Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, July 22, 2017

SUMMER SMELLS-a poem? 7-22-17


I smelled the summer
As I walked today
Smelled the summer
In that good old fashion
Olfactory way

Perhaps it is different
Where you are today
But in the hills
Of southern Indiana
Down below where the oak
Leaves rustle in the breeze
There is a fullness
Of smell in the air

I see the roses
Of Red and Sharon
Who lived next door
I see the purple of some
Unnamed flower
Unnamed by me, at least
I cannot call their names
But I know that they
Are quite profligate
About their smells
Putting them out for anyone
Who passes by

No wonder the bees and bugs
Are so enthralled in summer
So eager to fly from flower to flower,
Like me they smell the summer
And know that it is good
Even though they, like me,
Have no names to use
To confine the smells
To earth

JRMcF


This may be my worst “poem” ever, but remember, I don’t claim to be a poet. It’s important to me just to let the words flow and let them stand as they are. It’s terrible for you to have to read what comes out that way, though, and I apologize. However, even if the poetry is bad, and even if you aren’t supposed to start a sentence with “however,” it’s nice to sniff those summer smells, isn’t it?

Friday, July 21, 2017

REUEL HOWE AND AT-ONE-MENT 7-21-17


[Originally posted on Sunday 8-15-10]

In the last few years I have begun to reread books that were important to me when I was new in the ministry. Some have held up very well, like Paul Tillich’s books of sermons. Some have been very disappointing, like Wm. Stringfellow’s “Free in Obedience.” [The title is still good, though.]

One in particular has been very humbling, Reuel Howe’s Man’s Need and God’s Action. As I reread it, I find that every good idea I’ve had along the way, that I thought was mine, actually comes from that book. The language is a bit formal and stilted, typical of its time. [The copyright is 1953. I read it in seminary in the early 1960s.] The insights, however, are, if anything, even more accurate today.

I had the good fortune, some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s, to be in a continuing education seminar with Reuel at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. He was retired then, but just as insightful, and quite delightful in person.

In that seminar, he told the story of how, when he was a teenager, his father decided to take the family into the forests of Washington state to homestead. They went deep into the forest with their tents and supplies. Before they had really gotten started, a fire wiped out everything they had. Reuel and his father walked back out to get more supplies, leaving his mother and younger siblings behind. When they returned, they saw that his mother had found a rusted old tin can, picked wild flowers, and placed the bouquet on an old stump. The little children were playing “ring” around it. “She took a tragic incident and recycled it to make something beautiful,” he said. “I learned what was perhaps the only lesson I would ever need on that day.”

All this is leading up to his reflection on atonement in his book. It is the perfect word for what Christ is all about, at-one-ment, to make us at one with God, with the world and our neighbors, and with our own true self.

I, and all the people who heard me say almost daily for over 60 years, “Christ came to make us whole, with God, with self, and with the world,” owe a great debt to Reuel Howe.

JRMcF

There was no English word for this Biblical idea of making whole, so one of the early English Bible translators created “atonement,” to get across the idea of being restored to wholeness. (I think I learned this from “In the Beginning: The Making of the King James Bible,” by Alister McGrath.)



Thursday, July 20, 2017

CHOOSING FRIENDS WHO FEED US 7-20-17

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

Once, when I still had a job, I felt overwhelmed. Well, it happened a lot more than just once, but there was this one time when I felt like there was a big old heavy bag of stuff on my back. It weighed me down. I couldn’t take even one step without that bag bouncing on my back and giving me a whap. I was really tired of that bag and its weight.

I decided I had to lighten that bag.

The first thing to do when you feel overwhelmed, of course, is to make lists, so I did. I made a list of every item I would take out of that heavy bag that bounced on my bag with every step, every item I would toss into the ditch to lighten my load. I showed the list to my wife.

“Do you realize,” she said, “that everything on this list is something that feeds you?”

I grabbed the list back and took a long look at it. She was right. I was going to toss all the toys and candy bars and keep all the anvils and horse carcasses. Worst of all, I was going to get rid of all the people I wanted to spend time with and keep all those I spent time with because I had no choice.
           
When you are working--unless you are a soldier or police officer or lawyer or radio talk show host or billionaire or president or billionaire president--you have to be nice to everyone. One of the best things about old age is that we get a chance to pick our friends, spend time with those we want to rather than those we have to, spend time with those who feed us.

We get to choose to whom we are nice. We don’t get to choose, however, to be nasty, to anyone. But it’s okay to stay away from the nasties. It’s okay to make that choice.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

EARLY IN THE MORNING, a song, sort of 7-19-17

I found this in my folder of song starts. Thinking about “finishing” it, I thought… well, it would do okay as a poem…


Early in the morning
When the day is new
And the hopes are many
And worries are few
I sing to the sunrise
Of Gospel and love
I join the choir in praise
With angels up above
And hope for a sunrise
Some day when I die
But in the meantime
In between times
I give thanks for you

JRMcF

I tweet as yooper1721.

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

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

 Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known by promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Speaking of writing, my book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ACHIEVING A GOOD MOTHER-IN-LAW 7-18-17


Georgia Mark Heltzel Karr was a great mother-in-law. She was my second biggest fan and advocate, after her older daughter, and was not at all sure that Helen was a big enough fan. According to Georgia, I had overcome a lot to be on the way to a good career and she didn’t want Helen to be getting in the way.

That kind of achievement, the sort Georgia wished for me, was what she had always wanted for herself. But she grew up in a home that was typical for its day, which meant dysfunctional in a particular way. Her father ruled the roost, entirely, as a good Prussian father should. He made all the decisions. The pecking order in the family included Georgia’s two brothers first, ahead of her and her sister, Clara, even though they were younger. Georgia wanted to go to college, to achieve, but her father decreed that it was stupid to educate a girl.

In most dysfunctional families, even the ones that are normal for their time and place, there is one person who is an oasis. For Georgia, that was her sister, Clara, only 23 months different in age. But Clara died suddenly, when she was only twenty. Georgia never really recovered from that.

Being the only girl left in the family, she was the one who was expected to care for her aging parents, for a very long time, to do all the work necessary for them to stay in their own house. She loved having a husband and family, but that was the only thing she ever got to do for herself, and in one way, it was just more of the same—being a servant to all, the way it so often is with mothers. She did it all with great efficiency, for her parental family and for her own family, the way an achiever does, but it always wore on her soul as well as on her body.

She was a great Cubs fan, listening to Bob Elston describe every game on the radio, then listening to Jack Brickhouse do them when TV came along. One time that I saw her truly happy was when I took her to a game at Wrigley Field. At her funeral, I noted that her twin grandsons had said they expected that now she was playing with the Cubs in heaven. I said they were close but not quite accurate. She would be managing.

Helen has said that her mother thought the only stupid thing I ever did was marry her daughter. She was a great achiever, as a mother-in-law. Thank you, Georgia.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. TODAY is publication day of her new book, What Goes Up. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available right now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Monday, July 17, 2017

BRAIN WORK 7-17-17

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


Research indicates that old people think best in the morning. That is the optimal time of day for us to do brain work. By eleven o’clock, our brains are pretty well used up.

Frankly, I think that is rather optimistic. It’s ten-thirty as I write this and even two cups of coffee are not preventing my brain cells from wanting their pre-nap nap. Besides, it was in an afternoon session at a conference when someone cited the research, and I remembered it. Remembering something I have heard is pretty good brain work for me at any time.

There is plenty of other research, well-known to all by now, that says old people can put off losing brain power simply by exercising the old noggin. That is especially true if we use our brain cells in new and different ways, like learning a foreign language. Anything, though, that makes the brain work, such as doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, is good for us.

The brain is part of the body. Any part of the body works better if we keep exercising and stretching it.

We need to adjust our schedules in the bloom years to meet the needs of our body and brain.

I used to be a long-distance runner, and I still walk about 50 minutes each day. When I was working, I ran first thing in the morning. It was the only way I could be sure I got my run in. My work days had ways of getting filled up with unplanned necessities that would knock out possibilities of running later. I continued that pattern when I retired, just because it was what I always did. Besides, it’s a good pattern; it’s fun to walk early and see the day come alive.

I began to find, though, in old age, that when I finished running or walking, I was tired. I wanted to sit down and do nothing. By the time I had recovered, errands and house chores were clutching at me. By the time nap time came, I had done no reading or writing, no brain work, and you know how useless a brain is after nap time!

So now I cook my oatmeal and start the coffee maker and start brain work even while I’m eating breakfast. I keep it up until eleven, or even later if I’ve got my slowmentum working. Walking and stretching and errands and chores are quite doable without much brain power.

I’m not saying this is the day plan you should use. Make your own schedule. Don’t just hang onto the same rhythms that worked for you in the past, though. We are different people now, with different needs. Regardless, it is important to include time for brain work when your brain can actually work.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.


For several years I kept a careful index of stories and subjects I had used in these posts so that I would not repeat. That has become cumbersome, and I trust that most of my readers are old enough to forget as much as I, so now I just rely on memory to avoid repeats. If your memory is better than mine, and something sounds too familiar to bother reading again, I apologize.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

FEELING AT EASE IN UNEASY TIMES 7-16-17


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

 I often felt ill at ease because I felt at ease in situations that were not easy.

Bishop Leroy Hodapp said he felt most at ease in conflict situations, because that was when there was a possibility for change. I liked that idea, but it didn’t make me feel at ease in conflict. I became a bit more at ease with conflict toward the end of my career, mostly, I think, because I didn’t care anymore if people liked me or what they thought of me.

The difficult situations where I felt at ease were not about conflict but disaster, when I was with a man whose wife had died suddenly, with a family where a child had died or committed suicide, with a woman whose husband had been killed. I was keenly aware of my limits, the limits of anyone to be truly comforting in a situation like that, but I was also aware that this was a time where I could be of true help by pushing the limits. At times of loss, folks can be more aware of “the everlasting arms.” I was there to represent those everlasting arms in a way no one else could.

Don’t get me wrong. I dreaded those situations. I did not want anyone to lose a loved one or face any disaster of that kind. I was agonizingly aware of how I would feel in a similar situation. I not only sympathized but empathized. But you can’t escape the bad parts of life by wishing them away. When they come… well, that was where I felt called, where I felt I was supposed to be.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

Following the critical and marketing success of her first Young Adult novel, daughter Katie Kennedy’s Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known by promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

BANGS AND WHIMPERS 7-15-17

BANGS AND WHIMPERS    7-15-17

“Not with a bang
but a whimper.”
He’s right, that T.S. Eliot.
It’s true.

We are down to the last
days now. Surely
I should do something
bangy, a clanging cymbal
at least.
but the bangs have grown
farther apart
like a back-firing Model T
disappearing over the hill.

But all I want to do
is nothing.
And remember…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com


Friday, July 14, 2017

HEALING THE WOUNDS OF SELF-HELP 7-14-17

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

HEALING THE WOUNDS OF SELF-HELP         7-14-17

It was my own fault. I know better than to comment on anything on Facebook. On top of that, I’m in a year-long theological fast. I’m trying to see if I can be a real Christian instead of a just professional Christian. I can’t think theologically for a year.

But this person on FB really swerved off of grace and into salvation by entitlement. I pointed that out. Not very well. Facebook is not designed for long and intricate and nuanced discussions of serious issues. She misunderstood what I tried to say. Her feelings were hurt. She was disappointed in me. She thinks I’m a bad person now.

Upsetting her would not worry me as much if she were a mean person, but she’s well-intentioned and sensitive and self-absorbed and fragile. She is very much into self-help. I describe her thus not as criticism but just as reality. She has good reasons for being as she is.

The problem arose because I didn’t know it was she who made the Facebook post. I did not see her name. I thought it was one of those general pop psychology posts. If I had known it was she I would have kept my mouth, or my typing fingers, shut.

Of course, that is the real problem; I just couldn’t keep my discontents to myself.

Now this imbroglio has bothered me all day. The equanimity I have tried to achieve through my theology fast is all gone. I know that trying to continue to explain will only make it worse. She needs to cling to her entitlement grace as a drowning man clings to wreckage. It would be stupid and destructive and non-graceful of me to try to pull that away from her. But it really bothers me when… it makes me so mad… don’t I deserve a little understanding, too… it makes me so mad… round and round… it especially makes me mad when I know it’s my own fault.

I think it was psychologist Bill Schutz I heard tell of how he went unwillingly to a party. He didn’t want to be there. He went only out of obligation. He had lots of more important things to do. It was really boring. And then on top of that, he felt a sore throat coming on. So he made a decision. “I’ll stay only fifteen more minutes, and then I’ll go home and take something for this cold.”

A strange thing happened. Immediately he felt relieved. He started to enjoy the party. His sore throat went away. He really appreciated the other folks there. He was the last one to leave.

No, he didn’t use those fifteen minutes to get drunk! He made a decision. It wasn’t momentous. It was simple. But it put him back into control of his own life. He compromised with himself.

So I shall make a decision. Making a decision gives you control, remember. I’ll compromise with myself. I won’t try to make my Facebook friend understand, I’ll just do something that satisfies me… 

I’ll write a book I always wanted to write, that’s my decision. It’s called Healing the Wounds of Self Help. It will be a self-help book. But, I guess that’s oxymoronic and ridiculous, isn’t it? But I love that title. I really want to use it, especially before some title-stealer uses it. Okay, I’ll write it as a novel. But I’m too old to write novels now. I’ll die before I’d ever get it finished, and nobody would publish it anyway. [There is a lot of ageism in publishing.] Even if they did publish it, they’d want me to do the marketing, and I’m too old and uninterested for that. So I’ll write it as a short story. No, I have no reputation with magazine editors; no one would print it. Well, I guess I’ll just have to do it as a blog post…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] We no longer live in the land of perpetual winter, but I am in the winter of my years, so I think it’s okay to use that phrase. I don’t know why I put that © on; it’s hardly necessary.

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

REDEEMING THE TIME 7-13-17

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

I wrote this eight years ago, for my book BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED, which never got completed, but it’s all still accurate today, except that I’m no longer 72 and no longer doing physical therapy for my rotator cuff surgery…

REDEEMING THE TIME    7-13-17

When our grandson, Joseph, was fifteen months old, he was diagnosed with hypatoblastoma, liver cancer. He spent the next year in the hospital, undergoing three minor surgeries and one major one, and many months of nauseating and debilitating chemotherapy. He weighed two pounds less on his second birthday than he did on his first. He spent most of the year just being sick, totally nauseated and fatigued.

Once in a while, though, there was “a patch of blue,” when the nausea would hide behind the clouds, and the fatigue would dip below the horizon. That was when Joe would soar. He seemed to know that the break in the gray was there only for a moment. He grasped at any bit of knowledge that floated by on the breeze. He knew he had to take advantage of that patch of blue, because the gray fog would come again.

He did it so well. Before he was two, he could name thirteen colors, including obscure shades like copper and azure. The nurses were so proud and amazed that whenever a visitor came onto the pediatric cancer floor, they picked him up in their arms and carried him around, pointing at various objects, asking him the color, to show off his knowledge.

My physical therapists don’t pick me up or take me around to show me off. They seem to assume that my extensive repertoire of hilarious stories is somewhere between expectable and expendable. However, at seventy-two I am like Joe at two in at least one way: I know I must take advantage of any short period when I have the energy to do something, because I know that window of opportunity will close quickly, come crashing down with a bang.

I’m pretty sharp in the morning, after I’ve had my oatmeal and coffee and glanced over the sports pages and held a magnifying glass to the small print in the comics. I have energy to mix up aloe Vera gel in cranberry juice and swallow unknown numbers of pills and take the first of my three twenty-two minute walks to keep my blood sugar up and my cholesterol down. [Or maybe it’s the other way around.]

Then I throw into the garbage about seventy slices of spam from my email in-basket and Google something I really need to know, like from whence comes the line, “and the pig got up and slowly walked away.” I get cleaned up and dressed, no quick item anymore if I have to put on both socks. I go to physical therapy or a doctor or dentist or pick up a prescription.

After that it’s time for mid-morning coffee and half of a low-fat muffin. [Blood sugar again] I make a phone call or two. I do the second of my walks. After that it’s time for lunch, which leads to falling asleep in my recliner… and then it’s time to go to bed.

I have no idea what happens between lunch and bedtime. I have vague recollections of washing dishes and watching TV, but those may just be nightmare leftovers.

The day is very short, at least that part of the day when I have the energy and ambition to get something done. Like little Joseph, I know that if that window is open even a little, I need to jump through it. I know it will be a while before it is open again.

JRMcF
John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE DAY THE CIRCUS CAME TO TOWN-a poem 7-12-17

THE DAY THE CIRCUS CAME TO TOWN-a poem   7-12-17

The day the circus came to town,
I stood on the curb on Main Street
and saw the parade go by.
It was more than I could stand
just to watch.
I took my place
at the dragging end
amongst steaming piles
of elephant dung
and left-over snarls
of aging tigers, caged.
We went to the big top
to do our acts
before the people.
It turned out that I
was a clown,
but everyone clapped
politely.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmal.com


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

IF YOU CAN’T REACH WHAT YOU WANT 7-11-17

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

IF YOU CAN’T REACH WHAT YOU WANT    7-11-17

I want to be able to reach it all, without getting up.

Getting up off the sofa is a chore. I have to hook a toe under the coffee table to get leverage. Thank goodness it is a nice heavy table my father made out of real wood, or my toe would tip everything on it off to the floor on the other side. Then I have to coordinate the toe lift with an elbow roll. Sometimes it takes two or three tries to get me off the sofa.

I try to put everything I need close by, all my books and magazines and newspapers and snacks and drinks. There is a table beside my sofa, and stuff piled on the back of the sofa, and stuff piled on the floor beside it. Still, it is impossible to have everything I need within reach.

So if something I want to read or eat or drink is out of reach, I read or eat or drink whatever I can reach.

It is not a bad approach to life: Do what you can reach.

It is hard, of course, to disagree with Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I’ll bet Browning was not very old when he said that, though. When you get old enough, your reach and your grasp are pretty much the same.

I used to have a long reach. People asked me to get things off high shelves for them. Like civil rights, and forgiveness, and world peace, and better relationships, and freedom from addiction or abuse. I reached, and sometimes I was successful. Often, though, the reach exceeded my grasp.

A rotator cuff tear and consequent surgery have shortened my reach. I still try to grasp things on the high shelves, but I am more realistic about how far my arm will go. An end to world hunger is not within my reach, so I try for helping out on local hunger. 

We old people cannot reach everything we used to, and we cannot get up as easily to go to where the stuff is, either, but we can reach some stuff, and we can get up sometimes.

It’s not a bad approach to life: if you can’t reach the stuff you want, want the stuff you can reach.

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Yes, I know I promised to stop writing for a year while I try to be a real Christian instead of just a professional Xn. But this isn’t very professional, is it?

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also published lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

PERFECTION IN DENIAL-Poem 7-10-17

PERFECTION IN DENIAL-Poem   7-10-17

The only way
I get through now
[Not “one day at a time”
Although it is]
Is to ignore
All the stupid stuff
I did and said
Along the way

There was a time
When it made sense
To examine each fault
Assign it to its genus
Examine tomes
Both current and ancient
Consult oracles and entrails
To learn of some potential cure

A pouch of powdered Jung
Around the neck
A pinch of Freud
[If that’s not too Freudian]
A splash of Adler
For leaven in the dough

I am past the point of cure
Or even snail-like progress
Perfection comes only in denial

Regrets? Of course.
I regret that I did not learn
This sooner.

JRMcF

Johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE SKILL OF BEING UNLIKEABLE—A Sunday reflection 7-9-17

THE SKILL OF BEING UNLIKABLE—A Sunday reflection   7-9-17

A friend recently said that it was a good thing he did not have a professional career in the church because he was so diffident, so retiring, so eager to have people like him, that he would never have accomplished anything. I think he may be wrong about that, because he has so many of the other “gifts and graces” necessary to “the high calling.” As things happened, though, his professional church career after theological school was short, and he went on to a fulfilling career in another field.

Most people will tell you that they want to be liked, but they are lying, usually without knowing it. What they really want is power over others. They want to bend others to their will, either through strength or through weakness.

I recall a man who came to see me as a pastor because his wife had left him. His third wife. “I’ve had three wives, and I’ve gotten my way with every one of them,” he declared proudly. “Then why aren’t you happy?” I asked him. “Well, I’m lonely…’ He didn’t make the connection.

Most people want to be liked, but on their terms, getting their way.

Folks who are attracted to the ministry, though, while usually attributing that attraction to a “call” from God, are not interested primarily in power, even though a lot of power comes automatically with the office. We really want [need] to be liked. I’ve counseled a lot of young and new pastors through the years. They are always so disappointed and confused when people don’t like them, because they haven’t done anything to cause dislike. Our gladdest moments come when someone says, “We like our preacher.”

I purposely said “and new” pastors in the paragraph just above. It’s not just young and thus naive pastors who are surprised when they are not liked. In fact, there are not many young pastors anymore, folks who go to seminary right out of college and have ministry as a first career. Most new pastors are second or third career people, often from careers—like law and business—where likeability is not an assumption or asset. They are still disappointed when church people don’t like them. They got tired of being unliked as lawyers or business people. They assumed people in the church were different, that they would be liked as pastors. Too bad.

Of course, the “dislike” of a particular pastor is often misplaced, not about that pastor at all. I remember a woman who said, “I finally figured out why I dislike you; you remind me of my husband’s department chair who has treated him so badly.” Some people can like only every other pastor. Unconsciously, they think that liking the new pastor makes them unfaithful to the predecessor. A person can be mad at a husband or wife or boss and know that if they show that anger it will get them into trouble, so they displace it onto the pastor because s/he can’t retaliate but has to go on being kind to them.

So, even though we want to be liked--and are so likeable, because we never do anything unlikeable--people still dislike us. No wonder we are disappointed and confused.

Years ago, shortly after I had moved to a new congregation, I was having coffee with Dick Street, a member of that church. He was a contractor, a big rugged ugly guy. I liked him; he reminded me of me. I said, “Dick, I haven’t been here long, but long enough that I know I really don’t fit in here.” He replied, “That’s why you’re going to do us a lot of good. All the other preachers we’ve had fit in too well. We need somebody who doesn’t fit in to get us out of our ruts.”

It’s okay to be liked. It’s okay to want to be liked. It’s also okay to be an outsider, even an unlikeable one, if that is the way folks can hear the Good News. Sort of reminds me of a guy from Nazareth…

John Robert McFarland
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also published lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Friday, July 7, 2017

FAKING IN RETIREMENT 7-7-17

FAKING IN RETIREMENT     7-7-17

Well, that didn’t work out very well.

I wrote Wesley Dickson. He’s being appointed to the UMC in New Lenox, IL, after serving several years in Sterling, IL. I wished him well in New Lenox and thanked him for his service in Sterling, to a congregation we were once a part of and cherish in memory and hope and softball.

Wesley is a young man of great “gifts and graces” for the ministry, in part because his undergrad degree was in computer stuff, so he comes at ministry both scientifically and theologically. We’ve had quite a few opportunities to work together, or at least in the same geographical areas, and so I’ve been able to see firsthand how able and effective he is. In one of those settings, he was the minister for the youth group my granddaughter was a part of. She profited so much from the group and from knowing Wesley, even became the Lay Leader of a congregation where she lived later when she was only sixteen.

[Wesley, of course, is a great name for a Methodist preacher.]

But he replied to my note. He said that I am an inspiration, that he wants to be like me when he comes to retirement. But I am old and decrepit and irrelevant and useless and tried and depressed. I can’t tell him that, though. Now I’ve got to start acting like an old man who is a good model for younger people.

Come to think of it, that’s no different than how it’s always been. I’ve always faked it, faked courage, faked goodness, faked faith, faked hope, faked forgiveness, faked interest, faked belief. It’s been remarkably effective, really.

When John Wesley was a young man, about the age Wesley Dickson is now, he realized he had no faith. He asked Moravian bishop Peter Bohler [sometimes Boehler] what to do. “Fake faith until you have it,” Bohler said. Actually he said, “Preach faith until you have it,” but it’s the same thing.

So here’s my advice to Wesley: Fake it ‘til you make it. Or maybe that’s my advice to me.

JRMcF

Because of Learning to Swear in America, Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

THE VOICE AFTER THE WHIRLWIND 7-6-17

Don’t worry about me. I don’t have a cold right now. I wrote this several months ago…

THE VOICE AFTER THE WHIRLWIND   7-6-17

For the past week, I have received the benefits of a cold. Precisely because it is a “bad” cold, it is a good cold.

Good health is not always my friend. When I feel good, when the energy is high, the sap is running… and running… and running…

I get things done. I make lists. I mark things off lists. I make more lists. I get into overdrive and I stay there. 

Granted, the lists are shorter than when I was thirty. Overdrive speed is slower than when I was fifty. When John Wayne was in his seventies, he married a woman in her thirties. In an interview he mentioned limitations that he expected because of his age. In the process, he said, “Now if I were a young man of forty…” I hoo-hawed. I was forty at the time. I did not feel young. Now, though, I know what he meant.

Still, though, it is as easy for a person of sixty or eighty to get lost in a forest of stuff as it is for a person of thirty or fifty. The forest may be smaller, but my steps are shorter and slower, so it evens out.

The cold has slowed me down. Food does not taste good, so I don’t spend much time eating. I’m tired all the time, so I spend a lot of time resting. My head hurts and my eyes are running, so reading is too big a challenge, and TV is too big a bore. So I sit in my chair and I think…

…about Helen, my wife–how pretty she looked when we first met fifty years ago, and how pretty she looks now. About Mary Beth and Katie, my daughters, how sweet they were when they were little, and how sweet they are now. About Brigid, my granddaughter, and Joseph, my grandson, and how the very thought of them makes my heart glad. I think of relatives and friends whom I have loved and lost a while. I think of places that have eased my soul–Asissi, Spring Mill, East Bay, St. Andrews…

My head and my eyes and my nose still hurt. I get nothing done. But the world is no worse off. In fact, the world may be a better place without all my frantic activity. My soul is at ease.

It is difficult to hear the still small voice until the whirlwind has passed, but it is there.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

MORE THAN ONE WORLD 7-5-17

MORE THAN ONE WORLD    7-5-17

Conservative Christians, who abhor the thought of “one world” politically, buy into the “one world” scientifically without thought. It is a huge, anti-biblical mistake.

There is but one world, they agree, the physical, so that means the Bible has to be a book of science, with a cosmology that is different from that of the physicists and astronomers. Because of that grievous and tragic misunderstanding of the Bible and of religious faith, Christians are universally ridiculed and real faith is not even considered. [No, heaven and hell are not separate worlds for conservatives. They are simply extensions of this one physical world.]

The Bible is not a book of science, it is a book of faith, which means it is a book of story and spirit.

The Bible does not buy into the simplistic one physical world of the secular scientists, nor the simplistic one physical world of the conservative Christians. It tells the story of another world, a spirit world.

Make no mistake, Christianity is physical, incarnational, God in Christ in the flesh. Everything about us in this world is physical, including the place in the brain where our religious sentiments are housed. But that place in the brain, those physical atoms, is there to allow us to see beyond the one physical world into the spiritual world.

As a book of spirit, not science, the Bible is our resource.

As CS Lewis reminds us: “You are not a body that has a soul. You are a soul that has a body.”

JRMcF

Yes, I know. I said I would not think or write theologically for a whole year to see if I can be a “real” Christian instead of just a professional Christian. Some days it just doesn’t go very well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

CONTRARIANS-a reflection on democracy 7-4-17

CONTRARIANS-a reflection on democracy    7-4-17

When our girls were in elementary grades, one of their favorite books was Contrary Jenkins, by the wonderful Rebecca Caudill. As I remember, Jenkins came for a visit and overstayed his welcome. The more the family tried to get him to leave, the more he dug in his heels and stayed. They finally got him to leave by asking him to stay. Our daughters loved it because they were both contrarians, but different types.

There are four types of contrarians: 1] Yes, but… 2] Yes, and… 3] No, but… 4] No, and…

The “Yes, but” people agree with you but add on to what you said, sometimes actually contradicting, even though they initially said “yes,” but sometimes just amending, “Yes, Hudsons were good cars, but Packards were better.”

The “Yes, and” people basically agree, but they can’t stop there. “Yes, Hudsons and Packards were both good cars, but few people know that they were actually built underground in New Mexico by…”

The “No, but” people contradict flat out. “No, you have that wrong, but here is the right answer …”

The “No, and” folks contradict and give you a whole list of reasons why you are wrong.

Some contrarians are just hostile, “That would never work,” but others are passive-aggressive. “Oh, that’s a good idea, but it would fail because…”

The main thing is: contrarians just have to be “against.” It’s a habit, an addiction, a personality trait, whatever.

Strangely, contrarians stick together. They are all united against the non-contrarians. I think that is one reason Donald Trump was elected. He is a contrarian and gets the support of all the other contrarians. Contrarians dislike people who are factual, because it gives them less opportunity to be contrary.

I find contrarians irritating, so if I’m with one, I just don’t say anything at all, although a really good contrarian can contradict even silence. Anyway, if you don’t like this post, don’t bother to tell me; I won’t reply.

JRMcF


I once heard Rebecca Caudill speak at Illinois State University. She told of growing up in Appalachia, in a county where her father was the only Democrat, so he had to be an election judge. As one election came up, when she was a young girl, death threats were made against him if he went to the polls to be a Democrat judge. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, as they were eating breakfast, several Republican men burst into their kitchen. They walked her father to the polls, some in front, some in back, some on either side, to be sure he got there safely. She said that he was the most respected man in the county, so much so that when he died, someone said, “We are all orphans now.” 

Monday, July 3, 2017

THE TWO MASTERS THEORY 7-3-17


THE TWO MASTERS THEORY    7-3-17

I’m well aware of the two masters theory,
how “You can’t serve ‘em both, Mowron,”
as Jesus likes to say.

There seems to be empirical evidence
for that theory
about how you’ll love one
and hate the other
which probably accounts
for all the self-hate around

Self is a hard master
making us take
the road more taken
that ends in a marshy pit

We hate that road
but we keep taking it

JRMcF

Katie Kennedy’s new book, What Goes Up, will be published by Bloomsbury July 18. Some critics say this is even better than her highly acclaimed Learning to Swear in America. Available for pre-order now at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

WHEN THE WORDS & MUSIC GET TOGETHER   7-1-17

Which comes first, the melody or the lyrics, the music or the words?

It’s hard for me, and for most folks, to listen to a song like “Stardust” and hear only the music or the lyrics. They fit together so perfectly. But they did not start out together. Hoagy Carmichael composed the music in 1927. The lyrics were added by Mitchell Parish in 1929. As a writer, I am in awe of a poet who can take someone else’s music and put words to it.

Hoagy did the lyrics for very few of his songs. Johnny Mercer struggled for a year to come up with the lyrics for Hoagy’s “Skylark.” What a job he did. They fit so perfectly. You’d swear they had been conceived together.

It works the other way around, too. Oscar Hammerstein II would work for months on the lyrics of a song, to get them to fit just right into the story of a Broadway musical. Then he would give them to Richard Rodgers and walk home, just a few blocks. When he got there, the phone would be ringing, and Rodgers would play for him the music he had already composed to fit Hammerstein’s lyrics, tunes like “Oh, What a Wonderful Morning” and “Old Man River.” How does someone do that?

Jerry Herman was often asked which came first, the melody or the lyrics. He said for him they always came together. I can understand that. It’s hard to conceive of “Hello, Dolly” or “Mame” without words and music together.

My great late friend, George Paterson, was a trombonist in addition to being a professor of pastoral care and chaplain at the University of Iowa hospitals. He did a lot of jazz worship services. That meant playing traditional hymns in jazz style. He was a master at it. He also composed music. He once asked me to put words to one of his compositions. He meant the piece to be an affirmation of faith. One of my few regrets is that I never did that. I couldn’t. I could not get my word brain to sync with George’s music brain. Everything I came up with was too trite. It would have dishonored George to put cliché words to his music.

The late Anthony Berger, the amazing pianist for the Gaither Homecoming concerts, said that he was taught to play the words, not the music. I think that’s a good thing for anyone who plays for worship to consider.

There is, of course, a lot of great music, including worship music, that has no words. Anyone can profit from Beethoven’s 9th or Bach’s “That Sheep May Safely Graze” without knowing or hearing words. And you can profit from Myra Brooks Welch’s “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” or Shelley’s “Ozymandias” without requiring music.

So, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Music and words are both gifts from God. Let us enjoy each for what it is. But there is always something special when two or more of the gifts of God come together.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com