Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


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

On January 29, I mentioned my discomfort with obits that say there will be no funeral or memorial service because that’s what the deceased decreed.

Izak Denisen, the nomme de plume of Karin Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa, says, “Any sorrow can be borne if a story can be told about it.”

There is always some emotion to be worked through by those who are left when a death occurs—grief, anger, guilt, sorrow, etc. We do that by sharing stories.


I tweet as yooper 1721.

For years I have kept a careful index of stories and ideas I have used in this column so that I don’t remember. That’s cumbersome and time consuming and I forget to check it before I write anyway. I’m just going to trust that when I repeat, you are old enough that you won’t notice because you have lost either your memory or your marbles. [Remember how exciting it was to play marbles on the playground at recess? And how gruesome it was when you lost your favorite? I especially liked the way we played it when I moved to Oakland City at age10: There was a metal Maxwell House tin turned upside down, with a holdecut in the middle. We’d stand and drop a marble from eye level at the hole. If you missed, it bounced so high…}

Monday, January 30, 2017

RIP, MTM 1-30-17

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

Why are so many of us grieving the passing of Mary Tyler Moore? Well, we all knew her. She was pretty and talented and smart, a good guest in our homes on a regular basis, mostly as Mary Richards, the associate producer at WJM-TV in Minneapolis, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s.

More, though, Mary Richards was an icon, folks say. As Richards, MTM took on the issues of sexuality and economics and role expectations for women in the aftermath of Vietnam and the 1960s in a way that was more palatable, and thus more productive, than the feminism of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.

I enjoyed the humor of the show, as when Mr. Grant tried to explain to Mary that a man doing the same job as hers ought to make more money just because he was a man, but gender equality was not a real issue for me. I had two daughters. I was already convinced.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the show so much, not because it took on the issues those daughters would face, but because we shared it with our girls. Remembering MTM, I think of how we watched that show together. [1] Our daughters were just entering their teens. Mary Richards was a good role model for girls of that age, who were going to have to face challenges for which no one had any experience. Quietly but persistently, without sacrificing anything of what is central to being a woman, she insisted that a girl should be free in the same way as a boy to do whatever God gives you to do.

There’s another reason, though, that I didn’t think MTM was really iconic. She wasn’t any different from the girls I grew up with. She was only 37 days older than I. Had she lived in the poor white section of Indianapolis and not gone to a private girls school in California, we would have been in the same grade. Although I did not meet her [via TV] until we were in our early twenties, she could easily have been in my high school class in Oakland City. She had that great look about her, that sparkle, that “spunk” that Mr. Grant so deplored. [2] She would have been very popular in our class, but she would not have been either the prettiest girl or the smartest girl there. She would have been just one more girl I was madly in love with and afraid to ask for a date.

That’s plenty enough reason to mourn her passing. RIP, MTM


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] We watched the whole CBS Saturday night lineup. Along with MTM, there was All In the Family, MASH, The Carol Burnett Show, The Bob Newhart Show. It’s hard to believe there ever was or ever will be a single evening with a whole series of shows of that quality.

2] Mr. Kell, our principal, was an excellent man, but he would probably have deplored that spunkiness, too.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


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

My son-in-law, Patrick, had a birthday Friday. That got me to thinking about how he has provided such a good eulogy. He’ll have more opportunities to add to his resume, but his eulogy is set, because it is based on character, not achievements.

David Brooks, in his excellent book The Road to Character, talks about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Those for the resume are your worldly accomplishments—jobs, awards, honors, etc. Virtues for your eulogy, what people will say about you when you are dead, are harder to categorize.

I am intrigued by obituaries that say, “There will be no memorial service at the request of the deceased.” It makes me wonder, “How controlling of others was this person in life, to want to keep controlling even in death?” Are we not allowed to share memories of him or her at all? Shouldn’t we at least get together and sing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone…?”

Of course, some folks are hard to eulogize. I recall the pastor who was tasked with the unenviable task of doing the funeral for the town’s meanest man. He worked and worked and the best he could come up with was, “At least he wasn’t as bad as his brother.”

Reading Brooks’ book has got me to thinking about my eulogy and I have realized that maybe I should request no memorial service myself. I don’t want folks to think they can’t find anything good to say. My brother is a very nice person, so even that line won’t work.  

When we lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was sure I would freeze to death at any moment, so I tried writing my own obituary. All the obits up there started with “He loved the great outdoors.” Personally I prefer to be warm and eat pie, rather than being cold and eating jerky, so I started my obituary with “He loved the great indoors.” That’s still true, but now there is a TV sitcom by that name, and it’s not very funny. I don’t want people to think I love it, or even like it.

I start the day by scribbling a poem, whatever comes to mind, to get my creativity going. Then I read scripture and a real poem by someone like Billy Collins or Elaine Palencia, and I read from some insightful contemporary author, like Anne Lamott or Rachel Remen. Or David Brooks. My personal scripture lectionary includes a history book, a prophet, Psalms, a Gospel, and an epistle. Today Luke 6:32 ff came up as the Gospel. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you…” Jesus ends that passage with, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

That was intriguing, for as I wrote my daily poem, I tried to line it as my obituary, without much success. I was trying to say, poetically, “He loved his family and his friends,” and that admonition of Jesus popped into my head, “If you love only those who love you…” Then here it was in my daily readings, too. Apparently this bit about loving your enemies is something I need to hear.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tears of the Midwives-a poem 1-28-17

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

Washington, Adams
Jefferson, Franklin
There at the birth

Watching the infant grow
Hoping and watching
Seeing the child become
Full grown

Striding strong
From sea to shining sea
Trampling field and lake
Fawn and cub
Tree and flower
Native and immigrant
Beneath huge unfeeling feet

Lamenting one to another
What have we wrought?
What have we wrought?


Friday, January 27, 2017


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

Steve Bannon, of the Trump administration, says “the media should keep its mouth shut” about President Trump and his people. That is very strange coming from a man who spent his life building a media empire [Breitbart News] by not keeping his mouth shut. But I understand. I don’t trust media people, either. They get things wrong so often. Including interviews with me. And with Helen.

As she was retiring from teaching, the local newspaper sent a reporter to do an exit interview with her. Helen was impressed with the interest, personality, and spirit of the young woman who interviewed her. Not so much, as it turned out, with her writing. The published article was full of grammatical mistakes. The reporter even quoted Helen as saying, “Me and John…” That was just too egregious. She wrote a letter to the excellent but often beleaguered editor, Bill Lair, correcting that and all the other mistakes in the article. He published the letter under the title, “Teacher still correcting papers.”

We lived in Charleston, IL, and Eastern Illinois University faculty members often complained about the writing of reporters on the local newspaper. Editor Lair, an EIU grad himself, always told them, “They are EIU grads. They learned their language skills from you.”

Before God tricked me into the ministry, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be the next Ernie Pyle. I even went to the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at IU. I was entranced by journalistic muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens. I could think of no better way to be a citizen than reporting the truth. In those days, that meant being a newspaper or magazine reporter or editor. As it turned out, preaching was pretty much reporting the truth, too.

The “media,” of course, is no longer just newspapers. [Yes, “media” is plural, but “the” media is used singularly.] Indeed, newspapers are a very small part of current communications. Many people get all their news and views from “social”--often very unsocial—media, and talk—again, often very unsocial—radio, or from TV networks that are dedicated not to news but to propaganda. Much of “the media” seems dedicated not to reporting the truth but distorting the truth.

President Trump has a right to be upset when he thinks the media has misrepresented him. Just as I do. Just as Helen did. A presidential candidate or president has no more rights in a democracy, though, than does any other citizen. And none of us has a right to say that the media should not or cannot do its job.

Trump and his minions, however, want to do that. He wants muzzles put on the press if they don’t report the way he wants them to. The oldest political gambit in the book is to blame the media. Get the people focused on what the media is doing so that they won’t notice what you are doing. In his campaigning, Trump has vilified the press and even created danger for media people. Like our granddaughter.

She is a university student. She is not in journalism, but she writes so well that she was given a paid job as an investigative reporter with the university newspaper. She was sent to a Trump rally on campus, where she was harassed and threatened, and later stalked, not because of anything she had written, because she had not done any writing on Trump yet, but just because she wore a press badge.

I deplore Breitbart and Limbaugh and Fox and their ilk. I wish they would shut up. Or at least “straighten up and fly right.” They will not, however, do either. And in its own strange way, that’s okay. If you really want democracy, you must have free speech, and that means a free press. Yes, even if it means Steve Bannon. And reporters from EIU.

It’s a messy process, democracy, and we definitely can’t trust politicians to judge correctly what is acceptable to say. You just have to let everyone have their say and hope for the best. That, by the way, is why we must have an educated electorate, so folks can sort out the truth from the lies for themselves. But “for themselves” is the operative idea there. 

Thomas Jefferson said, “If I had to choose between newspapers without government or government without newspapers, I’d never hesitate to choose newspapers.” Right now, each one of us must be a newspaper, one that does not keep its mouth shut!

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus of Nazareth, in John 8:32.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Today is my son-in-law Patrick’s birthday. His first degree was in journalism and his first job was as a newspaper reporter, so this column is my birthday gift to him. Yes, it’s sort of cheap, but we also sent him… well, I’m keeping my mouth shut about it, lest you want one, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Last Prayer-a poem 1-26-17

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

Today is grandson Joe’s 18th birthday. I have prayed for him every day for the last 18 years. I shall continue to do so until… is there an end to prayers for children?

I think that when my heart
has stopped its longing
and my breath is gone
to mingle slow and soft
with the warm south breeze
my one regret will be
that I can no longer pray
for children
not in the ways of earth,
at least
so I offer this now, forever,
my prayer for children
and their dolls and dogs
and the longings of their hearts…


I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


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

Aunt Gertrude called a couple of weeks ago, primarily to find out what is wrong with the IU basketball team, because, even though she lives in Dayton, OH, she is a huge IU basketball fan, and knows Don Donoher, who was an assistant to long-time IU basketball coach, Bob Knight, and coached at U of Dayton for many years. Aunt Gertrude is a big fan of U of Dayton basketball, too, but not quite as much as with IU. Donoher introduced her to Knight, who told her she reminded him of his grandmother, which, with Bob Knight, is the best compliment anyone can get.

Aunt Gertrude and I talked basketball for a long time, and then talked family. She asked about everyone in my branch of the family, each in turn, and then told me about everyone in her branch, each in turn.

The main thing, though, for me, was a story of which I have no memory, but that is not surprising, for I was very young then. When Uncle Randall and Aunt Gertrude were on their honeymoon, in 1943, they came to Indianapolis to see my family. It was in the spring of my first semester in school, since I had started in January, because kids with mid-year birthdays back then started in the middle of the year. I came home from Lucretia Mott Public School # 3 for lunch and discovered them, Uncle Randall in his army lt. uniform. I asked him to go back to school with me, and he did. He talked to my class a little, Aunt Gertrude said. The main thing, of course, was that I got to show him off.

I was proud of all my uncles in uniform in WWII, Uncle Johnny Pond in the Marines, Uncle Jesse Pond in the Navy, McFarland uncles Randall and Bob and Mike in the Army. But I think Randall was the only one I got to show off to my friends.

Which was appropriate, for when we lived with Grandma and Grandpa McFarland and the bachelor uncles--Bob, Randall, and Mike—in Oxford, OH, in a big old house called Cedar Crest, sometimes with Uncle Glen and/or Aunt Helen and their families there, too, because The Great Depression was like that, Uncle Randall’s main responsibility in the maintenance of that strange home was me. He took me places, played with me, taught me baseball. Mother told me in the past how he and I would come home from town with me riding on his shoulders. Aunt Gertrude said that as he read my book about my cancer experience [1], he cried. She asked him why. After all, I was a big grown-up fifty-three years old then. “I just didn’t know he hurt so much,” he said. He was remembering that little boy he carried on his shoulders.

It had to be hard on the grownups, but I thought living in a multi-generation family was great. Being the first grandson, I got away with a lot. When Mother spanked me for some imagined infraction, Grandpa would go out into the back yard and cry. I have modeled my grandfathering on him.

Mother always said she named me not for my father, John Francis McFarland, or for my great-grandfather, John White McFarland, but for her youngest brother, John Hubert Pond, whose middle name came from the Francisco, IN Presbyterian preacher’s dog, according to Aunt Ginnie. [Johnny’s oldest sister meant to say “son,” but she actually said “dog,” and that’s a better story.] Mother gave me my middle name for Uncle Bob, # 5 of the 7 children of “Harry” [Arthur Harrison] and Henrietta Ann Smith McFarland.

I’ve always been proud of being named for Uncle Bob, but Mother told me many years after I was born that Uncle Randall had said to her back then, “We call him John R, anyway, so it would have been okay to name him John Randall.” I would have been proud of that, too, especially that day he took time out from his honeymoon to go to school with me, just because I asked him to.


Thanks to Marilyn Kae McFarland Quinlain and Mary Virginia McFarland Lindquist for helping me recall details.

1] NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. Published in two editions by AndrewsMcMeel and available in Japanese and Czech and audio and electronic editions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


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

As I read yesterday of Kellyanne Conway’s defense of the “alternative facts” used by the Trump administration, I found myself humming “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” that squishy old romance song from my high school days. I remember it in part because when I did a “favorite song” survey for the “Oak Barks” school newspaper, as a new frosh reporter, English teacher Genevie [sic] Hamilton told me that it was her favorite. A love song? Mrs. Hamilton? That seemed very strange to me.

Here are the words, as I remember them, without resort to the Google machine:

Be sure it’s true when you say I love you. It’s a sin to tell a lie. Millions of hearts have been broken, just because these words were spoken: “I love you, yes I do, I love you. If you break my heart I’ll die.” So be sure it’s true, when you say I love you. It’s a sin to tell a lie. [1]

Mrs. Hamilton was not exactly a romantic, except when it came to poetry. In fact, despite her purple dresses and upswept graying hair and lace collars, she was sort of scary. So I think she was sending a message to the whole school, through the universally read “Oak Barks,” and its widely acclaimed intrepid freshman reporter: If you lie, I’m going to get you, because that is a sin. [2]

In addition to “alternative facts,” one of the popular ways these days of avoiding real facts is by saying, “It’s a matter of opinion.” No, not everything is a matter of opinion. If I say cherry pie is better than apple and you say apple is better, yes, that’s a matter of opinion. If I say that 2 plus 2 equals 17, that’s just wrong. If I keep insisting that 2 + 2 = 17 is “a difference of opinion,” I am lying. I tried to convince math teachers Alva Cato and Marlin Kell, and physics teacher Kenneth Robinson, that my opinion was as good as theirs, but it didn’t work. Except for pie. Not for pi. 

It is correct to call a lie a sin because truth is not just a church category. It’s the most important category for family, school, business, law, and any other area of civilization. Sin breaks relationships, makes trust impossible. That’s why a lie is a sin. You can call a lie “an alternative fact,” but it still breaks relationship, makes trust impossible, and that makes relationships impossible. A lie isn’t just a lie; it’s a sin.

The memories of old people are often just opinions, but we should know this by now: Be sure it’s true when you say… anything…


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] I did use the Google Machine for this information: The song was written in 1936 by Billy Mayhew and popularized by Fats Waller. I did not check the lyrics, so if I got them wrong, it’s not a lie or even an alternative fact, just a bad memory.

2] Okay, “universally read” and “widely acclaimed” are probably alternative facts.

Monday, January 23, 2017


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

When John Knox was in his fifties, he won Scotland for God. In his forties, however, he went through a dry period. In his journal he wrote: “I shall hold the ground that God has given me.”


[I heard Haddon Robinson, then Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, tell this story.]

Sunday, January 22, 2017


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

I read an obit recently that contained a curious statement: “He was a former member of The Presbyterian Church.”

In a way, everything about him was “former,” because he was dead. That was the only item in the obit, though, that said “former.”

Had he left the Presbyterians? Then why mention it at all? Because he wanted it to be known that he had done so?

It reminds me of the life-long Presbyterian who was on his death bed. He called for the Catholic priest. His family asked him why.

“I want to convert,” he said.

“But you have been Presbyterian your whole life. Why convert now?”

“I figure if somebody’s got to go, better one of them than one of us.”

Maybe that explains the obituary, but it’s taking “us v them” pretty far. [See the post for 1-20-17.]


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Precious In Hope-a poem

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

This is finally every life:
an old teddy bear, stuffed
with rags and memories
one eye missing, fur worn
off in the hugging
of the years, destined
for the heap of trash
in the back yard
but precious in its hope


If you think this is bad poetry, you are correct, but my explanation/excuse is that I do not think of it as poetry at all, just my first-of-the-morning musings set down in sort-of poem-like form.

Friday, January 20, 2017

US vs. THEM 1-20-17

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

The IU basketball team lost two games in a row, at home, to start the Big 10 season. Happened only twice in the 128 years of IU basketball. Since then we have lost even more and looked bad even when we won. I am in a funk. The entirety of my identity is the result of IU basketball. I expect any moment to receive a tweet from Donald Trump saying, “Loser!” And I will react maturely, by saying, “No, you are.”

Things have gotten only slightly better for the basketballing Hoosiers. The reasons are clear. We have bad coaches. The referees are against us. Those Indiana high school stars should stay home and play for IU instead of going to foreign places like MI and OH. IU needs to spend more money on basketball instead of irrelevant academic stuff.

Those have to be the reasons. It couldn’t possibly be because the other teams are better, because they aren’t. They can’t possibly be better, because they are not us. [Or “we” if you are one of those types].

All you need to know is that “it’s us against them.”

That’s okay if it’s basketball. Well, almost okay. Too much “us against them” and you get poor sportsmanship, at which most folks these days would blink and say, “Poor what?

I read a Sports Illustrated article recently about Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the National Football League’s Pittsburg Steelers. [1] Everyone agrees that when he was new in the league, he was a real jerk, who thought everyone should give him anything and everything, him giving nothing in return, because he was the star quarterback. Nobody liked him, including his teammates. He was twice accused of sexual assault. He was not convicted in either case, but everyone agreed it was the sort of thing he would do because he just assumed he should have anything he wanted.

By all accounts, he learned his lesson and is now a good teammate, family man, and citizen. Many people, especially women, still don’t trust him, however. Some folks were talking about that and one man pointed out a woman in the room and said, “She’s such a big Steeler’s fan, he could even commit murder and she’d still be for him.” She overheard and laughed and said, “Yes, that’s probably right.”

Now I’m sure she didn’t mean that, but it points up the “us vs. them” mentality of everything we do these days. There is no objective standard of ethics and morality to which everyone needs to adhere. Anything our team does is okay because it’s OUR team. Anything the other team does is wrong, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s THEM.

You can have football, or basketball, that way. You can’t have a nation, a civilization, a culture, that way. Today we inaugurate a president who embodies “us vs. them” more than anyone in our history. Of course, he would not have had a chance at election had not the entire political culture moved toward “us vs. them” over the last 35 years.

One thing I have noticed in recent weeks, on Facebook and elsewhere, is that whenever someone criticizes Trump, the immediate response by Trump supporters is, “Hillary did worse.” While it is true that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump, she is not being inaugurated as president today. From now on, if Trump is criticized, there is no escape through comparison. No one can say, “Well, Hillary…”

My Grandma Pond used to talk about people who were willing “to cut off their nose to spite their face.” Christians these days, above all else, need to be plastic surgeons, helping to restore noses to disfigured faces. Maybe even practicing good sportsmanship.

We won’t survive with “us vs them.” We’ll survive only if it’s all “US.”


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] When our girls were little, the Steelers were in their heyday, the “Steel Curtain” and Terry Bradshaw and “The Immaculate Reception,” and all that. I told them the reason the Stealers played so well was that they were in jail because of their stealing, and were let out on the weekends to play football. If they won, they got to stay out for the week, so they played hard. Also, they weren’t very bright, so they misspelled Stealers as Steelers. They were considerably chagrined when they told this story to friends in graduate school and learned it was not totally correct.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


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

I was a psychology minor at university, and took basic pastoral counseling courses in seminary, and did more extensive academic work in psychology when I was doing doctoral work. Much of my best learning, though, was not in formal academic course work, but occasional workshops or lectures. One of my best teachers in those settings was William Schutz.

I was in my early thirties when I took a day-long workshop that Schutz led. At one point he divided us into groups of four. It was a big room with a lot of people. To get into our groups we had to sit on the floor. We followed the techniques Schutz gave us on how to interact.

The groups did not meet for long. Maybe only 30 minutes, maybe 60. I could not tell because it was such a terrific experience that the time flew by. My group partners were total strangers, but I had never felt closer to anyone in my life. We told one another things we had never told anyone before. Not anything dangerous or embarrassing, like murders or affairs or having voted for morons, but our deepest yearnings and fears.

Then the time was up. Reluctantly we got up off the floor and back into our wooden folding chairs. And it was over. Those people with whom I felt so close were strangers again. I had no desire to continue in relationship to them, and apparently they had no desire to hang out with me, either, even to the extent of saying goodbye when the day was over. It was just “a flight to the moon on gossamer wings.”

What was the problem? Well, maybe it was no problem at all. Some relationships are not meant to be “I & Thou,” not meant to be forever.

But if a problem existed, it was because of technique. Not bad technique, but the very presence of technique. Don’t get me wrong; techniques can be quite valuable. And Schutz had certainly developed a very effective technique for getting people into relationships quickly. But techniques are not valuable for everything. Friendships don’t grow out of technique, despite Sheldon Cooper’s best efforts on “The Big Bang Theory.” Friendships grow out of friendship.

I heard a football coach say that his players were good at running around the field doing football-like activities, but they weren’t good at playing football. Doing friendship-like activities is not the same thing as friendship.

I hold in such great admiration and affection the folks who have been willing to grow a friendship with me over years instead of over minutes. And although I cannot remember their names or faces, I appreciate those folks who spent some time on the floor with me that day; they helped me learn about friendships.


I tweet as yooper1721.

If you have not yet read Katie Kennedy’s wonderful YA novel, Learning to Swear In America, get thee to a bookery!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


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

I sing a lot. Often I’m in public when a song pops into my head, so I don’t sing out loud, or even sub voce, just in my brain. One song that became part of my repertoire when I was only about twelve was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” because my voice was changing to bass, and that song sounds very nice in low bass as you’re walking by yourself on a gravel road, keeping your spirits up in the dark. I hoped it sounded intimidating to any wolves or demons that lurked in the dark, waiting for a tenor.

That’s what I thought “Swing Low” was all about, keeping one’s spirits up in the dark, starting with the slaves in the South, who had to keep their hopes up not only in the night but in the day.

A few years ago Helen and I spent some time at a continuing education event. One of the professors, an heir of slaves, did a workshop on what we have traditionally called “Negro Spirituals.” I had learned in history classes as an undergrad that the Negro Spirituals had a political dimension, and I added to my repertoire songs like “Oh, Freedom,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “We Shall Overcome.” Our professor elaborated on that theme, how the slaves communicated with one another, often right under the noses of their slave masters, by singing directions on how and when to escape. I find that both inspiring and thrilling.

Our professor, however, would not acknowledge any “spiritual” dimension to the “spirituals.” Those songs, for him, were all and only about bodies escaping from slavery, not at all about souls and spirits escaping from slavery.

I understand that, as much as a white person can, which is far from completely. But hope is never one dimensional. Hope is always multi-level.

I’m now in that upper 2%. No, not that 2%, the ones with all the money, but the 2% who will die next. That is where you get just by living long enough. I still have hope for escape from the wolves and the demons, but I have hope for escape of my soul from a declining body into a new reality in a way I could not have when I was in that other 98%. We never move out of one level of hope; we only add new levels.

Hope is different from wishing. Hope pulls us on when there is no hope, in this moment, in this year, in this presidency, in this life. I wish for things to be different and better. My wishes will not all come true. But I can sing, in a now-faltering bass, swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home and know that my hope is built on nothing less… and know that hope is real even when wishes fail.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Jess Bailey’s obit was in my home town newspaper. He was 95. Before mentioning his wife of 73 years, or his children and grandchildren, or his church membership, where he was a trustee, or his profession as a heavy equipment operator, or his military service in WWII, the obit noted, “He played on a sectional winning basketball team.” [1]

That’s how we see basketball in Indiana.


1] This was in the days of the “Hickory” of the movie “Hoosiers,” when there was only one class, and a tiny school like Milan, on which “Hickory” was based, had a chance at a state championship. It wasn’t very likely, though, so the sectional championship, the first of the four levels--followed by regional, semi-state, and state—was basically an ultimate championship for a small school. 

Monday, January 16, 2017


I was surprised, although I should not have been, at the folks who did not understand the “meaning” in my post of yesterday, in which I plead for people to accept me in church even though I wear a suit and tie. I meant it to be mostly funny, a reversal of the old paradigm in which men were expected to wear suits and ties to church and those who could not afford such felt they could not come to church. Now, of course, “proper” church clothing means anything except a suit or a “dressy” dress. Anything goes as long as it looks like it would not have belonged in church twenty years ago.

A lot of folks responded by saying “You look okay” and “I think you look nice,” and “It’s okay to wear what you want.” Well, yes, and thanks, but the response I assumed and wanted was a wry smile and an understanding that we need to be careful about judging others because what is “in” now will be “out” soon, not just in how we dress but in all of our human expectations.

All human communication is tricky, because we have different filters through which we see and hear. That’s especially true with humor.

I remember how certain kinds of humor were not funny at all to me when I was recovering from surgery and undergoing chemotherapy. I did not enjoy Jerry shooting Tom with a cannon, or the Three Stooges sticking their fingers in eyes, or the Road Runner causing Wylie Coyote to fall off a cliff, because I felt their pain. I was in so much pain myself, the pain of someone else was not funny at all to me. That was my filter.

Still is, mostly. I enjoy the reversal of Tweetie besting Sylvester, but I still hope he can do it without causing harm to that poor “puddy tat” as he creeps up on the birdie. [1] After all, Sylvester is a cat. He’s doing what cats are supposed to do.

When Jesus says, in Matthew 5:48, as he did yesterday in the Gospel reading at church, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” he did not mean that we should be like God. Trying to act like God is the root of all sin [see the Garden of Eden story] and giving the finger to the First Commandment. God is perfect because God is always God. Humans are perfect when we act like humans, not like animals. And Jesus has outlined very neatly how humans are supposed to act.


1] As the linguistically challenged Tweetie Bird sings, “I tought I taw a puddy tat a treepin’ up on me…”

Sunday, January 15, 2017


I apologize for mentioning this again, but it is an every-Sunday dilemma. Here it is, Sunday morning, and I am embarrassed to go to church dressed this way. But I am old and on fixed income. I cannot afford to go to the mall to buy proper church clothes, so that I’ll blend in with everyone else. What I have to wear are suits and white shirts and ties. People at church will just have to learn to accept me as I am.


Friday, January 13, 2017


There comes a day
With blinds shut fast
Against the slanting sun
When eyes are dim
And pillows soft
That the falters and the failures
Still remain
But their memory no longer cuts
Like winter wind that blows
Across the hours
But sit upon a shelf
Like faded photographs
Sepia colored suits and dresses
Long out of fashion
Out of time


Wednesday, January 11, 2017


At long last, Lin Loring is retiring, after 44 years as the IU women’s tennis coach. He has more wins than any other coach in the history of the sport.

The remarkable thing, though, is that in 44 years, every one, EVERY ONE, of his players has graduated. A 100% graduation rate. Nobody does that. But Loring did.

True, tennis players are more likely to come from a background where academic success is expected, far more than, say, football players. But if you were a coach, do you think you could get every one of your players over 44 years into Assembly Hall in a cap and gown?

He’s old now. Not by my standards. I think of him as a youngster. But by coaching standards. He coached four years at UCSB before coming to IU. 48 years is a long career.

There’s no particular moral here. Just an awareness of something special. I don’t know Loring, but I am impressed each time I think of how clear his vision of success must have been, to achieve that remarkable graduation rate.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017


I have written a lot about Indiana recently. Mostly because I live here now and think of it as home, although I have lived here fewer than half of the years of my life.

I was born in OH and lived there my first four years. Not long after we had moved to Indianapolis, my mother suggested one day, for no apparent reason, that I should “act like a human.” By that time I had heard Indiana folks referred to as Hoosiers. Getting only slightly confused by the two “H” words, I retorted, “I’m not a human; I’m a Buckeye.”

Since then, though, I have thought of myself as a Hoosier, doubly so, as one who calls Indiana home, and one who graduated from Indiana University.

Not long before Christmas, I saw an ad for a book called Undeniably Indiana, an IU Press publication celebrating the 2016 state bicentennial. A few of the authors were listed in the ad. Among them was John Robert McFarland. At first I thought there had to be another such character. Then I remembered that short articles had been solicited for the chapter on why Hoosiers are called Hoosiers. I knew the answer so I wrote it up, and then forgot about it, a skill at which I am getting better and better as I age.

So I asked for a copy of the book for Christmas. Daughter Mary Beth obliged. Here is my contribution, in full, at the bottom of page 13:

“Indiana is the only state named for a Methodist circuit rider, Black Harry Hoosier.”

Actually I wrote two or three paragraphs, but the editors boiled my contribution down to that one sentence. That’s what good editors do. [1]

“Black Harry” was born in 1750 and died in 1806. Indiana became a state in 1816. In the middle and late 1700s, he was an eloquent traveling evangelist, especially popular with the pioneers in the new not-yet-state of Indiana. Many said that despite his lack of education, he was American’s foremost orator. One of his sermons, “The Fig Tree,” was the first American sermon to be recorded. [written down by others]

Because the Indiana pioneers responded so well to his preaching, they became known as "Hoosiers."

It is fascinating, considering Indiana’s long history of virulent racism, that its citizens are called by the name of a black man.


You can find a much more detailed, but very readable, article about Indiana’s name sake, by Stephen H. Webb, in the March 2002 edition of Indiana Magazine of History, published by Indiana University. Just fire up the Google machine and type in “Black Harry Hoosier.”

1] Editors always want articles to be shorter, especially if they are paying by the word. I have a recurring dream in which I have finally honed my article down to one word, to which my editor replies, “But can’t you find a shorter word?”

Monday, January 9, 2017


Last Friday, January 6, I told of the morning that was so cold that Helen’s coat got hot.

It’s very cold where I am this morning. Wind chills are below zero, Fahrenheit. One of the first things some folks say when it is this cold that there is no such thing as global warming. “I’m cold, so there is no such thing as global warming, because I’m not warm.”

One of the mistakes that scientists make is naming things before they have consulted communications theorists. [1] “Warming” is a word that should never be used in this context. Scientists have now switched to “climate change,” but folks who want to deny climate change, either because they profit from it or are simply perverse in their ignorance, still call it “global warming” because it’s easier to deny its existence each time they are cold. “I’m not warm, so there must not be any warming.”

Of course, the result of climate change, because the globe IS warming, is not that everything is warmer all the time, but that the weather becomes extreme. The colds are colder, the hots are hotter, the wets are wetter, the winds are windier, the droughts are dryer.

We humans often forget that we are part of nature. Yes, we are the part that has knowledge, but we often fail to use that knowledge to be a good part of nature. As we erode nature with our greed, the whole of nature is degraded, and that includes us humans. We are becoming more extreme along with the rest of nature, extreme in greed and division and revenge and lust for power.

If we are to survive, it’s quite possible that nature will have to control human nature instead of the other way around.


1] Disclaimer: I have a doctorate in communication theory, so I want to be consulted.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Today is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the liturgical calendar. As part of the worship at St. Mark’s UMC, Helen and I will be one of the stations, along with other retired clergy in the congregation, who offer a water blessing to those who come forward. Sort of like communion, but with water instead of loaf and cup. It’s a reminder that we are baptized people, not belonging to ourselves, but blessed by belonging to God.

Mary Beth Morgan, the better half of our pastoral clergy couple, is preaching. The other half, Jimmy Moore, is teaching youth Sunday School this morning. They are both so good at preaching and worship leadership that it is a joy to participate with them, and I am pleased that Mary Beth asked me to do the pastoral prayer this morning. Here is what I shall be praying, more or less…


O God, hear our prayers of thanks, we ask with joyful heart.

We give you thanks for your prophet John, who led people down to the river of life, to be baptized there, to be cleansed of their sins, that the Kingdom of God might become real in their lives, on earth as it is in heaven.

We praise you for the witness of the Christ, who, although without sin, sought out the baptism from John, for the remission of sin, that he might be at one with us sinners, in salvation and in hope.

We give you thanks for the witness of those who absorb the waters of baptism and become bubbling fountains of crystal joy, and also for those in whom the waters are still but run deep.

We thank you that when our spiritual throats are parched with thirst, you provide streams in the desert

We know that few in the world care whether we are baptized, or what amount of water it took to get us clean, but we rejoice in the reality of baptism, O God.

Baptize us, we pray, with the Holy Spirit, May it be that each time we feel the water of the world on our lips, to quench our thirst, or on our bodies, to cleanse our dirt, we may feel the spirit of God in our souls.


O God, hear our prayers of confession, we ask with wounded heart.

We confess that we have ignored our baptism. We have turned our backs on your Holy Spirit. Even in goodness, we have trusted in our own strength and not in your leading. Forgive us, we pray.

We confess that when the water is turned into wine, we trust in the wine and forget who changed it and where it came from. Turn the wine of worldliness, we ask, back into the water of baptism.


O God, hear our prayers of intercession, we ask with loving heart.

As you bless us with the water of baptism, O God, bless us also with the waters of the world, water for drinking, water for cleansing.

Bless those on whom the water comes as rain, those who sing in the rain, and those who walk in the rain.

Bless those who work to keep our water clean, standing firm against low temperatures and high powers.

We know, O God, that the water of life can become the water of danger, so we pray for those caught in the rapids, those in whirlpools, those who are swamped, whose boats are leaking, who are tired to bail and too weak to swim.

We pray for those who are up to their chins in deep waters of sorrow and pain and addiction and despair, and are about to go under. Throw them a life preserver. If we must be those life preservers, then teach us to swim, and throw us in, O God.


O God, hear our prayers of petition, we ask with hopeful heart.

Move us to be among those who go down to the river to pray, and while there lay down our swords and shields, to study war no more.

We ask, O God, that we may come to live in your city, where a river runs through it, a river full of the blessings of baptism, the blessings of life.

Nourish the roots of our souls from the river of life, we pray, so that we, like trees rooted by the water, shall not be moved from the way of Christ.

            Then maybe I’ll lead the congregation in singing “I Shall Not Be Moved” before the silent prayers and The Lord’s Prayer. “I shall not be, I shall not be moved. I shall not be, I shall not be moved. Like a tree that’s planted by the waters, I shall not be moved.”
            Or maybe not. We’ll see how the Spirit leads.


Friday, January 6, 2017

MAKING DO 1-6-17

It’s very cold where I am this morning. Wind chills are below zero. Despite the cold, in part because of it, Helen and I will deliver the items from the MUSH Christmas tree at church, to the folks who will distribute them to kids in need.

MUSH stands for mittens, underwear, socks, and something that begins with H. Oh, hats.

It’s going to be cold out there, taking stuff from the church to the car, and from the car to the social agencies. It would be a lot colder without mittens and underwear and socks and hats.

I can afford my own MUSH items now, but there was a time I could not. I was grateful for folks who gave me things to keep me warm, not only clothes to keep my body warm, but concern and friendship to keep my spirit warm.

When we got married, I was preaching at three little churches--Solsberry, Green County Chapel, and Walker’s Chapel. That first winter of our marriage was one of the worst weather winters around here in a long time. Walker’s Chapel had only an oil-burning stove, and its desultory heat never reached the pulpit. One Sunday it was so cold that I preached in a galoshes, an overcoat, a muffler, and bright green earmuffs. The worshipers huddled around the oil burner. As the preacher’s new wife, they thought Helen should have the place of honor, closest to the stove, close enough that her pretty beige coat got a big burn spot on the side.

We could not afford a new coat, so Helen simply dyed the whole thing black. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you’ve got.

She’s done that her whole life, personally and professionally. She taught home and family management in college and high school, teaching people how to get the most out of what they have. I’m grateful that she has been willing to make do with what she got when we got married. No, I’m talking about the coat…


 BTW, Helen says the author I quoted, "If they get me, they get me," is Joan Borysenko.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I can’t remember the author, but she told about how frightened she was, all the time, as a child. The problem was monsters. They were under her bed and in her closet. She went through elaborate rituals to hide from them and to keep them at bay. It exhausted her. All she did was deal with the unseen monsters. Finally, it became too much, and one day she said, “If they get me, they get me.” She just went on with her life. They never got her.

Fear takes a lot of work, trying to hide from the monsters, trying to keep them behind closed doors. Better just to get on with life. If the monsters show up, deal with them, but don’t waste time and energy on monsters that aren’t really there.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017


When my grandchildren were small, I started wearing cargo-pocket pants, so I could have room for toys. Little toys, but large enough they couldn’t swallow them. Little lady bugs and dinosaurs and butterflies. And bears. Especially bears. Pandas and brown and black and polar. They were the most popular. Whenever one of the grands had a bad day, I’d pull out a handful of bears. They could choose one. As any hunter in the UP can tell you, getting a new bear just brightens up your day. I eventually gave up on the dinosaurs and lady bugs. I still have some, but I don’t carry them. Kids always choose bears.

Having grandkids, I spent a lot of time where there were other little children. Often one of them was having a bad day, too. So I pulled out the bears for them, also.

My grandchildren are old enough now that it takes a new computer or new car to help them through a bad day, but I still encounter a lot of little children, in waiting rooms and restaurants and the mall. They think bears are good enough, so I still carry a pocketful of bears.

Those bears sometimes provide hilarity. We were going through customs in the Montreal airport and had to empty our pockets onto a conveyor belt. I did so. The woman in line behind me hid her mouth. She giggled. Then she chortled. Then she laughed out loud. She pointed at the little plastic/rubber bears on the conveyor and gurgled, “I’m sorry, but I just didn’t expect them.”

I never give a bear directly to a child. Don’t want them to think it’s okay to take toys from strangers. I hand it to the adult who is with them and say something, including both of them, along the lines of: “Sometimes when a person is having a bad day, a new bear makes things better.” So often, a little later, we hear laughter from the place where tears were before.

The bears are primarily for the kids, of course, but also for the adults. Sometimes a child is having a bad day because of the adult who is with them. In handing a bear to the adult, I’m saying: “You’re not alone. Others care about your efforts to take care of this child, and sympathize. Also, others are watching how you are caring for this child.” It is just a small attempt at child protection. It works in a way that just saying, “I’m watching what you’re doing” never would.

That is why I am breaking my vow of political ignorance. Being aware of what current politicians are doing is very difficult for me. I do not suffer fools, dupes, idiots, narcissists, or hypocrites gladly. Greed and nastiness take a toll on my soul. For over a month now, I have ignored all political news. But I have decided that my emotional health amounts to nothing compared to the future of my children and grandchildren and all the little children for whom I carry bears.

It turns out that ignorance isn’t very blissful after all. It is time for me, and I hope for you, to get out the bears and reach them out to say, “We see what you are doing.”

I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, January 2, 2017

AS A LITTLE CHILD, a poem 1-2-17

Yes, it looks like it’s a day late, but I wrote it yesterday, in my head, as I walked, and then scribbled it down when I got home, so I think it still counts as New Year’s Day…

On this first day of the year
with trees so bare
and the sky so near
I walk familiar streets
with friends of memory
and the faith of little ones
and faith in little ones
for it is only those of us
whose walk is slow
and full of totters
who see the leaves
on bare limbs
and distance in near skies

Sunday, January 1, 2017

CHOOSING THE DAY-a poem 1-1-17

The first day of the year
Is a time for good cheer
A time to hope and to dream
A time for ice cream

But time is a trickster, a joker
A mushroom smoker
An hypocrisy stoker
A cruel dream choker

Pick your stanza above
One of loss, one of love

One flows so shallow and thin
A fool’s lopsided grin
One so deep and profound
Full philosophical sound

But remember the memes
Time is not what it seems
One stanza to win, one to lose
It’s mine, yours, to choose…