Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, May 24, 2018

But What If It IS Your Monkey? [R, 5-24-18

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life in the Years of Winter…  But What If It Is Your Monkey?   [R, 5-24-18

One of the few good things about daughter Mary Beth’s recent chemotherapy and surgery and recovery, her third bout with cancer, is that we got to spend much more time with her than usual.

We shared many stories from her past, including her high school graduation. I was very proud of her, for the obvious reasons. She had been an outstanding student. But more so because she chose to march in with the boy nobody else wanted to walk beside.

Speaking of undesirable boys, another of the boys in her class did not march in with the class at all. He was sitting up real high in the bleachers, where apparently he was hoping that his parents would not see him. They were sitting down low, with the other parents, because they fully expected to see him graduate. I have forgotten now what he did or did not do that knocked him out of graduation, but I do remember his parents--who were my church members--with quizzical looks on their faces, sitting there looking at the grads sitting on the stage and wondering where their son was.

I understand his reluctance to tell his parents that he was not graduating, to explain to them what he had done or not done. But what in the world did he think was going to happen? Didn’t he realize they were going to find out? Didn’t he have the good sense to know it would be worse if he let them come to graduation expecting to see him in a cap and gown on stage instead of a t-shirt and jeans in the top row?

A whole lot of people can’t think, or can’t feel emotionally, beyond what feels best, easiest, least bothersome, at the moment. That gives other people problems. I know, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” but it if is your child or your neighbor or your fellow, voting citizen, it IS your circus, and they are your monkeys, and you can’t avoid dealing with them.


I guess I’m thinking about boys and high school graduations because grandson Joe graduates from high school this weekend. I’ll be taking a few days off from CIW so I can concentrate on celebrating Joe, who was diagnosed with cancer at 15 months of age and died three times before he was two years old. Now he’s a tall, quiet, smart tennis letterman and tenor saxophonist, who starts college next fall at the University of Iowa, where he was a patient in Children’s Hospital throughout most of his second year of life. He’ll be a pre-med student.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Expectations in the Old-Age Olympics [W, 5-23-81]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winer…    Expectations in the Old-Age Olympics    [W, 5-23-81]

I have written of Bonnie Blair before, but during the winter Olympics in February, I thought about her a lot. We lived within an hour of Bonnie’s home in Champaign, IL for thirty years. That’s where our TV news originated. Our daughters and son-in-law all did graduate degrees at the U of IL there.

So we knew about Bonnie when she was just a little girl who liked to ice skate. We did not know this story, though, until she told it later in life…

As a little girl, she liked to go around with her father as he ran errands. One day in a store, he introduced her to the owner. He said, “This is my daughter, Bonnie. She’s an ice skater. One day she’s going to win a medal in the Olympics.”

Bonnie said she had never considered what she would do in life, but when she heard her father introduce her, she thought to herself, “Oh, I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do.” So she did. Five golds and a bronze.

The expectations of others have a big impact on us when we are children. They have a big impact on us when we are old, too.

Some folks expect us to keep on doing for others the way we always have, even though our health has declined enough that it’s really hard to do.

Some see us simply as a management problem.

Some see us as irrelevant, just taking up space, circling the drain.

Some do not see us at all.

Some, though, see us just as persons, folks who have all the same needs and hopes as others, even though we may be slow and forgetful. I like those people. I choose to forget those who expect too much, or who see me as a management problem, or as irrelevant, or who don’t see me at all. I say to those who see me just as another person, “Oh, I guess that’s what I’m supposed to be.”


BONUS: Helen says that what we remember most about folks who have died is how they laughed and what they laughed at.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why Old People Remember Better [T, 5-22-18]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections and Stories on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter… Why Old People Remember Better [T, 5-22-18]

Recently [R, 5-17-18] I wrote here of my memories of Aunt Dorothy, my mother’s younger sister. [Mother was 5th of 9 children and Dorothy 6th.] In that column, I mentioned how some of my memory was not accurate, especially the things I had been told about Mother’s family, rather than those I experienced myself.

It’s probably a misleading distinction—between “heard” and “experienced”—because, as we shall see, sometimes “memories” we did not experience can be even more memorable than those we were there for.

In my column on Aunt Dorothy, I mentioned that her mother, my Grandma Pond, was especially hard on Dorothy, more so than any of her other children. I speculated that it might be because she came next after Margery, who died in infancy, and Grandma was still upset about Margery’s death, and resented Dorothy for taking her place.

I learned about Margery’s death and about Grandma’s harsh treatment of Dorothy from my mother, who cried each time she talked about Margery. I had always thought Mother was fourth in the birth order of the nine Pond children, and Margery was fifth. I felt sorry for Mother as the little girl who experienced her little sister’s death.

But checking the records, I learned that Margery was 4th in birth order and Mother was 5th. She knew about Margery and her death only by hearing about it. On top of that, Mother and her brother, Jesse, both came along after Margery before Dorothy did, so all my arm-chair psychology about why Grandma treated Dorothy meanly was just poppycock.

In recent years, much of my non-fiction reading has been in brain science [and anything, of course, by my niece Kira Vermond, Canada’s leading writer of non-fiction books for kids, and also Canada’s leading newspaper writer about finance, travel, etc. We won’t mention that she broke in by writing the jacket blurbs for Harlequin romance novels.]

I don’t read original brain research stuff, of course. I live a couple of miles from a major university library, so I would have no trouble getting hold of the “Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science,” but I am more comfortable with popularizers like Daniel Schachter, Malcolm Gladwell, Michio Kaku, Oliver Sacks, et al. So if you are a brain researcher, and have half a brain [especially the left side], you won’t ask me to critique your research.

From the scholars, I have learned that no memory is actually a memory. It’s not like a photograph or video that is exactly the same each time we open the album or run it on the projection screen. It is a story that we retell each time out of pieces that are scattered throughout our brains. We reconstruct it each time, and since the most recent time we did so, we have had experiences that cause us to interpret it differently, and so, quite possibly, tell/remember it differently.

Interestingly, the false stories we tell—false memories that we have created out of desire or that have been implanted by others—use the same neural pathways that “real” memories do. In other words, even if a brain researcher could see into our brains, s/he could not tell if the memory is factual or non-factual. In the brain, they look the same.

That explains why lie detectors are not admissible evidence; it’s possible to believe in a non-factual memory so completely that you come across as truthful. Sacks says, “Our only memories are narrative.”

One of the great thigs about being really old is that all our stories are completely true, because we believe them. [Also there’s no one left alive to dispute our version of them.]


Oliver Sacks, speaking as an experimental neurologist, in The River of Consciousness, p 121, says, “Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually re-categorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory…”

Monday, May 21, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections and Stories for the Years of Winter… A GOOD STORY IS A GOOD STORY—WITH ANY ACCENT   [M, 5-21-18]

My doctor when we lived in Hoopeston, IL, Dr. Kosyak--always called Kojak by the locals, after the TV detective played by Telly Savalas—was Turkish. When he immigrated to the US, the first thing the government did was put him into the military, when his English was not yet very good. It never did get all that good. [1]

Even with his strange accent, he liked to tell stories, and I found him quite delightful. I knew all the doctors in town, and liked them all, but I chose Kojak as my personal doctor for the stories.

Dr. Kosyak was a macho sort who once decided to hunt grizzlies with a knife. He thought it would make a great story, and be no problem, since he was a surgeon and knew exactly where to stab the bear with the knife. The bear would be dead immediately and not able to retaliate. He got up close, and then the bear stood up on its back feet and roared. Kosyak said, “Standing there with my knife. I thought it a big knife. Now looked so small. Bear looked so big. Ran like hell.” [2]

One day I was walking down the hall in the hospital when the good doctor bounced out of a doorway, grabbed me by the arm, and with no explanation pulled me into the room. “Who this?” he yelled at the older man sitting on the edge of his bed. Neither the patient nor I knew what this was about, or if it might be a trick question, but with no other option, he said, rather meekly, “Rev. McFarland?”

“Right,” said Kojak. “You got brain back. No demented. Go home.”

In that period when he had first immigrated and was in the army, he was the only doctor on duty at his military base one weekend when a Marine brought his little boy in. The kid had fallen and had a big bleeding gash on his head. Dr. Kosyak started to take the kid back to the operating room. The Marine was not about to allow this foreigner to take his son off without going with him.

“Okay,” Kojak said, “but you faint, can’t help. Got to take care on the boy.”

Well, that was an insult. He wasn’t going to faint. He was a Marine! Of course, when the doctor started to work, the Marine fainted.

When Dr. Kosyak had finished, he carried the boy back to the waiting room to his mother. “Where is my husband?” she asked. Kosyak searched for the right English words, remember a new phrase he had heard for becoming unconscious, and said, “He passed away.”

He couldn’t understand why she got so upset.


1] At that time, every Hoopeston physician had an accent. We had doctors from Germany, Taiwan, and Korea, as well as Turkey. The accent hardest to understand was the doctor from Arkansas.

2] Why do men, even smart, educated men, do things like hunting grizzlies with a knife? There’s really no explanation, except, as Tammy Wynette sang, “After all, he’s just a man.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

BAD NEWS BEARER [Su, 5-20-18]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Stories of Faith and Life for the Years of Winter… BAD NEWS BEARER     [Su, 5-20-18]

It was the first day of the new year when I had to go tell Evelyn that her husband was suddenly dead.

Arlyn had been cutting trees in the woods with a friend. A tree had fallen on him. The sheriff called me, told me to go tell Evelyn before somebody else found out about it and telephoned and told her while she was alone. He would get his wife and come as soon as possible, but he had to deal with some details first.

That was not an unusual request. I was often asked to break bad news to people. The sheriff assumed I was the proper person to break this bad news because Evelyn was my secretary.

But Evelyn was no longer my secretary. She was mad at me. Neither she nor Arlyn had spoken to me for several months. The sheriff didn’t give me a chance to explain, though. Just told me to go.

The high school band director had scheduled a “required” practice on Christmas day. Any student who failed to show would not be allowed to march in the big parade. Parents protested, not to the band director, of course, but to their pastors. The Ministerial Association passed a resolution protesting this misuse of Christmas.

I wasn’t personally opposed to a Christmas band practice as such, but I was opposed to making it required. Christmas is a family day for many. I did not think a kid should be penalized for going to see Grandma on Christmas.

I was not personally affected. Neither of my children were in band. We didn’t even go to band concerts. Mary Beth and Katie were in academics and drama and sports in school, plus church, so it was all we could do to keep up with those activities.

But I was the secretary of the ministerial association, so the letter of protest went out over my signature. The ministerial association did not have a letterhead, but I created one, and made it clear that this was not my resolution but that of all the preachers together. Didn’t make a bit of difference. It was my signature, so I got all the heat.

The band director himself came to see me. Since my children were not in band, we had never met before. He did not understand why I was upset. He was a hard worker, and if you’re a hard worker, you should not be criticized, and, besides, even though he was not a member of any church, he was “as religious as the next man.” [A direct quote] I didn’t see how that was relevant, but he seemed to think it closed the discussion with some sort of victory for him.

There are some parents in any community who become more invested in a particular school activity than their children are. For whatever reason, that was Evelyn and Arlyn on behalf of the band. A Christmas practice didn’t interfere with them; all their relatives lived several hundred miles away. Also, they had a son who played trumpet, and apparently they wanted him out of the house as much as possible.

Evelyn and Arlyn and their children belonged to my church, but none of them came to worship. They wanted to protest what they saw as me trying to destroy the band program, but they couldn’t boycott worship since they didn’t come anyway. So Evelyn quit as church secretary.

Church secretary is a demanding and underpaid job. It takes a rare combination of skills and temperament. Interestingly, I’ve rarely had a mediocre secretary. Either they were really good at the job, or very unsuited for it. Evelyn had adequate skills, but she had some emotional problems she tried to hide by being effusively and excessively sweet. It made folks mistrust her, wondering what she was hiding.

I think when she quit in a huff, she thought it would cause a stir, that perhaps the church would rise up and choose her over me, say we could not do without her and… well, we all have illusions of irreplaceability from time to time. That was a very healthy congregation, though. It was not into games or drama. The chairwoman of the staff-parish relations committee treated the whole thing as quite normal. She hosted a nice retirement party for Evelyn at her house and that was the end of it. Except then I got to hire her replacement.

Two, as it turned out. Frances wanted to work only in the mornings, and Rose wanted to work only in the afternoons, so they shared the job, and became best friends in the process. They were both in that “really good” category I was blessed with, along with Anne and Jeanne and Mary, who served as my secretary in other churches.

All that is irrelevant, though, when you have to go tell a woman that her husband has been killed.

When I appeared at her door, Evelyn became her overly sweet self, as though she had not quit in a huff, as though we had not seen each other in months. “Oh, how thoughtful of you to come see me on New Year’s Day.” Maybe she understood that I could only be the bearer of bad news and was trying to put it off.

Neither of her children was home. No one there but Evelyn and me. I wanted to stall, wait until the sheriff and his wife got there, but I knew I couldn’t. I told her. She cried in my arms for a very long time until the sheriff and his wife finally got there. I never saw her again.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

WAITING FOR AFTERNOON-a poem [Sa, 5-19-18]

WAITING FOR AFTERNOON-a poem                        [Sa, 5-19-18]

I am waiting for the afternoon
Hurry midday
or lunch time
or whatever it is called

Come here quickly
for the morning
is a desperate time
full of angst
and toil and doubt

But after lunch, I fall asleep
My frantic desperate morning self
can rest in memories
of other summer afternoons,
when the hours held warm
hopes and cold tea


Not long ago, Helen gave me a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. It is a lovely book. I don’t think anyone else today writes with the elegance of Towles. The characters and their relationships are all intriguing and inviting, and the story is one of acceptance and liberation at the same time. It is a slow read, not because it is difficult, but because it should be savored.

Friday, May 18, 2018


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


Our optometrist, who is very good at his job, says he went into optometry because he thought blood would be minimal. Good thought.

Blood can be off-putting. Helen’s Uncle Fred was so histo-phobic that he passed out just hearing the word “blood.” That happened once in a high school class, in Monon, IN. The principal came down to his classroom to help revive him. When Fred woke up, the principal said, “Fred, surely you’re not that squeamish about just the word, blood.” Whoops! There went Fred again.

So they learned to call Fred’s older sister, Georgia, who was later Helen’s mother, whenever Fred heard the word “blood.” Needless to say, this was very embarrassing to a high school girl. She never did like Fred much.

Of course, our optometrist had to go through a surgical rotation in med school. The first operation he observed, he didn’t, since he was on the floor.

Reminds me of our daughter Katie’s surgical rotation when she was in nursing school. The surgeon reviewed the staff to get ready, reminding each one of his or her job. “And what will you be doing, Katie?” he asked. She answered, “You mean after I throw up?”

Our optometrist says that surgical people have no mercy on the squeamish among them. They will ride you relentlessly with ridicule for just some little fault like passing out when you see blood.

So he learned some tricks, which I shall pass on to you, not because you are likely to be called on to observe surgery--and if you are, don’t eat Junior Mints during the process [1]—but you may be called on to assist when a family member gets sick, or there is a roadside accident.

I have from time to time wondered what I would do if I were in one of those roadside situations and a woman was having a baby, or someone was badly injured and a doctor had stopped and told me, “Stick your hand into this abdomen and hold that blood vessel closed while I…”

Those things can happen. Charles Ramsey was a medical doctor in Charleston, IL. He had not intended to be an obstetrician, but that became a large part of his general practice. He did his internship at the huge and gritty Cook County Hospital in Chicago. One day he was done with his shift and waiting for the bus. It arrived, and suddenly there was a great rush as everyone on the bus jumped off, including the driver, who saw the young Charles in his scrubs, assumed he was a real doctor, and grabbed him and pushed him onto the bus while saying, “There’s a woman having a baby in there.” He thought, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies.” [2] But, Dr. Ramsey said, the first delivery he ever saw, he performed, because he had to.

So I’ve assumed that in my more wise senior years, surely I am less squeamish, and if someone said, “The baby’s coming now, and you’ve got to…” or the doctor told me to hold that blood vessel, or do some other frightful thing, I would do it, because I had to, and wait until later to throw up and pass out.

Fortunately, I might be able to pull it off, because our optometrist has given us these tips: 1] Wiggle your toes. It helps to keep conscious and non-nauseated if you can move your body. You can’t dance around in a surgical suite, though, but you can wiggle your toes, and no one can see what you’re doing. 2] Stay involved, so that your mind is busy. Ask a question. Make a statement. Act like you’re interested. Don’t just stand there and think about it.

Not bad advice for life in general.


1] The classic scene in the Seinfeld TV series when Kramer is watching an operation from an overhead observation balcony while eating Junior Mints and drops one into the patient.

2] The classic line spoken by Butterfly McQueen in the movie, “Gone With the Wind.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections & Stories for the Years of Winter

REMEMBERING AUNT DOROTHY                        [R, 5-17-18]

I am now one of those old people about whom younger family members will soon say, “Oh, I wish we had asked him about….one or another point of family history….before he died, because he’s the only one who might remember…. Aunt Dorothy.”

So here’s a shout-out to Aunt Dorothy, which must start, of course, with the iconic family stories about her…

When AD was a girl, a woman knocked on the door of their Frisco [Francisco, IN] house. Dorothy answered. The woman was selling horse radish. “We don’t need any,” AD said. “We don’t have any horses.”

When she was a little older, a young teen, she somehow got into somebody’s car and took it for a spin, even though she did not know how to drive. She got to the edge of town, beyond the reach of side streets, and realized she did not know how to put the car in reverse, so she drove all the way to Oakland City [about six miles, on a very primitive highway] in order to go around the block to head back home. [1]

I got to thinking about AD this morning because as I walked, I worked on remembering all the times I was really happy, which is a fun thing to do. One of the earliest times I could remember was when AD took me and my older sister, Mary V, to a variety show at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis. It was one of those Saturday afternoon things for families, and it had dog tricks, including dogs walking on tight ropes. There was one little dog, though, that just would not do anything right. [I was only six or seven, maybe as young as four or five, so I did now know it had been trained to do nothing right.] It kept getting in the way, and exasperating the trainer, and I laughed so hard and so long that AD had to shush me because people were looking at me. I’m sure it was because I was adorable.

So that started me thinking about all the happy AD stories, which led to AD’s aforementioned early trip to Oakland City. That led to other car trips with AD, including the one when she took me to Winslow, to take my driver’s license exam. Why we went to Winslow, I’m not sure. It was in another county. Maybe Winslow was closer than Princeton, or had a better reputation for passing kids like me on the first try. [We no longer lived in Indianapolis. When I was ten we moved to a little farm near Oakland City to be near my mother’s family in Francisco.]

Passing on the first time was important because AD had to skip a day of work in Indianapolis to take me for the exam.

She came down to Frisco from Indy almost every weekend, to look after Grandma. She always went back to Indy on Sunday afternoon to be at work on Monday. But she went back to Indy a day late in order to take me to Winslow. You had to furnish your own car, of course, to take your driver’s exam, and my father being blind and us living on $80 a month Aid to Dependent Children [2], we did not have a car, or much else. So I took the exam in AD’s Pontiac. That was a real gift. She was important in that office where she worked—payroll, I think; lots of things others did not know how to do, that had to be done on time--so they did not want her to take time off. But for me, she did.

Like many single people, she wasn’t sure that her siblings were up to doing a decent job of parenting. That included her next older sister, Mildred, in particular, since she was able to see her do parenting, right there in Indy. In that role, AD became my advocate.

She had picked up Mother and my sister and me to go some place once in her car, and I was last in and shut the door on my hand. Mother immediately smacked me for doing so, which was her usual response to any such mistake. AD said, “For God’s sake, Mildred, he didn’t do it on purpose, and he’s already hurting.” Mother was only slightly chagrined at having her parenting style disputed, but I loved AD for that.

So I remember AD with great affection, especially for that dog show, and taking me to get my driver’s license, and believing I wasn’t being stupid on purpose. Laughing and driving--and knowing there was someone who believed I wasn’t stupid on purpose--have kept me going for a long time.


Dorothy Bernice Pond was born Feb. 21, 1913, so this would have been around 1925-27 or so. Cars were rather basic—certainly nothing like automatic transmission. The last of the Model T Fords were built in 1927, replaced by the Model A.

2] $80 then would be about $800 now. Still not much for a family of six.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A FRIENDLY LOCATION, Part 2. [T, 5-15-18]

A FRIENDLY LOCATION, Part 2.   [T, 5-15-18]

[This reflection on libraries is twice as long as a blog post should be, so I have divided it into two sections. This is the second of the two. If you did not read yesterday’s column, it might be good to scroll down and do so, at least the first paragraph.]

I started professional school at Perkins School of Theology, at SMU. The librarian there told us we were never to put our heads down or otherwise look like we were doing anything but studying there. He explained why: “An older couple went to Harvard to establish a memorial to their son, who had died as a teenager. The librarian there suggested they plant a tree. So Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford went back to California and established their memorial to their son there. I don’t want anybody coming through here and thinking we’re worthy only of a tree.” It was a Donor Friendly Location.

After I got thrown out of Dallas, I finished seminary at Garrett, at Northwestern University. Frank Lloyd Wright said that the Northwestern Library looked like “a pig lying on its back.” It was a Pork Friendly Location. Garrett had its own library, though, which it shared with Seabury-Western, the Episcopal seminary across Sheridan Ave. [2] It was an Ecumenicity Friendly Location.

When I did graduate work at the University of Iowa, I had my own carrel, back in the stacks, full of the books that I alone needed for research into the interface of communication theory and theological methodology. [Actually I didn’t know the word “interface” then.] I felt like such a scholar. It was an Erudition Friendly Location.

While in Iowa City, Helen and the girls and I would go to the town library on Friday nights and each come home with a big stack of books. We would retire to our respective rooms and start reading. Occasionally we’d hear feet going downstairs. That meant someone was fixing hot chocolate. We’d all run down, get a mug full and go back to our books. We did the same thing on Friday nights through all their school years, when there were not ball games, st the libraries in Orion and Hoopeston, IL. Those libraries were Friday-Night-Lamps Friendly Locations.

When we lived in Charleston, IL, Helen worked at the public library. Each Friday at 5:00 a young man came in and asked for a recommendation for an interesting novel he could read in two days. He was serving out his sentence in the jail across the street on weekends, so that he could keep his weekday job. That library was a Convict Friendly Location.

At the library in Sterling, IL we used to take our grandchildren to story time. Once the children’s librarian, Anita Elgin, a gentle middle-aged woman, who was a member in a church where I was the interim pastor, saw a man slip through a side door and grab a little girl and try to run off with her, Anita didn’t scream or call 911. She ran after them and tackled him. That library was a Child Friendly Location.

We moved to Mason City, IA to live in the same town as our grandchildren, when Brigid was three. She was so well-known as a reader that one day the librarian said to Helen, “Oh, you’re Brigid’s grandmother.” It was the sobriquet Helen had worked a lifetime to achieve. Her identity now was as Grandma. That library was an Identity Friendly Location.

Well, there are more libraries to go, but I have already used two columns on it, so I’ll leave them to you. What friendliness location designation should the libraries of your life have?


2] The Northwestern technology college was just north of the seminaries. The students there called Garrett “East Jesus Tech” and Seabury-Western was “West Jesus Tech.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

A FRIENDLY LOCATION-Part 1. [M, 5-14-18]

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

A FRIENDLY LOCATION-Part 1.    [M, 5-14-18]

[This reflection on libraries is twice as long as a blog post should be, so I have divided it into two sections. This is the first of the two.]

Our library sent me an email telling me that it has been certified as a Dementia Friendly Location. Just why they thought I should receive this information, I am not sure. It did, however, start me thinking about the libraries of my life and their Friendliness designations.

When I was a grade school kid in Indianapolis, I was in the summer reading program at the branch library on Washington St. We had to tell the librarian the stories of the books we read so that we could get stars on our chart, and so they could be assured we had actually read the books. I thought it was a Suspicion Friendly Location, because she let my friends get away with a 15 second report on their books, but when I stepped up to report, she called all the other librarians over and made me tell the whole story. Scared me to death. It was years before I found out, from my mother, that she did that because all the librarians loved the way I told stories. [How could I not become a preacher?] It was a Beginner Friendly Location.

We moved to a little farm outside of Oakland City, 135 miles south of Indianapolis, when I was ten. The library in OC was on the top floor of the fire station, up a narrow wooden staircase. Whenever I asked the hump-backed little librarian lady for a book on ventriloquism or magic or history, she always said, forlornly, “We have mostly fiction.” It was an Imagination Friendly Location.

The Oakland City grade school did not have a library, but there was one in the high school, sort of--bookshelves in the front and back of the long study hall, which served also as the lunch room, and my homeroom. In study hall, I would hurry through my assignments so that I could go to the shelves in the rear and pull out a Howard Pease book, always about some boy who stowed away on a tramp ship and ended up having to battle pirates. It was a Dream Friendly Location.

When I went to IU, the magnificent Wells Library, named for long-time IU president, Herman B Wells, the most important figure in higher education in the 20th century, did not yet exist. The library was what is now called Franklin Hall, which houses primarily the Media School. I went there in the evenings to sit and study in the long, wide, high-ceilinged Social Studies Reading Room. That reading room was my high school library magnified 100 times, except no Howard Pease novels on the shelves. Nothing but reference books there, thousands and thousands of them. In the stacks were hundreds of thousands of books. Anything on any subject in any language. I felt like such a citizen of the world there. That was an Aspiration Friendly Location. [1]

[More friendly locations tomorrow.]


1] I knew there were millions and millions of books without counting, because one of my summer jobs was back in the stacks using a vacuum system to dust all those books. Took all summer and we still weren’t done.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

NEVER TOO LATE [Sun, 5-13-18]

NEVER TOO LATE                [Sun, 5-13-18]

Robert Goddard was the first real rocket scientist. He was ridiculed by the press for thinking that space travel was possible, since, everyone was sure that a rocket could not operate in a vacuum. He died in 1945. In 1969, the New York Times printed an apology to him after the Apollo moon landing thus: “It is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.” [1]

When I was going through chemotherapy-very miserably-and pretty sure I was going to die, either from cancer or the chemo, I came across the statement, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” It’s likely that I had heard that many times, but it had never really meant anything to me before.

In old age, we have a chance to re-do situations where we made mistakes, and apologize to the Robert Goddards of our life, even if they are gone. The folks who work on the “healing of memories,” a term first used by Agnes Sanford, understand that. God is quite willing to act as a go-between to those who are no longer in this life--for our apologies, for our acts of forgiveness, and for our requests for forgiveness,

And it’s a lot cheaper than printing a classified in the New York Times saying, “I called you ostrobogulous when you were merely weird in a generic way. I regret the error.”


1] I read the story of the NYT apology to Goddard in Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity [Doubleday, 2018]

Friday The 13th, comes on Sunday this month.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

WARM MORNING-a poem [Sat, 5-12-18]

WARM MORNING-a poem   [Sat, 5-12-18]

The stove was called Warm Morning

The morning was not warm
for my father
He got up first
to shake the ashes down
pour the new coal in
take the cinders out

Sometimes, cold mornings now
I lie beneath the comfort
of down-filled quilts and covers
wishing someone else
would get up first
place bare feet on cold floor
walk down the hall
and nudge the little lever
in the round thing
on the wall
to make the morning warm

Then I hear the sound of ashes
shaking down


I always note “poem” in the title as a warning. Further warning: It’s almost always Saturday when I post a poem, because the Google stats people say CIW has few readers on Saturday. So if you want to avoid my poetry, Saturday is a good day to skip. I’m not ashamed of my poetry attempts, but I know I’m not really a poet, so I try to be as un-intrusive with it as possible. Obviously, though, you are a hearty soul, or just like amateurish poetry, and I thank you for hanging in there.

This one was written on 9-20-08.

Friday, May 11, 2018


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


The telephone rang on Sunday afternoon, as it often does in a parsonage.

“Why did you say in church this morning that we shouldn’t pray for my son-in-law?” the voice demanded.

“Well, Bernice, I just wanted to do something nasty to you and make you mad,” I replied.

There was a long pause. Then she said, “I thought it was something like that.”

I had recognized the voice because I was expecting the call, because Earl had already telephoned. Bernice had called him and wanted to know why I had said that morning during Joys and Concerns in the worship service that we should not pray for her son-in-law.

Bernice didn’t come to worship regularly but she had telephoned me about her son-in-law. He lived in another state and had some relatively minor problem. I assured her we would put him on the prayer list and pray for him in worship, which we had done for three weeks when Bernice finally showed up. When I opened Joys & Concerns that morning, she asked for prayer for him. I noted that he was in the printed list in the bulletin and that we had been praying for him for several weeks and would continue to do so.

Earl said Bernice had already telephoned several others in the congregation, before she called him, all of whom had told her what he told her: “No, he didn’t say we shouldn’t pray for him. He said we had been praying for him and would keep on doing it.” Bernice was not deterred.

I like people with problems, in part because there is no other type of person to like. I have trouble, though, liking problem people, and in every church I pastored, there was a problem person or two… or ten.

People with problems are a possibility. You might actually be of some help to them. Problem people, though, are help-less. They are sure they are already right about everything. To them, it’s always someone else who is the problem. They are those “who have no need of a physician.”

We went on to have a nice conversation, Bernice and I, because her world had been restored to normalcy. She had been proved right. To anyone else, my stated desire to “do something nasty to make her mad” would have created a problem. To Bernice, it had solved a problem. I was back in her good graces. [1].

I’m not sure I want to recommend this as a general communication method. I doubt that it would have done Barack Obama much good to go on Fox News and say, “Yes, I was born in Kenya and I’m a secret Muslim socialist Nazi communist who hates white people.” Then his detractors would say, “See, he’s a liar, too,” not even noticing the contradiction.

But you can’t help problem people, because they won’t acknowledge that they are the problem. So you might as well have some fun.


1] She even gave me the key to her house again, to be able to get in if something happened to her. She rotated the key among three men in town, according to which one of us she was least mad at for the moment

I used to keep a careful index of topics and stories so that I would not bore readers with repeats. But that became cumbersome, and since this blog is primarily for folks in the winter of their years, I figure they won’t be able to remember if they’ve heard it before, anyway.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


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


Granddaughter Brigid and I share a doctoral academic field—communication theory. She starts her formal doctoral-level study in the field this fall at the U of Chicago, in semiology. My doctoral study was in narratology and… a long time ago.

In fact, I finished my formal academic studies in communication theory when the professors who are retiring this year, after forty years of teaching and research, were my contemporaries. I was older when I got my doctorate—40. They were 25. Now they have put in 40 years and are reaping the rewards of all those years of high pay in the groves of academe, with time now to sit down and write that great contemporary novel.

I did a little research and writing and teaching in communication theory after finishing the academic years, but mostly I just practiced communicating. Sometimes not very well.

When my older sister’s 18 and 19 year old sons, Steve and Tony, were killed together in an auto accident, along with two of their friends, I was asked to speak not only at their funeral but at the general funeral for the four boys together. They were popular kids—still in high school or just out. The high school gym was full to overflowing for the general funeral in the morning. The funeral home was also overflowing for Steve’s and Tony’s funeral that afternoon, so much so that the funeral directors set up loud speakers in the parking lot so people who could not get in could stand outside and be a part of the service.

In both those services, I said: “This was not the will of God. God does not will that beautiful young men in the prime of life should be taken away from us. It is the law of physics, that when fast metal automobiles collide with fragile human bodies, the bodies lose, but that is not the will of God.”

That evening, after the funerals, I was sitting with my brother-in-law, Dick, in his den, as other folks came and went in the house. The shadows were deep when the president of the high school sports booster club came. Tony had been the quarterback on the football team, so he was well-known to Dick and Mary V.

We chatted for a little. Then he turned to me and said, “As you said this afternoon, it was the will of God.”

I was overwhelmed. I had a doctorate in communication. All my research and writing and study was current. Could I have communicated so poorly that this seemingly intelligent man heard the exact opposite of what I thought I was saying?

By the grace of God, I think it must have been, for it certainly as not of my own comprehension, since I had so much ego tied up in communicating “not so well that you can be understood but so well that you cannot be misunderstood,” as one of my mentors put it, I suddenly realized what he was saying, what anybody says at a time like that when they say “It was the will of God.” What they mean is: God did not pull the strings on this, but God is still with us, still willing, still trying to make something good come from this, still loving us.”

When I would get frustrated about communicating, despite all my study and theories, along about Saturday night, because I had not yet figured out a novel and inviting way to preach the next morning, Helen always said, “You worry too much about finding a different way to say it. You have only one job when you preach, and that is to remind us that God loves us.”

Maybe that’s all one needs to know about communication theory. We need to tell one another that God is in charge. That God loves us. That love never ends. It doesn’t make much difference how we say it—what words or symbols or artistry we use. We just need to communicate that love is all that counts, and that love never ends.

Poor Helen. She doesn’t know anything about communication theory. But I hope Brigid pays more attention to her grandmother than she does to her professors. Or to her grandfather.


Yes, if you have read The Strange Calling, or if you have heard me preach/speak, you have heard that story about “the will of God” before. I didn’t really intend to tell it again here. I was going to write about how time gets by so quickly--because no one has ever commented on that before--and I was amazed as I thought about a whole generation of scholars, forty years, in between my doctoral work and Brigid’s, so I was speculating about time and how every scholar who influenced me is long gone, and how scholars in the same field don’t even speak the same language anymore, [I never even heard the word “semiology” in my studies of long ago] but then that veered off into the will of God, and I’m glad it did, because how time does not conquer love is much better to contemplate than how time passes so quickly.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018




I have been reading in my grandchild journal, preparing myself for the graduation of our granddaughter from college, and of our grandson from high school. Here is an entry from ten years ago…

The men at the next table at the Moose Jackson coffee shop are discussing sleep patterns. “I slept only three hours last night,” one of them says. “If I sleep too much at night, I can’t sleep after work,” he continues. I do not understand what that means. It sounds like a very strange pattern to try to sleep.

I don’t have time to think about it, though. I have to concentrate on what my granddaughter is saying over her hot chocolate. Concentration is difficult for me this morning because I had trouble sleeping last night. It’s because of her that I had trouble sleeping.

I do not see her as much now that school has started. I usually go to the coffee shop alone, but school is on break today, so we are here together. She used to keep us awake at night because babies and little kids do that to parents and grandparents. So did her little brother, and her mother and her aunt before them. Now they are not babies who cry in the night, but they still keep me awake, worrying about them, praying for them.

It’s not all because of worry, though. Last night I laid awake with anticipation, excited at the thought of being with my granddaughter. I kept thinking about taking her to the coffee shop, and how much fun it would be.

I recall the last day before she started kindergarten. Helen and I took her on a special picnic. We knew we would not get to see her as much as we had once she started school. She was so excited the night before our picnic that she couldn’t sleep. Now she has returned the favor.

Most of us, during our working years, have to get up at a certain time, either to get to the job or school on time, or to get others to jobs or school on time. We set an alarm clock, or we are so used to it that we automatically get up at the right time.

Helen was so used to getting up at five a.m. when she was a teacher that she woke up at that early hour for several years after she retired. It really griped her. She finally had the chance to sleep in, and she couldn’t. At last, though, her brain adjusted. Now she can sleep until eight if her body needs extra rest.

I don’t have a job pattern anymore, a time when I have to sleep, so that I can get up at a certain time, so that my body can fall into its natural rhythm. In retirement, no regular alarm clock is necessary. I don’t have to be any place at a certain time. I just sleep until I wake up. Then I get up.

Occasionally, though, like this morning, I have a required rising time. Because so much of my inside was removed by surgery, I have to hang close to the bathroom the first four hours after I get up. If I must be some place by nine, I have to get up at five. When I have one of those alarm clock mornings, it is harder for me to fall asleep and stay that way.

Some old people don’t need much sleep. My friend, Bill White, slept only a few hours each night in old age. If he couldn’t sleep, he just got up and got things done. I think he had a clear conscience.

It is hard to sleep if you are looking forward to something, either with joy or with dread. It is hard to sleep if you are angry or in pain or worried or guilty or excited. Good sleep requires a clear conscience or a dead one.

What does it mean to have a clear conscience?

The purpose of sleep is regeneration. Dreaming is part of that. It’s part of the rhythm of the body and the brain. Perhaps death, which we often liken to sleep, is just part of the rhythm.

Maybe that is why so many old people have trouble sleeping out the night. Our consciences are not all that bad, but we’re just excited about what the morning will bring.

That is part of Christian faith, that death is sleep, part of the rhythm. We fall asleep in death, but the day of resurrection will come, when we shall be awakened by the alarm clock of God, the trumpeting angels.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018


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

WHOSE WIFE, ANYWAY?              [T, 5-8-18]

No, this is not about Henny Youngman saying, “Take my wife… please.”

A young friend recently wrote to ask a question. He and his wife had been watching a movie in which the main character’s wife died, and he remarried. He loved both women. So, she asked, what about in the life to come? How will they work that out?

Here is what I wrote to him:

The Bible has little to say about this question, and Jesus doesn’t mention it, except in answer to a question when the righteous folks were trying to trip him up to prove he wasn’t as smart as common folks thought he was.

That story is in the 6th chapter of Matthew, along about verse 20. Family was the only economy of the time, so if a woman were widowed, she had no means of support. So The Law provided. Her husband’s brother had to marry her, which meant taking her into his household so she could eat. So, the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus, what if her husband had six brothers and each of them in turn dies. So,” in the resurrection,” whose wife will she be?

Jews throughout Old Testament times were not particularly interested in afterlife, and were vague about it. By the time of Jesus, though, the idea of resurrection had taken currency. It was, however, a fairly primitive physical body resurrection—we shall be exactly as we are now, physically, after the resurrection. So “whose wife” was a practical, and reasonable, and difficult question.

Jesus replies that his interrogators don’t understand either the scriptures or the resurrection. There will be no marriage in heaven, but that folks will be like the “angels in heaven.” We don’t know exactly what he meant by that, because he does not talk about angels much elsewhere, but he was obviously trying to say that the resurrection means something different from a physical cloning of earthly bodies.

After the resurrection of Jesus, Paul refers to a “spiritual body,” when he says he does not know what kind of body we’ll have in the resurrection, physical or spiritual, but that we’ll have one. He means that we’ll have personal identity, since it is by the body that we are able to recognize one another as different individuals. [He expands on this in I Cors 15: 44-47.]

Now here’s the most important part, I think. Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees, “You don’t know the power of God.” In other words, God will take care of this.

God’s power is not power at all, but love. As Paul says so eloquently in Romans 9: Love never ends.

So the love between a woman and man in marriage will not end, because the love in that relationship will not end. We don’t know how that works, but we know that we can trust God to keep love alive.


Monday, May 7, 2018


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


I got my first car loan when I was 19 years old, from the First National Bank in Oakland City, my home town. I was going to school at IU and preaching at three little churches, 16 to 35 miles from Bloomington, I needed reliable transportation. My brother-in-law’s 1947 Oldsmobile, which I had bought from him for $50 while the Navy had him and my sister stationed in Antigua, was barely limping along, using a quart of oil every 50 miles.

The banker in Oakland City knew my family was poor, but I had checking and savings accounts in that bank. Neither ever had much money, but I was a customer. He took a risk. I got a loan to buy a used green 1952 Chevy.

From that time on I got lots of loans from bankers, for cars and houses. I never questioned the existence of banks, though—how they got there. They were just there, on the corner, like the police station or the school. I knew they were a business, but it never occurred to me that somebody owned them. I mean, they were sort of like the government, just there, a public service, doing their thing so life could go on.

I did not find out about bank owners, I’m embarrassed to say, until I was in my late 30s. My excuse is that while I knew bankers, and even had some as church members, I was not in the social class to know bank owners.

Until I met Vic Pavlenko.

Vic and I were doctoral students together. His parents had been quite wealthy, his father the Caterpillar sales director for Russia and vicinity, and that’s a pretty big vicinity. [1] Vic’s parents were killed together in a car wreck. Vic and his brother each inherited a whole lot of money.

Vic was a Lutheran pastor. He used his inheritance to start and fund a regional ministry for poor rural people in the Dakotas. He brother bought a bank.

When Vic said that as he told us his story, when he said “My brother bought a bank,” I had my financial Eureka moment: “So that’s where banks come from; they have owners, just like flower shops.”

It’s like pulling back the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. There are some things we’re better off not knowing.


1] An interesting side note is that Yul Brynner was Mr. Pavlenko’s Mongolia salesman before he went into acting.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


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

EXPIRATION DATES                        [Su, 5-7-18]

A woman was explaining to me why she was leaving the church I pastored. We were not “prophetic.” By that she meant that we did not try to predict the end of the world.

That’s the way “prophesy” is used in “evangelical” circles these days. It means foretelling the future, specifically when the world will end. That definition does not come from the Bible but is imposed upon it. Biblically, prophets don’t foretell, they forth tell. They don’t foretell the future but tell forth the word of God.

Which is right in the wheelhouse of Jesus, who shot down the idea of prophecy as predicting the end of the world once and for all.

“But about that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36.

So I quoted those words of Jesus—THE WORDS OF JESUS!—to her. As I said, Jesus had settled the matter once and for all. Not exactly.

She replied, “But he did not say we could not know the month or the year.”

In some ways, I wanted to cut her some slack. In the first place, I liked her. She was a new faculty member at our university and had not been in our church very long, but she was nice. More importantly, her PhD, and thus her teaching field, was food science. Nutrition and such. Expiration dates are important in that field. So I could see why she might be interested in the expiration date of the world.

But the intentional perverseness of what she said left me speechless. Anybody with even an elemental acquaintance with the Gospels knows that Jesus spoke metaphorically, not as a scientist or news reporter. Clearly, by “day or hour,” Jesus meant any time at all—month, year, decade, millennium, whatever.

For someone who claims to be a follower of Christ to dishonor him so completely by twisting his words in order to believe and do the exact opposite of what he was trying to accomplish is mind-boggling.

Yet people keep doing it, especially about predicting the end of the world. We know of about two or three thousand such predictions over the years since Jesus spoke his words. They were all wrong.

Except were they? 99% of those predictors are dead. For them, this world has ended.

I think that is what Jesus was concerned about, the end of the world for each of us. Yes, this world will end for me, and for you. With the help of modern medicine, we might predict fairly accurately when that will happen, as oncologists do when they say “You have six months.” To which we reply, “But Doc, I can’t even pay your bill in six months.” To which they respond, “In that case, you have twelve months.” Predicting the end even for doctors is kind of iffy.

Yes, the world will end for me and for you, and we don’t know when. Why not just get ready and stay that way?


Saturday, May 5, 2018


A PARENT CONSIDERS COLLEGE-poem    [Sat, 5-5-18]

[I wrote this poem as our younger daughter headed off to college. Today her daughter graduates from college. In the fall, her son starts to college. The worries of parents don’t change much from one generation to the next.]

Will some long-armed cult
Reach out and pluck her
From depression’s barren limbs?

Or simple, mindless boredom
Press her flat like concrete
Minus pattern, texture, tone?

Will booze engulf her
In a fog of unremembered days
Spent staggering into empty doors?

Or mindless PhDs beat
On her with their rounded, rubber
Mallets ‘til her brain is perfect…

Symmetrical, spherical, “parameters
Impacted by environments
Confronted with events” unfinished?

Will boys called men when their names
Are seen in crime reports
Whisper sweet nothings

That are much more nothing
Than sweet, and love is unrequited,
Unfulfilled, unfull, finally

Unhoped for, even
Or by some miracle of God
Will she be like me?


CIW BONUS: “Only in poetry is a word that means only one thing dysfunctional.” Billy Collins

Friday, May 4, 2018


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

GOOD ENOUGH TO BE IN THE CATALOG                      [F, 5-4-18]

I love college catalogs.
            I was standing beside our old gray Chevy, in a gravel parking lot, outside Oak Grove Church, in the open country, on a humid summer day, waiting for my little sister, to drive her home from Vacation Bible School. It was the summer of 1954, before my senior year in high school.
            The windows on the car beside mine were down. On the front seat was the catalog—five by seven, plain white, with a round seal in restrained red, which I later learned was crimson, and underneath, in simple but elegant type, Indiana University. I reached through that car’s window and pulled out the catalog.
            As I leafed through it, I knew my life had changed forever. I saw those pages a world where no one in my family had even visited, but I knew it was a world where I wanted to live. If I could get into that catalog, I would no longer be a simple country boy. I would be a college man.
One of the greatest sacrifices I ever made was putting that catalog back into that car when Margey came running out the church door to show me the picture of Noah and his ark and his strangely shaped animals that she had drawn.
            The idea of me going to college made no sense. My father was blind. We were on welfare. There were three other children. No one on either side of the family had ever gone to college. I was already working part-time to help support my family. But when Iva Jane McCrary, our high school Home Economics teacher, asked me what I would do after high school, I said, “I’m going to IU.”
            Iva Jane was a large and forbidding woman. In addition to Home Ec, she taught biology to the girls. Because of scheduling problems, I had been in her biology class, one of two misplaced boys. She looked at me strangely and finally said, “Yes, I suppose you are college material.”
            Suddenly I was not sure about that catalog. Iva Jane had given me her imprimatur, said that I was college material, more or less, but I had never before considered that I was not. Sure, I knew that I did not have the right clothes or the right money to go to college, but I had not considered that I might not have the right stuff.
            I had been class president for three years. I was editor of the school newspaper. Only James Burch did better in class than I. But maybe I wasn’t college material. Ann Turner, the doctor’s daughter, was going to IU. Bob Nation, who was going to be a doctor, went there. So did Shirley Black, the cheerleader, whose father had his own business. Was college for the likes of me?
            When I heard that the factory in the next town was hiring, I applied, set the record on their aptitude test, [which James Burch later broke], and quit high school to go to work.
            My forewoman said that I was their best adjustor of electrical relays and got me a date with her very attractive daughter, but I think she knew my heart wasn’t in the factory. They didn’t have a catalog.
            Because classmate Jim Shaw said to me, in the middle of July, “On your day off, let’s drive up to IU and see if they’ll let us in,” I did go to college. I went to graduate school. I got a doctorate. Altogether, I did ten years of higher education. All the way, though, Iva Jane’s grudging acceptance of me as “college material” pulled sideways on me, trying to get me to write dim and shaky answers on the pages of life’s Blue Book.
            I think one of the best things I did as a minister was expecting people to be better than they wanted to be. I said, in any way I could, “Yes, you are Christian material.” I was sometimes wrong, but more often, people who had little faith in themselves learned to have great faith in God, because their pastor expected it.
            I suppose I’m thinking about college catalogs because tomorrow granddaughter Brigid graduates from The James Madison College at Michigan State University and starts a PhD at The University of Chicago in the fall. Later this month grandson Joe graduates high school and starts college at The University of Iowa in the fall. I get excited when I think about what treasures are hidden in the catalogs of those universities for them. I know for sure that there is no catalog big enough to contain my pride.
I still love college catalogs. I regret, though, that they are now usually electronic instead of paper. It is unlikely that some poor girl or boy will see a CD on the seat of a car with open windows and pull it out and stick it into the computer that just happens to be sitting there in that gravel parking lot on a humid summer’s day.


I used to keep a careful index of stories and ideas used in CIW. That became cumbersome, though, so I gave it up, figuring that when one writes a blog for old people, they won’t remember if they’ve read it before, anyway.