Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, December 14, 2017


I don’t know if kids learn about Eli Whitney’s terrible, slave-producing, child-laboring, family-breaking, war-causing invention anymore. I learned about the cotton gin [short for engine] in grade school, but that was right after WWII. We studied that sort of agricultural thing in school then, because the US still thought of itself as an agricultural nation. That had changed drastically during the war, when so many people were needed in city factories to make bombs and airplanes. We were no longer a nation of farmers, but our identity had not yet caught up with reality.

We didn’t learn about how nasty Whitney’s invention was, of course. Indeed, it was the exact opposite. It was a wonderful invention, we were told, this cotton gin, because it made cotton processing so much easier for laborers, and was a major motivator of “the industrial revolution.”

It was in 1794 that Whitney patented his gin. Not that it did him much good. He died impoverished, having spent what little he made off the gin, plus all the rest of his money, trying to get folks to honor his patent.

It was an easy patent to bypass, because it was so simple for anyone to make one of the gins. It was essentially just nails in a rotating drum. Run the raw cotton through and it takes out the seeds. It was easy for anyone, including folks who owned other factories, to say, “Well, it’s so simple I certainly would have come up with it on my own. It’s not like inventing the light bulb.” [It’s unlikely they would have said that, since Edison did not patent the light bulb until 1879, but they probably said something like it.]

Whitney’s invention was one of the major causes of the Civil War. Because of it, cotton fabric became much more plentiful and less expensive. Thus there was need for more cotton production. That was possible only in southern states, because of the weather. That required more slaves for the production. The African slave trade was winding down. The easiest place for cotton plantations to get more slaves was northern states. Previously, it was reasonable for a slave owner to buy whole families. You could use women and children in the house and men in the field. But now they needed only field workers, so that’s how long-established slave families got broken up, with only the men sold south to work in cotton. The anguish of broken slave families, as portrayed in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a major motivator for the abolitionist movement.

When Lincoln met Stowe, he said, “So you are the little woman who started this great war.” [1] No, she was just a final step in the stairs to that great war. Eli Whitney started it.

One of the few things sociologist Garret Hardin has said that I agree with is, “You can’t do one thing.”


Much of the info above comes from Bill Bryson’s book, AT HOME
1] Most historians quote it as: “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

2] Until recently, school text books in South Carolina said that the plantation owners “imported agricultural workers from Africa” to work the fields. Slavery? What slavery?


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

[A repeat from 12-12-12]
It was the Sunday before Christmas. We’d had two good morning worship services. I was tired. I was sitting at the table in the kitchen, sans shoes and tie, gratefully full of lunch, sipping a second cup of tea, when the phone on the wall beside me blared more forcefully than necessary. I picked it up. A rather thin, small voice…

“Rev. McFarland, aren’t you coming to our wedding?”

A minister should not schedule anything on a Sunday afternoon. A Sunday morning is intense. It empties your brain out. By the time it is over, there is no room to remember anything that is coming up.

In over 50 years in ministry, I forgot two events. The first time I was supposed to be part of a panel discussion for an evening program at a church on the other side of town. It’s not too bad if one member of a panel doesn’t show. It’s definitely not good if the only minister doesn’t show up for a wedding.

It’s even worse if the bride is a scared teen-ager whose family threw her out when she told them she was pregnant.

I hadn’t known her or her boyfriend, but they came to me when her pastor refused to marry them. “People say, when there’s no place else to go, they come to you,” they told me. Now the pastor of last resort had forgotten about them, too. You can’t get much more forgotten than that.

I set a record for retrieving shoes and tying tie, and I flew out the back door. Helen was right behind me. Mary Beth and Katie, who were teenagers, were right behind her. Fortunately, we lived next door to the church building, and there was already a path shoveled through the big snow drift that always swept in and up between the back doors of the parsonage and the church building.

They were in the kitchen, the bulging bride, and her skinny husband-to-be, and the nervous teen couple they had brought along as witnesses. This was well before cell phones. When I had not showed up at 1:00 o’clock, they had wandered through the building and found the phone in the kitchen.

I led them back to the sanctuary. Oops. I had forgotten something else. After the morning services, we had prepared for the Christmas program that evening. The pulpit and lectern and altar table had been removed, turning the chancel into a large Akron-plan wrap-around stage. The chancel was bare.

But we were decorated for Christmas. Wreaths and candles and red ribbons, and a crèche set. They took their vows standing in front of the manger, part of a scene that said, “Love came down at Christmas.”

Every Christmas, the wedding I forgot is the one that I remember.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

THE TRIAGE NURSE [T, 12-12-17]

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

Dr. Vucescu’s triage nurse called yesterday. Twice. Once for me and once for Helen. I’m diabetic, and I have a cold. Cold meds can affect blood sugar, so Helen had called the doctor’s office to see what I should take. It was the triage nurse who returned the call with the necessary information. Later, she called with information about what Helen should do about her dry throat. The triage nurse! I felt like I was living in an episode of M*A*S*H.

We sort of live in the 4077 M*A*S*H unit anyway. Each night at supper time we watch two or three episodes of that epic TV show, where the triage nurse, with a lot of help from Hawkeye and Trapper John and BJ, would dash from patient to patient, just in from the battlefront on a helicopter or truck, to see who needed help first and most.

Triage is the first level of care. If the triage nurse can take care of it, she does. If it is more than she is prepared to handle, she asks the doctor and gets back to you. The next step after that is the doctor herself.

I had no idea our doctor has a triage nurse. I know she has other nurses, the kind who stick you with needles. She also has a pharmacist and a phlebotomist and an x-ray technician right there in her office. It’s very efficient.

My doctor when I was a kid, Old Doc Ropp, as distinct from his son, Young Doc Ropp, had none of that stuff. He sat in an old swivel chair in his office, which was the room off his parlor, and asked you what was wrong with you. You told him that your nose was running or you had female troubles or your back hurt, and he would reach into a drawer of his desk and shake some pills into a little white envelope and hand it to you and charge you fifty cents, less if you looked like you didn’t have that much. Old Doc Ropp’s system was even more efficient than Dr. Vucescu’s. No need for a triage nurse. Old Doc Ropp was the whole shebang, from triage to coffin.

M*A*S*H was a very Christian show, despite Hawkeye’s, and most everybody else’s, lustfulness, and despite Father Mulcahy’s genial ineptitude. It was about inclusion, getting everybody well. The point of triage was not to decide who got left out, but who needed help the most. Even if the wounded patient was one of the enemy, he would go to the OR first, if that’s what the triage nurse saw as necessary. Even if they had to work all night, though, they would eventually get around to everyone.

I think of the church as the triage nurse of society, because Jesus says we are to help first those who need it most. In our society, though, those who need the help least get to go first, because Congress is the reverse-triage nurse. The church needs to do triage a whole lot better.


Reader Alert: Old news ahead:

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading

Monday, December 11, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

Spring and summer are times of planting and of growth. Autumn is a time of harvest. Winter is the fulfillment of all the seasons past, a time to pull all the scattered pieces of seasons past into a final wholeness. In winter we still plant and cultivate and harvest, but in new ways.

When you live in a place of winter, where you dare not plant anything outside until after Memorial Day-or your new plants will be only memorials themselves after the freeze that haunts spring like a zombie craving the brains of vegetarians-you push the season forward any way you can, so a place of winter is a place of hanging baskets, that can be brought inside when a night is too cold.

The freezes are not the only pillagers of springtime. There are four-legged predators, too, that want to eat the fruits of your work. Rabbits and deer will munch anything you plant, no matter how much you paid for it. So a place of winter is a place of flower boxes, high on railings on porches and decks, too high for rabbits, and where deer will not venture.

Gardeners in winter years fret with the work but cannot give it up. They get down onto their knees and cannot get back up. That’s okay. If you have to stay on your knees, you can feel a lot of humility and do a lot of praying. But baskets and boxes give you room to plant and dig even if your knees won’t bend.

There is a growing season, even in winter, but it is for flower boxes and hanging baskets. There are predators in winter, freezes and deer and rabbits, that will devour your blooms if you put them out too far. Winter is a time to keep your flowers close, and to be sure they are not vulnerable to those that devour buds and blooms.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! I wrote this when we lived there 2007-2015.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


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

Each time we have moved in retirement, I had to jettison some books. Usually a lot of books. Books weigh a lot, and movers charge by the pound. No point in paying to move a book you’ll never read or need again.

Books are precious to me, beyond their looks or contents. They represent a way of life and a way of getting into a wider world. So each time I let a book go, it was like losing a friend.

As the years and moves went on, that constant winnowing meant my library was smaller with each move. We were always moving into a standard house, though, so if I could not decide to part with a book, well, 75 cents per pound is a small price to pay for a good book.

This last time we moved was from a standard house to a small condo. In the house we had eight floor to ceiling book cases, which I thought was far too few. In the condo we would have room for only three. I could keep only the very most important of all those books.

So now I am reading those I kept, again, because the ones I kept were the ones I knew had been especially meaningful to me when I first read them. If they were good reading the first time, surely they would be helpful as I prepare for final exams.

Some of them, I wonder why I kept them. They are so mundane. Why would I ever have thought they were worthwhile? Others, though, open up the world again this time just as they did the first time. Such a book is Gunther Bornkamm’s simply titled, Jesus of Nazareth.

Published in English in 1956, Bornkamm was the gateway for later New Testament scholar-believers like Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan and N.T. Wright.

It was from Bornkamm that I first learned, and am learning again, that the Gospels were never intended as an historical account, a factual account, of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers were not so much telling as experiencing, participating in Jesus’ interaction with the church.

That very word, “church,” misleads us now, because when we hear it, we think of what we know as “church” today. But in Gospel terms, church was simply a collection of people who were radically engaged with the earthly and risen Jesus. It was a spiritual reality. The Gospels are the written account of spiritual engagement, the record not just of the earthly Jesus but of the collision of these saints, as early Christians were called, with the incarnate God, the Christ.

In the culture at large and in almost all denominations, we decry the lack of unity in the church. But unity is a matter of spirit, not organization. As John Wesley said, “If your heart is with my heart, then give me your hand.”


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

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

In case you need to buy another Christmas present: 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 latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

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.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

LEGACY-a poem [Sat 12-8-17]

Now my only hope
my one desire
is to leave a legacy
of love

The ramparts stormed
the flags waved high
the confetti and parades
the big brass band
no one remembers
no one cares
including me

But the baby’s laugh
the lover’s touch
the friend’s smile
these I take with me
and these I leave behind


Friday, December 8, 2017


Yesterday I wrote about bad coffee, and blamed it on the people who made the coffee machine. I had an encounter with the inventor of that machine about 25 years ago.

It’s a really good invention. It’s the machine where you put water in a reservoir and coffee in a basket. The machine pumps the water up from the reservoir and runs it through the coffee and it drips down into the pot, provided the pot is centered correctly. It even has a hold mechanism so if you need coffee really bad and pull the pot out to pour yourself an early cup, it won’t let the coffee drip out until you put the pot back in place, if you do it quickly enough. Makes really good coffee.

I was on the Board of Ministry of our conference. Candidates for ministry came before us, and it was our responsibility to decide if their call to ministry was genuine. The inventor of the machine came before us. We wondered why. He was sixty years old and looked tired. Why start working at a new job when you had made millions by inventing a coffee machine that was universally used?

Well, it turned out that he had made nothing off that invention. He worked for the company. They owned all his inventions and innovations. All he made was his salary. Except the company had decided it was making enough money it no longer needed him and so they praised him for his past work but said they had to “let him go.”

That’s such a nice euphemism, isn’t it, letting someone go. It sounds like you’re just giving them freedom… the freedom to starve.

So he now wanted to be a preacher, so he and his family would have a place to live-parsonage-and a way to buy food, even though a pastoral salary would be minimal, and not have to work very hard, since he really was old and worn out.

That’s not the reason he gave us, of course. He tried to create a story of “call,” but his heart wasn’t really in it.

After all the questions and answers and discussion, we sat there in awkward silence. We all felt sorry for him. No one wanted to turn him down. But it was clear that he did not have “the gifts and graces” for ministry, nor did he have the right motivation. He was a good coffee machine inventor; he would not be a good pastor.

As usual, or at least often, it fell to me to be the one with bad news. I started by thanking him for his work on behalf of all of us, pointing out that even the coffee we were drinking at that meeting came through his invention. Before I had gotten very far, with a sigh, he stood, heavily, and, without a word, walked out. He knew what praise for past work meant.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721. A “yooper” is a citizen of the upper peninsula of MI, where we lived for 8 years, and where I started this blog, as reflections on faith not only for the years of winter but “from a place of winter,” because the UP is north of WI and quite a bit of Canada, and winter is 13 months long every year. This morning, in southern Indiana, it is 16 degrees. I feel like a yooper again.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


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

 I’m drinking really bad coffee this morning. I’d complain about it, but I have no right to. I’m the one who made it. I like to blame others for my mistakes, but the best I can do in this instance is blaming the people who made the coffee machine.

I did not get the pot centered correctly. Thus all the flavorful parts of the coffee leaked out onto the kitchen counter as it “perked.” I was left with dark water to drink. I’m too parsimonious to perk another batch. Besides, I also believe in punishment for mistakes. Maybe I’ll learn via my punishment and get the durn pot centered correctly next time. So I drink this awful stuff and feel sorry for myself and self-righteous at the same time.

Still, the coffee machine manufacturers should have made the machine in such a way that it would not even try until the pot was centered correctly. They should have anticipated that old men-dazed by sleep and December darkness and dirty dishes they didn’t get done the night before-would not get the pot centered. So I’m going to blame them. The only alternative is to threaten to kill my roommate, and I don’t want to do that.

For one thing, if I did threaten to kill my roommate, it might give her too many ideas. Also, it doesn’t make much sense, since she was not involved in the coffee fiasco. That did not keep my father from threatening to kill his roommate in the nursing home, though.

That was not directly over coffee, although my father was always out of sorts over the nursing home coffee. He loved coffee, and that stuff they served there was truly awful.

For whatever reason, he told the nurse he was going to kill the roommate. She, of course, was required to tell the social worker. She, of course, was required to tell the administrator. He, of course, was required to send Daddy to the psychiatrist, and to call me to say he was doing it and why.

So, that night, I called my father to see how it had gone. “Oh, it was great,” he said. “Afterward, the social worker and I went out to Bob Evans for biscuits and gravy. And the shrink was great. We had a good time. I told him stories, and he told me stories. He said to come back any time I wanted. The best thing, though, was the coffee. The shrink had really good coffee. I think maybe I’ll kill the bastard again next week.”

At least, when I’m in “the home,” I’ll know how to get a good cup of coffee.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I used to keep a careful index of topics and stories so that I would not bore readers with repeats. But that became cumbersome, and since this blog is primarily for folks in the winter of their years, I figure they won’t be able to remember if they’ve heard it before, anyway.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

BORED TO SIN [W, 11-6-17]

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

For forty years, from when I started preaching until I retired, I tried to get out of the ministry. Not every day, but every once in a while. I probably thought about it every day, but didn’t actually try to do it except once in a while.

One such time was when Glen Bothwell was one of my church members. He was the CEO of a large industrial supply business in Chicago. I asked him for a job. He said he had an opening for a salesman and was willing to hire me, but he thought I should come to a sales meeting before we sealed the deal. The meeting was about selling a new insecticide. I have never been more bored in my life! I decided I could stick it out in ministry a while longer.

Glen admitted later that he chose that meeting because he thought it would change my mind, but that it was even more boring than he had anticipated. He said it made him think about going into the ministry himself.

I don’t think he was serious about that, but he would probably have been good in the ministry. I’m sure I would have been a disaster as a salesman of any kind, especially pesticides. I’ve always appreciated Glen’s thoughtfulness in exposing me to the boredom of his particular world.

Truth is, though, most of the church meetings I have attended were as boring as that sales meeting. I think the reason politicians are so nasty, hypocritical, greedy, egotistical, arrogant, unfeeling, small-minded, and self-serving is because they have to spend so much time in meetings. Committee meetings are a gateway drug to sin.


I rarely agree with George Will, but I do think he was right on when he said that football combines the two worst tendencies of American life, violence and committee meetings.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


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

 When we lived in Dallas, while I was a student at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, and we ran a settlement house in a barrio neighborhood with no paved streets and no street lights, we visited a different church each Sunday morning. One day we went to Highland Park Presbyterian.

It was a huge church. Not as large as Highland Park Methodist, which had nine thousand members, but close enough to be intimidating to a boy who grew up in a church of 60 members. William Elliott was the preacher. He was called “Wild Bill,” not because he was wild—indeed, he was rather staid—but because every man in Texas with the name of William is called “Wild Bill.”

His sermon that morning was, supposedly, on the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:44-45: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“Wild Bill” interpreted this, at some length, to mean that every man [1] in the church should aspire to be on the Session, to be a Ruling Elder. [2] That was how you were to be a servant of all, by ruling over all. Of course, it was “the same old same old” in terms of power and leadership-the first shall be first-but baptized to make it look Christian. If he were really preaching Jesus, he would have implored the Ruling Elders to go work at our settlement house.

Or, better yet, to go out to their limousines parked in front, usher their black chauffeur into the back seat, and ask him where they could take him for lunch.

Not everyone in that church had a limo with a black chauffeur, of course. But there was a reserved area along the curb in front, closest to the doors, where there were about six limos parked. Beside each stood a liveried black chauffeur, at attention, in the hot Dallas sun. The chauffeurs, of course, were not allowed to worship there, not allowed to come inside the building at all. I’m sure that the owners of those limos were Ruling Elders, or could be if they wanted to be.

That was how Jesus was preached in Dallas in 1960, and that’s how Jesus is preached increasingly in our nation today, twisted to put an imprimatur on “The Christian way is, those who have too much already should have more. That is how they are able to be servants of all.”

After all, “the poor we have with us always.” We have with us always also those who will twist Jesus, even on his cross, to justify keeping them poor.


1] If women were to aspire, it would be to leadership in the Women’s Society, certainly not on the Session, where they would have power over men.

2] Presbyterian terms. The Session is the church board. A Ruling Elder is a lay member of that board, distinct from the pastor, who is a Teaching Elder.

Monday, December 4, 2017


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

 When we moved from Indianapolis to our little five-acre hardscrabble farm near Oakland City, IN, when I was ten, our closest neighbors were Hazel and Homer Heathman, and Ray and Esther Powers. They were about the same age then that I am now.

We had lived first at 230 N. Oakland Avenue in Indianapolis and then at 234. My classmates thought it was somewhere between strange and momentous that we had moved from Oakland Avenue to Oakland City.

The Heathmans lived up a little hill from us, the only other house on our gravel road. At our house the gravel gave out and narrowed into a dirt road that was more a wagon path than a road. This was long before roads had names like 43SW, or some such, Our road didn’t have a name, but people referred to it as the Heathman road. They had lived on it a long time.

They were wonderfully good neighbors. I would walk up the hill and ride to church with then in their light blue Desoto. When our well would run dry in the summer, as it almost always did, I would walk up the hill with a bucket, often two, and pump water at their deeper well. And Mr. Heathman saved a scholarship for me.

I did not know about that until 50 years after, when their grandson told me about it. Some years before, Oakland City College had gotten into more dire financial straits than usual. It’s always hard for a small liberal arts college sponsored by a small religious denomination [General Baptist] to make a go of it, but that time it was worse. Mr. Heathman gave them money to keep them open. In return, they set aside two scholarships for him to give to future students, especially his own family. He never mentioned it to me, but Jimmy told me all those years later that his grandfather had held onto one for a long time. “John Robert ought to go to college,” he said, “and he might need it.” I wonder if he were disappointed or relieved when I went to IU without ever knowing I had an OCC scholarship if I wanted it. [1]

The Heathmans were good neighbors, but I never felt close to them, never stopped to chat with them when I was there for water, to tell them stories of how school was going or what I was hoping for. Mrs. Heathman in particular was judgmental. I did not want to expose my stories and hopes to reality.

Ray and Esther Powers lived a mile away, over on “the hard road,” Indiana Highway 57. I had to walk a city block’s worth of dirt road to another dirt road, nameless, at the corner of the Heathman Road and Punch Knowles’ woods, and walk it over a mile to the highway.

There I turned north to go to play basketball with Darrel Guimond or Donald Gene Taylor, or I turned south to go to the little mom and pop grocery alongside the highway, which was about half a mile farther on, past the Powers’ farm.

We didn’t have any money for grocery stores. We raised what we ate on the farm. But there are things, like sugar, you have to buy, so sometimes, when we had a little cash, I was sent to the store on the highway. On the way, I passed by the Powers’ house. There I would stop and chat and get a cold drink from the ladle at their well on a hot summer day.

Mrs. Powers occasionally sent simple cookies home with me for my little brother and sister. Mostly they sat on straight chairs in their primitive wood-stove kitchen and listened to me tell stories. Sometimes I would give them play by play descriptions of some pickup basketball game I had played with Darrel. I told them about how I was going to be a newspaper reporter. They listened like it was important.

A year after Helen and I married, I went down home for a visit. While there I stopped to see the Heathmans and Powers, driving my new 1959 mint green Plymouth Savoy this time instead of walking. I had gained 30 pounds that first year of marriage. Helen had lost ten. She says that tells who was doing the work.

Mrs. Heathman took one look at me and said, “You’re fat!”

Mrs. Powers took one look at me and said, “You look so mature.”


1] Oakland City College survived very well. It is now Oakland City University.

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

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

Sunday, December 3, 2017

ADVENT ANGST [Sunday 12-3-17]

Today marks the advent of the season of Advent-anxiety for preachers and choir directors and seminary professors, as they fight their annual losing battle about when the Christmas season starts.

My mother-in-law, Georgia Karr, along about one o’clock on Christmas day--when all the flurry of Christmas shopping and wrapping and opening and cooking and eating was over—would sink onto the sofa and say, “There’s nothing as over as Christmas.”

“Not so,” her son-in-law preacher son would shout, although not loud enough for her to hear. “It’s only the beginning of Christmas. That’s why we sing about The Twelve Days of Christmas. Those twelve days start now. They end at Epiphany, what the Greek Orthodox Christians call Little Christmas, which is really smart because they can do all their shopping at the after-Christmas sales and often pick up used Christmas trees on a curb for nothing, maybe even with tinsel still on.” [1]

The Advent season, those four weeks before Christmas, is an occasion for much tension between preachers and church members. Preachers want to spend four Sundays singing preparation hymns, like “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Church members want to sing traditional Christmas hymns, like “Rudolph” and “Hark the Herald Angels” starting on Black Friday, which they acknowledge a good bit more than Good Friday. They don’t at all understand the idea of singing Christmas hymns after Christmas day. What’s the point of singing “Joy to the World” when we are already immersed in the joyless world of taking back gifts we can’t use?

But preachers persist, trying for some little glimpse of preparation for the birth of Christ that does not involve shopping for ties and sweaters and apps. Like Advent calendars.

I have always liked those Advent calendars that have a little door to open for each day of the season. Behind the door is a saying or scene that reminds us of what Christmas is supposed to mean.

There is a new reverse Advent calendar approach I like, too. Each day the person or family puts into a box some gift for those in need. That is perhaps an even better reminder of what Christmas is supposed to mean.

And we’ll still have an Advent wreath at worship, with a different candle for each week. People like that, as long as we sing “Silent Night” afterward instead of “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.”

But now I am retired. I can just smirk as our preacher tries to explain to the little tots during the Children’s Sermon why we can’t sing Jingle Bells as the gradual hymn [2] until after they’ve had their Christmas day meltdown. When you’re old, you don’t worry much about singing the right stuff; you just want to enjoy the singing, whatever it is.


1] One of my best Christmas memories is getting a really nice tree for nothing. I was walking home at noon on the day all the EIU students were going home for Christmas break. On the curb in front of one of the dorms was a perfect tree, placed there by some dorm director who did not want to deal with a dry tree when she got back from break. I ran home, got our pickup truck—the only one I ever owned, a GMC Royal Sierra 15, used but still classy, necessary in those years to transport our own daughters and their stuff back and forth to colleges—and dashed back to get that tree before any other Christmas miser could. Nicest tree we ever had.

2] So called because we are “gradually” working up to the high point of the worship, the reading from the Gospel. That’s the Methodist understanding, anyway. Catholics and Episcopalians are much more complicated about what a gradual hymn is and where it fits in the worship service

Saturday, December 2, 2017


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

Helen and I are going to see The Nutcracker this afternoon. Anticipating it, I got to thinking back to other musical events we have attended. Since I am still trying to figure out what the message in the bottle really means, I decided to repeat this CIW from 1-13-16.

Bob Butts and Kathy Roberts [married to each other, despite the different last names] took us to a concert by Carrie Newcomer, the delightful Quaker folk singer. During one of her songs, I suddenly got an image of a gravel road I walked as a boy. In the image, I saw a blue glass bottle under some sumac in the ditch beside the road. I went down into the ditch and picked up the bottle, to look inside it, for bottles often contain messages. Indeed, there was a message inside, on a crumpled and dirty scrap of paper. It said, “The genie doesn’t live here anymore.”

So I wrote this song…

The genie doesn’t live here anymore
No, the genie doesn’t live here anymore
You can ask a hundred times
You can rhyme a hundred rhymes
But the genie doesn’t live here anymore

I was going down the road, on my back, a heavy load
I was wishing for a friend to lend a hand
I sent my wish up to the sky, and there came a quick reply
The genie doesn’t live here anymore

My feet were blocks of lead, sun was hot upon my head
I was wishing for a way to turn around
My life was feeling tragic, all I needed was some magic
But the genie doesn’t live here anymore

Wishes are like breezes, they have no hands to help along
As soon as you can make them they are gone
I’ll have to put my faith in God, and put my hand in yours
For the genie doesn’t live here anymore
The genie doesn’t live here anymore
No, the genie doesn’t live here anymore
You can make a hundred wishes
You can make them all delicious   [1]
But the genie doesn’t live here anymore


1] Do this line in a Burl Ives voice so that it doesn’t sound like I couldn’t find my rhyming dictionary. [2]

2] As Bruce Springsteen said about his early songs, “A young man with a rhyming dictionary is very dangerous.”]

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I have told only two people that I am writing CIW again. Two others have told me they have found it on their own. Obviously, from the reader count that BlogSpot keeps, many others have discovered it, too. I’m not trying to keep it secret. I’m glad you are reading this. But if I announce that I am writing, I have to write interestingly enough that at the least I am not wasting your time. If I don’t “invite” readers, I can publish stuff like insipid song lyrics.

Friday, December 1, 2017


I saw a video on Facebook of a black bus driver named Tiffany who saw a lost little five-year-old white girl wandering on the street. [The bus had a security surveillance camera.] Tiffany stopped the bus, invited the little girl on, sat with her until the police arrived. They took her home.

I had an experience like that, in Charleston, IL. I guess it was about a mile between my house and the Wesley United Methodist Church building. I was a long-distance runner in those days, and I often ran between the two if I were just doing something like picking up the mail and it didn’t matter how I looked.

Normally Jeanne Piercy, our office secretary, went out to the rural mail box on the street to pick up the mail, as one of the last things she did each day, since the mail was delivered late. But it was Thanksgiving vacation and the church office was closed. I didn’t like to let the mail sit all night in the box. It was a busy street and there was too much danger of vandalism and theft. So I had run over to get the mail and take it to the office.

Usually I cut across the Eastern IL U athletic fields to get to the church building, but it was dark already, and they were not lighted. I did not want to step in a hole or on a badger, so I had run on the sidewalks. As I started home, on 4th Street, I came across two little black children, maybe two and three years old, holding hands, and carrying sand buckets.

I looked around for adults. There weren’t any. I approached the children slowly. A tall white man in a hoodie could be scary. I squatted down and said hello and told them that my name was John. I asked where they lived. They said, “At Mama’s.” That wasn’t helping much.

I figured the best thing to do was take them back in the direction from which they had come and hope that whoever must surely be looking for them by then would come across us. But there weren’t any houses down that way, just our church and campus ministry buildings, which took up a lot of space, and Arnold and Mary Hoffman’s house. I knew they didn’t have any little black children. [1]

I was herding the kids along the sidewalk when a car pulled up beside us. “What are you doing with those children?” A white woman I did not know, with a nasty voice. “Looking for their parents,” I said. “I’ll help,” she said, in an officious and suspicious way.

I was grateful for the help but not her attitude. Turned out she was a social worker and was quite sure I was kidnapping the children for perverted purposes. At least, that’s the way she acted.

I explained that I was the pastor of the church that was right there in front of us and that we should go into the building to call the cops. She was suspicious even when I pulled out my keys, ushered us all into the building and down the hall to my office, and got in with another key. There I used the phone to call the cops. She still eyed me with suspicion and stood between me and the children, which seemed rather frightening to them. 

Then I got an idea. Married student housing apartments were back a ways beyond our building. I left the children in the social worker’s care. I tried to give her a dirty look, like I expected the worst from her, but I don’t think I pulled it off. I went out the back of our building, onto our rather expansive parking lot. Sure enough, I heard a frantic-sounding woman shouting the names of children. I ran to her and told her I had found her children. She ran with me to the church building to get them. The social worker turned them over to her without a word but gave me the evil eye as she backed out of the building.

Yes, I was a little miffed at the social worker, but I understood her concern. I was a little less miffed at the mother for not saying a word of thanks to anyone, but I understood that even better. When you have gotten a lost child back, you don’t think about anything; you just sink deeply into joy and relief.

As the social worker drove away with her husband, I said, “You know, some day I’m going to tell this story, and I’m going to be the hero and you’re not going to look very good.” I’d like to leave it at that, but it’s not right to end a story about a family reunited with a smirk.

Even if you get more help than you need or want, it’s a good day when you can get children back to “Mama’s house.”


1] Arnold had played football at Eureka College with Ronald Reagan. When Reagan came back to Eureka while he was President, Arnold went up to the college for the celebration. He was sitting on the steps of the library when the president and his entourage went by. President Reagan looked up, saw Arnold, and said, “Hi, Hoffie.” “Hi, Dutch,” Arnold replied. That was the extent of their meeting that day, but I thought it spoke well for the president that after fifty or so years he recognized a fellow team member and automatically called him by his nickname.

May this be a happy month of Advent anticipation and Christmas gifts-given and accepted.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


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

I don’t check the “comments” section of this blog very often, because there usually aren’t any. Some folks have said they tried to comment but BlogSpot would not cooperate. Even if BlogSpot were more amenable, there just isn’t much reason to comment. Recently, though, I did check the comments, and found something quite interesting.

It is in the comments section of my CIW for March 15, on having a happy childhood in old age. There are a whole lot of comments in Arabic there. I had Google translate them. They seem to be a number of businesses, at least some in Egypt, trying to convince one another to buy their products.

Doesn’t seem to make any sense on an English language blog with a name like Christ In Winter, unless you are communicating in code [We have refrigerators for sale. What caliber do you want…] in a place on the internet where no one is likely to notice.

Daughter Katie Kennedy has first-name friends in the CIA, because she calls the CIA to ask about how to shoot down an asteroid and how to detonate a remote-controlled rocket and such for her books, in the YA contemporary sci-fi genre. They say they are used to her, but I am reserving every-other-Sunday visiting hours, just in case.

Anyway, she had one of their analysts look at it. Says she doesn’t think it is anything untoward but that I should report it, anyway, just to be careful. So I have. Which probably means that since you read this blog, you are now on a couple of lists, one in Arabic and one in CIA code. You’re welcome.


Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc. Also, check out Learning to Swear In America, about teen-age Russian genius physicist Yuri, who must save Los Angeles from an asteroid strike, while also meeting American hippie girl Dovie, and…

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU [W, 11-29-17]

On a popular book site, a reader-reviewer gave Katie Kennedy’s LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA only one star, although almost every other reader gave it five stars. The one-star reviewer said, “I’m just so tired of contemporary sci-fi.” Well, what you are tired of is not the point. If you want to review your emotional status, go to, not goodreads. On a book review site, the point is the book, not your feelings.

So many folks, though, operate only on the basis of how they feel.

I know a controversial public figure who is often boorish, misogynistic, and rude. [No, not a politician.] He is criticized for that. His supporters, however, say, “You don’t know the real him. He also does a lot of good in secret.”

I do know him. I know that is true. I have seen him do good in secret. Also I have often seen him be boorish and rude and mean-spirited in secret, even to his friends and best supporters.

The problem is: he operates only on the basis of how he feels. He got stuck at a four-year-old mentality.

Four year olds, if they are feeling good, will be nice to anyone they are with. If they feel bad, they will be mean to anyone they are with, even if that person is the one who loves them and takes care of them.

It’s all about how they feel. How the other person feels, or acts, is not in the picture.

That’s normal for a four year old. To be mature, however, as persons or civilizations, we have to grow beyond that, learn to recognize that it, whatever “it” is, is not all about us.


Katie Kennedy’s latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc. Six stars, out of five.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


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

It’s getting close to Christmas, which means more newcomers than usual in Sunday morning worship. They need to make a showing now because they want to come to the Christmas eve service and don’t want their friends to make fun of them as “Christmas and Easter” Christians. Sort of an inoculation.

There was a time in the church some years back when we were implored to have programs of “radical hospitality” to take advantage of these “seekers.” That involved identifying people who had come to church for the first time and waking them up from their Sunday afternoon naps to present them with hot baked pies or bread. The “program” people said this would endear us to them and they would want to come back.

I wasn’t much into that. It seemed too much like bribery. Also, I try to practice The Golden Rule, and what I wanted others to do unto me on Sunday afternoon was leave me alone to take my nap. Furthermore, I was busy and didn’t want to bother with that sort of “radical hospitality.” I can give you more reasons if you really need them.

I was satisfied with telephoning those people during the week and telling them we were happy they had come and we would like for them to come back. [This was before the possibility of texts and email and such.] Except that sometimes I got busy and forgot.

Also I don’t like to talk on the phone. I don’t know what to say if I can’t see a person’s face. But it seemed I should call, because a card or letter was impersonal and probably looked like it was churned out on some remote assembly line.

A new family in town came to church. Met them at the door after worship. Nice people. I intended to call them. Every day. Every week. Until it had been so long, and they had not been back, that it was embarrassing. So, to get it off my conscience, and my dog-eared to-do list, I finally called them, told the woman who answered who I was.

“Oh, I’m so glad you called,” she exclaimed. “We’ve decided we want to join your church.” “Really? But you haven’t been back since that first time you came,” I said. “Yes, we’ve been visiting the other churches in town, and they were all so intrusive. Came by the house with pies and all sorts of stuff. You were the only ones who respected us enough to leave us alone to make up our own minds.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s why we didn’t contact you.”

Actually, I did not say that. I didn’t even think it. What I thought was, “I don’t deserve this. I’ve been neglectful of my duties, and I’m being rewarded for it.”

Or maybe not. For those folks, I did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

I once pastored a church of a thousand members. Shortly after I got there, it was discovered that we had a really big financial hole. The board decided to lay off all the staff except for me and a half-time secretary and a half-time custodian, whose time was mostly taken up with a 65 child day care center that used our facilities. I knew I had to be efficient. I wouldn’t have time even to telephone newcomers, yet along go see them. So anybody who showed up for the first time, at the door after the service, I said, “Would you like to join the church? We have a new member class starting in my office during Sunday School hour next Sunday.”

Actually, we “started” a class every week, including folks who might come several weeks because they hadn’t made up their minds, or just because they had nothing else to do, or had made a bet on how long I could keep this up. And every week, anybody in that class who said they were ready to join, we received them into membership during the following worship service. [1]

Sometimes I got replies like, “Well, yes, but we live in Kansas and are just passing through.” “That’s okay,” I would say. “We have an associate membership…”

We received over a hundred new members that year, none of them from Kansas, the most, I think, in the history of the congregation. All because we didn’t have anybody on staff or anybody in the congregation willing to do a program of “radical hospitality.”

The most radical hospitality possible is inclusion, no questions asked, no baked goods necessary. Just come and be a part of us. We can work out any details later.


1] Church handywoman Joan Gregg sat in on all those classes and took down names and information and later sent off for transfer letters or whatever administrative stuff that needed to be done.

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

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

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 latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Monday, November 27, 2017


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

My whole life, at least from age 22, when I moved away from Bloomington, after four years as an undergrad at IU, I yearned to be in Bloomington. Finally, after sojourning more than 65 years in foreign lands, like TX and IL and IA and the UP of MI, my yearning was fulfilled. We moved back to Bloomington. Now I’m sort of sorry.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to be here. Bloomington is great. Music, theater, basketball, autumn leaves, friends, churches, Carrie Newcomer, libraries, Buddhist monasteries, lectures, fried chicken, humidity, redbud and dogwood and magnolia trees, green beans, skies, bittersweet, persimmon pudding, hills—all great. But now I am without my yearning spot. For 65 years, whenever I did not like where I was, I could say, “It’s great in Bloomington, and some day I’ll live there again.”

That “some day” has come. Now, when I don’t like where I am--and those times come even in the nicest spots, because all places have people, and people can get on your nerves—I have no other place to yearn to be.

Maybe that’s why heaven is always described in such heavenly ways, so we’ll always have a yearning spot.


“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning.

I tweet occasionally 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.] I did a lot of yearning there. Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in winter.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


We are doing “the hanging of the greens” at church this evening.

It reminds me of the time we were getting ready to move back to IL, following the grandchildren. Our son-in-law was becoming the Dean of Liberal Arts at Sauk Valley Community College, located between Dixon and Sterling. We looked at houses to buy in both towns.

While we were in Dixon one weekend, looking for a house, we went to church at First Methodist. Dixon is the hometown of Ronald Reagan, but he went to the Christian [Disciples] Church, so I think of Dixon as the hometown of Austin Ritterspach, our friend from undergrad days at IU. First UMC was his home church. [1]

Going to Sunday morning worship in a church for the first time can be a dangerous and difficult adventure, especially deciding where to sit. That morning, by unhappy accident we got into the section known as Little Old Ladies Who Can’t Hear and Constantly Ask One Another, “Can You Hear?”

So it wasn’t really a surprise when the pastor announced the hanging of the greens for that evening and a little old lady in the row behind us whispered loudly, “I don’t know the Greens, but that seems a bit extreme.”


1] Dixon First UMC got Austin off to a good start, which led him to a PhD in Old Testament at the Graduate Theological Union in San Francisco and a distinguished career as a scholar.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

FLASH MOBS [Sat 11-25-17]

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

‘Tis the season for… flash mobs.

I’ve never been part of a flash mob, although I’ve always wanted to be. But they involve singing—like people popping up in a mall food court to do the “Hallelujah Chorus”—or musical instruments, like the viola flash mob the IU School of Music did at the Bloomington farmers’ market a few years ago. We didn’t live here then, so I didn’t see it live, but I have watched it on YouTube. There are very few places where there are enough violists that you can have a whole flash mob of them—or dancing. Unfortunately, I don’t qualify for any of those kinds of flash mobs. [Those are the same disabilities that keep me from being a backup dancer in a music video, another unfulfilled wish. Yes, I have regrets.]

I guess I could be part of a preaching flash mob, but that would be too much like Rev. Jeb and Sister Cindy, who travel around to college campuses and convert students by calling them sluts and whore-mongers.

So I’ll just go to malls and hope for the best, which means a flash mob of Christmas carolers rather than some NRA-sponsored cretin with an automatic weapon killing us all.

I guess it is no surprise that flash mobs happen mostly in the Advent season, that season of hopeful waiting, getting ready for Christmas, for the first flash mob was when the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. “Fear not…”


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

Still looking for a Christmas gift for someone who reads, or ought to read, YA literature? 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 latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?” 

Friday, November 24, 2017

MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS-a Black Friday Reflection [F, 11-23-17]

“Sumptuary laws” have existed in many ages in many countries. They were especially prevalent in Elizabethan England, to keep people in their places. They were often tied to income. For instance, you had to prove that your income was above a certain level or you were not allowed to wear purple or satin. Even that law was stratified. For instance, if your income was $40,000 per year [I’m using modern American sums, not the English pound sums of that day], you could wear satin sleeves but not satin britches. If your income was $80,000 per year, you could wear the satin britches but not a feather in your hat. The laws were extremely detailed, so that when you walked down the street, everyone knew exactly where you were in the social order.

This was necessary because all English people were the same color. To discriminate, there must be physical differences, so you know who is privileged and who is not, and just exactly how privileged or unprivileged they are. In a society without sumptuary laws, to dictate how you can dress, you need skin color or other racial markers to be able to discriminate. If there are not enough obvious natural racial markers, you make persons of a certain race wear created marks, as the Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars.

The American experiment says that all people are equal, that no one is privileged over anyone else. But our “original sin,” our desire by nature to put self ahead of others, makes us want special privilege for ourselves and our kind, regardless. The presence of people with different skin colors in America has made discrimination easier. Segregation laws were our form of sumptuary laws.

The most obvious form of Christianity in America today, “Evangelical,” is a religion of privilege, and privilege, in its very definition, is not equality. Privilege means power, and power isn’t power unless it is exercised against those unlike ourselves.

Many will jump in immediately to say that equality is a myth, that there is no such thing. For instance, I do not have the same opportunity to be an NFL football player as some 22 year old 300 pound man who spends most of his time in the weight room. We are not equal.

That, of course, is a red herring. Apples and oranges. “Equality” in the American experiment has never meant sameness. It is “equality before the law.” No one is above or beyond the law.

Some of us are allowed to wear cream and crimson while others are required to wear black and gold. If you choose to wear those inferior colors, that is on you. [Tomorrow is the annual battle for The Old Oaken Bucket between the football teams of Indiana and Purdue.]

The Constitution also provides equality of opportunity. Again, not equality of sameness. Obviously someone with a great voice has a better opportunity to make it in show business than someone who is mute. [1] But in America, at least as it is supposed to be, the only barrier is ability, not opportunity. You can’t tell blacks or women or gays or rednecks or Irish they are not allowed even to try to sing. [3]

Enter so-called “Evangelical” Christianity, which is a code word for privilege. Strangely, “evangelicals” are not evangelistic. Evangelism is the process of bringing people into the church, the Body of Christ. Evangelicals are concerned not with inviting people into the church but being sure certain types of people are kept out of the church. Privilege is always about keeping people out. [2]

The American dream has been of a nation where all are equal. George Orwell warned us a long time ago in Animal Farm that when we are told “all are equal but some are more equal than others,” that the dream and the American experiment would be over. It’s over.

There is one remaining question. I suspect it can be answered only by people who believe that a time in the tomb of death can lead to resurrection.


1] Although Beware the Brindlebeast, a musical by my friend, Anita Riggio, wife of my former student, Roland Axelson, will be on Broadway soon, and its songs are all done in American Sign Language as well as English, by hearing and non-hearing actors.

2] The Greek word, evangelos, means Gospel, Good News. It is difficult to understand how anyone can conceive of “evangelical” as meaning good news only for the privileged.

3] Although perhaps Florence Foster Jenkins should not have been allowed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


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

This is the first Thanksgiving Day [TD] that Helen and I have spent alone in 59 years of marriage. We are thankful for that, both to spend the day alone, together, and for all those TDs we spent with family and friends.

Until our daughters were grown, of course, TD was at our house-often with my parents and my brother and his wife-or at one of the grandparent houses. After they married, Katie and her family have always gone to her husband’s family on TD, and since we always lived where they lived, once grandchildren were available, nobody was home for TD with us, so we usually spent TD with older daughter, Mary Beth, either at our house or hers, in Chicago, usually in the company of her friends.

Sometimes, though, MB would be at the Cleveland home of old friend Chris Rander, who is a marvelous TD cook and often came to Chicago to cook TD dinner for her and us. On her Cleveland TDs we would work community Thanksgiving meals for the hungry and homeless, usually delivering meals to shut-ins, because we were good at finding obscure places. Now anybody can find an obscure place, because of the GPS voice in the dashboard, but navigation was a skill then.

We weren’t alone, together, on those community meal TDs. We were in the midst of a bustling bunch of do-gooders, with whom we would finally sit down in a church basement or hospital cafeteria and eat the food we had not delivered or served up earlier. Helen would talk recipes with the women. I would talk football with the teen-age boys.

When I was a student at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, it was too far to go home for TD, so we hosted the other misplaced students from IN, and their children, at Rankin, the community center that we directed, in a Dallas barrio. Merle and Judy Lehman and little daughter, Debbie, Jack and Cora Divine, Doug and Helen Gatton, Bob Parsons. We were a long way from home, but we were not alone.

All those were good TDs, days for which to be thankful, to be with family or friends. This is a different sort of day. No bustling, because Helen has done most of the cooking ahead of time. No little dog to sit patiently for hours in the middle of the kitchen, watching through the oven’s steamy glass window as the turkey cooks. No one with whom to bend over the new jigsaw puzzle-one of our TD traditions-until we can’t straighten up. No grandchildren with red cheeks and happy faces.

A different sort of day, for which I am thankful.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.