Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, September 30, 2017

AFTER THE GAME IS OVER [Sa 9-30-17] A repeat from 2011

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from A Place Of Winter For the Years of Winter…

            For most baseball fans, the season is over. No “post-season.” So I’m reposting this “poem” from the same date in 2011. The Cubs and their fans have gone on to much better times since I wrote this.
            I know this is doggerel instead of poetry, but good poetry is not the point.
There were other folks involved, of course, but since baseball poetry traditionally deals with male intergenerational bonding…

It was the major leagues, almost
The Pirates and the Cubs
But names that fit them best at most
Were the 1.75rates and the Flubs [1]

Hot dogs were twenty smackers
Ice cream was even more
When they saw the price of young Jack’s Crackers
Every chin dropped to the floor.

Each player made a million each
For working half a day
But every ball was out of reach
No one dared to shout “Say hey!” [2]

Every bat let out a sigh
When they saw who came to hit
None of their kind would have to die
Since every pitch was missed

Every pitch was wild as sin
The managers prayed for rain
Home plate doesn’t have to take you in [3]
There was no Spahn or Sain  [4]

But for a boy up in the bleachers
With a grandpa old as Never
Watching on the field those wretched creatures
It was the best day in Forever.


1] 1.75 is half of pi, if we accept pi as 3.14 without the “to infinity,” making half-rate Pirates 1.75rates. You can say “half-rates” in that line if the meter offends you.

2] The signature exultation of Willie Mays, for whom no ball was ever out of reach.

3] Poet Robert Frost said that “home is where they have to take you in.” Home plate is where they try to keep you out.

4] The battle cry of the 1948 National League Boston Braves, who became the Milwaukee Braves and later, and currently, the Atlanta Braves, was “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” reflecting the abilities of Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn and his pitching rotation partner, Johnny Sain, compared to the rest of the rotation, who pitched best if rained out. Based on a poem by Boston Post sports editor Gerald Hern: “First we’ll use Spahn, and then we’ll use Sain, then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, and followed we hope by two days of rain.”

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [And where it is 34 degrees F this morning.] We lived there 2007-2015, to be near the grandchildren and do things like take them to ball games.

Friday, September 29, 2017

HOW TO AVOID TMI [F, 9-29-17]

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

 I am reading a book on health for older people. It’s a good book. I’m learning from it. But the author likes trees, and he has learned a great deal about them, sometimes traveling great distances to do so. He cannot resist putting into this book all the tree knowledge he has learned. In writing, it’s called “an information dump.”

There is no logical place in this book to talk about trees. They have nothing to do with the health concerns of older people, but that has not stopped the author. He has put in everything he knows about trees and tried to justify it by saying, at the end of several pages, that just as the weather-beaten look of old trees indicates wisdom, there is nothing wrong with old people looking old.

Writers and old folks are similar that way. Some writers cannot resist showing you everything they have learned in their research, whether it fits or not. Some old people cannot resist telling you everything they have learned in their many years, whether you are interested or not. For short, we call it TMI: Too Much Information.

We geezers should know better than to engage in, and indulge in, TMI. We are old enough to remember TV’s Sgt. Joe Friday, who always intoned, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Perhaps we old people are so voluble because we don’t have many occasions to talk to real people.

When we were working, when the kids lived at home and we attended their games and concerts and teacher conferences, when there were parties and neighborhood gatherings, we had plenty of chances to chat. We didn’t have to say at one time everything we know.

Now, especially if we live alone, how often do we talk to someone? Our friends and family send us emails. Even the banks and car companies that want our business and the politicians who want our vote use robots to call us on the phone. If we call some business, an automated voice tells us to press different numbers so we can be ignored in the appropriate way. We don’t go to work, but the neighbors do, so even walking down the street, we aren’t likely to see someone to talk to.

It’s no surprise, then, that when the cashier at the grocery or the library lady says “Good morning,” we think she is asking about our grandchildren and wants to know what we thought about the snow storm of 1963. We readily supply TMI.

Some old people solve this dilemma by seeking out other old people to talk to. After all, they have plenty of time to listen. That’s a poor solution, though, because other old people don’t want to listen; they want to talk. And they can be so borrring, telling us way more than we need to know.

I think the obvious answer is a time-honored tradition of old people–talking to ourselves. Who better to listen to? Who could possibly listen to us with more eagerness? Anything we say is never TMI; it’s always just the right amount.


I tweet as yooper1721.

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


When I was growing up, our farm was surrounded on two sides by Mr. Thiemann’s fields. My father did not like Mr. Thiemann much, so relationships were sometimes strained, especially when Old Jersey, our cow, would jump the fence to enjoy Mr. Thiemann’s corn. More than once I had to go out in high and wet corn early in the morning to get Old Jerz back onto our land before Mr. Thiemann discovered her. It wasn’t easy, because she refused to jump the fence again, to come back home, so I had to figure out ways to get her around the fences and out of the forbidden field without being seen.

We were saved one year, though, because Old Jersey didn’t care for tomatoes, and Mr. Thiemann decided that would be his crop. I’m not sure if it is still true, but at that time Indiana was the second-largest producer of tomatoes, behind only California. Corn prices were low. Mr. T decided to get in on the tomato boom. My father thought he was stupid for doing so, because he thought everything Mr. T did was stupid.

I was pleased, though, when picking time came, because tomatoes require a lot of stoop labor. Enter Mexican migrants, who definitely were not taking the jobs anyone wanted, since there were not that many white boys in Gibson County who wanted to work that hard. The tomato picking was left to Mexicans, and a couple of middle-aged white “welfare queens” who had no teeth and no clothes so could not could not get other jobs but were willing to work at anything if given the chance, and me.

Jobs are hard to come by when you’re fourteen and your family has no money. But tomatoes had to be picked when they were ready. They spoiled quickly. Mr. T did not like my father or our cow much, but he would take anybody who could stoop over and put a tomato in a basket. All I had to do was walk up the gravel road from our house to the gate to Mr. T’s tomato fields and I was employed. I got there early every day and worked ‘til dark. It was not quite as miserable as detasseling corn but close.

Like the farmer in the story Jesus told, Mr. T kept going to town in his old Studebaker pickup truck to see if he could find more pickers. A few boys I knew came late and didn’t stay long. They just wanted enough money to buy some cigarettes and beer.

In a story Jesus told about tomato pickers--or maybe it was grape pickers but it sounded the same to me when I was fourteen--the farmer paid the same amount to the guys who came late just to get cigarette money as he did to the ones who worked all day. When those long-day workers complained, the farmer reminded them that he paid them what they had agreed on before they started. Since it was his money, he could do with it as he pleased, and he pleased to be sure that everyone had enough to buy his daily bread, even if he had not worked very long for it. [Matthew 20:1-16] It’s a story of God’s mercy, available to all at any time. Jesus ends his telling by saying, “So the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

If Mr. T had decided to pay the guys who came late the same as he paid me, I would have been outraged. I’ve always had a keen eye for injustice, especially if I’m the one getting treated unfairly. Mr. T and I were spared that problem, because we pickers were paid by the basket, not by the hour or day.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” isn’t about time or mathematics or the reversal of fortunes. It’s about equality. In the Kingdom of God, there is no first or last. There is no lining up, with some folks at the front of the line and some at the end. Everyone there gets the same pay, because it’s not pay at all, it’s love.


I’m in the fifth month of a year-long “professional Christian” fast, eschewing all things preacherly, to see if I can learn to be a real Christian instead of a professional Christian, one who thinks by looking at anything and asking, “How can I use this in ministry?” rather than “How can I use this in growing as a Christian?” which is the same thing as saying “How can I use this to grow into a decent human being instead of telling others how to be decent human beings?” As you can see, it’s not going very well. [Also, my sentences are getting even longer and more confusing.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THIS SPECIAL PLACE, a poem [W, 9-27-17]

Today the air on our patio
is so soft it makes me feel
like I am sitting in the rose garden
of the American Sisters
in Assissi
and I wonder, in awe, o God
at the greatness of this vast
universe You have created
and not even the infernal
buzzing around my head
of the horse fly
which would be much more
acceptable if it actually looked like
a horse
Or the tar smell and routine curses
of the road crew in the street
Or the incessant bleating
of the car alarm next door
Or the yapping of the little black dog
from across the smelly street
Not even those can deter or detour
me from my imaginary trip
to the rose garden
where suddenly it smells like tar
and flies are buzzing
and dogs are yapping
and horns are blaring
I simply sit in wonder
that in the whole vastness
of your universe
You have chosen this
very spot for me


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

IN PRAISE OF PAIN [T, 9-26-17]

My friend, Paul Baker, wrote recently in appreciation of pain. Even though it had been fifty-seven years since his appendectomy, scar tissue from it had completely closed off his small intestine. “If it had not been for the pain,” he says, “I would have died. Thank God for pain.”

Many older people have to endure pain. It’s not just older folks, of course, but pain seems to be a more regular companion as we age. We fall and break bones and tear tendons. Years of wear on joints and nerves bring on arthritis and sciatica.

Most of us have one part or system of the body that is our vulnerable spot–lungs or heart or knees or stomach or skin. That is where our bodies are likely to break down and cause pain first. My shoulders are my vulnerable spot. I am typing this reflection with only one hand because the pain in my left shoulder is intense today. No one has been able to diagnose the reason for this pain yet, although this is the shoulder that had rotator cuff surgery a year and a half ago, so maybe that has something to do with it. I can’t take aspirin because another medicine I once took gave me ulcers, so I take an occasional Tylenol for the shoulder pain. I don’t want to overdo that, though, for fear too much use will eventually make them ineffective.

One way I deal with the pain is to think about something else, like writing this reflection. However, writing about pain, and being constantly reminded by the frustration of typing one-handed is probably not the best way to do this. Trying to combat pain becomes very complicated, doesn’t it?

Frankly, I would be very happy not to have to deal with pain at all. Pain, however, is the body’s way of telling us that we are out of kilter, that, in the old mechanics’ term, we need to be “justified,” made to run right, get all our parts to work together in harmony. If we had no pain, we would let things run wrong until there could be no correction. We would be permanently lop-sided.

This is true emotionally as well as physically. I think one reason my shoulders are my vulnerable spot is that, subconsciously, I have felt that I had to carry the weight of the world my whole life. Take a look at your vulnerable body spot or system and you may well find a similar connection. Intestinal problems? Maybe there is something in your life that is hard to digest, that you “just can’t stomach.” Skin problems? Maybe your relationships, or other things “out there” are wearing on you.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying “it’s all in your head.” It is in your body, too. But that real pain is telling us something.


I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Monday, September 25, 2017


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

“He doesn’t have to act that way.” That’s what Greg Gooch, a defensive end on IU’s football team, said about first year Head Coach Tom Allen at the Coach’s Radio Show last week. Greg smiled when he said it. He has a great smile.

It was after Don Fischer, the show’s host, asked Greg what he wants to do after college, Greg looked a bit abashed. “Coach,” he said. “Did you want to coach before Coach Allen came?” Fischer asked. “No,” Gooch admitted. “But now… well, he doesn’t have to act that way.”

He was talking about the obvious energy and enthusiasm Allen brings to the job. Allen is 47 years old. He’s getting a little past the prime years for jumping around and cheering and clapping like a teenaged cheerleader. But he does it. Time after time after time.

That’s his mantra: time after time after time. He tells his players, “You need to make the right decision, in football, in the classroom, in life, every time, time after time after time.”

That last “after time” makes the difference. If it were just “time after time,” it wouldn’t be enough to make Greg Gooch want to coach. It has to be full in.

When Don Fischer asked the senior from Florida about his own philosophy of life, he said, “Make the right decision, time after time after time.” He has learned his lesson well.

It’s tempting in old age to get sloppy, mentally as well as physically. It’s easy enough to make the right decision one time. Maybe two times. Time after time after time is a lot of work. We’re tired. We’ve worked at making the right decisions for a long time. Shouldn’t we get a break?

Think, though, about where you put your glasses. If you’re sloppy and put them down just anyplace, it takes all day to locate them. But if you put them down in the same place time after time after time, you know where to find them.

Life is really easier if we make the right decision time after time after time.


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, September 24, 2017


A young man approached me in the waiting room of the medical clinic.
            “Are you Dr. Burke?” he asked.
            “You look a lot like him. He’s a Notre Dame fan. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1937.”

I was born in 1937, but I didn’t tell him that. I just whopped him upside the head with my walker. Well, no. I didn’t hit him with my walker, mainly because I don’t have a walker. Maybe in a few years I’ll get one, just so I’ll have something to use to whop on people who think I’m Dr. Burke.

Obviously there is something wrong with that young man, primarily his eyesight, because I look very young, not at all like Dr. Burke, whom I have never seen but who is 22 years older than I and surely must look it. Oh, sure, my head is bald and my beard is white and my face is wrinkled and my hands are spotted, but those are minor because I move in such a youthful manner.

I stand straight and walk fast. That’s because my back won’t bend and I’m always hurrying to get to the bathroom, but the guy who thought I was Dr. Burke doesn’t know that. I still play softball, and I am definitely not the slowest player on the team, certainly not since Nancy got the cast on her ankle. I hit the ball with Authority, which is the name of my Louisville Slugger, sometimes clear over the outfield fence, or over the pitcher’s head, whichever comes first.

The worst thing is that he thought I looked like a Notre Dame grad! I’m not even Catholic!

Well, maybe that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that I can remember how I looked at old people with a combination of disdain and pity when I was young. Where is memory loss when you really need it?

When I was about twelve, I overheard my parents talking about a man in our neighborhood who had died. They thought it was tragic, because he was only thirty-five. I can vividly remember saying to myself, But he had already had enough time to do everything anyone can possibly do in life; what more did he have to live for?

Through the years, I revised the age-of-worthlessness upward, but I kept the attitude. Forty-five? Fifty-five? Sixty-five? Seventy-five? Eighty-five? What more is there to live for after that?

I came face-to-face with that in a very realistic way on my fifty-third birthday, when my first oncologist told me I’d be dead “in a year or two.” There was a lot more yet to live for! That, however, was the same thing my Grandma Mac said when she was ninety-six: “I’m not afraid of dying, but I still have so much I want to do.”

I think maybe that’s why we think there is an “afterlife.” There’s just too much to do for one life. Perhaps I should make a bucket list for the next life instead of this one.


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

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

RIVER ROAD, a poem [Sa 9-23-17]

There is a road that runs along the river
It is not straight but is long and narrow
And close enough to see and hear
There is a super highway
Broad and level
Where engineers cut trees and razed the hills
When you are on that river road
With lupine and queen’s lace and clover
Close enough to reach and brush and smell
You look beyond the low place
At that wide highway
And see a cut through field and fence
And know you could merge into that fast flow
When you are ready that way to go


Friday, September 22, 2017


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

Ida Belle Paterson called last night. She had finished reading “your book, and it had your telephone number in it, so I just decided to call.” She didn’t say which book, and I don’t recall that my phone number is in any of them, but that doesn’t matter. We had talked by phone several times after George died, but then… you keep forgetting to call…

Helen and I used to meet George and Ida Belle at the Ambassador Inn in Wisconsin Dells, less frequently than we would have liked. It was a convenient meeting spot, half-way between Iowa City, Iowa, where they lived, and Iron Mountain, MI, where we lived.

The Dells is a tourist spot—water parks and duck boats and all that. We didn’t “do” anything there, though. We just talked and looked at photos, got caught up on families and insights.

As we get deeper into winter, the friends of spring and summer become all the more important. They share our memories. They are chapters in our biographies.

There is a poignant episode of M*A*S*H where Col. Potter tells a reporter that he loves and respects the bright young surgeons and nurses with whom he works, but he is lonely. He is the only one of his generation. No one else in his unit shares his memories.

George and Ida Belle shared our memories.

George spent most of his career in Iowa City, first as the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the Univ. of Iowa, then as Chaplain of University Hospital, as a Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, and as a professor in the School of Religion. Ida Belle raised their four children and worked in a doctor’s office. They befriended us when we lived in Iowa City while I did graduate work at the university.

After we moved back to Illinois, we didn’t see each other for around 20 years. But when we followed the grandchildren to Mason City, IA, we took up our friendship again. We had just gotten started on getting caught up with one another when grandson Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer, at 15 months of age. He and Katie spent most of the next year at Children’s Hospital, part of University Hospital in Iowa City, while Patrick worked in Mason City and Helen and I took care of four-year-old Brigid there.

Without hesitation, George and Ida Belle became surrogate parents to Katie and Patrick and surrogate grandparents for Joe. They often kept me in their home when I was at the hospital, too. They helped us all through some very difficult times with the grace of hospitality and presence.

Little Joey knew immediately that these were his friends. One day early in his hospital year, when they came to support Patrick and Katie through the difficult days of diagnoses and treatment plans, he became quite agitated. He could barely talk, but he finally communicated to his mother that he wanted his pants. He was just in a diaper. His friends had come to visit. He knew he should wear pants for such an occasion.

I struggle now with how to conclude. We no longer meet friends at The Dells. George is dead. So what’s the unifying theme for these thoughts on friendship? I’ll turn to grandchildren, the source of most of my unifying themes.

One morning when we lived in Mason City, IA, I took Brigid to kindergarten. It was extremely cold. That didn’t matter to the school officials. They did not let children into the building until the bell unless the temperature was twenty below. Otherwise they were to stand in line outside at the appropriate door. “In line” meant their placed their backpacks in a line to hold their place while they ran around on the playground. I told Brigid I would keep the heater running in the car and when we saw the other children starting into the building, then she could go join them.

“Oh, no, Grandpa. I need to be with my friends.”

“But it’s cold out there. What will you do?”

“We’ll chase each other.”

So, in conclusion, two lessons from grandchildren: 1] A good host wears pants. 2] At any age, no matter how cold it is, it’s important to chase around with your friends.


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

I tweet as yooper1721.

Joe’s mother, Katie Kennedy, is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Speaking of writing, my most recent book, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped Iraqistan veterans, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Powell’s, etc. It’s published by Black Opal Books. Helen thinks that’s the one Ida Belle read.

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 in paperback, ebook, audio, Czech, and Japanese.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

BATHROOM INSIGHTS-a poem [R, 9-21-17]

Bathrooms have often been the site of insight.
Martin Luther learned there, famously,
about letting go
to accept God’s grace,
a movement that begat
a movement
that changed the world.
I suspect that room is the setting,
or perhaps sitting,
of more insights than we hear about,
for it is surely unseemly
to mention that source,
even in an end note,
when celebrating some new thought
in story or song,
unless you are trying
to reform a religion.
But consider the pose
of Rodin’s famous statue
of “The Thinker,”
and ask yourself,
“Where did the sculptor
flush out that idea?”


Wednesday, September 20, 2017


“Removing a monument doesn’t remove the history. It removes the myth.”

That was the last phrase on the last slide as John Bodnar concluded his remarks at “Monuments, Memory, and Meaning after Charlottesville.”

Bodnar was one of four IU historians who spoke [7] and discussed at the Monroe County Library Monday evening, Sept. 19. The other three were Maria Bucur [4], Michelle Moyd [5], and Edward Lilenthal.

Here is what I learned:

There are three phases in the life of a statue [landscape monument] or other monument/memorial.

The first is mourning. The suffering of the war or event is new and real. This is the time when statues of suffering rather than heroism are raised. [1] Most Confederate memorials in the early years after The Civil War were driven by white women who had lost sons and husbands and were grieving. [2] This is the “lest we forget” phase. We are in that now with 9/11 memorials.

The second phase is forgetting. “Lest we forget” is replaced with “Let’s forget.” Nobody wants to be responsible for all the deaths and misery. Who can white Southerners blame for 200,000 white deaths? So the myth begins, symbolized by the monuments. These were heroic figures, fighting an heroic battle. The point is not slavery or other social issues but heroism in the face of the foe. Nobody is responsible. It just sort of happened and we reacted with courage. [6]

Finally, the myth is complete. It was a noble but lost cause. It’s just history, something to cherish. [3] Also, since it was a noble but lost cause, it is a myth we can use to revive old passions.

Monuments are not primarily historical; they are primarily mythical.


Yes, I know, the footnotes are out of order… or are they?

1] There are statues that depict not the heroism of war but its suffering. They are raised in the early  mourning period. Bodnar showed a slide from a New Mexico town. Because a New Mexico National Guard unit was sent to the Philippines in WWII, many New Mexico towns have statues depicting American soldiers in great agony on the Bataan death march. Those were their boys, and that is what they want to remember.

2] For blacks, however, the main memorials at this time were celebrations of emancipation, even though there were black deaths to mourn, too.

3] Not everyone gets caught up in the nobility of lost causes, though. My author friend, Elaine Palencia, went to Oxford, MS to tour the William Faulkner sites. She was looking at the Confederate monument statue when an old guy came up to her and said, “You know what that is?” He spat and said, “It’s a prize for second place.”

4] Bucur focused primarily on how Romania dealt with the statues of WWII dictator, Ion Antonescu.

5] Moye focused on the controversy about the statue of a black soldier [Askari] in service of the British in colonial times, in Dar es Salaam.

6] Even well-intentioned memorials participate in this. Bodnor noted that Tom Brokaw depicts “the greatest generation” in a war in which nobody died.

7] Although Helen is no historian, she was glad we went. She’s quite interested in the topic. But she was discouraged by the speaking competence. “I had no idea that four faculty members at IU would not be able to speak any better than that.” She knows that content is more important than delivery, and she liked the content, what she could get of it. But all four, Bodnor the least, did their content a disservice by inadequate volume and enunciation, stumbling reading of their own material, and far too many “ums,” [I began to think we were in a monastery.] The problem for Helen may be that she hears the excellent Jimmy Moore speak every Sunday and unconsciously her bar has been raised higher than most.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

ONE, a poem [T, 9-19-17]

I made one great joke
It was not enough for a set

I wrote one great line
It was not enough for a poem

I hummed one great melody
It was not enough for a song

I had one great idea
It was not enough for an app

I drew one great picture
It was not enough for an exhibit

I built one great chair
It was not enough for a house

I planted one great tree
It was not enough for a forest

I told one great story
It was not enough for a book

I lost my heart for one great love
It was enough for a life


Monday, September 18, 2017

WHAT DID NOT END [M, 9-18-17]

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

One of the neat things about Bloomington is that world-renowned musicians of every genre live, and perform, here. There’s John Mellenkamp in rock, and Sylvia McNair in Opera and Broadway [and watch for Katherine Jolly], and Dominic Spera and Pat Harbison in jazz [and, before their deaths, David Baker and Al Cobine], and Carrie Newcomer in folk. There are many others, just as good but not as well known. I guess it all started with Hoagy Carmichael.

Saturday night we went to hear Carrie, something we do every year or so. She always sells out, of course. She has that rich full deep voice that she uses so well, and that Quaker activist manner, sweet and insouciant at the same time. More than most singer-songwriters of her genre, she is a good poet.

She introduced one of her songs by saying: “When my husband and I moved here, it was just for one year. That was thirty years ago. I fell in love…with the hills and the trees, with the geodes you can pick up in the creek beds, with the funny looking court house, with the strings of lights downtown at Christmas, with the wonderful farmer’s market, with the tomatoes and sweet corn, with the friendly faces. None of those ended last November.”


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

I tweet as yooper1721.

Another thing that did not end in November, good writing: Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


I recently saw the death notice for Phyllis Brown Oakes. It caused me to think about that name. I have known four girls named Phyllis, all of my generation. I dated Phyllis Wiseman in high school and Phyllis Krider in college. Phyllis Brown was a college and grad school friend. Phyllis Graham Parr was a high school and life-long friend. They were all pretty, but what really set them aside was that they were all really smart, and very nice. Even though it would obviously make your baby daughter pretty, smart, and nice, I don’t think any parents name their baby Phyllis anymore. I have not met a Phyllis since those four, of many years ago.

Recently at church a high school girl introduced herself to me as Greta. I remarked on what a classic name that is and said I was sure there were no other girls her generation named Greta, since classic names are not in. She replied, “No, I know several girls my age named Greta.” “Good grief,” I said, “I thought all the other teen girls are named Crystal.” “No,” she said, “I don’t know any Crystals.” Then I realized that Crystal has been out of date for 20 years, because that is how long my wife has been retired, and all her high school girls were named Crystal or Amanda. Now Greta is in. It’s hard to keep up with name cycles.

Names go in cycles. Names like Schwinn go in bicycles, but names like Olive and Hazel go in 80 year cycles. Look at the obits and the birth notices. Olives and its derivatives, like Olivia, in both, not any in between.

I once served a church in which there were five Hazels, all the same age—old. That is not true with Hazels now. I served another church that had six men named Max. They were all born right after Dr. Seuss’ book about the Grinch stealing Christmas was made into a movie. The Grinch’s beleaguered but appealing dog was named Max. Figure that one out.

Dogs used to be named for athletic teams or venues. The most popular name for dogs in Chicago is Wrigley. Cubs fans have it easy. Not so White Sox fans. It would be hard to call for a dog named Guaranteed Rate. “Stop pooping on the lawn, Guaranteed Rate!” I don’t think so. We once had a great dog. Unfortunately she was named before the current Reds’ park, for she was definitely The Great American Dog. We just called her Waggs.

Most of us react emotionally to people, in part, because of their names. If all the Bobs you’ve known were nice guys, you’re likely to assume this new Bob you’re meeting is okay. If most of the girls you’ve known named Cruella lived up to their name, well, you’ll be wary of the next one you meet.

So, maybe, when Bill Gaither says, “There’s something about that name…”


Friday, September 15, 2017

MY LOST TWIN F, 9-15-17

It’s such a neat honor to get to be the best man at a wedding. I’ve done it several times. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the wedding of Don and Gloria Survant. It was 1955, just before Christmas. I was home from IU, and Don was home from the Air Force. He asked me to “stand up with” him, as we said in those days.

Don and his parents moved to the country outside Oakland City about the time he started to high school. He was a city boy, from St. Louis, but his father was a country boy, and had Oakland City connections, and so they decided to move, for reasons kids don’t understand, in part because we don’t inquire about them. A new kid appeared on our school bus. He was shy and sat by himself. I remembered what that had been like for me, five years before, so I sat with him. We became such close friends.

That was before, long before, the days of email and cell phones and Facebook. We wrote letters for a while after high school, but we both got busy with other things, lives we no longer had in common, and those letters stopped after a while.

I always regret a good relationship that just sort of limps off stage, like an actor who has forgotten his lines. I feel that somehow I’m supposed to keep the play going, that such is my role. Maybe that’s why I have those dreams where I myself am about to go on stage and realize I have not learned my lines.

I thought about Don a lot over the years, and then, a couple of years before he died, we stumbled onto each other again. He had not gone to church when we were kids, but he had become an active layman in the church of my denomination in a little town outside St. Louis, where he was retired, and he wrote a column for his church’s monthly newsletter. He had not been much into academics in high school, but he wrote well. Then the columns stopped. I looked him up on the Google machine. There was his obit. Including a picture. After all those years he looked like my twin brother.


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

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

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 in paperback, ebook, audio, Czech, and Japanese.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


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

I did a lot of dreaming last night. There are many theories and even some evidence about where dreams come from, but mine jump around from scene to scene, and I can usually remember only bits and pieces when I wake up.

I do recall that Archie Miller, the new basketball coach at IU, was leading me through a workout, helping me to make the IU team. I needed a lot of help, but he was patient, even though we kept moving from one gym to another, some of them outside.

I’m pretty sure that dream was the result of having supper with Bob and Julie Hammel at Red Lobster. Bob is a Hall of Fame, retired sports writer, who was noted especially for his coverage of IU basketball.

Then came a church dream. I was helping out in the church kitchen. A church lady was washing dishes in one sink, and I had to get the used water out of the sink beside it, but it wouldn’t drain, so I was using a small tumbler, apparently the only thing at hand, to empty it, one glassful at a time.

At the same time, some people were complaining about the preacher not staying “Hello” to them, and I was trying to explain why preachers were sometimes so distracted before worship on Sunday morning that they could not even say hello.

Those included: It was communion Sunday and the steward had forgotten to get the elements ready. Someone had fallen and broken a hip. A strange man had entered and the ushers thought he had a gun. Two Sunday School teachers were having a fight in front of the children. A young man was having a drug-induced seizure in the vestibule. A little child had gotten locked into the elevator and was now clinging to the preacher’s leg and hiding under his robe.

Those were not just in a dream. They really happened. But I was talking about them in the dream.

Then I woke up, and strangely, it seemed to me at the time, I started thinking about Harold and Roma Peterson.

We met Harold and Roma when they were about the age we are now.

The context: In the 1920s, they were a young married couple. In the 1920s, cars were few, and most travel was by train. Even in cities, not many folks had telephones. And medicine and its practitioners were still quite primitive.

Roma became suddenly and deathly ill. Harold took her to the hospital, where the doctors could not figure out anything to do for her.

In another city, where Harold’s parents lived, his father came home, walked up onto the porch of his house, stopped, said to his wife, “Harold and Roma need me,” set down his briefcase, turned and walked to the train station, where he hopped the train to go to his son and his new wife.

Roma took up the story: “I was just about to go. I wasn’t sure where it was that I was going, but it was so beautiful. I really wanted to go there. But I looked up. There was a young man staring down at me. He looked familiar, and he seemed so worried. I thought, ‘He looks like he needs me.’ So I decided to stay.”

The red thread of the story is need. When someone you love needs you, you go to them, or you stay with them, but either way, you meet the need.

I have not been feeling much needed lately. Not much for me to do. But, I figure, since I’m here anyway, I might as well do some good.


I say “again” in the title, because I have written about Harold and Roma’s experience in this column before. But also because deciding to stay, to meet a need, is a decision we have to make more than once.

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…

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


One of my youth fellowship girls became a famous porn star.
She was a teen-ager, in the same school class as one of my daughters, when I pastored the church in her small town. She did not come to worship, nor did anyone else in her family, but she liked the sponsors of our youth fellowship, whom she knew as teachers in her school, so she came to the youth fellowship. Also, she came to me when she got into trouble.
Actually, I went to her. She ran away, and ended up at an uncle’s house. They called me to come talk to her. They said she wouldn’t talk to anyone else. I know now that teenage girls often run away because they are sexually abused. I know now that many, probably most, porn actors were sexually abused as children. It was thirty-five years ago, though, when Lisa ran away, and I knew little about why girls ran away or became porn actors. Not many other people did then, either.
She was willing to talk to me, just the two of us in the back room of her uncle’s house, while various family members hovered about in the rest of the house. She talked, but not really. I knew she was holding something back, but we could not get to it. I had the feeling that she was waiting for me to ask the right question, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I tried to listen to her, and get her to talk about what was important to her. She told me she was interested in acting. I have always been interested in drama, too, and I have done a little acting. I said maybe the youth fellowship could form a drama group, and she could be in it. She said she thought that would be great.
I tried to form a group, without success. No one else in youth fellowship was interested in a drama group.
As soon as she graduated from high school, Lisa went to California and got into a drama group, one quite different from what we would have had in youth fellowship. She was very successful, in terms of porn acting accolades. She died in her early thirties of AIDS.
I know that I did not “fail” her. My contacts with her were very marginal. I did the best I could, with limited resources. Many other people had much more influence on her, for good or for ill. But I still regret not being able to form that drama group. I still wonder if her life might have turned out differently if she’d been able to act in church instead of in front of a cheap camera.
Dealing with regret is a major issue for older people. We have been through a lot, and failed in at least some of it. We have done things we should not have done and not done things we should have done.
Occasionally I hear someone reflecting on his or her life and saying, “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
If you have no regrets and would not change a thing, what in the world is wrong with you? You’re just a damned fool! You have not learned a thing! Where is the so-called wisdom of age if you couldn’t do it better the second time?
Erik Erikson says that old age is the stage of final integrity vs despair. We cannot change what has been. If we cannot affirm the lives we have lived, despair is our only option.

Affirming your life, however, is very different from having no regrets. I do not think you can affirm your life if you have no regrets. The only way you can have no regrets is by denying your past. You did do some things wrong, and if you are not sorry about that, you are simply denying reality. Or you are an old sociopath. And everybody knows there’s no sociopath like an old sociopath. [Okay, the actual saying is: “There’s no fool like an old fool.” But it means the same thing.]

Affirmation of the past means accepting reality. I heard the story of a man who was new in town. He visited from church to church, but none of them seemed quite right. One Sunday he arrived at a church a little late and got in just as they were intoning the prayer of confession: We have done those things we ought not to have done, and not done those things we should have done. He breathed a sigh of relief and said, “My kind of people at last!”

I have plenty of regrets. I hurt people’s feelings. I took wrong positions. I was cowardly and kept silent when I should have stood up for the truth and justice. I neglected people I should have cared for. I said a lot of stupid things. I told jokes when I should have kept my mouth shut. I did not form a youth fellowship drama group. If I could, I would change many things. Still, I affirm who I have been, warts and all, regrets and all, because I know God forgives me, and so I can forgive myself.

Paul Tillich said that forgiveness doesn’t change the facts, but it changes the meaning of the facts.

To affirm the past, we must accept forgiveness for our mistakes. First we have to admit that we made mistakes.


I tweet as yooper1721.

My book, THE STRANGE CALLING: Stories of Ministry, is published by Smyth & Helwys.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


I recently complained about web sites that print all the lyrics and music of a song and either ascribe them to no one or only to the singer who performed them. Even if you try to find out who the composer or lyricist was, no one will provide that information. As I was complaining about it in a post on this site [6-23-17] the phrase “theft by neglect” popped into my head.

I suspect that is because daughter Mary Beth gave me a copy of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding. It’s an English phrase. If you have found something, say a briefcase with a thousand bucks in it, it doesn’t belong to you. No, “finders keepers” is not an adequate legal rationale. Your find is yours to keep only after you have made an honest attempt to find the real owner. Otherwise, you are guilty of “theft by finding.”

I’ve never been quite sure how and when to give credit for something I am saying or writing. “Love is the most important thing.” I’m sure someone said that first, but I don’t think I’m guilty of theft by neglect if I make no attempt to find out who did so, if I just say so without trying to cite a source. On the other hand, if I use a few lines of “The Hound of Heaven” like “I fled Him down the nights and down the days…” and don’t acknowledge that those are the words of Francis Thompson instead of my own, I’m doing theft by neglect. On the third hand [writers can have as many hands as we need] if I ask “Will you still need me, will you still feed me…” I probably don’t have to say Paul McCartney or even Beetles, because everyone knows who is responsible for those words.

It’s important to acknowledge a source, but it’s actually annoying to listen to a speaker who constantly does so, at great length, with something like “It was the great poet, Dilbert Pickel, whose works I enjoy in the original Hindi, who said, ‘Life is hard.’” Well, duh! A bit too much info. And Dil Pickel probably wasn’t the first person to say it.

Writers have little excuse for not acknowledging sources. We can do so in footnotes or endnotes without interrupting the flow.

Ideas are precious. So are songs and poems and stories. It’s important to share them. It’s also important to give credit where credit is due.

Maybe the most important acknowledgement, though, the one that should not be stolen by neglect, is… Well, try this: On the Cincinnati Reds TV broadcasts, every time it is a crisp night, Thom Brenneman says, every time, “My grandpa always said, This is good sleeping weather.” That’s not acknowledging a source. That’s acknowledging a grandpa. That’s acknowledging love.


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

Monday, September 11, 2017

THE SWERVE M, 9-11-17

My wife and daughters enrich my life in many ways. One of the main ways in recent years is through gift books. When you are old, you don’t need another tie or shirt or spatula. Unless you can go see it, eat it, or read it, it’s just one more thing to put away and not use. Tickets to a play or game, a coffee shop gift card, a book—those are the right gifts for old people. So I get books.

Some of them are books I think I want to read. I ask for them. The best, though, are surprise books. Novels by new authors I don’t know but am pleased to learn about. Tomes by physicists and theologians and historians and other thoughtful people who challenge me with new knowledge and new ways to understand.

So it was with Stephen Greenblat, THE SWERVE: How the World Became Modern [2011] This was a gift, I think from younger daughter Katie, the delightful YA author. [1] [2]

It is the story of the rediscovery of Lucretius’ [94-55 BC] now-famous poem, On the Nature of Things. Greenblat is a wonderful writer, and does this basically as a mystery novel, how 1500 years later, people knew that Lucretius had made a big splash with that poem, that it caused a lot of controversy, but nobody anymore actually had a copy. Until Poggio Bracciolini, a lover of and searcher for all things ancient, discovered a lost and forgotten copy in a remote monastery library. That, says Greenblat, was the renewal of the old splash and controversy that created the world modern, because it changed our way of thinking.

Following the philosophies of Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus, Lucretius wrote a long and beautiful [in Latin] poem explaining that all is composed of atoms that comprise all things from the same stuff. The atoms are incredibly tiny with huge empty spaces between them. That being the case, nothing would ever change in that atomic universe, except that the atoms “swerve” randomly, and thus all activity in nature is random. [3] Physicality is all there is. There is no God or after-life. So, in the crude form in which Epicurus was pictured by his critics, the point of life is to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” [Epicurus did extol pleasure as basically the only good, but he thought the simple life was the most pleasurable, not the excessive life.]

It is remarkable that over two thousand years ago people with names like Leucippus and Democritus and Lucretius were able to theorize with ancient philosophy what in recent times people with names like Einstein and Bohr and Maxwell have proved with modern science.

Except, of course, for the ideas that remain only theories and for which there is no proof: that all life is random, that there is no God, no afterlife, etc.

Frankly, I believe Epicurus, about the purpose of life, mostly because Jesus said the same thing, especially in John 10:10. The purpose of life, Jesus said, is to have a good time. Good times, though, don’t consist in “eat, drink, and be merry,” although Jesus did some of that, and was criticized for it. Good times consist of living good lives. Good lives are not lives of excess and selfish enjoyment and pleasure. Indeed, a false time is one that gives you only pleasure instead of joy.

It amuses me how many “modern” and “scientific” folks can take real facts that prove real things and claim they also prove the unprovable. They are people of faith as well as facts and won’t admit it. It’s just that their “faith” is in nothingness. They use facts in order to “disprove” the faith of others without even seeing the contradiction. That’s not very scientific.

Of course, conservative Christians, so-called Evangelicals, don’t help the matter at all by claiming that faith is really all about believing the unbelievable to the point of not even believing the facts.

May God protect us from true believers, of both the religious and scientific types.


I tweet as yooper1721

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

2] I say “I think” it’s from Katie because one place where my book gift appreciation breaks down is remembering who gave me which book. In theory, I put the initials of the giver on the back flyleaf to help me remember, but I need some mnemonic device to help me remember to use my mnemonic devices.

3] In fiction, the current exponent of the Lucretius theory about the randomness of life is one of my favorite writers—for her writing and story-telling, not for her philosophy—is the Scots author, Kate Atkinson.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


So many of my friends have died. I got to say nice things about them at their funerals. But there will be no one left to say nice things about me. So I have been writing the eulogies for me that they would write if they were still around. Try it for yourself. They say really good things, and they are well written, too.

One of those is by my classmate [5th through 12th grades], Mike Dickey

When I spoke at his funeral a couple of years ago, in Prescott, AZ, I noted that I was wearing the same tie I wore when we double-dated for the prom 60 years before. I had more than one tie then--and I’m not too humble to say that even though I have put on some weight since high school, I can still get into them—but I know that was the one because it was gray with one small pink arrow design, and pink and gray were together the really cool color combo back then. Even cars were pink and gray.

When I told the large church full of mourners about wearing the tie when Mike and I double-dated, I added, for no particular reason, except that I say things like that, “After the service, if you want to touch it, you can.”

You would not believe the number of people who came up to me, while still in the church building and then across the parking lot in the funeral meal building, to touch that tie! They seemed to think it was magic. I guess I made it sound that way. I guess, in a way, it was. It allowed them to touch their friend, whom they had known only as a delightful but wealthy insurance agency owner in Arizona, clear back to when he was just a small town southern Indiana boy.

That’s the way with the presence of artifacts. They allow us to live beyond the normal boundaries of time and space. When I was doing graduate work at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, we took communion one night from a chalice from which Christians had been sipping the wine of Eucharist for 700 years before America was discovered! Talk about being a part of the ages.

I got to experience that with Mike, too. Despite his constant pleas, we had never visited him in Arizona. We always saw each other at reunions in Indiana. But he would sit on his smoking deck—one of many decks on the huge house he built on many levels into the side of a mountain in Prescott—and call me, to share jokes [1] and stories and laughter. He was one of the few people I ever knew who actually made a ha-ha sound when he laughed. [2] We were there for several days at the funeral. I got to sit on his smoking deck, and there I could hear his laughter as he talked on the phone to me. And I wasn’t even wearing that tie.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] One day he told me that he and his wife, Teri, went whale-watching three times a week. “Mike,” I said, “you live in Arizona. How can you go whale watching?” “Well,” he replied, “at the Y they call it water aerobics.”

2] I don’t know how or if “haha” in laughter is related to the ha-ha of English architecture. When the huge English estates were built, they wanted to keep the livestock out of the formal gardens without unsightly fences. So the landscape architects would build a slight rise into the ground between the gardens and the fields and dig on the other side a grassy depression down below eye level. People were often surprised when strolling the gardens to find cows grazing just over the rise. Perhaps they said “Ah ha,” and so that was why they were known as ha-has. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

START AT THE END, a poem Sa, 9-9-17

Start at the end.
That’s what God told Jesus,
at the beginning.

Start with the rolled stone.
It will make the cross
lighter to carry.
All those disciples
who do not have ears
to hear,
and all those stupid
the Bible saysers,
and certainly all that Christmas
you don’t want to start
with that.
That’s what God told Jesus,
at the beginning.

Start at the end
if you want to understand,
if you want to live.
That’s what God told me.