Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TELL ME, JESUS- A poem 8-22-17

Tell me, Jesus, tell me
how, you found the courage
for the cross, but more
than just the cross
for it was a mere moment.

Tell me, Jesus, tell me
how you found the courage
for resurrection
knowing you had to go on
forever, listening
to us call your name.

A magic phrase,
that’s what you are now.
Did you know that was what
you would become forevermore?

How did you get the courage?

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Monday, August 14, 2017

MISPLACED BLAME-a poem 8-14-17


When I get irritated
frustrated, downright angry
with myself
I take it out on others
That old man coming toward me
I don’t know him
but I am sure he voted for Trump
That young girl in the yellow
t-shirt I have never seen before—
the girl; I have seen yellow
t-shirts before—
is frivolous, I am sure
That dog peeing on the lawn…
…well, dogs are okay…

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

LOOKING BACK FOR GOD 8-13-17

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

O Father of light and leading,
            From the top of each rising hill
Let me cast my eye on the road gone by
            To mark the steps of thy will;
For the clouds that surround the present
            Shall leave this heart resigned,
When the joy appears in the path of tears
            That led through the days behind.

George Matheson, Devotional Selections from George Matheson, Andrew Kosten, Editor [Abingdon, New York and Nashville, 1962] Page 51.

It’s a fascinating take on the past-this poem-that we should use the vantage point of each hill not to look forward, but to look back, in order to see where God has been with us.

It is part of Matheson’s meditation on Matt. 11:28, “Come to me, you who are labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He says that up to this point, Jesus was working out of pity, and so his work wearied him. But when the people, even as masses, became his friends, then there was rest, not fatigue, both for him and for them.

We almost always think of the high points as places from which to look forward. They are. That was the view of Moses on Mt. Nebo. But they are also vantage points for looking back, in order to see God at work.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A LINE ON THE LINES-a poem 8-12-17

I listened on the party line
Read between the lines
Colored outside the lines
Learned the symmetry of lines
Defined congruent lines
Drove beside the lines
Played between the lines
Stood at attention in a line
Waited in a line
Tried my best lines
Heard the lineman still on the line
Learned and ran my lines
In pleasant places fell the lines
In the sand I drew a line
And finally wrote these lines

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Friday, August 11, 2017

LIVING TWO LIVES-a poem 8-11-17

I lived two lives, he said
One open to the world, and useful
One known only to God and me

But maybe it was not I who lived two lives
But two different souls within my body
One eager to be part of the world
The other in a world of nothing

Then he walked away
I was not sure which life
Went with him
And which remained

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

AGAINSTERS 8-10-17

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

Bob Butts drove in from Brown County yesterday to have lunch. The cleaning lady was at their house, and he needed an escape. We went to the Clover Leaf. He’s not a big baseball fan but listened politely as I complained about the Reds’ pitching. Then we got down to the serious business of deciding which teams to be against in the football season.

It didn’t take us long to decide. We’re faithful; we don’t change our againstness much. Bob is from Mississippi and is a Mississippi State fan and is always against Notre Dame and Ol Miss. I’m from Indiana and an IU grad and always against Alabama and Purdue. Sometimes we have to make an adjustment, like if ND were to play Ol Miss, or Alabama were to play Purdue. But the main thing is to know who you’re against.

Againsters can watch any game and have a team to cheer for. No, being “for,” we have only one team to support, Mississippi State for Bob and IU for me. As many bumper stickers in my state say, “My two favorite teams are Indiana and whoever is playing Purdue.”

It’s just fun as football fans, but a whole lot of folks are againsters in all of life, be it politics or gender or religion or race or music or books or shopping or cars or… Being “for” is not satisfying for them. They don’t get their satisfaction by seeing something or someone win; they get their satisfaction by seeing something or someone lose.

It’s fun on a Saturday afternoon with nothing on the line. It’s a disaster all the rest of the time with the world on the line.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THE CHOICE IS CLEAR 8-9-17



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

That was what Alice said at the end of our counseling session: “The choice is clear, isn’t it?” I agreed with her.

I thought I was a good counselor in those days, and I was sure I had done a good job with Alice. She had come to see me because she could not choose between Charlie and Ted, each of whom wanted her to marry him. I carefully led her through the good and bad qualities of each.

Charlie was kind, thoughtful, intelligent, industrious, and caring. Ted was negligent, sloppy, unaware, undependable, care-free.

“The choice is clear, isn’t it? It has to be Ted.”

Alice had her mind made up before she ever came to see me. Her brain told her she should marry Charlie, but her heart wanted Ted, for whatever reasons. She needed to justify her choice, though, by seeing the locally well-known counselor so that she would have cover for what would look to her parents and all her friends like a bad choice.

People usually know when they are making a bad choice, but they want to do it anyway, because it satisfies their emotions even though it contradicts their brains. So they seek out some sort of cover—a person, a theory, something someone else did, a statistic, an anecdote—so that they can argue that they have a rational reason, when they really just want to make the choice that makes them feel good.

William James said, “Where the will and the imagination are in conflict, the imagination always wins.”

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Spoiler alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known but promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

HOSTILE TO LIFE 8-8-17



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

 The default position for many people is hostility. Their immediate reaction to anything is hostility.

Where does hostility come from? Theologians point to “original sin.” Other’s just say “nature.” Either way, it’s part of our makeup. Some, though, claim that we are born innocent and that hostility is learned, through being mistreated when we are young or taught to despise those who are different. Regardless of its source, so many people are hostile in all they do and think.

There is a difference between paranoia and hostility, just as there is between competition and hostility.

Paranoids are not primarily hostile; primarily they are afraid.

You don’t have to be hostile to compete. Some folks can compete, quite successfully, without being hostile either to the other competitors or to themselves. Many cannot compete without being hostile, because they are always hostile.

There is a difference between aggressive and passive hostiles. Passives are afraid to express their hostilities, for fear of reprisal. They assume that since they are hostile they will be met with hostility. They don’t want to deal with “blowback,” so want others to fight battles for them, to express their hostility for them.

I encounter this often among cancer patients. Normally it is a good thing if a cancer patient is a “fighter.” I meet many patients, though, who are hostile but not fighters. They want others to fight cancer for them—doctors, nurses, “prayer warriors,” medicines, chemo, radiation. They do not want to pray or meditate or be positive or go to support groups or have a decent attitude. They don’t want to do anything except sit back and scowl and say to others, “It’s your job to make me well.”

These are the folks who vote for hostile leaders--the politicians who are hostile to the world, to other political parties, to other nations, to the environment, to other races and religions. Passive hostile citizens are afraid to step up and confront their foes with hostility, in part because they are afraid of retaliation but in part because they know it’s wrong. Either way, they want someone else to be hostile for them.

It’s like when I say, “We won,” about the IU basketball team. “We” did not win. “They” won. The players won, not I. I bask in their glory, though, because I identify with them. So it is with passive hostiles who glory in the hostility of their leaders.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

BETWEEN THE LINES 8-2-17

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

Our church’s parking lot has new lines. Not just lines, but everything is new—the blacktop and the base, too.

It’s a big parking lot. It took a lot of money and ten days’ time to renew it.

Our parking lot gets a lot of use. Non-profits use our facilities for free. That’s our church policy. Every day in our building there are support groups of all types, social service groups, Scouts, ecumenical groups studying one thing or another or working on some project, even Bible study groups from other churches where their facilities are too small. It’s actually hard for us to schedule our own groups from time to time. That’s a good problem to have.

It had been 25 years since the parking lot had been resurfaced. It had gotten so much use. It was in bad shape. It got so bad that the trustees began to name the pot holes after the 7 Deadly Sins, plus names like Lucifer and Hades.

We gave a lot of extra money, because it’s hard to work extra projects like that into the regular budget. It wasn’t enough, because once they started resurfacing, they found out that the bed was bad, too, so it had to be redone. More time, more money. More lines.

Well, probably not more lines, but you can actually see the lines now. We usually got into lined spaces before, but the old yellow lines were so faded and crumbling that we got between them, far enough from other cars that we didn’t bang doors, from memory. Now the lines are bright and white.

There was one Sunday when the lot was paved but there were no lines yet. In worship our pastor blurted out, “You people are terrible at parking without lines.”

It was true. There were cars all over the place, pointing in all directions. It was a mess.

Yes, lines can be a nuisance. They can stifle creativity. But there are times when they are really necessary and helpful. Sometimes it is necessary to live between the lines. I give thanks for good lines.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

My most recent 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, KOBO, Books-A-Million, Black Opal Books, and almost any place else that sells books. $8.49 or $12.99 for paperback, according to which site you look at, and $3.99 for Kindle. Free if you can get your library to buy one.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

AUGUST GRASS, a poem 8-1-17


I love this August grass
Just the way it is
Short and dry

Tied up with the baling twine
Of memory

JRMcF

When I post a poem, I always put “a poem” in the title as a warning for those who would rather skip reading my first-of-the-morning musings.


August grass where I live doesn’t really get “short and dry” until later in the month, but I thought an August poem was an appropriate way to start the month.

Monday, July 31, 2017

OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF NOW-a poem 7-31-17

There are certain afternoons
on sunlit days
when time is not for sale
and pains hide low
beyond a line of murmuring pines
when yearning seems so long ago
and even memory is not required
to hold the hard and brittle
crusts of bitterness
outside the walls of now

JRMcF


I tweet as yooper1721

Sunday, July 30, 2017

WORTH EVERY CENT 7-30-17

I walked this morning in one of my folding “slouch” hats. They don’t have hard brims. I can fold or roll them and stick them in a pocket if I’m in the shade, pull them out again when I need to.

This one I got at the Reds spring training in Sarasota almost 20 years ago. We were coming out of Jack Smith Stadium after a game, the first one where we saw a grounds crew drop their equipment as they rolled the infield after the 5th inning to do all the motions to the YMCA song. It was great. We were in a good mood. We saw these really neat little roll hats with the Reds emblem. You couldn’t buy them, though. You got one by applying for a particular credit card. I really wanted that hat.

Three months later, when she cancelled the credit card, the guy on the phone asked Helen why we were cancelling. Were we dissatisfied with the card? “Oh, no, we just got the card to get the hat.” He said, “I’ve never had anyone admit that before.”

The one I like most, though, was the one I got at a dime store sale before we went to Europe. We were on a bus from Rothenberg early, very early, one morning. There was no sound on the bus. It was full, but everyone was sleeping or trying to. Then came a still small voice, singing the ABC song. We all perked up to listen. Her mother tried to shush her. “People are sleeping.” We protested. “No, please, let her sing.” There is nothing as peace-making as the sweet singing voice of a little child.

So we became friends for a day with her and her parents and brother and sister, the way you do when traveling in a distant land, going to tourist sites and lunch and such, sticking together until differing travel plans pull you apart.

Her father noticed my hat. “I got that for thirty-nine cents” I said proudly. He looked sad. “You got cheated, didn’t you?” he said.

The best things in all of nature are trees and the singing voices of little children. I still have that hat. I wear it when I feel blue. It was worth every cent.

JRMcF

My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

TALKER’S REMORSE 7-29-17



I end up with “talker’s remorse” every time I open my mouth. I’m not sure it is a recognized psychological phenomenon, the way “buyer’s remorse” is, but if not, it should be.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many times I could say something and I don’t. Then I get “closed mouth remorse,” because I don’t get any credit for keeping my mouth shut, since nobody knows I might have said something but did not.

It’s a forked tongue problem. If I say something, I regret it. If I don’t say anything, I regret it.

Most people get talker’s remorse only if they say something stupid. Of course, there are others who say stupid stuff all the time and never regret it either because they don’t know that what they say is stupid, or they don’t care how others see them. I’m the only person I know who gets talker’s remorse every time, whether what I have said is stupid or not. Even if what I said was okay, I’m sure there was a better way to say it, so I shouldn’t have said what I did.

So I avoid people as much as possible. If I never have contact with people, I can’t say anything. I don’t even talk to myself. If I do, I criticize what I said. I don’t like that. Or else I do. The whole subject of talker’s remorse when you’re talking to yourself is very confusing.

Some people think I’m the wise strong silent type. I figure the best way to make them keep thinking that is to keep my mouth shut. So don’t ask me anything, or I’ll regret answering you.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known but promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Friday, July 28, 2017

ALL-a poem 7-28-17


The days are different now, all
the days have empty spaces
filling all the places
that my friends filled
all their laughter and tears
all mine

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SITTING AND ACCEPTING 7-27-17


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

 Sometimes I’m tired, and so I just sit and do nothing. That’s very hard for me. As a child, I was taught that I should always be doing something, something to make a contribution. I learned that lesson well.

I grew up on a hardscrabble farm. There was basic electricity in the house, but not in the barn. There we had to use a kerosene lamp on short winter days to milk and feed both morning and evening. That meant installing and trimming the wick and keeping the kerosene reservoir filled.

We had no indoor plumbing of any kind, so we had to carry in cistern water for washing and well water for drinking and cooking. When the well went dry, as it usually did in the summer, I walked the quarter-mile to and from Homer and Hazel Heathman’s well, a bucket in each hand. When water had been used, it had to be carried back out again, in different buckets than those used for carrying it in.

We cooked and heated with wood and coal, which meant splitting logs and kindling into different piles, carrying in wood and coal, different buckets for small coal for the kitchen range and big lumps for the Warm Morning heating stove. Of course, there was shaking down the ashes and carrying them out, and cleaning stove pipes and taking them down in the spring and putting them back up again in the fall.

There was milking and feeding and birthing and weaning and gathering and plowing and haying and planting and hoeing and picking and shucking and grinding and canning and butchering and churning and laundering.

Oh, and carrying the night pot to the outhouse. As the oldest boy in the family, I was expected always to use the outhouse directly, rain or shine, night or day, hot or cold, but I had to carry out the pot the women and children used. That really galled!

There was not a single moment to rest. There was so much to do, you knew that there was always another job right after whatever you were doing. Regardless of how tired you were, there was always something else to do.

Then I dropped out of high school and worked in a factory. There was a foreman and a line leader and an efficiency engineer. Their job was to remind me that I was always supposed to be doing something.

Nobody at university looked over my shoulder, but I learned that if I did not keep busy all the time, I would not make it. I worked and went to college at the same time. If there were a ten minute break in the schedule, I grabbed a text book and read. You had to use every minute.

I recall seeing photographs of young Negroes, as African-Americans were called then, doing a sit-in. I knew they were college students, because as they sat there, waiting for the police to come and bash in their heads and arrest them, they were reading the same books that I was reading. As a student, you could never afford to drop behind in your class-work, even as you tried to confront evil in its own back yard.

Then we had children! And jobs. There was never a break. If you weren’t doing something, you at least had to be thinking about doing something. If you got tired, so what? You had to keep on keeping on.

Now, though, if I get tired, I just sit and do nothing. I don’t think anything, either. I look. I listen. I wait. The tiredness will pass after a while. Then I’ll do something. Right now, though, I’ll just sit here. That’s okay.

It’s sort of like the grace that Paul Tillich talked about in his famous sermon on acceptance. Right now, all you have to do is accept God’s acceptance. If later God asks something of you, do it. Right now, though, just accept that you are accepted.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known but promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Speaking of writing, my most recent book, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped Iraqistan veterans, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Powell’s, etc. It’s published by Black Opal Books.


Monday, July 24, 2017

JARVIS, THE ONE BOY WELCOME WAGON 7-24-17


 We are going down state today to “pay our respects,” as we say in Gibson County, to Jarvis Reed. I hope I paid enough respect to Jarvis in life that he knew how much I respected him.

Jarvis was not the first kid I met when we moved to the little hard-scrabble farm near Oakland City when I was ten years old. It was in March. School was going on, so the first day after Daddy and Uncle Johnny and I unloaded our furniture from Uncle Johnny’s lumber company truck, I walked the half mile down our dead-end gravel road to the “big” gravel road to get on Jimmy Bigham’s school bus. There were kids on the bus, but none from my class.

Jarvis was the first kid from my class that I met. I suppose Embree Green, the principal, escorted me through the halls to Mrs. May Mason’s classroom. [I was convinced that she was ancient, because she had also taught my father.] Jarvis was in the hallway outside the classroom. When he found out he had a new classmate, he acted like it was the greatest thing that had happened in the history of Oakland City. He grabbed me by the arm, dragged me into the classroom, took me all around the room, introduced me to every kid with, “We’ve got a new classmate! His name is John!” From that day on, that was my “gang.” I belonged.

In retirement, when she came to class reunions, Miss Grace Robb, who taught us Latin in high school and was our class sponsor, along with basketball coach Alva Cato, said in all her years of teaching, she had never seen a class that was as involved with one another emotionally as the class of ’55. That involvement with one another, care for and concern about one another, has gone on for 70 years of my life. I think a lot of that was due to Jarvis, what he did to meld us clear back in grade school, to be sure even the new kid was included.

In many ways, Jarvis was the quintessential jolly fat boy who wanted to be liked. A lot of jolly fat boys are either the class clown or the one everyone makes fun of. That was never true of Jarvis. Everybody liked Jarvis not because he was different or outstanding but because he wasn’t. He was just a nice guy.

Our class had reunions every five years. We often lived a long way off geographically, but we always tried to get there. Helen has often said, “If you ask me where I went to high school, I’ll probably say ‘Oakland City, class of ‘55’ because they have taken me in so completely at the reunions it feels like I have always belonged.” [1] At those reunions, Jarvis acted just like he had the first time I met him, that when I walked in, that was the best thing that ever happened.

I feel at home in this great big universe in large part because Jarvis Reed made me feel at home in one small town.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

1] Helen [NMN] Karr was actually valedictorian of the Gary, IN Tolleston HS Class of 1956, a class about 3 times larger than our 62 graduates. She moved from Monon, IN to Gary when she was ten years old, the same age as I when we moved, but she never felt at home there.

Two problems with writing a blog for old people: an ever smaller # of available people, who can’t remember to click on the blog link.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

MY PROFESSIONAL XN FAST 7-23-17

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

 When the big birthday came, I realized I had been a professional Christian, not a real Christian, all my life, from the age of fourteen. Everything I did and thought was forwarded to help others grow in relationship to God, not to help me grow in relationship to God. A more cynical way to look at it was that everything I did and thought was used to advance my professional career in the church. Either way, I have always been a professional Xn. [The abbreviation religion scholars use in making notes, for speed.]

I decided on a year-long professional fast. I would not think, read, listen, or write professionally, as a preacher, as a theologian. I knew the 40 days of Lent, the usual time for such fasts, was not nearly long enough to counter 66 years.

I thought I could continue to write CIW, in a non-professional way. That was a no-go. Writing CIW was mostly a temptation to break the fast. So on March 21, 2017, I wrote in this blog that I would “write no more forever.” It was time to give up my professional life, the life that had defined me since I was only fourteen years old, when I told God if “He” would save my sister’s life, I would be a preacher. By June 1, less than three months on the wagon, I realized that I could not stop writing.

But I still needed to see if I could be a real Christian, not just a professional Xn. So I decided I would write CIW only for myself. I would tell no one that I was writing CIW again, for to do so was to invite them to read what I wrote, and that meant I had to consider what they might think, how they would respond. That would be professional.

Previously I wrote Christ In Winter as a professional, for others. I kept a careful index so I would not bore readers with repeats. Now I just write whatever comes to mind, and if I repeat, I apologize. I also apologize to former faithful readers of CIW for not informing them that I am writing CIW again, but telling people I am writing is asking them to read my thoughts, and that is professional. I have told no one, not even my wife, that I am writing again. So if you stumble onto CIW, new reader or old, welcome. I’m glad you’re here. But you’re reading an amateur, not a professional. Well, maybe I don’t need to point that out…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known but promising young authors, like JK Rowling. Today she is starting her book signing tour for What Goes Up at Barnes & Noble right here in Bloomington, Indiana, where her mother and I were wed 58 years ago.

Speaking of writing, the full story of how God tricked me into becoming a professional Xn is in my book, The Strange Calling, published by Smyth&Helwys.

It’s neat; in writing circles, Katie is no longer known as my daughter. Now I am known as her father.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

SUMMER SMELLS-a poem? 7-22-17


I smelled the summer
As I walked today
Smelled the summer
In that good old fashion
Olfactory way

Perhaps it is different
Where you are today
But in the hills
Of southern Indiana
Down below where the oak
Leaves rustle in the breeze
There is a fullness
Of smell in the air

I see the roses
Of Red and Sharon
Who lived next door
I see the purple of some
Unnamed flower
Unnamed by me, at least
I cannot call their names
But I know that they
Are quite profligate
About their smells
Putting them out for anyone
Who passes by

No wonder the bees and bugs
Are so enthralled in summer
So eager to fly from flower to flower,
Like me they smell the summer
And know that it is good
Even though they, like me,
Have no names to use
To confine the smells
To earth

JRMcF


This may be my worst “poem” ever, but remember, I don’t claim to be a poet. It’s important to me just to let the words flow and let them stand as they are. It’s terrible for you to have to read what comes out that way, though, and I apologize. However, even if the poetry is bad, and even if you aren’t supposed to start a sentence with “however,” it’s nice to sniff those summer smells, isn’t it?

Friday, July 21, 2017

REUEL HOWE AND AT-ONE-MENT 7-21-17


[Originally posted on Sunday 8-15-10]

In the last few years I have begun to reread books that were important to me when I was new in the ministry. Some have held up very well, like Paul Tillich’s books of sermons. Some have been very disappointing, like Wm. Stringfellow’s “Free in Obedience.” [The title is still good, though.]

One in particular has been very humbling, Reuel Howe’s Man’s Need and God’s Action. As I reread it, I find that every good idea I’ve had along the way, that I thought was mine, actually comes from that book. The language is a bit formal and stilted, typical of its time. [The copyright is 1953. I read it in seminary in the early 1960s.] The insights, however, are, if anything, even more accurate today.

I had the good fortune, some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s, to be in a continuing education seminar with Reuel at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. He was retired then, but just as insightful, and quite delightful in person.

In that seminar, he told the story of how, when he was a teenager, his father decided to take the family into the forests of Washington state to homestead. They went deep into the forest with their tents and supplies. Before they had really gotten started, a fire wiped out everything they had. Reuel and his father walked back out to get more supplies, leaving his mother and younger siblings behind. When they returned, they saw that his mother had found a rusted old tin can, picked wild flowers, and placed the bouquet on an old stump. The little children were playing “ring” around it. “She took a tragic incident and recycled it to make something beautiful,” he said. “I learned what was perhaps the only lesson I would ever need on that day.”

All this is leading up to his reflection on atonement in his book. It is the perfect word for what Christ is all about, at-one-ment, to make us at one with God, with the world and our neighbors, and with our own true self.

I, and all the people who heard me say almost daily for over 60 years, “Christ came to make us whole, with God, with self, and with the world,” owe a great debt to Reuel Howe.

JRMcF

There was no English word for this Biblical idea of making whole, so one of the early English Bible translators created “atonement,” to get across the idea of being restored to wholeness. (I think I learned this from “In the Beginning: The Making of the King James Bible,” by Alister McGrath.)



Thursday, July 20, 2017

CHOOSING FRIENDS WHO FEED US 7-20-17

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

Once, when I still had a job, I felt overwhelmed. Well, it happened a lot more than just once, but there was this one time when I felt like there was a big old heavy bag of stuff on my back. It weighed me down. I couldn’t take even one step without that bag bouncing on my back and giving me a whap. I was really tired of that bag and its weight.

I decided I had to lighten that bag.

The first thing to do when you feel overwhelmed, of course, is to make lists, so I did. I made a list of every item I would take out of that heavy bag that bounced on my bag with every step, every item I would toss into the ditch to lighten my load. I showed the list to my wife.

“Do you realize,” she said, “that everything on this list is something that feeds you?”

I grabbed the list back and took a long look at it. She was right. I was going to toss all the toys and candy bars and keep all the anvils and horse carcasses. Worst of all, I was going to get rid of all the people I wanted to spend time with and keep all those I spent time with because I had no choice.
           
When you are working--unless you are a soldier or police officer or lawyer or radio talk show host or billionaire or president or billionaire president--you have to be nice to everyone. One of the best things about old age is that we get a chance to pick our friends, spend time with those we want to rather than those we have to, spend time with those who feed us.

We get to choose to whom we are nice. We don’t get to choose, however, to be nasty, to anyone. But it’s okay to stay away from the nasties. It’s okay to make that choice.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

EARLY IN THE MORNING, a song, sort of 7-19-17

I found this in my folder of song starts. Thinking about “finishing” it, I thought… well, it would do okay as a poem…


Early in the morning
When the day is new
And the hopes are many
And worries are few
I sing to the sunrise
Of Gospel and love
I join the choir in praise
With angels up above
And hope for a sunrise
Some day when I die
But in the meantime
In between times
I give thanks for you

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

Warning: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

 Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known by promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Speaking of writing, my book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ACHIEVING A GOOD MOTHER-IN-LAW 7-18-17


Georgia Mark Heltzel Karr was a great mother-in-law. She was my second biggest fan and advocate, after her older daughter, and was not at all sure that Helen was a big enough fan. According to Georgia, I had overcome a lot to be on the way to a good career and she didn’t want Helen to be getting in the way.

That kind of achievement, the sort Georgia wished for me, was what she had always wanted for herself. But she grew up in a home that was typical for its day, which meant dysfunctional in a particular way. Her father ruled the roost, entirely, as a good Prussian father should. He made all the decisions. The pecking order in the family included Georgia’s two brothers first, ahead of her and her sister, Clara, even though they were younger. Georgia wanted to go to college, to achieve, but her father decreed that it was stupid to educate a girl.

In most dysfunctional families, even the ones that are normal for their time and place, there is one person who is an oasis. For Georgia, that was her sister, Clara, only 23 months different in age. But Clara died suddenly, when she was only twenty. Georgia never really recovered from that.

Being the only girl left in the family, she was the one who was expected to care for her aging parents, for a very long time, to do all the work necessary for them to stay in their own house. She loved having a husband and family, but that was the only thing she ever got to do for herself, and in one way, it was just more of the same—being a servant to all, the way it so often is with mothers. She did it all with great efficiency, for her parental family and for her own family, the way an achiever does, but it always wore on her soul as well as on her body.

She was a great Cubs fan, listening to Bob Elston describe every game on the radio, then listening to Jack Brickhouse do them when TV came along. One time that I saw her truly happy was when I took her to a game at Wrigley Field. At her funeral, I noted that her twin grandsons had said they expected that now she was playing with the Cubs in heaven. I said they were close but not quite accurate. She would be managing.

Helen has said that her mother thought the only stupid thing I ever did was marry her daughter. She was a great achiever, as a mother-in-law. Thank you, Georgia.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. TODAY is publication day of her new book, What Goes Up. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available right now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Monday, July 17, 2017

BRAIN WORK 7-17-17

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


Research indicates that old people think best in the morning. That is the optimal time of day for us to do brain work. By eleven o’clock, our brains are pretty well used up.

Frankly, I think that is rather optimistic. It’s ten-thirty as I write this and even two cups of coffee are not preventing my brain cells from wanting their pre-nap nap. Besides, it was in an afternoon session at a conference when someone cited the research, and I remembered it. Remembering something I have heard is pretty good brain work for me at any time.

There is plenty of other research, well-known to all by now, that says old people can put off losing brain power simply by exercising the old noggin. That is especially true if we use our brain cells in new and different ways, like learning a foreign language. Anything, though, that makes the brain work, such as doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, is good for us.

The brain is part of the body. Any part of the body works better if we keep exercising and stretching it.

We need to adjust our schedules in the bloom years to meet the needs of our body and brain.

I used to be a long-distance runner, and I still walk about 50 minutes each day. When I was working, I ran first thing in the morning. It was the only way I could be sure I got my run in. My work days had ways of getting filled up with unplanned necessities that would knock out possibilities of running later. I continued that pattern when I retired, just because it was what I always did. Besides, it’s a good pattern; it’s fun to walk early and see the day come alive.

I began to find, though, in old age, that when I finished running or walking, I was tired. I wanted to sit down and do nothing. By the time I had recovered, errands and house chores were clutching at me. By the time nap time came, I had done no reading or writing, no brain work, and you know how useless a brain is after nap time!

So now I cook my oatmeal and start the coffee maker and start brain work even while I’m eating breakfast. I keep it up until eleven, or even later if I’ve got my slowmentum working. Walking and stretching and errands and chores are quite doable without much brain power.

I’m not saying this is the day plan you should use. Make your own schedule. Don’t just hang onto the same rhythms that worked for you in the past, though. We are different people now, with different needs. Regardless, it is important to include time for brain work when your brain can actually work.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.


For several years I kept a careful index of stories and subjects I had used in these posts so that I would not repeat. That has become cumbersome, and I trust that most of my readers are old enough to forget as much as I, so now I just rely on memory to avoid repeats. If your memory is better than mine, and something sounds too familiar to bother reading again, I apologize.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

FEELING AT EASE IN UNEASY TIMES 7-16-17


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

 I often felt ill at ease because I felt at ease in situations that were not easy.

Bishop Leroy Hodapp said he felt most at ease in conflict situations, because that was when there was a possibility for change. I liked that idea, but it didn’t make me feel at ease in conflict. I became a bit more at ease with conflict toward the end of my career, mostly, I think, because I didn’t care anymore if people liked me or what they thought of me.

The difficult situations where I felt at ease were not about conflict but disaster, when I was with a man whose wife had died suddenly, with a family where a child had died or committed suicide, with a woman whose husband had been killed. I was keenly aware of my limits, the limits of anyone to be truly comforting in a situation like that, but I was also aware that this was a time where I could be of true help by pushing the limits. At times of loss, folks can be more aware of “the everlasting arms.” I was there to represent those everlasting arms in a way no one else could.

Don’t get me wrong. I dreaded those situations. I did not want anyone to lose a loved one or face any disaster of that kind. I was agonizingly aware of how I would feel in a similar situation. I not only sympathized but empathized. But you can’t escape the bad parts of life by wishing them away. When they come… well, that was where I felt called, where I felt I was supposed to be.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known by promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

BANGS AND WHIMPERS 7-15-17

BANGS AND WHIMPERS    7-15-17

“Not with a bang
but a whimper.”
He’s right, that T.S. Eliot.
It’s true.

We are down to the last
days now. Surely
I should do something
bangy, a clanging cymbal
at least.
but the bangs have grown
farther apart
like a back-firing Model T
disappearing over the hill.

But all I want to do
is nothing.
And remember…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com


Friday, July 14, 2017

HEALING THE WOUNDS OF SELF-HELP 7-14-17

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

HEALING THE WOUNDS OF SELF-HELP         7-14-17

It was my own fault. I know better than to comment on anything on Facebook. On top of that, I’m in a year-long theological fast. I’m trying to see if I can be a real Christian instead of a just professional Christian. I can’t think theologically for a year.

But this person on FB really swerved off of grace and into salvation by entitlement. I pointed that out. Not very well. Facebook is not designed for long and intricate and nuanced discussions of serious issues. She misunderstood what I tried to say. Her feelings were hurt. She was disappointed in me. She thinks I’m a bad person now.

Upsetting her would not worry me as much if she were a mean person, but she’s well-intentioned and sensitive and self-absorbed and fragile. She is very much into self-help. I describe her thus not as criticism but just as reality. She has good reasons for being as she is.

The problem arose because I didn’t know it was she who made the Facebook post. I did not see her name. I thought it was one of those general pop psychology posts. If I had known it was she I would have kept my mouth, or my typing fingers, shut.

Of course, that is the real problem; I just couldn’t keep my discontents to myself.

Now this imbroglio has bothered me all day. The equanimity I have tried to achieve through my theology fast is all gone. I know that trying to continue to explain will only make it worse. She needs to cling to her entitlement grace as a drowning man clings to wreckage. It would be stupid and destructive and non-graceful of me to try to pull that away from her. But it really bothers me when… it makes me so mad… don’t I deserve a little understanding, too… it makes me so mad… round and round… it especially makes me mad when I know it’s my own fault.

I think it was psychologist Bill Schutz I heard tell of how he went unwillingly to a party. He didn’t want to be there. He went only out of obligation. He had lots of more important things to do. It was really boring. And then on top of that, he felt a sore throat coming on. So he made a decision. “I’ll stay only fifteen more minutes, and then I’ll go home and take something for this cold.”

A strange thing happened. Immediately he felt relieved. He started to enjoy the party. His sore throat went away. He really appreciated the other folks there. He was the last one to leave.

No, he didn’t use those fifteen minutes to get drunk! He made a decision. It wasn’t momentous. It was simple. But it put him back into control of his own life. He compromised with himself.

So I shall make a decision. Making a decision gives you control, remember. I’ll compromise with myself. I won’t try to make my Facebook friend understand, I’ll just do something that satisfies me… 

I’ll write a book I always wanted to write, that’s my decision. It’s called Healing the Wounds of Self Help. It will be a self-help book. But, I guess that’s oxymoronic and ridiculous, isn’t it? But I love that title. I really want to use it, especially before some title-stealer uses it. Okay, I’ll write it as a novel. But I’m too old to write novels now. I’ll die before I’d ever get it finished, and nobody would publish it anyway. [There is a lot of ageism in publishing.] Even if they did publish it, they’d want me to do the marketing, and I’m too old and uninterested for that. So I’ll write it as a short story. No, I have no reputation with magazine editors; no one would print it. Well, I guess I’ll just have to do it as a blog post…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

REDEEMING THE TIME 7-13-17

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

I wrote this eight years ago, for my book BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED, which never got completed, but it’s all still accurate today, except that I’m no longer 72 and no longer doing physical therapy for my rotator cuff surgery…

REDEEMING THE TIME    7-13-17

When our grandson, Joseph, was fifteen months old, he was diagnosed with hypatoblastoma, liver cancer. He spent the next year in the hospital, undergoing three minor surgeries and one major one, and many months of nauseating and debilitating chemotherapy. He weighed two pounds less on his second birthday than he did on his first. He spent most of the year just being sick, totally nauseated and fatigued.

Once in a while, though, there was “a patch of blue,” when the nausea would hide behind the clouds, and the fatigue would dip below the horizon. That was when Joe would soar. He seemed to know that the break in the gray was there only for a moment. He grasped at any bit of knowledge that floated by on the breeze. He knew he had to take advantage of that patch of blue, because the gray fog would come again.

He did it so well. Before he was two, he could name thirteen colors, including obscure shades like copper and azure. The nurses were so proud and amazed that whenever a visitor came onto the pediatric cancer floor, they picked him up in their arms and carried him around, pointing at various objects, asking him the color, to show off his knowledge.

My physical therapists don’t pick me up or take me around to show me off. They seem to assume that my extensive repertoire of hilarious stories is somewhere between expectable and expendable. However, at seventy-two I am like Joe at two in at least one way: I know I must take advantage of any short period when I have the energy to do something, because I know that window of opportunity will close quickly, come crashing down with a bang.

I’m pretty sharp in the morning, after I’ve had my oatmeal and coffee and glanced over the sports pages and held a magnifying glass to the small print in the comics. I have energy to mix up aloe Vera gel in cranberry juice and swallow unknown numbers of pills and take the first of my three twenty-two minute walks to keep my blood sugar up and my cholesterol down. [Or maybe it’s the other way around.]

Then I throw into the garbage about seventy slices of spam from my email in-basket and Google something I really need to know, like from whence comes the line, “and the pig got up and slowly walked away.” I get cleaned up and dressed, no quick item anymore if I have to put on both socks. I go to physical therapy or a doctor or dentist or pick up a prescription.

After that it’s time for mid-morning coffee and half of a low-fat muffin. [Blood sugar again] I make a phone call or two. I do the second of my walks. After that it’s time for lunch, which leads to falling asleep in my recliner… and then it’s time to go to bed.

I have no idea what happens between lunch and bedtime. I have vague recollections of washing dishes and watching TV, but those may just be nightmare leftovers.

The day is very short, at least that part of the day when I have the energy and ambition to get something done. Like little Joseph, I know that if that window is open even a little, I need to jump through it. I know it will be a while before it is open again.

JRMcF
John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.