Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

WHEN I READ THE POEMS OF OTHERS 5-23-17

WHEN I READ THE POEMS OF OTHERS   5-23-17

When I read a poem
by William Stafford, about a wagon
track or wolf or gust
of wind, or lines by Billy
Collins about a lazy daughter
or a lanyard or a gust
of wind, or stanzas by Shelly
about a long-lost statue
in the sand, brushed by a gust
of wind, all I can think
to write is about a lanyard-
wearing wolf walking on a statue
in the sand, and a gust
of wind.

JRMcF

[No, I’m not writing again. I’m still fasting from being a professional Christian, trying to be a real Christian. But I start most days with a poem—unedited, just the way it comes off the top of my head--just because I want to, and because I need to write. You don’t need to read it, though, and I have told no one that I am posting in CIW again, so if you have stumbled in here by mistake, and think there will be something worthwhile to read, I apologize. JRMcF]



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

ONE FLOATS FREE, 5-17-17

ONE FLOATS FREE, 5-17-17

The world will stagger
And need our prayers for mercy
Mercy for the moment
And all the lonely moments
Yet to come
One of us must stay
And one must go
The soul goes on and leaves
The body as a useless husk
One of us must stay in flesh
While one floats free

JRMcF

[No, I’m not writing again. I’m still fasting from being a professional Christian, trying to be a real Christian. But I start most days with a poem—unedited, just the way it comes off the top of my head--just because I want to, and because I need to write. You don’t need to read it, though, and I have told no one that I am posting in CIW again, so if you have stumbled in here by mistake, and think there will be something worthwhile to read, I apologize. JRMcF]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

POET IN A COFFEE SHOP, 5-16-17

POET IN A COFFEE SHOP, 5-16-17

I decided that I needed
To be a poet
In a coffee shop
This sunny morning
So off I went
To the Pour House
And got myself seated
On a hard and soul-worn bench
With the darkest of the dark roasts
In a red-striped mug
On the scarred table before me
Alas, without my pad for poems
Which watched forlornly
From across the street
In the back seat of my car
So I watched my coffee colleagues
The nerdy but pretty woman typing
At a small high table
The tall and pleasant young man
Behind the counter
Dispensing coffee and politeness
In equal measure
The lone wolves with their laptops
As far away from one another
As Scylla from Charybdis
Two middle aged faculty women
Discussing some arcane topic
Before the empty fireplace
The four bright grad students
Here only for the summer
Studying together for some project
Each just finished with the first
Year of teaching school
Now back for greater learning
how to teach English and arithmetic
While hoping for sex and beer
They all make me smile
I’m glad I forgot my poet pad


[No, I’m not writing again. I’m still fasting from being a professional Christian, trying to be a real Christian. But I start most days with a poem—unedited, just the way it comes off the top of my head--just because I want to, and because I need to write. You don’t need to read it, though, and I have told no one that I am posting in CIW again, so if you have stumbled in here by mistake, and think there will be something worthwhile to read, I apologize. JRMcF]

Saturday, May 6, 2017

CHASED BY A HEADLESS CHICKEN 5-6-17

CHASED BY A HEADLESS CHICKEN

Most little children were chased
By a headless chicken
If they were born between eight thousand B.C.
Or whenever chickens and butcher knives
Had both been invented
And the end of the greater war
That followed The Great War
And ever set foot on a farm
Because adults were intent on cutting
Off the heads of chickens in the presence
Of little children so they could watch
And laugh their fool heads off
As the tiny tykes scrambled and screamed
while the headless chicken
chased them ‘round the yard
Which is why there is a still greater
Great war coming…


JRMcF

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

THANK YOU, BUT I MUST GO T, 3-21-17

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

THANK YOU, BUT I MUST GO                               T, 3-21-17

I made a deal with God when I was fourteen years old, to be a preacher. I have been preaching since I was nineteen. When I turned eighty I realized that I have been a “professional” Christian all my life. Every prayer I have prayed, every scripture I have read, every class I have attended, every story I have heard, a part of me, often the largest part, was not saying “How can I come closer to God myself through this means of grace,” but “How can I use this in my work?” I realized that I don’t know how to be a Christian for myself, only how to be a Christian for others.

At eighty, if I’m ever going to learn how to be a “real/regular” Christian, I need to be getting at it. I decided that I need to commit to a “fast,” doing nothing for a year in any way that can be professionally Christian. I told my pastors. They agreed to ask nothing professional—retired pastor variety, like doing the pastoral prayer in worship--of me.

I thought I could continue writing Christ In Winter since it is not pastoral or preachly, just one old guy sharing thoughts with other old people. That turns out not to be the case. Being a professional Christian is so much a part of me that CIW keeps me thinking and writing in the ways I always have. So, I shall write no more forever, if “forever” is a year.

I also find that doing things on Facebook keeps me thinking and acting as a professional Christian, so I’m going to fast from it for a year, too.

Some of you have been such faithful readers of CIW that I feel disloyal in quitting, but I’m sure you will understand. You are exceptionally intelligent, insightful, and empathetic, or you would not have been reading CIW in the first place!

Here is one more poem, that seems appropriate…

THANK YOU, BUT I MUST GO

When they reached Emmaus
Their hearts were warm and open
They saw him in the breaking of the bread
They said to him
Stay a little longer
The dawn is long off breaking
He said, thank you, friends
But I must go

I held her in my arms
Bounced her on my knee
Walked her off to school
And sang her to sleep
Cried with her through her teens
Told her she was cool
I said, stay a little longer
She said, thank you
But I must go

When my earthly days are over
And my earthly work is done
Not well, but the best that I could do
Do not seek to hold me
Or ask me to stay longer
When the time has come
I’ll say, thank you
But I must go

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

MY WIFE HAS NO MIDDLE NAME M, 3-20-17

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

MY WIFE HAS NO MIDDLE NAME                                   M, 3-20-17

It is not always bad
or wrong, to fall
despite the state
of Adam and Eve
or even the snake
on the way out
through the eastern gate

Neither Adam nor Eve
nor the snake
had a middle name

With no middle name
to mark them different,
it is a miracle
God did not confuse
them with some other Adam or Eve
or snake

My wife has no name
except for Helen

That one name
was enough
to make me fall
and to keep me
in that fallen state

JRMcF

Neither Helen nor her sister, Mary, has a middle name. There are two theories about this. One is that since their father, Earl, was the last Karr, and had no sons, his daughters could extend the family name one more generation by using Karr as their middle name. However, Georgia, their mother, said it was so if they turned out stupid, they could at least spell their names.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

BLINK Sun, 3-19-17

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

BLINK                                                            Sun, 3-19-17

I appreciate anyone who can pull together a lot of research on a complicated subject and present it in a way that I can understand. So I appreciate Malcolm Gladwell.

I had understood for a long time what Gladwell presented in The Tipping Point: there comes a time when everything shifts and goes the other way. I was about fifty when all my body parts shifted and began to go the other way, down.

Gladwell did not mention that, however. He talked more about various sorts of communities, and what happens when the weight of violence or civility becomes great enough to cause a neighborhood or business or church, or even a nation, to slide the other way, like when one more little kid gets on the end of the teeter-totter and the big kid on the other end finally goes up into the air.

Blink is just as interesting, but without as clear a result. In Blink, Gladwell presents the finding on how we make quick judgments on small amounts of evidence.

We get just a slice of evidence, the way a person walks [body language] or the way she moves her head and we immediately decide if she means us harm. We don’t examine her under a microscope and study her history and hire a detective before we make the call. We just know, intuitively, what we call gut instinct. We decide in a blink.

The problem is that we often decide incorrectly. We decide that a person is going to shoot us just because he’s black, or cheat us just because he has slick hair, or wants sex just because she has a short skirt. As likely as not, we end up with a racial discrimination complaint from the black man, a penalty from the slick-haired IRS agent, and a restraining order from Calista Flockhart. [On TV she played Ally McBeal, a notoriously short-skirted lawyer. I never saw the show myself, but I heard about it.]

It only takes a blink to be right, but it only takes a blink to be wrong. So what’s the difference?

Experience, says Gladwell. People with a lifetime of experience usually make accurate blink decisions.

Obviously, that’s selective. If I’ve never been in the ocean before and I go snorkeling for the first time, my lifetime of experience as a people listener isn’t going to do me much good. Is that fish coming this way in order to eat me or just because it’s curious? If it were a puffed-up person, I could make a blink judgment, and I’d probably be right. A puffer fish, I’ll make a blink judgment, because I have to, but it’s not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Just having lots of experience, just being old, doesn’t cause us to be right in each blink judgment moment. We sometimes forget that.

We do have wisdom when we’re older that we did not have before, just because we’ve been there, done that. Fads come along in fashion and food and religion and technology and we don’t fall for them. When we were younger we might have jumped on the wave and ridden it, teased up that beehive hairdo or worn that lime-green leisure suit or waved our hands in the air and yelled “Praise the Lord” while listening to Stryper on an 8 track. Now we laugh at the fads and go for simplicity. We wear cargo pants not because they’re cool but because we need lots of pockets for all our pills.

Our wisdom comes not so much from being smarter now but from being stupider then. We’ve made lots of mistakes, and we’re at least smart enough not to make them again. We make the right decision in a blink not because our guts have better instincts than those of younger people but because we’ve read the signs longer.

We’re not better people just because we’re older, not better than when we were younger, not better than those who are younger now. We’re just better Blinkers. But that is one of the payoffs for going through all those years.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

OLD JERKS Sat, 3-18-17

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

OLD JERKS                                        Sat, 3-18-17

“Why didn’t you sit over there?”

That’s what the old guy, even older than I, just snarled at his wife.

We’re in the doctor’s waiting room. There are twenty-two chairs in the room. I am the only other person here. She is an elegant lady with a hearing aid. She came in by herself and sat down in a chair that faces the door from which the nurse will call for her, so that she would see the nurse even though she might not hear her. My guess is that her husband is late because he stopped in the rest room. She is embarrassed that I am witnessing this exchange, even though I’m sitting here typing on my laptop and acting like I don’t see them. She hastens to sit where he is pointing. It is about three feet from the chair she chose.

Maybe he’s normally a nice guy, but he’s in early Alzheimer’s. Maybe he has a brain tumor that is affecting his behavior. Maybe he’s a jerk.

You can be a jerk as easily at eighty as you can at twenty or forty. You can be a witch at any of those ages, too. Old age doesn’t automatically make one nicer, just as it doesn’t automatically make one wiser. St. Augustine said: “The so-called innocence of children is more weakness of limb than purity of spirit.” If he had lived to be old enough, he might also have said: “The so-called wisdom of old people is more slowness of limb than mellowness of soul.”

At each transition time, from one life stage to another, we have the opportunity to redo ourselves. Erik Erikson said that the task of the last stage is “final integrity vs despair.” I think there may be one more stage, the one in which we are face to face with the clock where the hands are about to signal “Time’s up.” One last stage to stop being a jerk.

There are a lot of nasty old people. Maybe they think they have the right, because they are old and don’t feel good, to tell others where to sit. Maybe they have always been mean and nasty and figured they had the right to tell everybody else where to sit, so they are just being consistent. Either way, time is running out. The last stage is leaving town, the stage away from Jerkville. Get on board.

Now that I am old, I don’t tell people where to sit.

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 to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.


Friday, March 17, 2017

MAKING MOONSHINE F, 3-17-17

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

MAKING MOONSHINE                     F, 3-17-17                                                                                        
When our daughter, Katie [1], and her husband, Patrick, taught at U of Arkansas in Batesville, a college staff member told them what to do if they were in the woods and came across a moonshine still.

“You won’t see him, but somebody is watching you, and he has a shotgun. What you do is, you pick up a little stick, and you add it to the fire under the still, just a little stick, because the fire has to stay small to cook the shine right, and then you back up real slowly, until you’re out of sight of the still, and then you get the hell out of there.”

“But why add a stick to the fire?” Katie asked.

“Because then you’re an accomplice. You’re helping to cook the shine. It’s a sign to the moonshiner that you aren’t going to the cops, because you have broken the law yourself.”

I’m asked frequently these days to sign petitions. Mostly they are petitions to sharks asking them not to eat swimmers, and petitions to hurricanes asking them not to blow little houses away. Those sorts of petitions don’t do any good. Sharks and hurricanes pay no attention to them, regardless of how many people sign them. There are other actions I can take to try to help the swimmers and the little houses that are more effective. And I take those actions.

But I sign the petitions, too, because they are a symbol that I am an accomplice, tending the fire that must be kept burning.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Katie Kennedy is the author of the highly acclaimed best seller, Leaning to Swear in America, and What Goes Up, which will be published July 18. Although Learning to Swear in America is listed as Young Adult, I know people in their 90s who swear that this story of a 17 year old Russian physicist who has to stop an asteroid from obliterating Los Angeles is one of the best books they’ve ever read. Katie is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Learning to Swear in America is available in hardback, paperback, electronic, and audio editions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

LIFE IN THE CHURCH BASEMENT R, 3-16-17



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

LIFE IN THE CHURCH BASEMENT                   R, 3-16-17

Mary Louise Hopkins was very old. Maybe 35, even. She was my Sunday School teacher, in the basement of Forsythe Church. Her son, Dick Book, was also very old. Fifteen, maybe even 16. He rode my school bus and was kind enough to talk baseball sometimes with this ten year old and my confreres.

When you’re ten--as I was when we moved from Indianapolis to the countryside near Forsythe Methodist Church, outside Oakland City, Indiana, and I began to ride a school bus instead of a street car—everyone the age of your parents is quite elderly, and every teenager is either a frightening bully or a cool and sophisticated and worldly role model.

I don’t know how long Mary Louise had been in the Forsythe basement when I became one of her Sunday School students, along with other “Willing Workers,” like John Kennedy and Kenny Liniger and Philip Buyher and Darrel Guimond. I know she was still there when she worked the meal after my father’s funeral, 57 years later. She was quite young then, 90, maybe even 92. She was younger still when she died, at 95.

No, I’m not demeaning her, by calling her “young lady,” the way some people do to old women. When you’ve lived a lot of years, you’re old, but Mary Louise lived all those years in the church basement. I think that’s what made her young.

We were a genially unruly bunch of boys, the Willing Workers, who hurried to the basement before anyone else could get into our corner so that we could discuss the exploits of our hero, “The Phantom,” of the comic pages. John Kennedy’s uncle bought an Evansville paper out of a kiosk on the street in Oakland City each Sunday morning before coming to the Forsythe countryside to John’s house for breakfast, so John was able to read The Phantom, a nice long half-page on Sunday, and he could give us the skinny on our jungle role model before other kids got the paper in the mail on Monday. That gave us a great advantage on the Monday school bus route of bus driver Jimmy Bigham. We knew stuff other Phantomphiles did not.

So we had two good reasons for going to Sunday School—The Phantom, and Mary Louise. When she arrived, we just automatically settled down. We might be willing to work grief on other people, but not to Mary Louise. We knew she cared about us.

That never changed. She told me how wonderful I was from age ten until I was in my seventies. Every time she saw me. Once when I was in college and came home for the weekend and showed up in church, when I walked in, she jumped up and started applauding. Everyone else joined in. Mary Louise had that effect. I’m not sure anyone else ever saw me quite the way she did. It must have been something about that basement. 

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

Mary Louise’s actual dates were from Nov. 7, 1917 July 16, 2013.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A HAPPY CHILDHOOD IN OLD AGE W, 3-15-17


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

A HAPPY CHILDHOOD IN OLD AGE         W, 3-15-17

Sally Cone, the wife of my old university roommate, Tom, took Tom’s mother to the library. Mae walked up to the desk with a book she had brought with her and renewed it. “I thought you just read that book,” Sally said. “Oh, I did,” Mae said, “but I can’t remember it, and it’s my favorite book, so I just keep re-reading it.” Well, why not?

An irascible old lady who was known for her temper and rudeness announced to her grandson that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. That surprised him. “Did you make amends with all those people you offended, Grandmother?” he asked. “No, I outlived all the bastards,” she replied.

Research shows that as you get older you get happier. Someone added to that: “It’s amazing what a little memory loss can do for you.”

Is that why we get happier as we age? Because we can’t remember the sad things? Because we outlived the people who were difficult for us?

Of course, not all of us get happier as we age. There’s some truth to the axiom that we get more like ourselves as we age. If you’ve always been miserable, you’ve got a good chance of being miserable in old age, too. In addition, age can bring some great losses, losses that depress us and make us lonely. That’s not a happy state.

In general, though, most of us get happier in old age. That is counter-intuitive. What do old people have to be happy about?

Is it because we’re going to die soon, or at least sooner, going to get away from all the miseries of life, “leave this vale of tears?” Maybe, for some, at least.

Some people would say it’s just physical. Scientifically, we are happier because the brain shrinks. That sounds counter-intuitive, too, but it does give credence to the old saying that Ignorance is bliss.

The geezerpital lobe of the brain shrinks with age, in great part because of stress. Stress hormones gang up on the poor old brain and it just shrivels up. (The actual name for the geezerpital lobe, if I remember correctly, is the interior cingulated cortex, but I think geezerpital is more descriptive.)

Apparently we get happier as we age either because we have less stress or the stress hormones give us Alzheimer’s and we can’t remember why we were unhappy.

Unfortunately, the geezerpital is the lobe that controls unacceptable speech. That’s why old people so often say out loud things that younger people would only think.

I have a priest friend whose mother lived with him, so when he was invited out, she was invited, too. One night they were at a parishoner’s house watching vacation pictures. This was in the day of slides projected on a screen, so the room was dark. Into the darkness, Bob’s mother said, “This is SO boring.” Later he asked her why she had said such a rude thing. “Why, nobody can hear me in the dark,” she said. Brain shrinkage had even caused her to forget just how the senses work. She was happy saying whatever came to mind.

(Now that I am getting close to the age she was then, I don’t think this story is nearly as hilarious as I used to.)

So what is it? Why are we, in general, happier as we age? Is it that we have less stress, or just because we are more forgetful?

I suspect it’s because it’s our last chance. We’ve known all along that the point of life is to be happy, but we’ve looked for happiness in all the wrong places, in the places that have given us stress. Will Rogers used to say that “A person is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.”

Remember: It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.


Will actually said “A man is just about as happy…” but he meant everybody. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I AM TIRED OF ME T, 3-14-17

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

I AM TIRED OF ME              T, 3-14-17 

I am tired. That is not surprising. Old people get physically tired all the time. Sometimes it is a good tired, like after working in the yard or playing ping-pong with the grandkids. Sometimes it is a weary fatigue from a body that just does not want to work hard anymore. Old people get emotionally tired, too, though, and that is what I am talking about   

I am tired both of change and non-change.

I am tired of change. Every time I find a style of shoe or a type of tool or a line of car that fits me just fine, they stop making it. I am tired of finally learning how to program my VCR or make a call on my cell phone only to learn they don’t even make tapes for the VCR anymore, and my phone is now a combination skunk locator/juicer.

I am tired of non-change. Politicians keep promising to do the right thing, and they keep doing the same old selfish self-serving crap.

I am tired of religious people who keep claiming that they alone know the truth and are righteous and anyone who disagrees is going to hell.

I am tired of financiers and economists who claim the only thing that will make the economy go is deregulation, but when they get deregulation, their greed crashes the system. Then they say that the only thing that will make the economy go is a government bailout.

I am tired because the leaders in politics and business and education and the media never seem to learn anything from history or even their own experience; they make the same mistakes over and over again. I am tired of all the stupidity in the world. I am tired of selfishness and meanness and intolerance.

Mainly, though, I am tired of myself. Dylan Thomas said, “Someone is boring me; I think it’s me.” I know what he meant. I am tired of hearing myself complain about change and non-change.

When we get tired of ourselves, we know it is time to look at things in a different way.

One of the different perspectives old people use is denial. “Oh, the world isn’t so bad. The political and business and education and religion leaders who keep selling out for power and money really mean well. I worked hard all my life and they took away my pension and health care and home equity, but I had a good life.” As my grandmother used to say, Horse Feathers!

Another different perspective is giving up. Have you been to the mall or to church or to the barber shop lately? Then you’ve heard this conversation:
“How are you?”
“Can’t complain. Wouldn’t do any good if I did anyway. Nobody would listen.”
Then there is uneasy laughter.

Frankly, I don’t have a solution for this age-old old-age problem. I know that neither my denial nor my complaining will do any good. I also know I don’t have much time or energy left to work on the world’s problems.

I can’t simply give up, though. I am still alive. I owe the world, and myself, something better than just sitting in my rocker. I can still pray and vote and march and write letters and skip a cup of coffee and give that saved money to a good cause.

I’m tired of complaining and I’m tired of denial and I’m tired of giving up. I’m tired of myself. I guess I’ll have to do something.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

I am trying to do something about the ridiculously high suicide rate among military veterans. All my royalties from my most recent novel, VETS [all capitals], go to organizations that work on veteran care. It’s a mystery/adventure novel about four homeless Iraqistan veterans accused of murdering a VA doctor. It’s published by Black Opal Books and 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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

GRABBING THE AIR CONDITIONER COVER M, 3-13-17

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

GRABBING THE AIR CONDITIONER COVER         M, 3-13-17

I was walking last week on one of those exceptionally windy days. As I turned the corner onto Waterloo Court, I was met with a hurtling air conditioner cover, one of those gray plastic cube tarps, about 3 feet by 4 feet on each side, except for the open side. It was light weight, and the wind was behind it, coming right at me, right down the sidewalk, faster than a car would drive on that particular street.

What to do? There is not a lot of traffic on Waterloo, quite a bit more on the street behind me. What if the cover blew onto a car and blinded the driver? What if it blew onto a badger and smothered it? What if it covered our rural mail box and we got no catalogs of unnecessary things and no requests for money from worthy organizations?

I did the only logical thing. I grabbed it.

It was too big to fold, illegal to take home. So, remembering how Jesus said, “I was naked and you clothed me,” I took it to the nearest naked air conditioner and wrestled it on. It didn’t quite fit, which makes me think it didn’t belong there.

I could have knocked on all the doors, gotten people out of bed, asked if they were missing an air conditioner cover, but that seemed a bit untoward. Anyone to whom the cover did not belong would be unhappy at such an intrusion, and I am new to the neighborhood. I don’t need enemies yet. And perhaps even the cover’s owners had become disillusioned with it and turned it loose and would be unhappy with its return and its returner. Besides, the wind was strong enough it might have come from a long way off, like Nebraska.

I’m not sure if there is a moral or a point to this story, except that sometimes, instead of the brass ring, you just have to grab for the air conditioner cover.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

NOT READY FOR GLORYLAND-a poem Su, 3-12-17

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

I try to start each day by singing a song and writing a poem. The poem is not crafted or edited, just what comes to mind. But this morning I was singing “Do Lord,” and… well, this seemed like a Sunday morning sort of poem…

NOT READY FOR GLORYLAND-a poem             Su, 3-12-17

I am tired
The sort of sag
That comes in evening
After the toil of day
Even though it is morning
And my work
Has been slow and small
I could rest now, no one
Would tell me it is wrong
For when we are old
A morning rest is not a sin
But I do not want to close my eyes
For the sun is high, and the flowers bright
With puff clouds adrift in lighter blue
I am not ready yet for my home
In that glory land that outshines the sun

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Saturday, March 11, 2017

PROBLEMS DON’T GIVE UP Sa 3-11-17

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

PROBLEMS DON’T GIVE UP           Sa 3-11-17

I always thought I’d eventually solve certain problems.

Like weight. As time has gone by, I’ve eaten less and better, and I’ve exercised more. Still, my weight keeps creeping up, because my metabolism keeps sliding down. So I eat less. The smaller amounts I eat are heavier on oatmeal and green beans and lighter on anything that is not oatmeal or green beans. But I’m still too heavy. I can’t seem to lose those pounds I really need to lose, even though I work hard at it.

It’s a nuisance, at best, to have to work at this all the time. Why can’t it just get solved once and for all?

I like people, and I like to be alone. I thought about this a lot when I was in college. Was I a people person or a loner? I still remember the day the light bulb went on over my head: It’s not either-or. The key to a good life is having enough time with people and enough time alone. I’ve had fifty years to work on that, but there are still times I get overwhelmed by people and times I’m lonely.

Why haven’t I figured out, in fifty years, what the right balance is?

Then there is living for today and preparing for tomorrow. I believe in living for today. This is the only day we have for sure.

Jesus told a story about the man who kept getting more stuff. He got so much stuff he had to build ever bigger storage units to keep it in. he was prepared for anything that might come. Except death. He died without ever getting to use his stuff. He should have lived for today.

But what if he had lived another one or forty years? There is also the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper played all the day while the ant stored up food for the winter. When the snow came, the grasshopper was out in the cold.

There is a saying that in the perfect financial plan, the check to the undertaker bounces. In other words, you have lived for the day, with enough to pay for each of those days, until you and your money run out at the same time. But it’s like the chocolate sauce and the ice cream: you know you want them to come out even, but how do you get them to do it?

I have spent my life using a part of each day to prepare for tomorrow and a part, probably a smaller part, trying to enjoy that day. Shouldn’t retirement be when you can just live off the money you put aside in the past? It doesn’t always work out. A lot of old people run out of money and have to go back to work, or just do without.  Sometimes I think maybe I haven’t done it right. I think maybe I should get a job and put aside a little more, or at least stop going to the coffee shop.

How come I have to keep working on this?

Problems don’t stop just because we are old and have worked on them for what seems like a thousand years. And they are not easy to solve just because we are old and thus supposedly wiser about these things.

The wisdom of old age is to know that, finally, death is the only problem solver; it’s okay to have problems to keep working on, because it means we still have this day to live.

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 to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I AM UNCLE GEORGE-poem F, 3-10-17

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

I AM UNCLE GEORGE-poem        F, 3-10-17

I am becoming
The Uncle George
Of my generation
A price tag dangling
From my new sports coat
That was out of date
Twenty years ago
Mispronouncing the names
Of cities and their rivers
Telling jokes
That no one understands
Looking at the world
From under bushy brows
And saying
What’s wrong with you?

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfaland@gmail.com

Thursday, March 9, 2017

BELIEVING THE UNBELIEVABLE R, 3-9-17

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

BELIEVING THE UNBELIEVABLE         R, 3-9-17

I went to the church one morning when our secretary was entertaining a few of her friends in her office. They had a hot conversation going and ignored me and kept on talking as I went through. According to them, two men in our town, business competitors who were on the outs, had an altercation. The older and more established one, “Sam,” had gone to the business of the other one, “Jim,” and tried to assault him, had actually backed him up the stairs of his establishment trying to do him harm.

That sounded unbelievable to me. I knew both men. I could not imagine a scenario like that. So I called Jim and asked him if that had happened. He said, “No. Of course not. I haven’t even seen Sam in months.”

I went back to the secretary’s office and told them I had called Jim and he had denied the whole story. They sat there in sullen silence, giving me dirty looks, until I went back to my office.

As I entered my office, I heard one of them say, “Well, it’s the sort of thing Sam would do,” and they were off and running with more stories of “what he would do” that I am sure soon became stories of “he did.”

These were not bad women. They were church women who taught Sunday School and cooked meals for the youth fellowship. They helped keep the church going. But they believed the unbelievable, even with clear evidence to the contrary. Because that is what they wanted to believe.

I don’t know why they wanted to believe those things. The majority of folks in our church would not have believed that story of Sam and Jim. They also taught Sunday School and chaperoned the youth fellowship and cooked meals.

These were the same people, in the same town, in the same church, some believing the believable, and some believing the unbelievable.

I learned in 60 years of pastoring that it’s possible to help those who believe the believable to become better believers. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to do anything about those who believe the unbelievable. Indeed, in theology, they consider themselves better believers because they believe the unbelievable. Their faith must be even stronger and better, they think, if they believe by faith what is unbelievable by evidence.

I don’t know what to do about those folks. I must respect them, which means taking them and what they believe seriously, and explaining the evidence and asking them to believe the believable rather than the unbelievable, and accepting paradoxes and mysteries. But I can’t let them make decisions for me or the church or the nation on the basis of their unbelievable beliefs.

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.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

REMEMBER TO KISS W, 3-8-17

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

REMEMBER TO KISS                       W, 3-8-17

The light bulb in the garage door opener is burned out. I need to get the ladder and get up there and change it. It has been that way for three days. It will probably be that way another three, or until Helen opens the garage door at night and realizes there is no light and says, “You have to change that bulb!”

It is not that I don’t want to do it, or that I can’t do it, although it is harder for me to wrestle a ladder into place and climb up it than it used to be. At least, that’s what I’ll tell Helen. The truth is, I just don’t remember to do it.

Oh, yes, I have it written down, in several places: Replace the door opener light bulb! However, I don’t remember to look at those notes, either.

It’s not that I am unable to remember. It is true that my memory is not as good as it once was, but it is still plenty good enough to look at a list or a burned out light bulb.

When I was forty-two and Adelia Lemkau was seventy-two, she said: “I remember as well as I ever did. It’s just that I remember slower.” I believed her then, but now I know what she meant.

My problem is that I don’t want to remember the burned out bulb, not because I am unwilling to change it, but because I don’t want my brain cluttered up with having to remember it, or the lists that include it. I resent have tos. I especially resent having to remember have tos.

I spent my life remembering have tos. There were dozens of them a day. It was an interesting life. Each day was different. Each day had a different set of have tos. That, of course, made it all the more important to remember them. I could not count on routine. I had to have lists. And, especially, I had to have a large part of my brain devoted to remembering the have tos, or at least to check the lists.

Mack Hollowell was my friend and my physician. I was usually his last office patient of the day, because Mary Davis, his office manager, would call me and say, “There’s no point in you coming in at your appointment time. He’s two hours behind. Why don’t you just come at six?”

We were leaving his office one night when Mary presented him with two 3x5 cards. “This one,” she said, holding it in front of his nose, “is for tonight. It has the points for your talk to the medical society. The other one is for tomorrow morning. It lists the patients you have to see first in the hospital.” Then she tucked the cards into his shirt pocket. She knew better than to hand them to him, give him the chance to put them down while he looked for his car keys.

“Will you remember to look at those?” I asked him as we walked to our cars. He was getting older, close to retirement, so I figured it was a legitimate question.

“Probably,” he sighed, “but it would be a lot easier if she would just follow me around and keep pointing me in the right direction, but I’ll be okay once I get through the cards and back to the office tomorrow.”

I always wondered if he ever got the cards switched and tried to admit patients to the hospital in the evening and drove to the next town to address the county medical society at six in the morning.

So I simplify. It’s easier to change the light bulb the first time I see that it is burned out. It’s better yet to get a long-life bulb that won’t burn out as quickly.

Simplicity is the key, I think, to living well in old age. Reduce the number of potential burnouts, light bulbs or otherwise. Remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It’s important, however, not to get it turned around, as in Keep It Stupid, Simple.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I LIKE OLD STUFF T, 3-7-17

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

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 to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.
           
I LIKE OLD STUFF              T, 3-7-1

I got two new halogen lamps for Christmas.

“I sort of like my old lamps,” I said.

“These are an improvement. They burn brighter, last longer, and take less energy, thus cutting down on the electricity bill and being better for the environment.”

That sounded nice.

The instructions said one must always wear gloves when touching a halogen bulb, since human contact would cause such bulbs to explode and put out your eyes. Oh, also wear eye protection whenever handling these bulbs. Also, never use any size but the one listed, or unspecified bad things, such as spinal meningitis and squirrel bites, may result.

The desk lamp version of my two new lamps did not have a bulb with it. I went to two discount stores, a department store, and a hardware store, prepared to handle bulbs, equipped with several pair of different types of gloves, just to be on the safe side. None had the right size bulb. I drove 60 miles to a specialty electric store. They didn’t have the right size, but they could order one and I could come back in a few days to pick it up. What kind did I need?

“I just told you.”

“No, not the watt/volt size. The kind. They have different lengths and ends.”

“You mean they don’t just all screw in, like old bulbs?”

“No, this is an improvement. You have to know what kind of end it has.”

The next trip I took the lamp with me. The man looked at it. He called a young woman to look at it.

“Yes, we can get you one of those.”

The trip after that, they had the bulb. It cost six times what a regular bulb of the same size costs.

Wearing gloves, we tried several angles to get it to stay in place. “Oh, by the way,” say the instructions, “don’t get this bulb more than four degrees off horizontal or killer bees may strike and you’ll never have grandchildren.” 

It finally stayed in place. It didn’t work. We called the mail order place from whence it came.

“We’ll send you a bulb,” they said.

It came. We wore glove and eye protection. We tipped the lamp no more than four degrees. Accidentally, the bulb got into the groove and stayed there. We flipped the switch. It didn’t work. We called that place again.

“It must be a defective lamp. We’ve had some problems with that batch. We’ll mail you a new one and you can send that one back in the same box.”

It’s now two months since that conversation. No new lamp has arrived. It’s six months since Christmas.

Remember that I said I received two lamps for Christmas? The floor model had a bulb, but it just burned out, having lasted about as long as the old incandescent type. I bought another one at the hardware store. They even had the right size and end-type. It cost only ten times what the old, unimproved bulb would have cost. I haven’t replaced it because I can’t find my gloves.

Now my computer has “extension problems,” and is in the shop, so I type this at my desk, on my old typewriter, in the dark.

I’m old. I know my time is limited. I could live another twenty years and never make up in saved electricity what it’s cost me in time, mileage, telephone calls, and frustration to use this “improved” technology.

I’ve come to dread Christmas and my birthday and Father’s Day, because I know someone will give me something that’s “improved” over what I’ve already got. They love me, I’m sure, but is this any way to treat a loved one?

The time I’ve got left is too valuable and too limited to spend it on trying to get improved stuff to work.

We’re not “old fogies” because we don’t like new stuff. We’re just practical about how to use our time. I like old, reliable stuff, stuff I know will work. Stuff like me, and you.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, March 6, 2017

THE KAIROS MOMENT IN TENNIS SHOES M, 3-6-17

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

As a pastor, I often felt guilty when I was on my way to a home where a tragedy had occurred, because I felt so good. I was upset, distraught, anxious, fearful, for myself and for those I was going to be with, hoping that my presence would be some sort of help, but I also felt whole, totally engaged, true to my calling.

I was most comfortable when the situation was least comfortable because being helpful was more important than being comfortable. Not because that was my natural inclination, but that was how I could be true to my calling.

The late great Methodist bishop, Leroy Hodapp, was asked by a dialogue leader, “In what situation to you feel most comfortable,” Leroy answered, “Conflict.” The others present were aghast. Most of us would pick “conflict” as our least comfortable situation. But Leroy said, “It’s in conflict when there is a real possibility of change. People don’t change when they’re comfortable.”

He was most comfortable when the situation was least comfortable because change was more important to him than comfort.

We are in a crisis time in our nation and world. Tragedies are occurring. But it means that we can be helpful, and that change can happen, if we are willing to give up comfort to be true to our calling as Christians.

Jesus promised his followers two things: I will always be with you. You’ll always be in trouble.

Yes but, my generation is old. Don’t we have a right to sit back and be comfortable? Yes, we do, but how boring is that?!

The Greeks have two words for time. One is chronos, the regular passing of time, from which words like “chronological” come. The other is Kairos, the moment when the time is right and ripe. Jesus came at God’s Kairos moment. Now is our Kairos moment.

I am enthralled and excited by the example of my wife, who for the 59 years I have known her has been a kind and generous comfort to everyone she met. Now she has given up comfort for conflict, has become the quintessential “little old lady in tennis shoes,” speaking the truth to anyone and everyone, in every way possible, without regard to whether anybody likes it, because she knows how change gets done. She’s being true to the calling of little old ladies everywhere, to use “these precious days” to make the world better for her children and grandchildren.

Yes, she makes me a little uncomfortable. I still sort of care what people think. But today, on her birthday, I’m glad she’s on my side, and the world should be glad, too.

JRMcF


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

ACCEPTING HELP FOR WHAT IT IS Su, 3-5-17

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

In the last years of his life, my father required a lot of care. He was blind and getting weak. He often fell, and like most older people, had many trips to the hospital and pharmacy. None of his children lived near him, and he refused to move to where any of us lived. My wife and I went to visit him about every six weeks, a twenty-five hour round-trip. We tried to stay long enough each time to get in groceries, put up curtain rods, take him to appointments, etc. But, of course, a few days every six weeks was not adequate to fill all his needs. Somebody had to fill in when we could not be there. Those tasks fell to neighbors and friends and folks from the church next door, even though he had never gone to church.

This bothered and embarrassed me. His neighbors and friends were old and scarcely more able than he. The church was small and its people were busy. When I would try to talk him into coming to live near us, I pointed out how much care others had to provide for him and how difficult it was for them. He would say, “Oh, they like to do those things for me.”

My father was not a selfish or self-centered or insensitive person. He was, however, the world’s most independent man. Normally, letting people do for him would be anathema. Staying at a distance from his children, however, helped preserve his independence. He knew we possessed the ability to move him to a nursing home, where he would lose almost all his independence. Neighbors and friends did not have that power. He preferred accepting their help to losing his independence entirely.

Even though Dad had always been the hard-headed, realistic type, he wanted to hang onto his independence so much that he was willing to delude himself. He did not want to accept help from neighbors and friends, but that was just the first rung on the stairway down to the dungeon of dependence. Staying on that first step was far preferable to going down farther. So he lied to himself. “Oh, they like to do those things for me.”

Those people did not like to do things for him. They took care of him because they were good people and someone had to do it. One woman in the church, well into her sixties, was especially kind to Dad. Her husband said, much to our chagrin, that the day we finally moved Dad out of town was the best day of his life, because he got his wife back. As long as Dad was next door, blind and falling, his wife was either doing something for him or worrying about him.

In Dad’s mind, however, he was a benefactor to all those people, allowing them to do things for him because it was so satisfying to them, giving up some of his independence to allow people to fulfill their need to take care of him. He was just a kindly old man… who caused a whole lot of people a whole lot of trouble! (Also, even at the age of ninety-six, he would never have described himself as an old man!)

I understood, even then, when I was in my sixties and relatively strong and healthy, how hard it must be for Dad to give up his independence, and how easy it must be for him to convince himself he was just befriending people by letting them do for him. As I get older, and my eyes are dimmer and my legs slower, I have more and more sympathy for my father.

Still, I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to lie to myself. The worst loss of independence, one to which we old people are especially prone, is loss of the truth. We’re not really independent if we’re deluding ourselves.

I knew a man whose father lived in a town fifty miles away. When his mother died, Jerry tried to get his father to move to our town. His father refused. So every weekend Jerry went to his father’s town and took him to the grocery, doctor appointments, etc. When his father finally went to a nursing home, he said to Jerry: “See, you didn’t think I could do it, but it worked out fine.” Jerry said to himself, “Yeah, it worked out fine, and I didn’t have a weekend for thirteen years.”

I’ve helped others all my life. When it’s my turn to be helped rather than to help, that’s okay. I also need to understand that people help me not because they like to, even if they do, but because I need the help, not because I’m helping them. I need to be a gracious, realistic, truthful accepter of what I need, and be thankful to those who provide it.

Now that I am old, it’s okay to accept help for what it is, something others do not for themselves and their own satisfaction, but for me. and be thankful.


JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.