According to Facebook, I need bassoon lessons. FB provides invitations for bassoon lessons to me on a regular basis, apparently because I “like” the posts of my bassoonist friends. Or else they have heard me play.

I’m sorry I missed Bassoon Day. Some of our funnest times in Bloomington, back before we lived here and got here only once in a while for a weekend, involved bassoon events. Once we stumbled across a 13 bassoon recital in the big lobby of the then-new Musical Arts Building, where they do the operas and symphonies and such. Thirteen bassoons in one place! Hardly ever heard of. We just sat around wherever there were seats and the bassoonists strolled among us as they played.

It’s hard to play a bassoon while walking. It’s hard to play the bassoon and do anything, including playing the bassoon. I found that out the hard way.

I really wanted to be in the band, but my family was too poor to buy an instrument. There were some instruments, though, that every family was too poor to buy. Or else they were too big. So the school bought tubas and string basses and bassoons. Because I was too poor to buy a cheap instrument, I got to play the most expensive.

I had to buy my own reeds, though, and double reeds are expensive. I always worked, though, so I had money for reeds. And a place to buy them. Troutman’s Drug Store. It was a real small town drug store. In addition to medicines and medical supplies, it had a soda fountain. It was the bus depot. And it sold reeds for musical instruments. Think you’re going to find a bassoon reed at a CVS or Walgreen’s?

One of the bassoon greats is Kim Walker. We heard her a few years ago when she was on the IU music faculty. She had been the principal bassoonist for the London Symphony, had a neat flat in London, was quite satisfied with her life. Then IU asked her to come talk about being on the faculty. She said, “I had no intention of accepting a position, but it was Indiana University! If the IU school of music asks you to come talk, well you just don’t turn IU down. I came out of obligation. I stayed for the trees.”

Fascinating, isn’t it? Possibly the best school of music in the world, but it was the trees that caught her and held her.

I thought about that as I walked among those trees these autumn mornings this week, dappled sunlight on little fans of red and gold. I know what she meant. Trees are the only things in the world that always do good and never do harm.

Unless they fall on you. But that’s the fault of the wind or the lightning.

They provide beauty. They provide shade and shelter. They hold the earth against the flood. They provide fruit and nuts. They scrub the air clean. They are the only place where you can build a tree house.

Maybe the best thing an old person can do for the world is to plant a tree. Sure, we’ll never see it in its full-growth grandeur, but we’ll know we’ve done something good for the world. If you can’t play the bassoon, or even if you’re one of God’s elect who can, go plant a tree, either in the soil of the earth, or in the soul of a child.


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?”

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


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

Andre’ and Dorcas Hammonds were our first really close African-American friends. Andre’ came to Indiana State U as a sociology prof with a new PhD from the U of TN, the first African-American to get a PhD at that institution, at the same time that I was appointed to INSU as Methodist campus minister, with a new seminary degree. We remained good friends over more than 40 years until his untimely death at the age of 70.

As we got well acquainted and became comfortable with one another, when we’d go out to eat, I’d sit beside Dorcas and hold her hand and Andre’ would have to sit beside Helen, which was a good arrangement, because Andre’ and Helen loved to talk about fragrances, while Dorcas and I couldn’t care less how they smelled. Well, a little bit. But it made people stare, especially in the 1960s. Once Andre’ said, to me, “You just like to stir the pot.”

Andre’ knew me better than I knew myself in our early professional years, but I came to embrace his perception of me. I did like to stir the pot, just because it was fun to see the reactions.

Like the time we were talking in church board about a stewardship campaign. I suggested that each member of the board take a few minutes in worship, on successive Sundays, and tell the congregation about how much money they, as leaders, give to the church, and why. There was stunned silence, broken when Joan Gregg blurted out, “I’d rather get up in church and talk about my sex life than tell how much money I give.” Everybody began to nod. Yes, that was a possibility, but certainly not my suggestion.

Most of the time, though, I had more than fun in mind. When confronted with any situation, humans take the tried and true way, the easiest way. To get stuff done, you have to make the easy way hard, or remove it altogether. When trying that, you usually get better results if it’s done in a fun way.

After my suggestion, our church board was suddenly open to new ways of doing stewardship. Well, not totally. Basically they all just tripled their own giving so the matter would never come up again at all!

Old people sometimes make outrageous suggestions, or do outrageous things, or wear outrageous outfits, just because we like to see the reactions when we stir the pot. But old folks need to take that task seriously. We can get away with stirring the pot when a lot of younger people can’t. The social and political pot is full of “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.” It really needs to be stirred.


I tweet as yooper1721.

I was going to end with “Spoooooon!” since you need a spoon to stir the pot, but I doubt that there are many Tick fans among my readers, so few would understand. “Spoon!” is the battle cry of The Tick, the big blue superhero, who got the idea for “Spoooon!” while eating Drama Flakes for breakfast. Jen Unger Kroc gave me Tick comic books when she came to see me after my cancer surgery, and I have loved both Jen and The Tick ever since. Well, I loved Jen long before, but we got to bond over The Tick. The Tick was meant as a spoof on super heroes, but even false super heroes can’t help trying for justice. So The Tick stirs the pot with his “Spoooon!”