Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


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

I became a child therapist by accident. I was pastoring in a small town. Like children everywhere, children there had problems. People knew I liked kids. Small towns don’t have professional therapists. I was free.

We mostly told stories, those children and I. They told me stories, and I told them stories, and we told stories together.

It wasn’t just children from my own congregation. Word spread. Soon I had kids from third through tenth grade sitting in my living room, where there were big windows onto the street, and where my wife sat in her study off the living room, with the door open.

That is not an ideal counseling setting, where people walking by can see, and where a school teacher-at a school in a town twenty miles away, to be sure, but still a teacher-can hear. Counseling works best in privacy, where the counselee is free to say anything. In these days, though, we are aware that child abuse is real, and transparency is necessary in working with children, to protect the children, and to protect the counselor.

We have more transparency these days than formerly, at least in the contacts children have with teachers and priests and coaches. Most child abuse, though, is done by family members, and transparency there is much harder to come by.

I heard a pastor tell this story: He was teaching the youngsters in his church about communion and said, “When you take the communion, Christ is in you.” One girl questioned him very carefully about it. “Do you mean Christ is in every cell?” He assured her that was true. Every time they had communion, she asked him, “Every cell?” He assured her it was so.

It was learned later that her father was sexually abusing her. That was why it was so important to her that Christ be in every cell, every part of her body.

All of us suffer abuse in this world, one way or another. The promise is that Christ comes to us and inhabits every cell, not only of body, but of spirit.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Christ In Winter: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter

When I was a campus minister, a couple asked me to do their wedding. They were not a part of our campus ministry “church,” but that was not unusual. Many people want the preacher and the church only when they want to marry. I was used to that.

As we talked, though, I got a surprise. Usually couples want to talk only about the wedding, not about marriage. But this pair was quite willing to talk about why they wanted to marry. Eager to, in fact. We didn’t get very far in that conversation, though. There was only one reason to marry, and that was all they-especially the prospective groom-wanted to talk about—LOVE.

He loved her. She loved him. They loved love. That’s all there was to it. Nothing more to say.

That’s okay. Just about all of us are that way when we are twenty years old. Dealing with twenty-year-olds all the time, I understood that. But there seemed to be a different dimension to their definition and experience of love--a compulsion, an unhealthy obsession.

I tried to be open-minded, though. Not everyone expresses things the way I do. Maybe I was just misunderstanding.

We came to a parting, though, when the prospective groom insisted that I include in the wedding a statement that they would always be together in their same bodies, forever, still able to engage in physical love in those same bodies despite death. I agreed that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but that was not what he was talking about. He wasn’t interested in the love of God. They didn’t even need the love of God, because they had each other, and always would.

They left in a huff, because I did not understand their love. I felt bad about that, because I did understand their desperation, and I was willing to work with them to help them move toward a healthier relationship-with each other and with the source of love. I have to admit, though, that I felt relief, too, because I doubted that I had the skill to provide that help.

I think it is in Until We Have Faces that C.S. Lewis points out that if we love God first, then we cannot love another person too much. But if we don’t love God first, love of a person can become idolatry.


I tweet once in a while as yooper1721.

Monday, January 29, 2018

BALM IN GILEAD [M, 1-29-18]

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

Now that I am old, I wonder if I’m up to the traveling.

In Marilynn Robinson’s wonderful novel, Gilead, an old Iowa minister, in his last days, knowing he will die soon, is writing an extended letter to his young son. He tells about his father and grandfather, who were also ministers. He recalls that his grandfather, in his dotage, had regular conversations with God.

The minister writes: “Once he told us at supper, ‘This afternoon I met the Lord over by the river, and we fell to talking, you know, and He made a suggestion I thought was interesting. He said, “John, why don’t you just go home and be old?” But I had to tell him I wasn’t sure I was up to the traveling.’” [Page 97]

His family assumed the grandfather thought the Lord was talking about not being strong enough to travel from Iowa to Kansas.

Robinson, though, I’m sure, knew he was not thinking about being strong enough to make the trip from one place on the map to another. He was wondering if he were strong enough to make the trip from one place in the soul to another, to that place in the soul where they have to take you in, that place in the soul called home.

That’s a long trip, and I’m not sure I’m up to the traveling, either. In many ways, it’s just easier to say, “I’m not old enough to make that trip yet,” than to say, “I’m not up to the traveling.”

It takes a lot of traveling to stop trying to get somewhere, to stop trying to make a difference, to let go and just be old, to accept the grace that the only reason you are alive is that you are alive, to stop earning your way by what you do, to become a human being instead of a human doing. It’s easier to stay on the treadmill, to travel round and round in the wheel of self-justification. That’s traveling I’m used to, traveling I know how to do.

Traveling clear across the spirit to the realm of pure grace? I’m not sure I’m up to that yet.

Now that I am old, I hope to get weak enough some day to be strong enough to make that trip to home, where I don’t have to justify my existence, where it’s okay just to be old. As the spiritual says, “There is a balm in Gilead.”


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

I tweet occasionally 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.] 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.

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, January 28, 2018


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

I had to stop everything. “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters” just came on the radio. There are some songs that just have to be listened to.

Some things should not be interrupted, like writing Christ In Winter, or I’ll forget what I was going to say. But there are certain songs that will not allow me to continue what I’m doing.

Haven’t you ever sat in the driveway, waiting for a song to end, before you got out of the car and went into your house? Some folks claim they have even pulled over onto the side of the road because they couldn’t even drive as they heard a particular song. [1]

I have to be very careful what I’m doing as I listen. I’m old. If I get interrupted by a song that requires listening, I’ll never remember what I was doing. Later I’ll say, “I wonder why Helen put this WD40 in the refrigerator.”

Songs tell stories, even the “songs” that don’t have words. [2]

Occasionally, as part of my morning meditations, or as I walk, which is also usually a time of meditation, I think about each stage of my life—childhood, school, parenting, working. I think about each place I’ve lived. For each of those stages and places, I figure out which song is my theme song. Try it. I think you’ll enjoy it.

For my campus ministry days in the 1960s, my theme song is “We Shall Overcome.” For my pastoring days, my theme is “I Love to Tell the Story.” In old age, my theme is “Where, or Where Did My Little…” What’s the rest of that song, anyway?


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] That’s different from pulling over because you just saw those “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

2] The slogan of Black Opal Books, the publisher of my novel, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped Iraqistan veterans, is: “Because some stories just have to be told.” I like that.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


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

[A reprint from 3-24-11. On that date, I used the title CHRIST-IANS AND BIBLIANS]]

Recently I heard an Assemblies of God pastor from Louisville interviewed on TV. The occasion was an upcoming Sunday at his church called, if I remember correctly, “Open Carry Sunday,” for which people were invited to bring their loaded guns [yes, loaded was specified] to church. The invitation poster shown on TV had several phrases like “They won’t take our guns away.”

The interviewer asked if this were not contrary to Christian theology. The pastor replied in a quite reasonable way along these lines: Pacifism is not the only Christian tradition. For instance, “turn the other cheek” might be more a matter of dealing with dishonor than with personal protection. We believe in the whole Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New. We believe that God covenanted in this way.

Then he said specifically, “We do not live by the red words alone.”
The red words, of course, are the words of Jesus in the red-letter editions of the New Testament.
We notice first the end result of the difference between Christians called “conservative” or “evangelical” and those called “liberal” or “progressive”—a 90 to 180 degree difference on social concerns such as abortion, homosexuality, guns, taxes-economy, poverty, AIDS, war, torture. How can people who read the same Bible and claim the same Christ come to such different conclusions?
The answer, I think, is that we do not claim the same Christ. Most conservative Christians are really not Christ-ians; they are Biblians. Christ-ians believe in Christ as the full and only necessary revelation of God, continued through the Holy Spirit. Biblians believe in the Bible as the full and only necessary revelation of God.
Biblians believe that the “black” words of the Bible have equal revelatory quality with the “red” words. 

This is not new, of course. [1] Many churches have advertised themselves for a long time as “Full Bible” churches, meaning the black words have equal weight with the red words. It is what Hans Frei referred to as “the eclipse of Biblical narrative.”

Biblians are basically anti-narrative. There is no movement in the Bible, except in claiming that Christianity has superseded Judaism. Jerry Falwell used to say that “Jesus wrote every word of the Bible.” That means that it is not God’s story book, a narrative culminating in the ministry of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ, but God’s rule book, where any rule at any point in the book has the same weight as any other rule. “Destroy all the inhabitants of that place” is equal to “Love your neighbor.”

When Martin Luther first proclaimed “scripture only” as the guide for Christians, he specifically disavowed creating a “paper pope.” He wanted NO pope, no overlord authority. That’s why he proclaimed “the priesthood of all believers.” Any Christian was on equal footing with the priests in interpreting Scripture. The purpose of the Bible was not to replace the pope and the priests as overlords for Christians—replace the Roman pope with a paper pope--but to allow every Christian a place in the ongoing story of God’s salvation, guided by God’s Holy Spirit.

Christianity and Biblianity are two different faiths.

Biblians are somewhere between Jews and Christians, trying to live by both Jewish Law and Christian grace, by black words and red words equally. [2] That’s really quite impossible unless you have an “ex cathedra” authoritarian pope of some kind that cuts off discussion, like the bumper sticker I used to see, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

I am sure, however, that Biblians will never call themselves that. They, of course, have every right to call themselves Christians, but I would like to be able to distinguish myself from that sort of Christianity. I guess I’ll just have to say that I am a red word Christian.


1] The growing and now huge chasm between Christians called “conservative” or “evangelical” and those called first “mainline” and more recently “liberal” or “progressive” started with the “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy of the 1920s, featuring most prominently J. Gresham Machen for the Fundamentalists vs. Harry Emerson Fosdick for the liberals.

2] Like when the Cubs had [Mark] Grace playing first base and [Vance] Law playing third. You can’t win if you are caught between Grace and Law.

Friday, January 26, 2018


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

Sylvia McNair, the famous opera and Broadway star, was walking at the mall on Tuesday. I had never seen her walking at the mall before. I thought it would be nice of me to walk with her, to keep her company, since she was new to mall walking.

I don’t walk at the mall if I can avoid it. It’s a nice mall, and I appreciate the mall people having it open early so folks can walk, especially in bad weather. That’s when I’m a mall walker. Most of the year I walk outside, which I much prefer. But when it’s raining, or there is ice underfoot, it’s nice to have a clean and well-lighted place to walk.

It was cold and rainy on Tuesday, so there were more folks mall--walking than usual. That included Sylvia.

It’s not unusual to run into famous musicians in Bloomington. Joshua Bell. Carrie Newcomer. John Mellencamp. Johnny Cougar had Christie Brinkley on his arm the day I ran into him on the Kirkwood Avenue sidewalk. He gave me one of those “Don’t mess with my woman” looks, as men do when they recognize significant competition.

I have seen Sylvia several times before, chatted with her once, because we have a mutual friend in Linda Kramer Zimmermann. Sylvia knows Linda because she and her husband, John, are great supporters of IU opera. We know Linda because she is a former student and our financial advisor. And, of course, we recognize Sylvia by being regulars at her annual Christmas concert at First UMC, to benefit the Shalom Center for homeless folks.

But how do you approach a famous singer when she is mall walking? I could remind her that we both know Linda. I thought it might be more impressive, though, if I did my reprise of Pavarotti doing La Donna E’ Mobile from Rigoletto. But I really wanted her to talk as we walked together, and I feared that would leave her speechless. An alternative would be to croon “Fly Me to the Moon” as I walked up to her, since she uses that to start one of her TED talks, but it was likely to have the same result.

Or we could talk about the Shalom Center. Helen and I are major [for us] supporters of Shalom, and Sylvia has retired early from teaching at the IU school of music to devote all her time to volunteer activities on behalf of anyone in need. 

A good approach perhaps would be to talk to her about our older daughter’s second bout with breast cancer. Sylvia is a breast cancer survivor herself, and she and Mary Beth are only five years apart in age, so that would be a natural. But even though both Sylvia and Mary Beth are very open about their cancer experiences, that’s a bit personal. [1]

I finally decided she was just going to have to walk by herself. Following the lead of other courageous women who have at last been freed from fear and cultural expectations, she has recently accused famous conductor Charles Dutoit of sexually harassing her, [2] and I was afraid she might misunderstand my approach. So it was out of consideration for her feelings that I just let her walk in peace. Also there was no way in hades I could keep up with her.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

1] Speaking of cancer, 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.

2] Dutoit has been accused by several other women, too. He has denied all of the accusations.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Dr. Larry Nassar was sentenced yesterday for sexually abusing seven girls. The actual number was much greater. 168 read impact statements in court. But 7 was the number for court purposes. He received a sentence of 40 to 175 years. He’ll never get out of jail. As Judge Rosemarie Aqulinia said to him, ‘I just signed your death warrant.”

Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State University, including physician to the gymnastics team there. He was also physician to the gymnasts of the USA Olympics. His abuse of athletes, especially gymnastic girls, stretched over two decades.

So why did it take so long for anyone to notice and do something to stop it? Why didn’t someone tell?

The girls DID tell. They told teachers. They told parents and friends. They told the MSU gymnastics coach. They told the police. They were dismissed, even though lots of people suspected enough to warrant a further look. They were just young girls. You can’t trust what they say, especially if they are accusing an authority figure, an authority figure just like you are. Authority figures trust other authority figures, especially if they are practiced and persuasive serial predators, like Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky.

After all, who should you believe, a little girl or an accomplished professional like Nassar or Sandusky? But ask yourself this: when was the last time you heard of a little girl sexually abusing a male authority figure?

The Nassar case was just like the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State. People knew, but they did not act, either because they did not believe; or they did not want to believe; or they thought that since everybody knew, someone else would do something about it; or because they thought it would go away on its own without them having to get involved.

I want to make two points:


It was only when Rachel Denhollander went to the Indy Star that someone took the story seriously. Without the newspapers, Nassar would still be abusing and his enablers would still be covering it up.

At a time when the media are under attack and accused by people in authority of “fake news,” their importance cannot be overstated. Those in authority will always cover their own behinds first, and try to cover up any abuse of power or justice that reflects badly on them or might threaten their power. Without an independent press, no one would ever know.


I’m not able to say that the E. Lansing Roman Catholic Church knew that Nassar was sexually abusing girls. I am able to say that they tried to cover up their association with him.

I know that because our granddaughter, Brigid Kennedy, was the investigative reporter for The State News [The S’News], the MSU student newspaper, and she contacted that church about his involvement with them.

She had been told that Nassar was a youth counselor and confirmation mentor and even took kids from the church on overnight campouts without other adults. He had been thus listed on their web site. When she contacted them, though, the church denied knowledge of him. She checked the web site. Sure enough, he was no longer there. But Brigid is a smart woman. She knew how to get into the web site to see what it had said formerly. And there was the smoking gun; yes, he was listed. The church had retroactively removed notice of him and then claimed no knowledge of him. In other words, they lied.

It’s not surprising that any church with a member like Nassar would want to deny him, both for embarrassment and for financial worry. There certainly would be the possibility of real litigation and big damages to be paid if any kids came forward to accuse him of abuse while he was representing the church. But that is what the Catholic Church has done over and over again, denied knowledge, and then enabled the offending priests by continuing to appoint them to positions where they had access to children. They lied over and over again. And enabled the abusers over and over again.

If there is any institution in the country that should be cooperating with the media in exposing injustice and abuse, it is the church. but for the sake of its own power and finances, the church—not just Roman but “evangelical” Protestants as well—engages in excuses and lies and blaming of the victims.

It is disingenuous at best that the Roman and “evangelical” churches, including some of my relatives and friends, are staunchly anti-abortion, on the theory that they are defending “the weakest,” but either excuse or turn a blind eye on the abuse by priests and Catholic laymen and “Christian” politicians of equally weak children who have made the mistake of being born already. Children receive sympathy and protection from these hypocrites only when they are still in the womb. Yes, you are hypocrites. You have no claim on pro-life if you are only pro-birth.

So praise be to the intrepid reporters of The Indy Star and Sacha Pfeiffer of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team and Brigid Kennedy of The State News and all the other media folk who take the blame and insults and hypocrisy of the abusers and their enablers in order to see that justice is done.

And shame be to any Christian or church that sides with abuse for the sake of sharing in the power of the abusers.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


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

When James Whitcomb Riley was a little boy, an orphan girl, age 12, came to live with his family. She was basically a maid, but it gave her a place to live. Little James and his brothers and sisters loved her, especially since she told them ghost and goblin stories, about “things that go bump in the night.” Her name was Allie. Later Riley wrote a famous poem about her: “Little orphan Allie’s come to our house to stay…” But when the newspaper printed it, the type setter grabbed the “n” instead of “l”. She became Little Orphan Annie. So she has remained.

Gil Hodge grew up in Petersburg, IN, 13 miles up IN Hwy 57 from my home town of Oakland City. He attended Oakland City College for a while, but his baseball skills were too great to be ignored. He signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The secretary who typed up the contract let a little finger drag, and his name on the contract got an s. Gil could crush a baseball, but he was far too gentlemanly to point out a mistake to a woman. He is not in The Hall of Fame despite a career worthy of the Hall. Perhaps the HOF is too cheap to pay for the extra s on his plaque. If he ever gets to the Hall, it will be as Hodges, not Hodge. [1]

My dental hygienist is proud of her Norwegian heritage. Her maiden name was Scott. “Norwegian?” I said. “Yes. My ancestors had to leave Scotland. They escaped to Norway. There people just called them ‘the Scots.’ They were probably the MacSomethings, but our Norwegian name ever since has just been Scott.”

As the winter Olympics approach, it is good to remember Bonnie Blair. One Saturday when she was about ten, she accompanied her father on some errands. He introduced her at one place. “This is my daughter, Bonnie. She’s a skater, and some day she’ll win an Olympic medal.” She thought, “Oh, so that’s what I’m supposed to do.” So she did. Six of them, five gold.

We get a lot of our identity from the mistakes and throw-away lines of others.

I wonder about Allie. When she was grown up, when she said to the other women as they worked in the church kitchen, “You know, Mr. Riley, the famous poet, wrote about me,” did they roll their eyes and say, “Oh, yeah,” and then think to themselves, “He never wrote a word about anybody named Allie.”


1] One boy from the area did make it to the Hall, Oakland City’s Edd Roush, the Reds’ center fielder, who played from 1913 to 1931. I wrote his biography for Scribners’ American Lives. His twin brother, Fred, was one of my coaches when I was a kid playing church league ball, which was our version of Little League.

I tweet occasionally 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.] 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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


There is a dangerous gap in our world, and I don’t mean [only] a store at the mall.

The single most consistent factor in whether a person supports President Donald Trump is level of education. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, the higher your education level, the less likely you are to support this president.

I learned that from reading a survey done by the military in which they learned that officers were ten times more likely to disapprove of President Trump than were enlisted men. The difference was education level. We have the most highly educated military officer corps in the world.

Of course, it is educated people who do surveys, so Trump supporters claim that results like that are biased or it is “fake news” or some other work-around, because they do not trust education. Because they are left out of the good things that come with education, including the use of reason and facts rather than emotion to make decisions.

One of the biggest gaps among people in general in our society is education. There are big gaps in income and privilege, but they rely in great part on the education gap.

Being left out makes people angry. Because they are not educated, not trained to reason or tell facts from fantasies, their anger can be easily misdirected against those who are actually on their side. They can be convinced that the short-term emotional satisfaction of venting anger is the best they’ll get.

They want leaders who are just like themselves, angry, angry at anyone and everyone who is different from themselves.

This gap widens as technology pushes forward, technology that requires education. The haves and have-nots are increasingly the educated and not-educated. This does not bode well for the future.

The predator class has been actively working for almost forty years now to widen the education gap, because that gap gives them their hold. Democracy depends on an educated electorate. The predators want a democracy in which “all are equal, but some are more equal than others.” They try to destroy public education through underfunding, and vilifying teachers and driving them out of the profession, and by supporting alternative schools--so called “Christian” schools where the only Bible taught is I Peter 2:18, and “home” schools where students learn how to fill out work sheets but not how to think.

I like to end these little reflections with a wry twist or a note of hope. So I’ll end by saying that if we don’t destroy ourselves or the planet in the next hundred years, there might be a possibility we can steer this ship away from the ice berg. That is about as hopeful as I can get.


Monday, January 22, 2018

IT’S OKAY TO STEP ASIDE [Mon, 1-22-18]

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

The women’s marches this weekend reminded me of the time I was awarded one of the prize plums of preaching—an appearance on the radio show known as The Protestant Hour [Even though it was only 30 minutes.] Why the connection? Well, first a little history…

The program had started in 1945, and there had been at least one woman speaker on the show previously, but no ordained women.

It started by featuring preachers from the Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist denominations. The Southern Baptists pulled out, but the Episcopalians took their place. The preachers were almost always bishops or the pastors of large, flag-ship churches. The “speakers” were not always ordained, but they were well known men, like C.S. Lewis.

In the early 1980s, the show’s producers decided to open the pulpit to lesser preachers and unknowns like me. We were invited to send tapes of our sermons. My church did not have a taping system for worship services, so Terry Perkins, a church member and speech communication professor at EIU, arranged for me to use the recording equipment in his department.

I was pretty sure my tape would be well-received, because my preaching was different from the usual. I hesitate to say “entertaining,” but it was.

I won. But the opportunity was given to me with one hand and taken back with the other. “Your tape was the best we heard, but we feel that we need to have a woman preacher on the show at this time.” So, thanks, but no thanks.

I was disappointed, yes, but only slightly. Yes, I missed out on preaching for The Protestant Hour. That would have been a nice feather for my cap. But I had two daughters, then in college. I did not want anyone telling them there were any gender restrictions on them. I wanted models for them, women doing what they had previously been denied

I am a feminist. So many people misunderstand what feminism is. I mean simply that I believe women should have every opportunity and right that men have, and there was no doubt in the 1980s that we had a long way to go to get to the point of that equality. I was fully in favor of women preachers on The Protestant Hour. By that time, I had encouraged a dozen or so young women into seminary and the ordained ministry.

It’s okay to step aside so that those who are always pushed to the back can step forward and get into the parade.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

One of those daughters mentioned above is Katie Kennedy, the rising star in YA lit. 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, January 21, 2018


Getting ready for church this morning brings up the old age dilemma: Am I the one who should give the help or am I the one who needs the help.

I try to be helpful in church by staying out of the way of our pastors. I’m the kind of old person I always loved when I was a preacher: I come to worship, give a lot [relatively] of money, keep my mouth shut about the pastor’s many deficiencies, am friendly to newcomers and invite others to come. I occasionally do something to help out with the church’s work, especially if it can be done in secret, like sneaking into the church building without being noticed and loading up the food from Backpack Buddies Sunday and taking it to the Community Kitchen.

My old friend, Father Joe Dooley, always recited the priestly litany for Catholics: pray, pay, and obey. That describes me now that I am a “regular” church member. The perfect church member.

Well, not completely perfect. When I was a pastor, I also wanted old people, if they still had a modicum of energy in brain and body, to work on committees. That is probably the unforgivable sin. That’s where my perfection ends. You can’t be invisible if you are on a committee. You can’t be saved, either.

The problem for old people is this: as we get more decrepit, we really need more attention. We need to be willing to accept it, even ask for it when necessary. But that gets in the way, calls attention to us, makes people do stuff for us. That doesn’t feel right.

I used to park as far away from the door as I could, in any parking lot, in order to leave closer spots for folks who could not walk as well as I. Now when Helen is having one of her leg-problem days or I’m especially tipsy [just speaking gyroscopically, not alcoholically], I park as close to the door as I can get. It feels wrong, but it’s necessary. It’s embarrassing to take a good spot when you look as young as I do, so I intentionally stagger around when I get out of the car, even though I don’t need to, so that people will know I really need to park close. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

WATER WONDERS [sat 1-20-18]

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

I have always been fascinated by Jesus’ references to water. He lived in a land where water was important because there was so little of it. So did I.

When I grew up on the farm, we had no indoor plumbing. Clean water had to be carried in in buckets and dirty water had to be carried out in other buckets.

The water came from a cistern and a well. The cistern caught water off the roof of the house. It was covered by boards. We dipped a bucket in to get the water that we used for washing clothes and other household chores. The well had a pump with a long handle. We kept a jar of water beside it to “prime” it so that it would produce.

It was a deep well and so the water was good. We used it for drinking and cooking. During long summers, though, it would go dry. So did the cistern. It was then that I had to go to the Heathman’s house to carry water in a bucket. Their house was up a hill on our little gravel road, about the distance equivalent of two city blocks. A family of six needed a lot of water. That made for a lot of trips up and down the hill.

My right shoulder is lower than my left. I think that was from carrying water with my right arm from age ten, before I had stopped growing. When my wife made my first pulpit robe, she had to allow for that low shoulder.

We always washed out of a shallow basin on a wash stand. I never took a shower or a bath until I went to college. In college I lived in a decrepit old leftover BOQ building from WWII. It had a very ugly and dank shower room. But it had plenty of water. I thought it was wonderful.

I am careful with water. I don’t waste it, even now, when it comes out of a faucet or a shower head. I know what it’s like not to have water. So does most of the world. WWIII may well be about water rather than oil.

Jesus knew that, too, which is one of the reasons he counts giving water to the thirsty as a chief obligation of his followers. [Matthew 25:44.]

We get caught up too easily in the stories of Jesus turning water into wine and walking on the water. Were those signs he was the Christ? Of course not. Those were just possibilities of the moment. His insistence that anyone who is thirsty should have a drink, especially when the water runs low, now that, I think, is what makes him the Savior.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

Friday, January 19, 2018


I’m going to the eye doctor today. I’m going to stop going to docs, though. Every time I do, they find something wrong with me and want me to take another medicine.

However, since it seems I’ll be going to the doctors more and more, because they keep requiring “follow-up” exams at decreasing time periods, I am making a collection of “public books,” books it is okay to read, or pretend to read, in the waiting room. Here are the rules for public books:

First, small enough. It’s much more impressive to folks on the doc’s staff or other patients to have a big thick book, but they are hard to carry, especially if you have to run from your car to the doc’s office in the rain or snow, carrying an umbrella or on a walker. Last time, I took Margaret Donaldson’s Children’s Minds, about the ways we learn as young children. It’s a good and interesting book, and small in size, and one that fits # two [below], too.

2] Easy to explain to people who ask what you are reading. Of course, if you are reading a Lee Child or a Kate Atkinson, it’s easy enough to say, “It’s an action novel.” Some folks, however, will look down with scorn, especially in the anteroom of an upscale doc, like a plastic surgeon, at such an unworthy pursuit, so a book of poems by Billy Collins or Elaine Palencia is good. If someone says, “Is that poet any good?” just hand them the book and say, “Read page 113.” [Be sure to say a page number that is high enough that it doesn’t look like you brought this book along only to look intellectual.]

3] Don’t make it a book you can’t explain, like Sean Carroll’s The Boson at the End of the Universe. That book is impressive, but if some smart-alec kid sitting with her mom says, “What’s a boson?” or “How does the Geneva particle accelerator work?” you could be in trouble.

4] Take a book that will not embarrass you. Something by Bill Bryson is good.

5] Best to have a book you’re willing to recommend. Yes, it would be impressive to have Proust, but Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere or Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat will do nicely.

6] If you take a book in a foreign language, like Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait, you can be assured you will be seated across from someone who says, Ah, mon cheri, je suis…” so don’t do that, even if it looks as impressive as snails.

7] Don’t take a book that will cause people to want to tell you about their religious or political leanings. Yes, Borg and Yancy are good reading, but their titles, like Reading the Bible Again for the First Time and The Jesus I Never Knew will cause people to move to the other side of the room or cause them to come sit right beside you to tell about their most recent visitation from an angel.

8] If you have a writer in the family, take her Learning to Swear in America or What Goes Up, even though you have read each of them four times. You can fake reading it so others will ask about it. If her last name is Kennedy instead of McFarland, you can push the book shamelessly and not be embarrassed.


I tweet once in a while as yooper1721. Now that I am no longer a Yooper, I would like to change my Twitter handle but don’t know how.

Another good book to take would be NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. Published by AndrewsMcMeel. Available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc. in Czech and Japanese as well as English.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

FAITH V. TWITTER [R, 1-18-17]

Some time back I put a Christian Wiman quote on Twitter. “Faith is the movement of a soul toward God.”

An atheist Tweeted in reply: “There is no evidence for soul or God. Faith is belief without evidence. How can that ever be good?”

The first thing I realized is that the people who respond to my tweets the most are atheists. The second thing I realized is that Twitter is not a very good mode for discussing weighty ideas. 140 characters per tweet does not lend itself to nuanced thinking. [280 isn’t going to make this sort of discussion any easier.] Our own President has led the way in helping us to understand this.

The world will be won or lost not just by who has the best story, but by who tells their story best and widest. There really are only two stories, the Christ story, which is about love and inclusion, and the Anti-Christ story, which is about fear and exclusion.

There is a lot of fear and exclusion on the unsocial media. But in this time and place, the stories are told through social media. We who tell the Christ story, by whatever name, need to flood said media with hope and inclusion, so that it will actually be social instead of unsocial.

Old people don’t have much energy, but we can tweet. Every old person should be working Twitter, to create a Christ inclusion movement, 280 characters at a time, flooding the Twitterverse with mature wisdom. I have faith that the world will be a better place if we convince everybody to stay home on Saturday nights and watch Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS. You know it’s true…

I tweet as yooper1721.


The Wiman quote is from his penetrating book, My Bright Abyss.

The atheist quoted above asked how can belief without evidence ever be good. For the answer, read Neal F. Fisher’s excellent AN INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN FAITH: A Deeper Way of Seeing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


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

 In a church I pastored, the Nominating Committee wanted to ask a particular young woman to take a major leadership position. I was not in favor. I did not know her well, but I did not doubt her competence. My qualms were about her schedule. She had two children and a busy husband. I knew that when Helen was her age and had two children and a busy husband, she would have been appalled at the thought of taking on that kind of responsibility. When the nominating committee’s head hunter returned, however, she said the young woman had readily agreed.

She did an excellent job. At the end of her term, I was chatting with her husband one day after worship and mentioned how well she had done. He said, “Well, the only reason she took that job was that she wanted to work with you.”

I was amazed. Someone was willing to do a difficult and time-consuming and thankless job just to work with me? Then I was amazed at my amazement. Why not? That’s why we do most things, to be with people we like or want to learn from.

I had known and preached for years that our identities are formed by our relationships. I was not surprised if a person appreciated my pastoral care, from talking about their problems to receiving a supportive home or hospital visit. I was not surprised if someone came to worship because they liked me and wanted to hear me preach. Indeed, I tried to be likeable and to preach well in order to get that result.

But I liked pastoral care and preaching. I did not like church administration--committee meetings and all that. My own negative feelings toward church ad made me assume everyone felt like that. It did not occur to me that the same sort of personal relationships—with others and God—that I espoused and tried to practice in pastoring and preaching could be present in church administration.

To me, church business, church administration—especially committee meetings—was just something to endure because it was necessary.

I learned from that young woman that relationships are relationships, regardless of the setting. We can support and learn from one another—grow in our relation to others and to God--in a meeting or the kitchen, as much as in a worship service or a wedding or a funeral.

“Where two or three are gathered together [even in a committee] there am I in the midst of them,” says Jesus.


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

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

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 lector. 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?”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Yes, the United States of America is a Christian nation. Because it is NOT a Christian nation.

The American experiment, democracy American style, was possible because of the long struggles of the Judeo-Christian tradition to live out its ethic. Yes, our nation is Christian in origin.

But two thousand years of Christian experience convinced the initiators of the American experiment that a nation could not be Christian if it were Christian. To be able to follow the dictates of Jesus--to love others as one’s self, to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done--would require a nation that did not have an established religion, a nation where everyone had freedom to worship in his or her own way. Not just a religious freedom tolerated by the preachers and priests and scribes and mullahs in charge, but a religious freedom on an even footing with everybody, including those in the religious majority.

Totally religious and totally not religious at the same time. It was a radical concept, one that was hard to grasp, one that is still hard to grasp for many people.

The various groups of European immigrants all came to America to escape religious persecution, to have freedom of worship. Very quickly, though, they turned from persecuted to persecuting, insisting that they alone were to have religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and others realized that the United States didn’t have a chance if it were just an extension of Europe, with all the old animosities of the Old World simply transferred to different geography in the New World. If there were only one acceptable religion, there would always be conflict and persecution. So, all religions were to be accepted.

Acceptance of everyone is a particularly Christian--ie Jesus--idea. There will always be people who claim to follow Jesus, who call themselves Christians, who claim their religion requires them to exclude people unlike themselves. They are hypocrites and mean-spirited, but in America, because of Jesus, hypocritical and mean-spirited religions are accepted, too.

The USA is a Christian nation because it is NOT a Christian nation.


I tweet once in a while as yooper1721.

Monday, January 15, 2018



I have watched and listened to MLK’s “I have a dream” speech many times. I know those words almost by heart. His speeches that I remember best, though, are ones from which I can’t remember any specific words. I remember them because I was there.

The first was during the Montgomery bus boycott. A group in Indianapolis had invited him up for an evening speech. Loyd Bates, IU’s Methodist campus minister, took a car load of us to hear him. This hillbilly liberal from a Sundown [1] County was eager to hear a real civil right leader.

A cinema discussion group from the Nashville, IN UMC asked me to sit in on their discussion of the movie, “Mississippi Burning,” even though I had not seen it, because I had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In that conversation, Bill Todd asked me when I had become aware of civil rights as a cause. I had never thought about that before. All I could say was, “I can’t remember when I was not aware of it.”

As I grew up, race was all around us. We were told that there was a “nigger in the woodshed,” and we were instructed to not let go if we caught a nigger by the toe. Brazil nuts were “nigger toes.” My father and his 4 foot ten inch sister had even joined the KKK when they were teens. [2] But my mother was always a contrarian, and in the case of race relations, that was a good thing. She insisted that her children not say or do anything disrespectful to anyone. I was always aware that “Negroes” were mistreated, and that it was wrong to do so.

Until I went to college, my only direct contact with a black person was with Mrs. Dickerson, who lived next door to us in Indianapolis, before we moved away when I was ten. She was old and lived alone, the only black person in the whole of the near east side. Sometimes she asked my mother to let me run an errand for her. On those occasions, she rewarded me with a nickel. I thought that was swell.

The second time I heard Martin Luther King, Jr. in person was when he was speaking on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. It was at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. The Alabama Methodist Student Movement had asked the Indiana MSM to send people down to march with them on the last day, to be part of the crowd at the capitol building. [3] Each campus minister was asked to bring a faculty member and a student, so that every campus would be represented. [4] I was the campus minister at Indiana State and took Andre’ Hammonds, sociology professor, and Bob Mullens, journalism major. Andre’ was the first black person to get a PhD from the U of TN. [5]

There are always those who want to deny rights, civil and otherwise, to those who are different from them. So human rights is always an issue. We remember and honor MLK to remind us of that one basic Christian principle that my mother told me by saying “No one is inferior. Everyone deserves respect.” The march to the statehouse never ends.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

1] Sundown places were so known for the slogan, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on your head here.” Some places even had signs to that effect. Gibson County was mixed on that issue. It had always had Sundowners, and it also had active stops for the Underground Railroad.

2] Mostly because there was a sign-up tent at the county fair and it didn’t cost much. Cousin Elizabeth, Aunt Helen’s daughter, remembers her mother saying it was maybe a nickel, maybe only a penny. The very fact of a tent at the county fair that signed up children for the KKK says a lot about the times.

3] The organizers did not want all of us there throughout the entire march because the logistics of food and sanitation and such would be overwhelming.

4] I write of this more completely in my book, The Strange Calling.

5] In an interesting moment of fate, Andre’ and Dorcas Hammonds and Bob Kochtitzky were the only guests at daughter Katie’s first birthday party in Terre Haute. Bob was the famous Mississippi civil rights leader—Jackson businessman turned Christian entrepreneur--whose own house was bombed at one time, with a cross burned on his lawn. Later he founded the LAOS [Laymen’s Overseas Service] and Alternatives [to commercial Christmas] organizations. We had become friends while students together at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

YOU SHOOT THE BALL! [Sun 1-1-18]

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

[I posted this one a few years ago, but it’s relevant today, too, since it is a winter of confusion for IU fans and Chris Collins is bringing his Northwestern team to Assembly Hall this afternoon.]

YOU SHOOT THE BALL!    [Sun 1-1-18]

This has been a winter of discontent for an Indiana University basketball fan. Our young team is unpredictable, beating a juggernaut like Wisconsin on a T and losing to a bunch of biochemistry majors like Northwestern the following Saturday. I did have some good moments watching the NW game, though, because Chris Collins is in his first year as the NW coach. The TV cameras often went to his father, Doug, watching from the stands. It made me remember Doug’s first game at IL State U, when I was the Methodist campus minister there.

In 1969, Dr. Jim Collie announced his retirement as the ILSU basketball coach. I had just read an article in SI about Will Robinson, the great Detroit high school basketball coach. His ambition had been to coach at a university, but no one would hire him. He was black. He was getting close to the end of his career. It looked like his dream would go unfulfilled.

I went to Milt Weisbecker, the ILSU athletics director, and said: Why not hire Will Robinson? He’s won a million state titles and sent a thousand players on to the pros so he’s obviously an excellent coach. He really wants to coach in college, so he’ll be cheaper than most. He’s close to the end of his career, so if it doesn’t work out, he can retire. You’ll help a man achieve his dream. And, the clincher in my mind, think of the recruiting advantages the only black coach in the nation, at a non-black college, will have in recruiting!

Milt was polite. Wrote me a note to thank me, and explain why it wasn’t going to happen. He was not about to hire a high school coach with no college experience to replace a man with a real doctorate and a hundred years of experience. It sort of sounded like, “What if it does NOT work out? I’m not going to take the heat for being the first AD in the country to hire a black coach.”

I suspected that Milt was more open-minded than that, though. So I organized a letter writing campaign to persuade him. It wasn’t much of a campaign. Many were called but few [letters] were written. Only two that I know of.

Something worked, though. Will Robinson was hired.

Some worried that the best basketball recruit ILSU ever had, Doug Collins, would transfer. But he didn’t. I was there for his first game and Coach Robinson’s first game. Early in the game, Collins went for a steal and missed. Out of position as he was, the player he was guarding scored an easy basket. The black coach stood and pointed at the white player. The arena went quiet as a church during a request for volunteers to work on the stewardship drive. Robinson stamped his foot as he pointed at Collins. “You…SHOOT the ball!” he said.

Collins never forgot that lesson. He shot the ball every time it touched his hands during a distinguished college and Olympic and pro career. It’s fun to watch his son point to a Northwestern player and say, “You SHOOT the ball.”

Not everybody on the team is supposed to shoot the ball. Paul of Tarsus reminds us in I Corinthians, 12th chapter, that some are called to pass, [1] others to rebound, still others to take a charge. The point is: you do what the coach tells you to.

John Robert McFarland

1] I love Phil Jackson’s “If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball.”

I’m often a bit confused during the Big Ten [B1G according to their logo] basketball season. Helen and I are IU grads. So is daughter Katie. Granddaughter Brigid graduates from MSU this year. For 8 years before moving to Bloomington, we lived in Iron Mountain, MI, in the home town of Tom Izzo, the MSU coach and attended church with his parents. I went to theology school at Northwestern [Garrett-Evangelical]. I did my doctoral work at Iowa, and grandson Joe was treated for his cancer there and will matriculate there this fall. My good friend and one-time roommate, Walt Wagener, is a WI fan. Our children have four IL degrees among them. I was the pastor of Thad Matta, recent OSU coach, when he was a little boy. I’m always for IU, but when two of the others clash, I’m not sure where my loyalties should be. 

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! We now live in back home again in Indiana, but it feels like the UP here today.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

WHY THEY STAY EVER GREEN-A poem [Sat, 1-13-18]

The evergreens keep their color
Through the long dark winter

Because they know that foxes
And bears that live in dens

And people who live in houses
Need beauty to survive

The snow upon their branches
Keeps us alive


Friday, January 12, 2018

MASS IN MOTION [F, 1-12-18]

In one church I pastored, we had a whole passel of “lost boys,” boys who came to church on their own, without family. They sat together in one row. They were remarkable evangelists. Many interesting people came to church just to sit with them. One Sunday, both Queen Elizabeth and Pete Rose sat with them, according to the attendance pad we asked everyone to sign.

In high school physics class, those boys were learning this: “Time exists only where there is mass in motion.” [You’ll understand this segue later. Maybe.]

Two days ago I mentioned that John Wesley thought a future life of rewards and punishments, after death, was an essential for Christian faith. I think there was a design flaw there. He and most other people think there must be some life after life, but we are so fixated in this life on rewards and punishments that we can’t consider a future life without them.

So we decide that since heaven and hell after death are not likely, we assume there is no life after death.

But the point of future life is future life, not rewards or punishments.

This bodily life stops when we have no time left. Our mass is no longer in motion. Instead it is in a box in the ground or in an urn on the mantle. But does life stop just because that particular mass is no longer in motion? And maybe it has nothing to do with mass. Maybe it’s all about the time. That in the life after life, the future life, or whatever we call it, the point is that there is no time rather than no mass.

That’s what we call eternal life, life without mass in motion, life without time. The absence of mass in motion, the absence of “time,” does not mean there is no life.

That’s why Jesus can talk with Moses and Elijah at the same time on the mount of transfiguration-time is suspended.

Are you confused yet? I certainly am. All I’m trying to say is that just because we can’t comprehend what it might mean does not at all mean there is no life after death. So you’d better sign that attendance pad at church so they’ll know who you are when you get there.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

AT-ONE-MENT, The Boys in the Boat [R, 1-11-18]

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

“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” [1] That’s what Duke Ellington sang, and that’s what The Boys in the Boat learned.

It’s false spring here for a couple of days, then back to the deep freeze, the way it has been really cold where we live now, below zero, sometimes way below, for days at a time. It feels like being back in the UP [2]. It started at Christmas, which means for us it’s not been too bad, because we have lots of new Christmas books. We can just stay inside and read. Helen says that one of the chief benefits of raising smart children is that they pick out good books to give as presents.

Helen has enjoyed especially Julia Keller’s Fast Falls the Night and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires.

I have enjoyed Michael Connelly and Lee Child and JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and, especially, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat.

Sports writer supreme Bob Hammel says that The Boys in the Boat is slightly overwritten, and he is right, but he agrees that Brown has done a masterful job of writing sports history in such a way that it’s a page turner. Even though you know that those boys will win the eight man rowing competition in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even as Hitler tried to stack the deck against them, Brown keeps you keep turning the pages to see just how the boys got their swing.

That’s what you call it in rowing, when all the rowers are in such complete harmony that they no longer even exist as individuals. It’s only one boat, not eight rowers. It’s the same thing in barbershop singing, when all four voices are so completely in harmony that no one, even those singing, can hear anything but one voice. In barbershop, it’s called ringing instead of swinging. It’s the same thing.

But those University of Washington boys in the boat did not have that swing in the beginning. They had great individual talents, but they weren’t together.

The tale of the boat is told through the story of Joe Rantz, a Great Depression boy, basically abandoned and left to fend for himself when he was ten years old.

The break-through to swing came when boat-builder and rowing guru, George Podock, told Joe that he was rowing like it all depended on him, like he had to do it all by himself, the way he always had. He did not know how to trust others, because all those he had trusted had abandoned him. The boat would be the boat, and not just 8 strong boys [plus the coxswain], when he learned to trust the others in the boat with him. He could not do that just be trusting his oars to them. He had to trust himself to them. He ventured out in fear, into trust, and the boat got its swing.

In theology, we call that atonement. At-one-ment. Atonement is spiritual swinging and ringing. It’s trusting God so completely that we become at one with the universe and others and our own true selves.

We are all in the boat, together. But it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

1] 1931. Music by Duke Ellington. Lyrics by Irving Mills.

2] 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