Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, June 22, 2017

OLD AGE BLISS-a poem 6-22-17

OLD AGE BLISS-a poem    6-22-17

The less I know
About the happenings of the world
The better I feel

Ignorance is bliss
The wise ones say
Or maybe that’s just politicians

Who know we would not
Vote for them if we discern
Their real goals

But I am old
I would not make a good slave
So I am safe from politicians

See how easy it is to achieve


Wednesday, June 21, 2017



From my frosh year in high school up into my mid-thirties, I kept a journal. For fifty years, it has just resided in a file drawer. Now I am reading it again, with considerable surprise, both at how much I have forgotten, and at… well, how arrogant I was. I had forgotten my arrogance, too.

I was a campus minister in the 1960s. We hired students part-time to help with the ministry, being administrative or worship or small group assistants. Apparently I had asked Paul Darling to be one of those, and my journal records that he told me that he could not work with me because I was so arrogant. My journal was not surprised at this. In fact, it agreed and said that I needed to work on my arrogance. Stupid journal. Sorry I kept it. Sorry I re-read it.

It’s probably right, though. I was pretty well convinced back then that I knew the truth about a lot of stuff. I still do. Now though I’m quite aware of the limits of my knowledge and of the extent of my ignorance. So maybe I was successful in working on my arrogance. Of course, maybe thinking that is arrogant in itself.

As I look back on it, I think of myself not as arrogant but sure. The major issue of the day was racial segregation and discrimination. I was sure that was wrong, and it irritated me considerably when “good” people, especially church people, tried to excuse it or rationalize it or justify it. I was not timid in saying they were wrong.

The second major issue was the war in Viet Nam. After initially supporting it, I came to realize that it was wrong and extremely harmful in so many ways, not only to Viet Nam but to the USA. I was certain of that, and I was clear in expressing my position, personally and publicly.

I was on a panel for some event at Illinois Wesleyan University during that time. Robert Eckley was the new IWU president and introduced the panel members. When he came to me, he said, “You never have any trouble knowing where this man stands.” I was pleased that I had that reputation, but I was surprised that Dr. Eckley even knew who I was. Apparently my reputation for certainty or arrogance or whatever it was went wider than I knew.

I too often chose the wrong battles for my certainty, sure I was right about a lot of things that didn’t matter all that much. But I’m glad I was on the right side for the big ones, even if my certainty was interpreted as arrogance.

Just as paranoids can have real enemies, sometimes arrogant people are right.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017



Not all sacrifices are equal. Some folks make small sacrifices and claim they are even with those who made great sacrifices.

Sacrifices for self and sacrifices for others are different. Is “sacrificing” smoking to save your own lungs the same as giving it up to save your baby’s lungs? Is it “sacrificing,” at all, or just “giving it up?” Giving something up and making a sacrifice are very different.

We tend to say “sacrifice” about everything we “give up,” which demeans sacrifice. A sacrifice is not for self. You don’t sacrifice something for the sake of your own health, physical or emotional, even though we use that phrase. A sacrifice is for another person, or for a cause, which is another person writ large.

It’s not a sacrifice if you are doing it in order to get something for yourself.


Monday, June 19, 2017

I AM HUNGRY 6-19-17


I AM HUNGRY     6-19-17

I am hungry
I am suddenly too old
To work the kitchen
At the meal to feed
The homeless
Even to wash the dishes
I am suddenly too old
To work the food bank
Repacking restaurant leftovers
Into meals for families
I did not know how much
The feeding of others
Fed me
I am hungry


Sunday, June 18, 2017


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

Cathy, one of my pickleball buddies, calls me “St. John of the Angles,” because I work the angles, sliding the ball just over the net, to the outside line. I understand the angles.

I’m like those school teachers kids claim have eyes in the backs of their heads. Teachers have that sixth sense for when a kid is trying to get away with something because they were kids once and tried those same dodges on their teachers. They’ve seen it all.

I’ve seen it all, too, when it comes to being an old person, but from the other side. I was the young one who took care of the old people, my parents and old neighbors and old folks at church. They tried every angle in the book.

Mother would not accept the information we gave her about Social Security because, she said, we could not understand it because we had never been on SS. What an angle.

We took her to look over the Rebekah Lodge nursing home. Mother was a committed Rebekah and had looked forward to living there for forty years. When she saw it, she changed her mind. She said it was because they put your name in all your clothes for laundry sorting, and she just never liked having her name in her clothes.

We heard every angle and every scam and every excuse any old person ever thought up to get out of an old person dilemma.

Of course, Helen and I scammed them back.

Mother should have stopped driving the day before she started. She didn’t learn until she was in her forties, and that was too late. She never actually drove a car. She did like her oldest brother, my Uncle Ted. It was said that Ted didn’t actually drive a car, he just sort of herded it along. When, in her eighties, the risk to her and everyone else became intolerable, we convinced her that she needed to give her car to Katie, our younger daughter, because she was in graduate school and had to have a car and we could not afford to buy her one. It was mostly true, but it was primarily a ruse to get Mother’s car away from her. I mean, how could she turn down a beloved granddaughter?

So I know all the excuses old people use, and I know all the angles and scams younger people use to get old people to behave, and when my kids try them on me, I’ll be ready, just like my friend, Jack Newsome

Jack was appointed to a new congregation. A middle-aged woman approached him and said, “Now, Rev. Newsome, when you call on my mother, Marian, in the nursing home, don’t be fooled. She’ll try to make you think she’s perfectly okay, but she isn’t.”

The day came that Jack made his nursing home calls. Marian turned out to be lovely. She was well-dressed and well-coiffed and well-spoken. They had a great conversation.

Jack sat there thinking, “Why, Marian’s daughter is one of those middle-aged people who puts down old people just because they’re old. What an awful excuse for a daughter.”

As he got up to leave, Marian said, “Rev. Newsome, would do me a favor?”

“Why, of course,” Jack said. “What is it?”

“I want you to bring me a pistol. I’m going to shoot that son-of-a-bitch next door.”

Jack learned the lessons. Now he is old. He can’t hear or walk, but no one knows it because he fakes both very well. When he falls down, he claims a badger tripped him. When someone says something, he says he can’t hear because an earwig got into his ear and lost its wig there.

He keeps wanting to borrow my pistol. I know I shouldn’t loan it to him, but I do, even though I don’t have one.


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.

Saturday, June 17, 2017



CHURCH SOCIAL    6-17-17

Not long ago I had to miss church on Sunday morning for medical reasons. So I thought I would look at pictures of Sunday morning worship and other church events on the internet. If you do a Google or Bing search you can come up with hundreds of interesting images. By looking only at pictures, you don’t have to listen to someone else’s misbegotten theology.

I searched for “church worship” and “people going to church” and “old church buildings” and saw some nice images. It’s easy to switch from one category to another because the search engine gives you similar category names to click on at the top of the page. One was “church social.” I thought, “Great. I’ll do a short worship service and go to the church potluck after.” NOT!

In this age and era, “social” does not mean “people gathering together” but “people all by themselves using social media devices,” like iphones and ipads and ipods and ilonelies. “Church social” did not bring up potlucks, just stuff about “social media in the church.”

Isn’t it interesting that “social,” even in the church, has come to mean the exact opposite? I suspect the church does not need to use social media more effectively, despite the plethora of books and articles that explains why and how to do so. The church does not need social media, but it does need to be social. People can do without social media, but we can’t do without the social.


I have told no one, even my wife, that I am writing again, so if you were a CIW regular in former days, welcome back. If you arrived here by accident, welcome. Just don’t expect too much…

Friday, June 16, 2017

LYING 6-16-17


LYING   6-16-17

Save me, O God, from lying
Except when it is to my advantage
To lie

After all, everybody does it
Niece Kira has even written
A book that says so

Half of what we lie about
Assuming I am not lying about it
Is in hope
To make us appear better
Than we are

The other half is in fear
So we can avoid angry faces
And angry voices
And jail

So help me, O Lord,
To accept myself as I am
So that I do not have to appear
Better than real

And help me to acquire
The virtue of courage
Surely with courage
I shall not be afraid

For someone has said that without
Courage, no other virtue
Is possible
And that does not sound like a lie

Then in acceptance and courage
I shall have no need to lie
Except, perhaps, in poems


Kira Vermond, the daughter of my little sister Margey, is Canada’s leading non-fiction writer for travel, finance, and kids. The book for children mentioned above is Half-Truths and Brazen Lies: An Honest Look at Lying

Thursday, June 15, 2017




I was once a professional janitor. I was not a Fellow of the AMA [American Maintenance Assn.] or anything like that, but I got paid, and that’s what separates amateurs from professionals. That’s true in all of The Four Cornerstones of Life–sex, education, religion, and sports.

It’s true especially in sports, which is the main cornerstone and only metaphor of contemporary life, even for people who hate sports and have no idea it is now our only metaphor for life.

In sports, if you’re paid, if you’re a pro, you’re expected to “play with pain.” That’s the highest accolade a sports commentator can give: “He (or she) is a real pro. Plays with pain.” If you’re paid, you’re expected to suck it up and go out and give it your best shot, even if it hurts, without whining about the pain. Pain is an excuse only for amateurs.

I mention this because old people are pros, too. We’re paid, often by the government, sometimes by former employers, who pay us now to stay away. Being old is our profession. If you’re old, pain is pretty much a given.

Being pros, old pros, we’re expected to “play with pain.” That means we do the best we can to help our team, even though we’re hurting. Our team is family and friends and community and world. By playing with pain, we don’t let our pains get in the way of our team’s victory. If our team members have to spend too much time taking care of us, instead of fighting the forces that try to destroy our family and friends and community and world, we are not being good old pros.

Some of us don’t recognize the difference between playing with pain and just being a pain. We think we’re old in order to inflict pain, not to play with it. We don’t suck it up; we stick it out, where everyone can see it.

We have a friend who was gracious enough to let her father come to live with her in his last days, even though he had caused her and the rest of the family nothing but trouble all his life. He was in pain, but made no attempt to deal with it himself. Instead he demanded that his daughter give him twenty-four hour attention. That kind of old person thinks his or her pain is an excuse to make life miserable for everyone else. Misery loves company, it is said, and they’re out to prove it, by making everyone else as miserable as they are. Pain is their excuse for refusing to “play,” for refusing to do their part for the team

Simply refusing to accept help, however, is not being a pro. Some of us play with pain so well that we don’t get the help we need when we need it and we end up being more of a pain, to ourselves and to others, than if we’d gone to the trainer when the pain first hit and got that charley horse rubbed out instead of letting it become a full-blown muscle tear.

Some of us play with pain so well that we end up all alone, just whacking the ball up against a brick wall instead of across the net so other folks can hit it back and keep the game going.

There is no simple formula for being an old pro, a pro at being old. Part of it is taking the help we need when we need it; that’s better in the long run for everyone. Most of being a good old pro, though, is knowing that our team is more likely to win if we spend our energy cheering our teammates instead of complaining about our pains.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

HALF-LIFE 6-14-17

HALF-LIFE    6-14-17

My end point is not predestined
nor my fate predetermined
but it is true
“when my time comes”
 I must go
coffee cup half empty
scribble page half full
a quantum particle
half-life decayed
half-life yet to come


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


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

Yesterday I posted the official biography of Tony Shipley. This is an unofficial follow-up.


Tony Shipley called. We are supporters of his school.

Tony was one of two black students at Garrett Theological Seminary, at Northwestern University, when I was a student there. One was PhD student, James Cone, who became the famous professor of “black theology and black power” at Union Seminary in NYC. I knew Jim primarily as a great backhand, since we both played table tennis at lunch time. [Raydean Davis and I always said that we were ping-pong majors in seminary.]

I was impressed with Tony, and I followed his career. I was also impressed with his wife, Barbara.

When they came to Garrett, she did not have a college education. She worked at an insurance company to pay the bills. She decided to start college part-time. Her work supervisor said, “You know, Barbara, even if you have a college education, you’ll still be inferior.” She decided, “Well, if I’m going to be inferior, I’m going to be inferior with a college education.” She got that education, multiple degrees. At our 40 year seminary reunion, she was one of those elegant mature women who, even on a cane, glides through a room like a tall ship. She became a distinguished educator in Detroit.

Detroit was where Tony ended his pastoral ministry. In between, he served as the Conference Council Director [chief administrator] of the Detroit Conference of the United Methodist Church, which included all the UMC churches and institutions [colleges, hospitals, etc] of the entire eastern half of MI’s lower peninsula and all of the upper peninsula. He served a term as a District Superintendent, the sub-bishop for churches in a geographical area. He served the entire denomination as a General Board administrator. After all that, he asked to be assigned to the UMC congregation in the poorest part of Detroit.

There he and his congregation went to work. They bought and refurbished houses for single mothers. Those women went through a year of training before they got a house. Most importantly, he started Chandler Park Academy. The neighborhood was so poor that 90% of its students qualified for free lunches.

They started with one kindergarten class. Each year as a class moved up, they added another under it, until they finally had a graduating class.  Every member of that class went to college on scholarship. Now they have added a branch of a community college to their campus so “When 3:00 comes, the high school kids who want to go around the corner and they are in college.” In a dangerous neighborhood, that’s a real plus. This year, five kids graduated high school with 2 years of college already done. This fall, they added a pre-school.

Three summers ago, Helen and I signed 8th grade grandson Joe up for a week’s hands-on camp at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, just outside Detroit. Then we found out it was a day camp, not a residential camp, so we got a room in a motel, right down the street from a new mosque. During the day we hung out at Greenfield Village and Joe spent the suppers and nights with us.

I had not had any contact with Tony for years, but I knew he was in Detroit, and I thought it would be nice to have Joe meet the Shipleys, just because they are interesting people, and since he hardly ever saw people of color in Iron Mountain, or anywhere else in the UP. I emailed Tony and invited him and Barbara to supper. He accepted and took us to the 1917 Bistro, a really neat restaurant near his house. Helen and Joe and I were the only white people there.

Tony was alone, though. As we chatted and got reacquainted and ordered meals, he said, “Last spring our only child, our daughter, got married, in Atlanta. Our retired bishop friend, Woodie White, did the service. She left on her honeymoon, and the next day, Barbara died.”

I was struck dumb. Tony, though, had a way of coping with dumbstruck people. He concentrated on Joe. In fact, he told Helen and me to shut up and not interfere so he could talk with Joe. [He said it much more diplomatically than that.] He drew Joe out, learned his interests, told him about how to get college scholarships.

We talked for a long time. Finally, Tony said, “Since Barbara died, I’ve been so depressed. I know I need to be raising money for the school, but I just can’t do anything. But here you are, with this bright and handsome grandson, people I’d forgotten I even knew, but you know all about my career, and you thought enough of me to want to see me and to have him meet me. I feel like you are angels sent from heaven. I can get back to doing what I need to do. How would you like to make a contribution to Chandler Park School?”

So that is how we came to be monthly contributors to Chandler Park.

When Tony calls, it’s usually to thank us for our support of Chandler Park, so when he called this time, I assumed he was updating us on the school, and quite possibly suggesting that we increase our pledge. After all, there is a cost to being an angel. We did talk about the school, but he had more important things than money to talk about.

The first thing he did was ask about Joe. The second thing he did was say that he got married last Christmas eve, to a woman who is a psychologist by profession but has spent her career in the prison system. I said she should be perfect for him. He said she is ten years younger than he but looks forty years younger. I said that since he looks to be 100, that’s not saying much for her.

[Men express affection that way. When I told Helen about this, she said, “What’s his new wife’s name?” I said, “I was too busy insulting him to ask.” She gave me one of those looks.]

Tony said, “I told her she treats me like her grandson, but I know she loves her grandson, so that’s okay.”

As we closed the conversation, he said, “You know, you helped change my life. You came into my life just when I needed you to. And I love your grandson. He’s such a neat kid.”

Tony doesn’t have a grandson, but he understands about them. Yes, Joe is a neat kid, and he’s even neater because he knows Tony Shipley.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Joe’s mother is the delightful YA author, Katie Kennedy. Her novel Learning to Swear in America is a great read for grandsons and grandfathers of all ages. So is her What Goes Up, which will be released July 6, 2017. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also does lesser writers, like JK Rowling.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Continuing an occasional series celebrating the lives of long-time friends, today I lift up Tony Shipley, my seminary classmate. Tomorrow I’ll tell of how we got back in touch with each other after many years. The following is an “official” biography and its formatting doesn’t mesh entirely with my program, so please forgive any short lines and such:

When Tony Shipley graduated from Garrett Theological
Seminary on June 5, 1964, he had no idea of the role that
President Dewight Loder would play in his life.

Tony returned to his birthplace New York where he was appointed to serve the Metropolitan DWayne (UMC) located in Greenwich Village.  He was the first African American to be assigned to a predominantly Caucasian congregation in the New York Annual Conference.

Tony soon became a member of a group of pastors in
Greenwich Village who were advocating for the rights of
women. They discovered that there were many women in
New York who needed to terminate their pregnancies
for a variety of psychological, emotional and physical reasons. 

 After serving in Greenwich Village Bishop Wicke invited Tony to become the pastor of the Union United Methodist church in Bedford Stuyvesant. Tony became the first African American pastor of this predominantly Caucasian congregation which had been brilliantly led by Dr. Arthur Calliandro. After two years of service to the Bedford Stuyvesant community Bishop Wicke invited Tony to become the first African American to serve on the Conference Staff in the New York  Conference.  

Tony became responsible for the Conference Camping, Scholarship, and  Urban Ministry Programs. After two years of service the Conference Camping Program under Tony’s leadership was expanded from New York city to Albany, NY  and included youngsters from  almost every social/ethnic group.  The Camping Program became a haven for young people who wanted to expand their horizons beyond the limitations of their ethnic community.

Then Dwight Loder the former president of Garrett Theological Seminary who had now become the Bishop of the Michigan Area flew to New York to convince Tony to become the first African American Conference Council Director in the country (a position he held for 11 years).

 After his first year in Michigan, John Dawson, President of
Adrian College invited Tony to accept an Honorary Doctor’s
degree from Adrian.  After receiving the degree John Dawson
then invited Shipley to become a member of the Board of
Trustees at Adrian. To this day Shipley is the longest serving
Trustees with the exception of one other trustee who is over 90
years old!

When Edsel Ammons became Bishop of the Detroit Annual
Conference, he invited Tony to become Superintendent of the
Detroit West District.  After his term ended as Superintendent
Tony was appointed to the largest African American Methodist
church in the Conference at that time, the Scott Memorial
church.  Where he created the ASPIRES Program.
The Adrian College, Scott Church Program, to inspire readiness
for educational success.

This program was related to McKenzie High School, a
predominantly African American school where the quality
of education provided to the students did not qualify any of
them to go on to get a degree in higher education.

The ASPIRES program changed all of that when Adrian College
agreed to dispatch three of its professors to re-train teachers in
English, Math and Science at McKenzie.  The following year 35
students from McKenzie High School enrolled in Adrian College;
four years later 29 of them graduated from Adrian College. 

Dr. Shipley served Scott Memorial church for five years until he
was invited to become the Deputy General Secretary of the
National Division of the Board of Global Ministries. 
At the Board he was responsible for church development in
Alaska, the Caribbean and the United States.

 Being back in New York reminded Tony of his early beginnings and the enormous impact the United Methodist Church had had on him as a
youngster growing up in East Harlem. Tony decided that he wanted to spend his final days of ministry in a community that was like the one he had grown up in and so he asked Bishop Donald Ott to appoint him to the eastside of Detroit.

The Bishop pleaded with Tony and tried to discourage him from reducing his salary and limiting his future career. Finally, 
the Bishop decided to appoint Tony to the east side of Detroit
for one year and then they could re-consider. So in 1960 Tony
became the pastor of the Christ United Methodist Church
located in a community where more than 50% of the
inhabitants were unable to read.

Given Tony’s strong belief, that a pastor is appointed to a
community and not just to a church, and the lack of an access
to a college preparatory education for the children of this
community, Tony established the first Charter School sponsored
by a United Methodist church in America. Chandler Park
Academy was created in the Christ church with 100 sixth graders.

The next year Chandler Park Academy opened another building 
on Jefferson Avenue with sixth graders and now the school
consists of 100 6th  graders and 100 7th graders. The next year
Chandler Park opened a third school but this time on the
Westside of Detroit at Peoples UMC increasing enrollment to 300 students. The next year a church building became available in Oak Park for first graders. The next year Chandler Park Academy was able to purchase land from a Lutheran church that was located on the Campus of the Roman Catholic Men’s High School and the Roman Catholic Women’s High School.The following year Chandler Park purchased those properties. Today Chandler Park Academy has consolidated all of its students on one campus on Kelly Road in Harper Woods, Michigan 90% of its students are in the lunch program, which is only available to students who live in poverty.

Chandler Park Academy has an enrollment of 2,475 students and a Pre-School with 45 students. Chandler Park has an enrollment contract with Wayne County Community College so that when a student from high school at Chandler Park they also have the opportunity to receive a two year degree from Community College giving them a head start as they move into a four year university. Chandler Park now has an enrollment of 697 at the High School and 598 graduates who are attending
colleges all over the United States.

Now the entire Chandler Park Academy student body is located at the sight on 8 Mile and Kelly Road in Harper Woods, Michigan all previous locations have been closed.


First Location:                        Christ Church – Havenhill

Second Location:       Jefferson Avenue UMC

Third Location:          Peoples UMC

Fourth Location:        Oak Park Catholic Church

Combined campus on 8 Mile and Kelly Road in Harper Woods, Michigan.  All other campuses closed.

Shipley Appointments:
1964 New York:  Metropolitan –Duane
1966 New York:  Brooklyn-Union
1968 New York: Conference Staff,
Associate Program Director
1971 Detroit: Conference Staff, Program Director
1982 Detroit: Detroit West District Superintendent
1987 Detroit: Scott Memorial
1992 New York: Deputy General Secretary, National Division, Gen. Bd. Of Global Ministries
1994 Detroit: Christ UMC


Sunday, June 11, 2017


ONE THING TO SAY    6-11-17

It is Annual Conference time in Methodism, when all the preachers and lay members from the congregations in a Conference [geographical area] gather to worship and transact business… and accept retirements. At his retirement speech at his Annual Conference, one preacher said, “Those of you who have heard me over the years will understand that I really had only two themes.”

Afterwards, someone overheard two of his colleagues talking about it. “You mean there was a second one?”

Well, not if he had really understood preaching. When I would get worried about finding some new way to tell “the old, old story,” Helen would remind me, “You have only one thing to do in worship each week, and that’s to remind us that God loves us.”

Morrie Schwartz, of Tuesdays With Morrie, said, “Love is the only rational act.”

Soren Kierkegaard said that “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” That one thing is love.

John Wesley told his preachers that he expected them to “become perfect in love.” Not perfect in knowledge or morality or preaching. Perfect in love.

So, no, there was not a second one. We have only one thing to say to one another: Love.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


THE LAST CHASE    6-10-17

When I go
it will not be with trumpets
blaring clarion calls
to hills and valleys
summoning forth
the force to meet the foe
but like an old dog walking
sniffing out a hare
beside still waters
if it’s up for one more chase


I tweet as yooper1721

Friday, June 9, 2017

ROOTS and COURAGE 6-9-17

Today is the all-class reunion of Oakland City/Wood Memorial High School, my Indiana alma mater. I won’t be there, but I’ll be thinking about my friends there, because that’s where my roots are.

ROOTS and COURAGE    6-9-17

The vegetation comes up close to the Jackson Creek trail I walked this morning. I could smell the honeysuckle. That smell always makes me think of our farm at Oakland City.

It wasn’t much of a farm. Five acres. But we had all the stuff that any farm had, only less of it. I called it a “one” farm—one horse, one cow, one pond, one barn, one garden, one pig, one chicken, one duck, one apple tree. The first five of those were literally only one, but the garden was big, very big when hoeing it on a hot summer day, and we had a wood shed, and a granary, and a chicken house, and an outhouse, too, and a grape arbor that flanked the path to the outhouse, under our one big pear tree. To the south was the field we called the orchard. It had half-a-dozen runty peach and apple trees, and Daddy built a brooder house for hatching chicks in it, close to the house but beyond the fence. That field had a “valley” down the middle, and was mostly pasture. That was where Uncle Johnny used to hit flies for me to chase down, up and down the slopes of the valley.

There were gooseberries in the hedge along the garden, but we relied on roadsides and Punch Knowles’ woods, just north of us, to provide wild raspberries and blackberries and boysenberries, which they did in abundance, along with an even greater abundance of ticks and chiggers.

Mother made peach jam from the meager peach trees in the orchard and even more grape jam from the rather enthusiastic bunches of grapes on the way to the outhouse. My job was to get as many seeds as possible out of the pulp before cooking and putting into glass jars with paraffin tops. It wasn’t quite as hard as it sounds, because the seeds were quite large and easy to see and we had a colander of the right size.

Daddy was usually able to rent or share-crop another five to fifteen acres, for corn or soybeans or hay. Sometimes he hired the two of us out to a neighbor to make fence or to put up hay.

As I thought about Oakland City, how much it meant and means to me, what a gift it was to me in so many ways, one gift I had not previously thought about was the gift of extended history. Not only did my parents grow up there, but their parents did, too. Gibson County was home to the McFarlands and Smiths since at least the 1880s, probably longer since John White McFarland was a fourteen-year-old bugler on a Federal Navy ship on the Ohio River in the Civil War. [Yes, he lied about his age.] I can’t remember how the Smiths got there, if I ever knew, but the McFarlands came from Posey County, down on the Ohio River, because Oakland City had a three-year high school, a big deal then, and John White McFarland and his wife wanted Ella Blaine McFarland, their daughter, the one we called Aunt Nellie, to have that high school education.

I have always known and enjoyed all the family stories from GC, but only today did I understand what a gift it is to have such deep roots, and to have experienced them for myself. When I left at 18, the family had been there in one way or another for 75 years. It’s still there, although in much diminished form, since David Pond, Uncle Johnny’s son, and his children are the only ones still there from either side of the family.

It is often said that the two things parents need to give children are roots and wings. My roots are in Gibson County, and that was also the source of my wings. Perhaps the greatest gift my family and friends there gave me was the courage and the encouragement to leave.

As I get closer and closer to the next life, I give thanks to those who give me the courage to leave this one.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, June 8, 2017



So many failures all lined up
their uniforms in disarray
brass unpolished
shoes unshined
ties askew
weapons missing

It’s hard to think
that this battle
will be better
than the last

If it is up
to these besotted losers
it will be another failure
but there is a glimmer
about this new recruit…


Wednesday, June 7, 2017



In the process of down-sizing to fit into a condo, I threw away hundreds of cards and letters, almost three file drawers worth. They came from former students and colleagues in campus ministry, from fellow clergy around the world, from other writers, from former parishoners, from friends in all walks of life.

I read each one, thought about that writer and the circumstances that prompted the letter, and then dropped it into the recycling bin. There was no point in saving them anymore. My wife or daughters will have to sort through everything that is left when I die. These cards and letters will not mean anything to them. They don’t know who wrote them, or what prompted them to say what they did. One gift I can give those who must turn the lights off when I am gone is to put my friends into the recycling.

The largest number of those letters that went into recycling was from fellow cancer survivors. I can remember only a few of them. Most were short-term relationships, although some were clearly quite intense over their short duration. People struggling, quite literally, with issues of life and death, and the meaning of “those two imposters.” Most of the relationships started when someone read my book [1] or heard me speak at a cancer conference. They wanted to reach out to someone they were sure understood what they were feeling.

Strangely, I am hanging onto more mementoes from my high school days than from my cancer days. Well, not just the mementos, but the memories themselves.

Some brain research indicates that we hold onto early memories better than later ones because our brains are simply better when we are young—more pliant, more accepting. Those early memories get in there and stick. New memory possibilities just bounce off brittle old brains. Or something like that.

This may explain why we old people can remember what we had for breakfast sixty years ago but not what we had for lunch today. Or why we can remember the name of our first grade teacher but not our second wife.

But does it make any difference? A memento—a letter or a photo or a toy—is useful for jarring a memory loose, but sooner or later we shall have to let go of both the mementos and the memories.

That sounds like a downer, and in a way it is. I think, though, that the loss of memento and memory is God’s way of reminding us that life in this body is fleeting. We dare not put our trust in this life and its memories, but only in God, both for the present and for the future. If we get too attached to the past we are not able to go forward.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them

Tuesday, June 6, 2017



When the last lost dream
has ended without end,
a paper cup pulled down
by a muddy whirlwind,
the day has started
before my sleep-numbed
feet have found
the night-numbed floor,
begun in chaos of the mind
with two simple queries
of the spirit:
Why something
instead of nothing?
Toast or oatmeal?


I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, June 5, 2017



I once asked Chad Mitchell of the great 1960s folk group that bore his name, how the group got that name.

“At first,” he said, “it was an accident. Later it was a mistake.”

Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, and Mike Pugh sang together as undergrads at Gonzaga University, Bing Crosby’s alma mater, in Spokane, WA. The chaplain there was going to drive to NYC one summer for some continuing education. He suggested the trio go along to try the vibrant folk nightclub scene there. They were an immediate hit, on the Ed Sullivan Show right away, signed by Harry Belafonte to a contract, and so had to have a name quickly. Chad was the dominant personality, so, on a temporary basis, they stuck his name on the group. A necessity. An accident.

Later, after Mike Pugh had left the group to return to college in Spokane and had been replaced by Joe Frazier, when Chad left the trio to pursue a solo career, the name was a mistake.

So much of life is like that, isn’t it? First an accident, then a mistake. We get a job or a mate or an addiction or a friend or a faith not by choice but by accident. Later we learn it was a mistake.

When Chad left the trio, Mike Kobluk and Joe Frazier renamed themselves simply as The Mitchell Trio, keeping the “Mitchell” in the name so that their fans would know who they were, and chose an unknown singer by the name of Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. to replace Chad. That was a lot to say, so he changed his name to John Denver. Maybe that’s what we need to do when we realize an accident is a mistake. Change the name, from Sinner to Saved.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, June 4, 2017



Almighty God, yes, you are almighty, so why should we have to say so all the time? Is your divine ego that fragile? I think we picked this up from “the world” a long time ago, when people had to praise the leader as almighty to keep on his good side. “Hail Caesar!” “Heil Hitler!” And then more lately we got into this awful “praise song” period in the church, songs with laundry lists about all your almighty qualities. You know you are almighty; we don’t have to tell you. It makes much more sense for us to start our prayers and worship with thanks. Thanks for this good world around us. Thanks for those who make this a good world by loving us and loving your world and trying to preserve it. Thanks for air and water and flowers and little children and puppy dogs. Thanks for birds in the air and fish in streams. Thanks for songs and books and those who speak truth, to power and to the rest of us. So, thanks. Amen.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, June 3, 2017



There is a man who lives
Near me
Who claims there is no
Climate change
For he is an engineer
And knows
“The limitations of science.”

Recycling here is free
In a free container
But he refuses to recycle
Even though it is so easy
No sorting, no work at all

Instead he puts out each week
For the garbage guys to lift
Two full bags of trash
Yes, sir, yes, sir
Two bags full
Each with a two dollar sticker

He would rather pay extra
Than recycle
For he lives to oppose
Those who love this world

To destroy the earth
It is his way to power
In his pathetically engineered life

I am an engineer of the soul
I know the limitations of humanity
Unfortunately, there is no limit
On sin


Friday, June 2, 2017


It’s reunion season again, so…


Donna did not want to go to our fifty-year high school reunion. She told me about it on the phone.

“Everyone will be telling about their husbands and their children and their grandchildren, and I can’t…”

No, she couldn’t. Her first marriage ended in divorce and her second in suicide. Her first son was killed in a motorcycle accident and her second died of cancer, both in their twenties. Her granddaughter, her only grandchild, committed suicide at age nineteen.

Donna is one of the most upbeat people I know. She keeps going against all odds. She makes a life for herself out of nothing. But even for her, going to that reunion, hearing our old classmates talk about their children and grandchildren, that would be too much.

I told her it was okay; she didn’t have to go. We weren’t going, either. We would visit with her privately on some trip back to the old hometown, where she still lives.

Then, a few days before the reunion, she called again.

“Jim said that when it’s time, he’s going to come to my house and take me to the reunion, even if he has to drag me by the hair, and he said I’d better be dressed, because he doesn’t want to drag a naked old lady through the streets.”

Good for Jim. He is a great example of a host in the world, even if he is a little bit aggressive about it sometimes.

“I think,” Donna said, “I can do it, if I can sit between you and Helen. I think I’ll be okay that way.”

We had not planned to go. We had other things we needed to do. But we went.

Jim and his new girlfriend brought Donna to the reunion. They didn’t have to drag her. She was dressed even. She sat between Helen and me. When Bill announced that he had quit drinking, we all applauded. When he said it was because he could get the same effect just by standing up fast, we all laughed. We were eighteen again, at least in our memories. None of the bad stuff had happened to us yet. We had a good time.

We can be eighteen again only in our memories and dreams, though. When the reunion was over, we had to go back to being our old selves, not our former selves. Donna is still alone. Carol is still looking for answers about evil and refusing the easy ones. Jack is still shaking with Parkinson’s. Jim is still reinventing himself. We’re all still worried about our families and the world, because that goes with living in the old country, the land of old age.

We still have memories in common, though, not just of school years, but of being together as old people–laughing, weeping, remembering, caring, supporting. As I think about my classmates, as I pray for them, I give thanks for them, thanks that we are still together, not only in shared memory, but in shared hope.


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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


A JEALOUS CROW?                          6-1-17

I wonder if the crow
Perched imperiously
Yet awkwardly
On the dead finger
At the top of the oak tree
Is jealous of the little
Unnamed bird nestled
In the gentled leaves below
Whistling “Beautiful Dreamer,”
Glad that Stephen Foster is now
In the public domain
As all bird songs
Except for “Sky Lark,”
Have always been


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ALONE 5-31-17

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

Today Helen and I start our 59th year of marriage, so it seems like an appropriate time to repost this from 5-31-2012. I have updated the numbers.

ALONE      5-31-17

“One of you will die first.”

That’s what Jeanette Ericson said the day she and Darrol went with Helen and me to ride the riverboat. It wasn’t much of a boat, and not much of a river, but we had a good lunch, and it was fun. Until Jeanette told the truth, when I said “If one of us dies first…”

Well, of course. Either Helen or I will die first. It is highly unlikely that we shall die together. We have done all else together, but this we cannot. Today we start our 59th year of marriage, but at some time after all these years together, one of us shall finally be left alone.

Within our circle of friends, the wives die first: Dianne Bass, Jean Cramer-Heuerman, Eileen Wilkey, Ruth E. White, Joyce Peacock, Ila Fisher, Darlene Barrett, Dee Lemkau, Rose Mary Shepherd, Eunice Snider, Phyllis Graham Parr, Linda Soper, Jan Rossow Brown, Betty Dees, Mardel Nestler, Jerri Travelstead, Pat Keller, Catherine Smith, Barbara Shipley, Betsy Linneman, Marian Ekin…

We, of course, have friend couples where the men have died first, but mostly it’s been the men who have been left alone.

This has been sobering. For many years, insofar as I thought about it at all, I assumed I would die first. That is the way it goes in general. But now I see so many of my men friends living alone, and I realize it could happen.

I have tried my best for 58 years to keep the vows–for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in [relative] rich or in poor. Now the time is closer for until death do us part.

Certain members of our family think that I will be remarried in 6 months if Helen should die first. Not so. I shall be hugely lonely for HER should I be left alone, but I shall not be lonely in general.

Those family members think I would HAVE to remarry because I need a caretaker. They think that I cannot take care of myself because in 58 years of marriage I never have. [As Helen famously said, “Men enter assisted living the day they get married.”] I do have someone who takes care of me, but I don’t NEED someone to take care of me. I can LEARN to cook, to do the laundry, the taxes, etc. [I’m not asking for a show of hands on this.]

That’s not really the major issue, though, is it?

Paul Tournier says: “You are never too young or too old to give your life to Christ; after that, what else is there to do to get ready to die?”

I think that’s true about aloneness, too. You are never too young or too old to give your life to Christ. After that, what else is there to do to get ready to be alone? Because after that, you are never alone.


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! We moved from there to Bloomington, IN, where we were married on this date so long ago.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017



Both our daughters love to read and write. Part of that is because they grew up in a reading home, but much of it is due to their first grade teacher, Edith Hufford.

She did not start to college until she was fifty years old. Her sons were going to the local university, Illinois State, so she decided to keep them company. It took her ten years, but she finally got a degree, and a job teaching first grade at Oakdale School. She taught only five years, but those were the years Mary Beth and Katie were first graders at Oakdale.

Mrs. Hufford was almost more grandmother than teacher. I observed her classes on several occasions. It was clear that the children loved her. If a little boy fell off his chair to get a laugh, the way little boys do, she laughed right along with everybody else. It wasn’t a distraction; it was entertainment. Because she loved the children, they loved her back. If she said “Read,” they only said, “How long and how fast?” This inexperienced old teacher’s classes rated the highest for their grade level in the state.

We don’t get many Mrs. Huffords anymore, of any age, because teachers are so disrespected. They are the enemy, because they belong to unions, and we have to pay taxes because they want to be paid a salary and have health care and pensions instead of donating their time.

Besides, we don’t want people to be able to read and think, because readers and thinkers are harder to control. We can’t convince readers and thinkers to vote against their own best interests so that people who already have too much money can “legally” steal what little the ignoramuses have by convincing them that the people who are actually trying to help them are not patriotic or Christian enough.

Younger daughter, Katie Kennedy, has turned that ability to read into writing for others to read. She is a highly successful author of Young Adult novels. In her new one, that comes out July 6, 2017, one of the characters is named Edith Hufford. How’s that for a thank-you for learning how to read?