Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, February 27, 2017


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

The commentary on the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Traevon Martin, both before and after the trial, often centered on whether Zimmerman is “a racist.” In interviews, many people who knew Zimmerman claim that he is not a racist because he does not dislike black people. Others claim that he must dislike black people because he apparently “profiled” a young black man. Totally irrelevant.

When daughter Katie was a teaching asst. at the U of IL, while doing graduate work, university researchers looked into the question of whether male faculty members were paid more than females. At Katie’s subsistence [almost] level, men and women made the same amount. That was not true as the researchers went up through the faculty ranks from asst. prof to assoc. prof to full prof. Male asst. profs made a few thousand more than females, male associate profs made several more thousand, and male full profs made a whole lot more thousands.

The researchers were sure there had to be a reason for that disparity that wasn’t just anatomy. So they ran other variables. The highest paid profs were in medicine and the hard sciences, and most of them were male [an interesting disparity in itself]. They factored that in. It didn’t make any difference.

Well, men were more likely to have families to support than women [an interesting rationale in itself]. They factored that variable in, too. It made no difference.

They allowed for every possible variable and the disparate results stood: the only reason men made more than women was that they were men.

Immediately, all the male profs rose up as one and declared they would no longer take greater pay than their female counterparts for doing the same work and that they would return the extra they made to be distributed among the women who were unjustly paid less. Yeah, and if you believe that, I own some mosquito-free vacation lots in the Hiawatha National Forest I’m willing to sell you. There wasn’t even one prof who did that.

I’m sure that many of the male profs said it was an unjust system and should be changed, but not a one of them stopped taking the perks of an unjust system. None of them was a sexist in his heart and beliefs. They didn’t dislike women or believe they should be discriminated against. But they accepted the good things they received from a system that favored them just because they were male.

That’s the definition of sexism: not that you dislike women, but that you profit from the system that favors you just because of your gender. Ageism is not disliking old, or young, people; it’s getting discounts not by merit or need but just because of your age. Racism isn’t disliking people of a certain race; it’s profiting from a system that favors you just because of your race.

There is, of course, personal racism and sexism, etc. There are people who personally dislike black folks or white folks, women or men. That is wrong and immoral, but it is not unjust. It is unjust when a certain race or gender or religion or ethnic group or gender group profits from a system that discriminates against others.

In the years of winter, we’re old and smart enough to know this, and we’re old and smart enough to do something about it.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

FINAL LEARNING, a poem Su 2-26-17

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

Just because I cannot say it
Does not make it a lie
It’s more a mystery than a lie
Why I am as I am
Or perhaps, who I am
Not at all as I started
Out to be
Nor the man I wished to be
This strange man that I am
I do not know him
I cannot recall his name
Perhaps when I see
His headstone
I shall know


Saturday, February 25, 2017


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

I wrote this about ten years ago…

THE OLD GRAY BRIEFCASE          Sa 2-25-17

I threw away my old gray briefcase today. I bought it when I was twenty, a college undergrad. I bought it in Chicago, in the summer, while I was working at a settlement house. Briefcases then were all brown. I had never seen a gray one before.

This was in the day before backpacks. Professors and graduate students carried briefcases, but undergrads just carried books and tablets under their arms.

When I returned to campus in the fall, I was an undergrad with a gray briefcase, about as different as one could be in those days. I wanted to be different, to stand out in a way that did not stand out too much.

I had to throw the briefcase away today, after fifty years, because we are downsizing to live in smaller quarters. If it were good quality, I might be able to justify keeping it around. Perhaps my grandson could use it someday, to impress the coeds, by standing out in a way that does not stand out too much. But it was cheap, gray in its soul as well as on its surface, and it is falling apart. If I gave it to Goodwill or The Salvation Army, they would throw it away, too.

It’s still out there, at the curb, on top of the garbage can, waiting for the garbage guys to come. I stand at the kitchen window and look at it, thinking about running out when I hear the garbage truck and grabbing it in the nick of time, saving the memory of the skinny young man and his desire to be different.

That is why we save the things of the past, to save the memories that go with them.

I love the song, Moments to Remember. Al Stillman and Robert Allen wrote it. It’s important to remember the moments when we came alive, when we found out who we were. The objects we keep on the mantle are not all that important. They may be no more useful or beautiful than my old gray briefcase. But those things remind us of those moments.

As old people, so much of our identity is in the past, not in the future. We know who we are because we know who we were. It’s alright to keep the things that stir up the memories, but there comes a time to let those things go, too.

The memories are not gone, though, just because the garbage guys have come. Every time I see a briefcase, regardless of who carries it, that can be a reminder of the young man who carried the gray briefcase, and the good times he had.


Thursday, February 23, 2017


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

We once drove through a town in Iowa that displayed two billboards at the edge of town. One claimed 927 Happy Residents And 1 Old Grump. The other advertised Grump Days June 19-21.

At first I was a little irritated. Only one old grump in the town, but the festival was named after him. That didn’t seem fair. I was much younger then. Now that I am an old grump myself, I think it’s neat.

Besides, every town needs a festival, even the big towns, like Chicago, with its Taste of Chicago. If you have nothing to celebrate but the presence of a grump, well, go ahead and make a festival out of his presence. [Come to think of it, the signs did not indicate that the grump was a man, and old women can be grumpy, too, so both sexes should be able to claim that festival as their own.]

We once lived in Arcola, Illinois. Johnny Gruel had been born there, so they had a Raggedy Ann festival. Almost all the brooms in the world are made there, too, because the area farmers used to grow broomcorn, so there was also a Broomcorn Festival, which humor columnist Dave Barry made famous. Now they have to import broomcorn from Mexico, but, hey, it’s still an excuse for a festival. The town liked festivals so much that when there was a bank holdup there, complete with hostage, people joked that next they would have a Bank Hostage Festival.

You don’t really need a person or an historical event to initiate a festival, though. Just look at Toast and Jelly Days in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. The main point is to celebrate.

When I first wrote this, Helen and I were in our fiftieth year of marriage. We decided that we did not want to have one big blowout when we finally hit the fifty-year mark. So we celebrated AnniversaryFest all year long, doing something special every month to remind us of how blessed we are to have had each other all these years.

It is important to celebrate, to set time aside to “festival,” for four reasons. One is just to have a good time. The second is to make money off the suckers who come from out of town. The third is because Jesus said to: “I’m here; let’s party!” [John 10:10] The last reason is to remind us that every day is a gift, a time of celebration, a festival in its own right. It is easy to forget that if we only take each day as it comes. Each day begins to look a lot like the day before it. We begin to take them for granted. A festival breaks the monotony and reminds us that the non-festival days, too, are precious.

Old age is a great gift. It means that we have been through a lot of festival days. It is easy to concentrate on the losses of old age—flexibility, hearing, eyesight, strength, family members, friends. They are real, but old age is not just the sum of our losses.

This week, we had coffee with Joe. We’ve known him for almost sixty years. We laughed and laughed. Yesterday we met Bob and Kathy for lunch. We laughed and laughed. It’s time to celebrate GeezerFest!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017


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

George Spangler called me the other day. I had not talked to George in almost fifty years. He and his wife and Helen and I were young married couples together at the end of our university days. We had a lot of fun together, and when their first baby was born, Helen and I enjoyed Vicky almost as much as if she had been our own. We lost contact after college days, though.

George had been reminded of those days because he had seen in our alumni magazine a notice of a book I had written. He got my telephone number and called. It was great. We caught each other up on the major events in our lives over the past forty-five years or so, and, of course, we talked about the old days, when all those events were still in the future.

One of the things we had done in those long-ago days was play darts. George had hung a dart board on the back of the door into their married student housing apartment. Whenever Helen and I were at their apartment, to share one of those cheap meals students learn to cook, and to play with Vicky, George and I would throw darts.

George laughed and said, “When we moved out, I took that dartboard off the door, and there were little holes all over those concrete block walls around the door.”

Then he said, “I was the source of most of them, of course.”

I was sure he was right. I never missed a dartboard in those youthful days. I recall so well the first time we threw darts in their apartment. I hit three bulls-eyes in a row, and George exulted, “I told you John would be good at this.”

That had pleased me. I knew I had great eye-hand coordination, but there was no reason for George to know it. But my friend had assumed I would be good at something; that was neat.

He would be well advised these days, though, should I go to visit him, to hang his dartboard outdoors, on a tree he doesn’t like much. I can still hit the bulls-eye, sort of, just as I can still put the basketball through the hoop, sort of, but not with the near perfection I used to show.

I used to be so good at things that took eye/hand and ear/mouth coordination. In addition to hitting the bulls-eye or the basketball hoop or the baseball, I always could hear a sound and reproduce it. When I entered Perkins School of Theology, at SMU, they gave the new students a sound test. I thought they were just checking our hearing. Three of us, though, only three, tested so high that the faculty decided we should start Greek and Hebrew language study at the same time, and then one day a week get everything the English Bible students got in a whole week. There were days I cursed my keen ear!

Still, I was always proud of being able to hit the bulls-eye, with hand or ear.

Now, though, in old age, those skills have left me. I don’t know where they have gone, but I know they are no longer in my hand or ear. It bothers me a little bit. We don’t like to lose the skills of youth, those of which we were so proud.

There is a skill, though, that can get better as we age. It is called wisdom. It is the current skill that allows me to say: The only thing that counts is love.

There! I hit the bulls-eye again.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017


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

Our friends, Michael and his son, Rafael, are getting an Australian Shepherd puppy. They are not sure what to name it. I have an idea.

First, it must be two syllables, for Michael says the names of children and dogs should all have two syllables. I think this comes from the exhaustion of having to introduce a three syllable son every month or two.

Then of course it should be an Aussie name. Sport is a good Australian name, as in “Tie me kangaroo down, Sport.” An alternative for that Australian national anthem is “Tie me kangaroo down, Mate,” so Mate would do, too.

That is only one syllable, but we can get two by simply adding “Old” in front of Sport or Mate. There is a long tradition of giving dogs the first name of Old, as in “Old Blue.” So this puppy can be Old Sport from the beginning.

That is not happenstance. It is to avoid later trauma. If my parents had named me Old John instead of just John, I would not be so traumatized now by being OLD John.

Lest you think there is no social antecedents for naming a person and not just dogs with the initial Old, I point out the cultural icon, “Snuffy Smith,” and his eponymous comic strip. In it, a little baby, the kind that crawls on the floor with a pacifier in its mouth, was named “Ol’ Zeb Potter.” Now, that child will never be discombobulated by getting old. He’s been Old all along.

Bert Muston kept doing standup well into age. His signature line was, “You remember me, Old… Old… Old…” He could never remember what came next, but it wouldn’t have been necessary if he had been Old Bert from the beginning.

The one problem I see is if we are visiting Michael and Rafael and standing in the yard to talk, and Rafael yells, “Old Sport, get your tail back here,” people may think he’s calling to me.

It’s not too late to ameliorate the ravages of age. Just start referring to yourself as Old Maude or Old Zeke. People will pick it up quickly, I suspect. Soon you will think of getting old not as a point of anxiety or decrepitude but just who you are.


I tweet as yooper1721

Monday, February 20, 2017


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

A friend recently reported that her therapist said, “I’m getting depressed myself. All day I hear the same anxieties on the same subject.”

Yes, we live in anxious times, but the antidote for anxiety is quite simple. Wm. Schutz, the psychologist, said that when someone told him, “I’m depressed,” he would reply, “Well, cheer up then.” Jesus says the same thing.

The lectionary Gospel for yesterday was Matthew 6:25-34. Our pastor, Jimmy Moore, was sick all week, an unusual condition for him. It slowed him down and gave him lots of time to listen to Jesus, in that Matthew passage, where Jesus says we should cheer up.

Jimmy didn’t listen only to Jesus, but he listened to his own heart, where there is a lot of anxiety, because he is a fretful person to begin with, and because he was sick and wasn’t sure he could get ready to preach or actually preach, and because he has a congregation of people like me, who have many anxieties, and he has to worry about us.

That, of course, meant that in the weak of his dis-ease, he was listening to his congregation, too.

And he listened to the cries of the world, where if you are not anxious about the future, you are asleep or dead.

He’s a good listener, even when he’s not sick. Yesterday, he brought his listenings together in a three point sermon, which is very unusual for Jimmy. He says that people actually complain because he wanders around and doesn’t give them points, so today he gave us a three point list. I like those kinds of lists, especially if I can boil each point down to one word. I can remember them that way.

Here’s the list in three words: Beauty, truth, and action.

BEAUTY: Jimmy used Jesus’ admonition to the disciples of that day to look at the lilies and the birds to avoid anxiety. Find the beauty and see it.

TRUTH: Testify to something each day that you know to be true. As I walked Sunday afternoon, I saw in two different yards those signs in three languages that say: No matter who you are or where you come from, we are glad you’re here. Those folks were testifying to a truth, that all people belong to God.

ACTION: Find something each day that you can do to make the world a better place. A lot of anxiety comes from feeling that we are powerless. We aren’t. There are things we can do to make things better.

When you listen to Jesus carefully, each passage contains all the words of Jesus, those not just about beauty, but about truth and action, too.

I did those three things yesterday. The world is still a mess, but I’m less anxious…and I’m better at listening to Jesus, so I think I’ll do them again today.


I tweet as yooper1721.

When I say that Jimmy is a fretful person, I’m reporting what he said, not my observations.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017


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

“That’s no way to run a railroad.”

That’s what Mr. Gray always said when he disapproved of something. He assumed that once he had said that, the discussion was over.

Mr. Gray was well named. He was definitely the gray eminence, the elder statesman, of our congregation. He had been the vice-president of a large meatpacking company in Chicago. He and his wife had no ties to our community. They had retired to the hills just because they liked the scenery. Our people were delighted when the Grays decided to come to church in our village instead of going to the big church in the county seat town. Whenever Mr. Gray said, “That’s no way to run a railroad,” they whispered to me, “We’ve got to do what he says. He was the vice-president of a big company in Chicago!”

“But he’s wrong,” I would say. “He doesn’t know anything about this community. And a church is not a railroad. You can’t run them the same way.”

Mr. Gray didn’t actually know anything about running a railroad, of course, and neither did I, but that was not the point. It was a phrase everyone used back then, about anything. It simply meant: That’s not the right way to do it, whatever it might be.

I was like the folks in that church. I did understand them and the community. But I was young. And I was poor. Business success and money were assumed both then and now to be marks of intelligence.

One of the reasons the people were so pleased the Grays came to church there was they assumed Mr. Gray would be a generous giver. He was not. That finally got them to thinking that maybe railroads and churches were not the same thing.

Mr. Gray assumed the discussion about anything was over when he said “That’s no way to run a railroad.” The problem was, the discussion ended not on how to get “it” done, but how it couldn’t get done. He didn’t know the right way; he just knew what was not the right way.

It’s ironic. Everyone claimed to know the right way not to run railroads, but no one knew the right way to do it. That’s why railroads are so irrelevant to us now. The right way to run a railroad was the standard for running anything and everything, but no one entrusted with running a railroad got it right.

I’m coming to the end of the line. I still don’t know how to run a railroad, but at least I’m still on the track. Maybe that’s good enough.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


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

 She is the organ
The choir, a whole
Orchestra of bassoons
Singing of prayer
And hope and Jesus
Rockin’ in Jerusalem
A musical Trinity
Is there a God who cares
A whit about this world?
I don’t know
But Mahalia makes us believe
In music
For the moment,
that’s good enough


Friday, February 17, 2017


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

At the fifty year reunion of my high school class, Kenny Liniger recalled the day Mr. Kell, our principal, summoned him and another student into his office and said, “You two will never amount to anything.”

Kenny said, “I think it was just a lucky guess.”

I’m not sure that actually happened, but Kenny raised an issue we were all thinking about, that each of us on an occasion like that thinks about: Have I really been successful? Did I do okay? Did I reach my goals? Did I live up to what my friends thought I would do? Did my life have meaning?

As I looked at those wrinkled and graying people, and assessed what I knew about them, I realized that those who have been successful had one thing in common: they were hosts rather than guests.

It is not as easy it sounds. There is always a conflict between hosting and guesting. Guests expect to be served, to be taken care of. Hosts expect to serve, to take care of others.

Ironically, both success and happiness come in the serving, in being the host.

One of our classmates—I’ll call him Ambrose because nobody in our town has ever been called Ambrose—has been more successful than any of us, because he failed so badly, and reinvented himself.

When he and I talked at our thirty year reunion, he was a bitter man. His wife had divorced him. His children were estranged. “All any of them want from me is money,” he said.

I was not real close to Ambrose in high school, but I liked him. He was always a good friend to me. I hated to see him like that. All I could do was pray for him.

At our forty year reunion, he was a different man. He had met a woman. She had taken him to church. He began to do stuff to maintain the church, cut the grass and such. She broke it off with him, but he liked the church so much, he stayed. He wanted to keep cutting the grass.

He decided to be successful. Yes, it was a decision. He decided to be happy. He reconciled with his children. Then he met another woman. She’s a delight. They’ve been married for a long time now. He stopped being a guest and became a host.

At our sixty year reunion he gave me a gift. I won’t say what it is, because that would reveal Ambrose’s identity, but it is something that says he understands the difference between being a host and a guest.

The great thing about being a host… it’s like prayer. Anybody can do it. Anybody can be successful.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


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

I was twenty. The man standing on the corner told me he was ninety-two. I wasn’t interested in his age, but he told me anyway. He was proud of reaching ninety-two and proud that he was still preaching at that age.

We were standing at a street corner in Greencastle, Indiana, at Depauw University, the site of the now defunct August continuing education conference for Indiana Methodist preachers. It was called The School of the Prophets. 

It was a hot afternoon, but he was dressed in a black suit and white shirt. I was wearing the then-current college student uniform of a vertically striped shirt and Oxford-style tan pants, with the buckle in the back.

He said he had driven over from Indianapolis just for the day. He asked me where the conference was being held. I told him, pointed “that way,” but he made no move in that direction, just stood there.

He didn’t really seem interested in going to a conference session. He just wanted to be close by, to feel like he was still part of “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” to tell a brand-new preacher how he had survived all those years.

He told me his name, but I did not hear it. I did not want to listen to him. His hair was white and his teeth were yellow. His skin was wrinkled and his clothes were old. What did we have in common? Both preachers, but his time was over, and mine was just starting.

I left him on the corner and went back to my friends inside the walls of now.

That slight chance encounter still haunts me. I was not outwardly rude or unkind to him, but I was not interested in him and his story. That might be the unkindest act of all, the non-act of not listening. He is not the last story I failed to hear, but his was the first. I have spent more time wondering about him through the years than it would have taken me to listen to him.

He was born in 1865. If he started preaching at nineteen, as I did, he started only 19 years after the Civil War ended. What stories he must have lived. What stories I could tell now if I had listened to him.

Now I am the old man on the corner. I stop young people and ask them where the action is, what is going on inside the walls of now. I listen to their stories. It doesn’t take long; their stories are short.

That is one of the chief responsibilities of old people, listening to the stories of the young. That is how they find out who they are and what they want to be.

If I listen well enough, they might even want to hear how I survived all these years, might want to listen to the old man on the corner.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


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

I’m glad Mary Ann Orr, of the Orr Funeral Home, did not see my “Girl with No Tattoo” poem yesterday. That’s not exactly a classy poem.

I liked and admired Mary Ann. But I avoided her. I didn’t want her to find out, any more than she already knew, how unclassy I was.

The Orrs were good neighbors and good church members. They lived at the end of our block, above their funeral home.

When we first came to town, Gene, Mary Ann’s husband, assured me that all I had to do to be accepted as the new preacher was to show up and be nice. He explained that one of my predecessors was the worst preacher in history. Indeed, his first sermon in that town, even before his first Sunday service, was for Mary Ann’s mother’s funeral. Her father was the school superintendent. “He laughed at his own wife’s funeral,” Gene told me, “because that funeral sermon was so bad, the only thing you could do was laugh.”

“But,” Gene went on, “I think he was the most beloved preacher we ever had. Every sermon was worse than the last, but it was so obvious that he loved us, we didn’t care.”

It was an excellent story to tell the new preacher. I, however, had a reputation as a good preacher, good in part because I did quirky stuff not expected from a preacher, not just in preaching but in general. I worked hard at keeping that rep. Most people appreciated it, and sometimes told me so. I liked that.

One day, though, my secretaries—Rose and Frances—told me that there was a rumor that I had done a certain thing. I can’t remember at all now what it was. It was nothing despicable, not murder or mooning. But I’m sure it was within my wheelhouse as the cool, unpredictable, “radical priest” preacher. Probably something like that “poem” of yesterday’s blog.

“But,” Rose, or maybe Frances, said, “Mary Ann Orr said that you were much too classy to do something like that.”

Then they waited, cute little snarky smiles on their faces, to see how I would respond, for they knew that I had already done that now-unremembered thing.

All I could do was vow to avoid Mary Ann forever, which, of course, was impossible to do. She came to church, and I went to funerals. Our paths were bound to cross. But she never mentioned it, because she was classy.  

I did also vow, however, never to do that again, and I’m sure I did not, even though I can’t remember what it was. Because I’m classy. When somebody reminds me. Thank goodness for people like Mary Ann, who expect us to be better than we are.


I tweet as yooper1721.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE GIRL WITH NO TATTOO-A poem of warning for Val’s Day T, 2-14-17

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

Lest any folks who believe the Bible literally think the following poem has nothing to do with religion, I remind you of Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make…any tattoo marks on yourself.” Or if you think certain words are not quite appropriate, either for a faith blog or Valentine’s Day…you are right, but prophets have always had to push the point to get warnings across to old people…

THE GIRL WITH NO TATTOO-A poem of warning for Val’s Day 

There is a girl so lovely, a girl so passing fair,
a girl with ripe and rosy cheeks, a girl with golden hair,
a girl who has a form divine, with a voice like morning dew,
but she’ll never get a man for she’s the girl with no tattoo.

She doesn’t have some neat barbed wire or the Chinese sign for soup,
she doesn’t have a crucifix or the hangman’s loop,
she doesn’t wear a doggy’s face or a lightning bolt from God,
how will she ever get a man with no ink upon her bod?

She doesn’t have a chance, she doesn’t have a clue,
for she doesn’t have an image of a cute ghost saying Boo
upon her lower abdomen or on her throat so fair.
She doesn’t even have a kitty on her derriere.

You can’t know what she’s thinking if it’s not written on her ass.
You’ve got to see her thigh confession when she goes to mass,
You don’t know if she’s weak or if she’s getting bolder.
You don’t know if she loves her child unless it’s written on her shoulder.

She doesn’t have a smokin’ Harley or a skull and crossbones flag,
tattooed upon her biceps or where she’s gonna sag,
when she gets a little older and little children run in fear,
when they see the sloppy sloshing of her inked-on mug of beer.

She doesn’t have a blue bird or tyrannosaurus rex.
She doesn’t have a hairy angel or a scary witch’s hex,
She doesn’t have a running bird that slays coyotes and says beep,
How can she ever get a man when her beauty’s not skin-deep?

They say it’s in the eye of the beholder, where beauty does reside,
even a girl who is a Yooper can be a blushing bride, [1]
but it’s hard to see appeal on skin where no one drew,
how can there be a spot of beauty on a girl with no tattoo?
They say that ink’s an art form, that you’ve no soul without a tatt,
with no Cupid on your buttocks you’re just Cassatt without the hat. [2]
They say it is an art form, that those without it have no soul,
because upon your bum there are no cherries in a bowl.

Jackson Pollock would have made it, but he didn’t have a tatt,
so would that Picasso guy, but his biceps were too flat,
to show a vase of flowers, or even “Mother,” dear,
instead his puny arms just  painted people strange and queer.

Yes, she is quite lovely, yes her life is really rich,
but she’ll never get a man without some art apprich.
She doesn’t sport a swarthy pirate on a coral reef,
she’s just an empty palette, she’s got no bas relief.

She does not have some purple grapes all clustered and all viney,
she is so completely without class there’s no art upon her heiny.
She may be a doctor or in a business that ends with Inc,
but she’ll not break the glassy ceiling unless she has some ink.

She surely is a lesbian or maybe something worse,
perhaps she is a commie, or a writer of blank verse,
maybe she’s from Kenya or she may be a Jew,
you cannot know the faith or creed of a girl with no tattoo.

She doesn’t sport a dragon, she doesn’t have a dagger,
she wears no colored crucifix or a likeness of Mick Jagger,
she does not display Bugs Bunny or near-sighted Mr. Magoo,
she’s the existential loser, the girl with no tattoo.

Her life’s so inefficient, how awful no one knows,
when she wants to show you how she feels, she  has to put on clothes.
It would be much more effective for her to tell you how she felt
if she had an upraised finger forever on her pelt.

I must be a loser, I must be a nerd,
I must be the most pathetic man in this strange graphic world,
I must be a crazy fool who’s brain has gone coo-coo,
for I’m the Valentine’s Day lover of the girl with no tattoo.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Yooper refers to a citizen of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, UP. The idea that a Yooper girl might not be a blushing bride is because brides there must wear parkas and snowshoes at their June weddings.

2] Artist Mary Cassatt is always pictured wearing a big hat.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017


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

I have six categories I think through each day to remind me of how I need to spend my time.

1 = HEALTH, both physical and mental. I put it first because nothing else is possible without health.

2 = FAMILY. Obvious reasons. These are the persons most important to me and for whom I have the greatest responsibility.

3 = HOUSEHOLD. You can’t live very successfully unless someone maintains the infrastructure—cooking, cleaning, shopping, errands, trash and recycling, yard and house, laundry, car maintenance, putting Christmas decorations back up on the shelves in the garage, making more shelves, etc. Life falls apart pretty quickly if you don’t tend to these.

4 = FRIENDS. It’s important to support and uphold and spend time with the people who call you and say, “I’m coming to town and I want a sandwich.”

5 = LAUGHTER. I make that a separate category because it’s so easy to neglect it. Laughter is life’s magic potion. We need to imbibe it every day. If there’s no chance of it coming up on its own, I need to seek it out. A preacher, a priest, and a rabbi walked into a bar. The bartender said, “Is this some sort of joke?”

6 = MISSION. For a long time, I called this category Work. When I retired, I changed it to Writing, because that’s how I wanted to spend my time. But Mission is really what it was all along. If I were still working or writing, they would not really be ends in themselves but part of my mission. Mission includes our work, but is larger. It is vocation, what we are called not so much to do as to be. The doing comes out of the being.

Each of us is called to the vocation of being, being a child of God, and thus acting like a child of God. Or, as my non-believer friends say, acting “like a decent human being.”

Joan Erikson, the wife of psychologist Erik Erikson, says that in his last years, when he needed constant care, he observed his caregivers with the same interested eye through which he had always viewed people, and treated them with the same kindness and graciousness he had always used. The field for his mission, for being a child of God, a decent human being, had been reduced from the whole world, to which he related through his research and teaching, to just a handful of people, but his mission did not change.

The Mission category includes and sets the tone for the others. None of us is ever too old to have a mission.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

AFTER THE THREE POINTS-a poem Su, 2-12-17

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

A few Sundays ago, I had to excoriate our pastor, Jimmy Moore, for reversing the standard sermon outline. He had one point and three poems. Preachers have always joked among themselves about a sermon being “three points and a poem.” So…

I went and told it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
But no one seemed to care

Perhaps my feet were not beautiful [1]
I know for sure that they were made of clay
Still I went and told it on the mountain

I told it in the valley, too
And all those places in between
Now my telling’s done

I’m glad I did it
Glad I told it on the mountain
For as I walk that lonesome valley

Walk it by myself, as Jesus did
I can hear my echo sounding
Jesus Christ is born


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Isaiah 52:7.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


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

So this week I got an email from Dave Johnson. I know Dave Johnson, several of them in fact, so I opened it. It was, indeed, addressed directly to me, “Dear John,” and all. Dave said he had an opening he thought might interest me. It’s a 20 hour per week position at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, WI. As a phlebotomist.

For many years I thought that a phlebotomist was a proctologist for fleas, a very delicate and not highly desirable vocation. But I learned during chemotherapy that a phlebotomist is the jolly person who dresses up as Count Dracula for the hospital Halloween party and does scary things to you as you look the other way. [Well, that last part pretty much describes everyone in the hospital, including the food service people.]

Okay, I understand that there are people who think I have too much time on my hands, that I post too much on Facebook and write this column too often. I did not think, however, that someone would go to the trouble to try to keep me busy by getting me a job in Rhinelander… I mean, the commute alone… who would…

Wait. I remember now how I used to walk past the location of a new restaurant in the mall in Sterling, IL in the morning. Lots of other old people walked then, too. The restaurant had a big sign on the window that said they were hiring. Every old couple that walked by, I heard the wife say to the husband, “Look, you could get a job there.” As I have heard many women say, “I married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”

The final paragraph of Dave Johnson’s email says that if I think this is a position more suitable for someone else, to pass it along, so here’s your chance...


I tweet as yooper1721.

Friday, February 10, 2017


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

It’s been remarkably warm here recently. The birds sound like they think it’s spring. I listen to the birds sing, because I like the idea of spring, but mostly I listen to them in my father’s honor.

In his last years, in his third nursing home, Dad schemed constantly to stage a “breakout,” as he had done in his previous nursing homes, and get his own apartment again. He was blind, and almost deaf, and he could barely move. He had asked us to get him into the nursing home. But he wanted out.

On his final day, he was so weak he was unable even to eat the sausage gravy, his favorite food, that my wife was trying to spoon into his mouth. But he was able to whisper to her, “I’m going to get out of here and get my own apartment.”

He always said it was so that he could “sit in the sunshine and listen to the birds sing.” There was a very nice courtyard at the nursing home, with sunshine and birdsong. We often offered to take him out to sit on it, but he never accepted the offer. Because it wasn’t really about hearing the birds sing.

“I want to listen to the birds sing” was his mantra and metaphor. It expressed all he had lost and all that he longed for. He was independent and a man of the outdoors. Bird song was a good symbol for him.

I’m not sure what the metaphor for my life is. Perhaps when I’m scheming for my breakout, I’ll frustrate my children with: “I just want to sit in a coffee shop and read a book.” Or: “I just want to sit behind third base and hear the crack of the bat.” Or: “I just want to hold a baby and hear it laugh.”

Whatever it is, I know I had better enjoy it now, while I can, so that when I can no longer see the letters on the page or climb the stairs to the cheap seats or hold the baby close enough to keep it from falling, I can close my eyes and taste the tang of the coffee and hear the roar of the crowd and feel the smooth skin of the baby. In my heart.


I tweet as yooper          1721.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

SALTY CHRISTIANS: The Pastoral Prayer for 2-5-17. Posted R, 2-9-17.

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

Our pastors at St. Mark’s UMC, in Bloomington, IN, where we were the first couple married 58 years ago, asked me to give the pastoral prayer at worship on 2-5-17. The Gospel for the day was Matthew 5:13-18, where Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and talks about how communities can be transformed.

As we prepared to pray, I led the congregation in singing, a capella: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. [Helen H. Lemmel]

Here is the prayer:

We give you thanks, O Loving God, for the gift of Jesus, the Christ, for that face that is so dim in the eyes of the world, but so clear in the eyes of the spirit, the one in whose countenance is life and light.

We give you thanks, Almighty God, for this day that you have made, and allow us to share.

We thank you, merciful God, for those who are the salt of the earth, who give life its flavor. We thank you for those who cast salt on icy streets and icy souls so that we will not slip and fall.

We thank you, sort of, O God, for designating us to be the salt of the world, but salt is just so common. It’s so easy to lose our saltiness, but it’s not really our fault. Salt is so mundane. Who notices salt, really?

A saltiness app would be nice, to remind us of who we are, or you could let us be something a little more palatable, like the cookies of the world, so that people would like us better, the ice cream of the world, that would be nice, at least some flavoring a little less common, more exotic, more cool and current, like the cardamom of the world, or the turmeric of the world. We’d seem more interesting and exciting cool and dope.

But if we must be salt, may it be that when the hard rains come, we may be those who still pour, pour out wisdom and love upon our community.

We pray, O God, for those for whom life has no flavor, those trapped in the boredom of sin, in the dull routine of addiction, in the drab pursuit of greed and lust, in the tedious grasp for power.

We pray for those in pain, whose lives are a constant struggle for just a bit of peace, who fear each coming moment, who pray for surcease of agony.

We pray for those who live in worlds of delusion and lies and the false paradise of selfishness.

We pray for children, whose lives so often are laced with fears they cannot understand, and forces they cannot control.

We pray for those who are always on the outside, always left out, who have no community of hope and love.

There seem to be so many these days, O God, in high places and low, who want to rub salt into the wounds of your people instead of binding up those wounds with the oil of healing, who scatter salt on the fields of our common life so that those fields cannot produce the daily bread we need and pray for. Help us to repent of the misuse of our saltiness and to commit ourselves anew to being salt and light, flavor and hope.

We give you thanks for the communities you have given us—family and friends and church and nation and world. Help us to be good salty citizens of these communities.

We pray for Jimmy Moore and Mary Beth Morgan and Trina Mescher and Andy Cron, the leaders of our church [1], for Michael McRobbie, the president of our university, for John Hamilton, the mayor of our city, for Trey Hollingsworth and Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, the congresspersons of our state, for Donald Trump, the President of our nation, and for all of the other servant-leaders of our various communities. Endue them, each and every, with wisdom and kindness and all other virtues necessary to lead, so that everything they do may be pleasing in your sight, and all our communities may be transformed into fellowships of salt and light. [This was followed by silent prayer and The Lord’s Prayer]

I tweet as yooper1721, because I was a Yooper when I started and didn’t know any better.

1] Moore and Morgan are pastors. Mescher and Cron are Lay Leaders.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


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

I recently picked up a new child for my prayer list. That’s a fairly common occurrence. I have a long list of children I pray for, from babies to kids in their fifties. I pray for a lot of people, including children, just in general, but this particular group is for kids with specific problems, from cancer to adolescent angst to addictions to lost mates and lost jobs to joint replacements.

Yes, joint replacements. Those kids in their fifties are still children. We knew their parents before they were born. They are mature, competent adults now, but they are still children to us, and so when they are hurting, even as parents or grandparents themselves, I feel that it is a responsibility and a privilege to pray for them as children.

I have no idea how intercessory prayer works. I’m very sure that neither I nor others, probably not even all of us together, change God’s mind to do something merciful that God would not otherwise will. But there is more going on in the spiritual world than any of us understands. Sometimes we encounter “thin” places [1] where presences and powers get through. I think praying for others helps to create and use those thin places.

And as the wonderful Rachel Naomi Remen says, “Kissing the booboo isn’t intended to take away the pain. It takes away the loneliness.” I want any child, regardless of age, to know that at least one person is with them in their pains, through prayer.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] “Thin places” is not original with me. I have read CS Lewis and heard Madeline L’Engle speak of thin places.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Praise for Old Truth-a poem T, 2-7-17

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

The old ladies at the next table
telling of the trips they will take
to go to distant points to see
the grands, of family and of temples…

“You were telling me about Rome,”
she said, when her friend forgot
the thread,

…look good “for their age.”
They have not spilled their chai
…they have not misused the subjunctive
or fallen off the high stools
these places use to separate the nimble
from the stiff…

“You must be this tall to ride.”

…So we must celebrate them in song
and psalm, perhaps a parade
to demean their lives
with a banner that says they are
worthwhile only so long as they do not
act as old as they are

Please, if we are worthy of praise
it is for more than acting young
when we are old.
There is no merit just in piling up
the years.
Yes, I can remember my name. Thank you
for noticing.
But if I am worthy of praise
let it be for remembering the truth.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Monday, February 6, 2017


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

I tried to keep my 80th birthday a secret. I wasn’t ashamed of being 80. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. What does it mean, to be that old?

I knew it could not be a total secret, of course. There are people who know the date. But I wanted to keep it low-key. That turned out to be impossible, because one of the persons who knows that date is Helen. She decided, while ostensibly going along with my idea of no party and gifts primarily of donations to The Interfaith Winter Shelter, that I should receive greetings of some sort—card, letter, Facebook, email—from everyone I have ever known, and some I have never even met.  She also put my favorite yellow roses on the altar at church, with a note in the bulletin about whose birthday those roses honored and which birthday it was.

I was not chagrined that my plans went awry. Most of my plans go awry or away. Instead, it was wonderful, to hear from so many friends, to share so many good memories. Perhaps the best gift of all is to have a wife who knows what you need better than you know yourself. I was still befuddled by that number, 80, though. What does it mean, to be that old?

After listening to the sermon of our pastor, Jimmy Moore, yesterday, I began to realize why I resisted dealing with my 80th birthday. I was unconsciously afraid not of change, but of NOT changing.

Granted, old people have good reasons to be reluctant about change. Most of the changes that happen to us are not good. We slow down, forget stuff, can’t find stuff, break stuff, drop stuff. After a stroke, my friend, Tom, can’t read the way he has always enjoyed so much. Because of a creeping nerve disease, my friend, Jack, can’t walk, and he always so much enjoyed getting around and doing. I don’t look forward to decreasing limits. It takes me five minutes longer to walk a mile than it took ten years ago. I don’t celebrate that.

I have seen friends take these changes and deal with them, though. There is strength available, at any age, to overcome changes for the worst. As we age, we have to live within changing limits, but we don’t have to be limited by them.

I have always looked forward to what came next, though. That’s why I’ve never particularly been afraid of death.

I have always looked forward to new places, new friends, new activities, new cars, new shoes. Our car is new enough, and our miles few enough, that we’ll probably never have another car. What’s the point of another plaid shirt when I don’t have room in our condo for all those I have already? What if there is nothing new after 80?

I think unconsciously I feared that 80 was some kind of turning point when there was nothing new to look forward to. But in church Sunday morning, Rev. Jimmy Moore claimed that is not true. He said that change is inevitable, and since it is, why not change for the better… or something like that.

Of course, he’s only 61, so what does he know? Wait ‘til you’re 80, Jimmy. Then you’ll…. well, you’ll be befuddled.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


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

“I want to be sitting in Lynn’s chair,” I said, “telling her story.”

It was the summer of 1990. Helen and I were enrolled in a class at Iliff Theological Seminary, in Denver, on “Empowering the Cancer Patient.” It was five months after my surgery and four months into my twelve months of chemotherapy. I was still under the sentence of my first oncologist, “…a year or two.”

Most of the class members were Iliff students who were learning how to pastor cancer patients. A few class members were survivors, but I was the only one who was still a patient. The class coordinator was John Anduri, a cancer survivor himself, and the main teachers, both in knowledge and inspiration, were Lynn Ringer and Paul K. Hamilton, Jr.

Twenty years before Paul had been Lynn’s oncologist. She was barely into her twenties when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, at a time when the survival rate for that cancer was 1 [one] %. Before they had any idea that she would be in that 1%, Paul was so impressed with the poise and determination of his tall and beautiful and composed young patient that he began what was then a brand new idea, using patients to help other patients. When Lynn would walk into a hospital room, her first line was, “I’m a patient, too.” It became the title of a book. [1] Together Paul and Lynn founded CanSurmount, the patient to patient support program of The ACS.

In class one day, John Anduri asked each of us to answer this question: Where do you want to be in twenty years?

I said, “I want to be in Lynn’s chair, telling her story.”

It’s been 27 years today since my emergency surgery started me on the cancer journey. Surviving twenty years was more than I could even imagine then. I’m sitting in Lynn’s chair, saying that any day you survive is a gift.

John Robert McFarland

I tweet as yooper1721.

If you want to read more about my journey… NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. Published by AndrewsMcMeel.