Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, June 30, 2018

FAITH IN MELODY-a poem [Sat, 6-30-18]

 More each day I find
In the notes of songs
The answers to the doubts
That faith does not provide

Each melody a little tale
A story of its own
That stands without a system
That does not care
If dissonance is there

I cannot say why notes
Can bring such rapture
Each song a study
In eschatology complete

If this be heresy
Then I am ready for the stake

John Robert McFarland
Written 4-29-17

Thursday, June 28, 2018


My grandson, Joe, graduated high school this year, 63 years after I did. I got to wondering if he sees me and my generation as irrelevant. But why would he, any more than we 1955 graduates thought people who graduated high school in 1892 were irrelevant.

In 1892, the first basketball game was played, in Springfield, MA [although they referred to MA as Massachusetts back then]. When I was in HS I gave my required speech in English class on the history of basketball, because it had been the Indiana state religion forever.

In 1892, the first working escalator was patented.

In 1892, the Johnson County war broke out in Wyoming, between farmers and ranchers.

In 1892, Ephraim Grizzard was lynched in Nashville, TN.

In 1892, Homer Plessy was arrested, leading to the Plessy v Ferguson court case.

In 1892, Thomas Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph.

In 1892, “Elizabeth Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” As the Chad Mitchell Trio sings, “You can’t chop your mother up in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is a far cry from New York.”

In 1892, the Dalton gang attempted to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas. Of the whole gang, only Emmett Dalton, with 23 wounds, survived a shootout with the town, only to spend 14 years in prison.

In 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance was first recited by students in public schools.

In 1892, Grover Cleveland was elected president. Benjamin Harrison lost.

In 1892, William Heffelfinger became the first professional [paid] football player, making $525.

In 1892, The Boston Bean Eaters won the National League pennant, beating the Cleveland Spiders.

1892 was the year Ellis Island started accepting European immigrants, several generations before Donald Trump’s forebears immigrated from Germany, with the name of Dumpf, and 115 years before his current wife and 126 years before her parents immigrated.

I don’t see why anyone graduating in 2018 would think that stuff from 1955 is irrelevant, any more than we 1955ers thought the stuff from 1892 was irrelevant.


If you haven’t bought Katie Kennedy’s What Goes Up, you need to, first because it’s great, and also because it’s just come out in paperback. It’s technically YA, but people of all ages rave about the plot, the action, the dialog, the awful jokes, and the delightful characters. Published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser-known authors, like JK Rowling.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

DON’T HELP YOUR SISTER WITH THE DISHES [Don't blame me; Jesus said it.] T, 6-26-18

[My sister is coming this week for a family reunion, so…]

            Now Jesus went to this place where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She bustled about, muttering to herself, “The preacher’s here, the preacher’s here.” She spent a lot of time cooking, selecting the right centerpiece, getting the nice dishes out, setting the table. She was good at it, too and they had a wonderful feast. She had a sister named Mary who all the time Martha was so busy just sat on the ottoman in the living room—with the men, for Christ’s sake!--and listened to what Jesus was saying. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, you know I don’t ask for much for myself, and I let Mary live here for free, but don’t you care that after all this I’ve done, my sister has left me to do the dishes by myself? Tell her to get her lazy ass out into the kitchen to help.” But Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, Martha, you’ve got your mind on the centerpiece and the food and which dishes to use and now how to get the dishes clean. Mary has chosen to listen instead of wash dishes. Your dishes will get dirty again, but the words Mary has heard will always be with her.” (Luke 10:38-42, VSR)

            I can’t remember exactly when I started doing the dishes, but I think I was about six years old. It was my sister, Mary V., four and a half years older than I, who decided I was old enough to dry and small enough to be “persuaded” to do so. It wasn’t just the dishes. It was the kitchen floor, too.
Mary V. lived to read, and scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees (the only acceptable way in those days) cut into her reading time. So did doing the dishes. With me to help, floor and dish time were translated into reading time.
            She would draw an imaginary line down the center of the kitchen floor and assign me to half. Within minutes she was done with her half and perched on a chair reading Heidi. I would be barely started. She would explain it was because she was more experienced. It was years before I realized she’d taken the half with the stove and icebox and sink and Hoosier cabinet. They covered 70% of the floor space on her “half,” while my half was as wide and uninhabited as North Dakota.
            It was the same with the dishes. She’d lull me into complacency by singing “Down in the Valley” with me as we started out, but she was washing furiously and piling plates and cups into my drying pan. Then I’d “hear the wind blow” in my voice alone. Mary V. was perched on a chair, reading Black Beauty. Mother would inquire from the living room if Mary V. were available to watch the baby. “No, were still doing the dishes. Down in the valley…”
            Most people, when they hear the story of Mary and Martha (Notice that the lazy, irresponsible, unhelpful Mary always gets first billing) identify with Martha. Sure, Jesus said, one time, that Mary “chose the better part,” but he didn’t call on Mary when he wanted something to eat! Yeah, he went without food once for forty days, but he didn’t do it for thirty-three years. Sure, he fed all those folks in the wilderness on just a few loaves and a couple of fish, but somebody had to bake those loaves and catch those fish. All together now: Sooner or Later, Somebody’s Got to Do Some Work! And that’s usually us! Somebody’s got to bake and catch and mend the roof and serve on the committee and change the diapers and raise the budget and get the floor scrubbed. Where does Jesus get off praising Mary for not helping out?
            The women at Solsberry, where I preached during my college years, certainly understood the importance of being Martha. When I had finished the day’s preaching at Solsberry, Koleen, and Mineral, I’d be twenty to thirty-five miles from the nearest restaurant. [They rotated worship times so that each Sunday a different church was last.] So there was a sign-up sheet on the church bulletin board indicating which Martha would feed the preacher that day. I’d check the signup sheet as I came in to see which woman would be skipping church that day.
            Edith, Thelma, Mary Ruth, Evelyn–it made no difference what her name was the rest of the time. That day she was Martha. Feeding the preacher was a production that required her full time and attention. Here is a partial list of what the meal would include: ham, roast beef, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, two kinds of gravy, green beans with bacon, peas, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, pickled beets, potato salad, kohl slaw, sliced tomatoes, jello salad, deviled eggs, cooked carrots, homemade rolls, corn bread, rhubarb pie, cherry pie, apple pie, gooseberry pie, raspberry pie, chocolate cake. I was twenty; I ate it all.
            There’s a joke about the Irish seven-course meal­–-a potato and six beers. A Methodist seven-course meal is a chicken leg and six pieces of pie. But on the day of the preacher-feeding frenzy, we never stopped at seven courses. It was bad enough when I was alone, but if I brought Judy Thornburgh or Phyllis Krider or one of the other college girls along with me to sing or play the piano, the Martha quotient was doubled.
            One of the saddest days of my life was when I got married, as part of the first wedding at St. Mark’s on the Bypass, officiated by the famous Dick Hamilton, brother of famous US Congressman, Lee, and father of Bloomington’s current mayor, John, who was one month old at the time. As soon as the Marthas found out I had married a Home Ec major, no one would sign up to feed the preacher. They weren’t about to be judged by a university-trained wife. Helen was as disappointed as I. She was looking forward to being Mary and going to church and then having the advantage of eating at Martha’s table. She was a Home Ec major who had never cooked a meal.
            I said that most folks identify with Martha when they hear this story. Not me. I identify with Mary. I’ve seen her in action, when she had a “V” tacked onto her name.
            I’m sure the Solsberry Marthas couldn’t tell it from the way I ate, but from the beginning I told them, and meant it, “I’d much rather eat a sandwich than have you miss church to do all that cooking.” Never once did that line succeed.
            But I had read that story about Mary and Martha, and I had lived it. I heard the part we often ignore. “Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “you are worried and distracted about many things. There is only one thing needed. That’s the part Mary has chosen.”
            Jesus wasn’t condemning Martha for her choice. He was sympathizing with her. He was worried about her. She was distracted by all that serving, so much that she couldn’t hear the most important thing. I wasn’t condemning the Marthas in my churches. I sympathized with them. I worried about them. I didn’t want them distracted from the important thing.
            I think now of my sister, still four and a half years older than I, and still smarter than I. She had it right, didn’t she? She combined Mary and Martha. She got the work done without being distracted by it. She conned her poor little innocent brother to do it, but she got the work out of the way without being beguiled into thinking it was the important thing and then she sat at the feet of those who wrote the words and she learned.
            The next time we’re at Mary V.’s house, though, and it’s time to do the dishes, I’m going to say, “I must follow the Master, and he says not to help with your sister with the dishes.” I’m going to choose the better part. (Or at least the smaller half.)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

BEFORE AC [Sun, 6-24-18]

It will be a hot and humid here today. It’s summer, after all. I’m going to dress for it.

Being old means I pastored BC. Before Conditioning.

I preached in 16 different church buildings before I retired. I didn’t have 16 different appointments. That would be excessive even for the Methodism of my day. I had three three-point [three different churches] appointments early in my career. That help raise the number of churches in which I preached. All as hot as an oven in summer.

Not a single one of them was air conditioned. Every one of them has been air-conditioned since. Not a single one of them has invited me back to preach in the air-conditioned comfort they denied me when I labored there. In my day, it really felt like laboring in the vineyard. Now it feels more like lunching in the Olive Garden.

In those non-air conditioned buildings, men wore dark suits and white shirts and ties. Women wore dresses and stockings and girdles. Now in those air-conditioned buildings, men wear t-shirts and shorts. Women wear t-shirts and shorts, too, but they cost as more than a dress.

I have t-shirts and shorts. I wear them all day every day in summer. But not on Sunday. Then I wear a dark suit and white shirt and tie. I’m going to get every degree of comfort out of that air conditioning that I possibly can!

John Robert McFarland

Saturday, June 23, 2018

MAJOR LEAGUE-a poem [Sat, 6-23-18]

When I compare myself
To a ball player

Even the one who sits
At the far end of the bench

The twenty-fifth man, making
A million bucks, minimum

Just to sit there and perhaps warm up
The relief pitcher, who makes twenty mil

I growl that all he does
Is play a game

While I, who did not make a million
Were all my paychecks

From all my years, added
Up and given an inflationary fart

I say that I at least did
Worthwhile stuff

Teaching people
To be good

While this multi-millionaire
Just plays a game

Then I remember
That joy is the end of life

Ballplayers bring joy
And passion and exultation

And memories, yes, don’t forget
Memories, for joy goes long

The homer, the perfect game
The headfirst slide, the broken record

Ah, yes, records, the first left-handed man
From Altoona to run from first to third

While reading Milton [Not Berle; the other one]
And eating a ham sandwich

I wonder if anyone who heard me
Preach was ever joyful

Or ever remembered to be good
Then I think perhaps I was overpaid.

John Robert McFarland

No, I’m not breaking my vow to write no more forever. I scratched this out ten years ago.

Friday, June 22, 2018



            Significant and debilitating pain in my left thigh that arose for no obvious or observable reason, lasted for 24 hours and gradually decreased over the next 48 hours until it was gone.

            Helen Googled the symptoms and learned that it might be a mononeuropathic episode. Such a delightful word-mononeuropathy-and I prefer to have maladies with great names, so I decided that’s what it was. Besides, I have an arthritic spine, and surely a mononeuropathy could emanate from that, so there.
However, when the medical diagnosticians in North Carolina [a retired English teacher and retired geologist] learned of this episode in an email [not from me], they consulted their physical therapist daughter, who suggested I might have encountered a TIA. When the Russian historian/novelist/LPN daughter in Iowa heard this, she demanded an immediate appointment for me with the doctor. [“Say ‘Hello’ to her for me, TOMORROW morning!”]

On T evening, June 12, I began to have twinges in my left quadriceps. Not pain. More of a tightness. A tendency of my leg to buckle when I put weight on it. I could not think of any trauma or incident that would cause it so assumed it was just an overworked muscle from walking.
Wednesday morning, June 13, I figured I could “walk it off.” It was stiff, but I walked 35 of my usual 65 minutes, after which it seemed normal. By noon, though, it had become not just tight but painful, and each time I put weight on it, it hurt and buckled. Soon I could get around the house only with a cane in one hand and whatever piece of furniture I could grab in the other. It hurt even when I was just sitting and tried to adjust its position. Helen even had to put the garbage out on the curb and get the mail from our rural box, which is located several miles from our condo door, which made me feel like a really bad invalidish husband.
Thursday morning, June 14, it wasn’t too bad. I could hobble around the house without the cane. It gradually got better on Thursday and Friday, until back to my normal old-man gait.

The only things I did to dismiss the pain and tightness was take one Aleve on Wednesday morning and try to sit with better posture, and give up all my other bad habits, just in case God was punishing me for one of them, such as stomping on an ant with my left leg when I was four years old. [God has a long memory, which is why God and elephants get along so well together.]

THE NOTORIOUS RIV [Raluca Ioana Vucescu] and the TMI
            Having little recourse, on M morning at 8:30 I called the office of my physician/gerontologist, The Notorious RIV, and asked to speak with Nurse Willis, [who is the main character in The Fireman, the post-apocalyptic novel—long enough to be apocalyptic all by itself--by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, or maybe that’s a different nurse Willis] assistant to Dr. V, thinking that would satisfy Katie and Helen when Megan said, “It’s just because you’re “older than Springstein” [taking off on one of my favorite Alan Sherman comedy songs—“Younger than Springstein, am I….]
“Laura of the Office” asked me what my concern was. “I might have had a TMI,” I told her. There was a long silence. I was surprised. “She works in a medical office. She ought to know what a TMI is.”
            “What do you mean when you say TMI?” she asked.
            “Well, you know, a mini-stroke.” “Duh.”
            “Do you mean a TIA?”
            Oh, good grief, Now they’ll think I had one for sure.
            That seemed to be the case. Laura said they’d call back. They did. Immediately. “Come on down. The doctor will see you now.”
            She did. She saw Helen, too, since she wanted to go along for the ride, so if things went long, we could leave directly to go to meet Glenn and Allyson for lunch at Crazy Horse, at which site Helen always orders anything that has bacon jam on it. She also wanted to see what Dr. V would do.
            She saw a lot. Dr. V did about everything but have me dance the merengue. She’s noted for being especially thorough, although I questioned whether a mononeuropathy might have emanated into my left thigh from my prostate.
            “Well,” she said, “whatever it was, it’s gone. You’re cured.”

BEWARE THE DOLLAR TREE [Or maybe it’s not really The Tree’s fault.]
            As we told Allyson and Glenn about our morning, I remembered that a couple of months ago, I bought foam inserts for my running shoes at Dollar Tree. But having paid no attention when I pulled them off the rack, I got one that was double-thick. I put it into my right shoe and the single-thick insert into my left, for no particular reason. Maybe walking lop-sided all this time… I walk 3.5 miles per day… could that have caused…

John Robert McFarland

No, I’m not really writing again, but Katie gave me David Sedaris’ Calypso for Father’s Day. As I read it, I thought, Oh, I write like that. You just need to have strange stuff happen to you, and anything is strange if you tell the story right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018



A follow-up to my song of yesterday, “Pray It Down.”

These days, I am reluctant to suggest that we pray about the evil that stalks the earth in the disguise of politics, for too long Christians have used prayer as a substitute for action, praying that the will of God be done instead of doing the will of god, offering only “thoughts and prayers” as response to unspeakable violence and immorality.

Marcus Borg, the Jesus scholar—gone from this world too soon--was as passionate an advocate for social justice as I have ever known. But he was just as passionate about the need to be centered spiritually in order to do the will of God in the world, to “…live in the heart of God in order to work in the Kingdom of God.”

Or as John Wesley put it, “personal holiness” is useless if it does not lead to “social holiness,” and “social holiness” cannot exist without “personal holiness.”


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

PRAY IT DOWN-A song [T, 6-19-18]

PRAY IT DOWN-A song [T, 6-19-18]

Michael Palencia, the world’s leading authority on Gabriel Garcia Gomez [My nurse, Megan Willis, who assists my gerontologist, The Notorious RIV [Raluca Iona Vucescu] says she liked One Hundred Years of Solitude more than Love in the Time of Cholera—Bloomington is the kind of place where nurses talk that way as they take your temperature.] and his wife, Elaine Fowler Palencia, the poet and short-story writer [I think I still like Small Caucasian Woman best from among her books.] came by to see us recently. We took them to The Tudor Room at the IU Union for lunch, because everyone should get to experience The Tudor Room at least once. As we chatted about the state of the world, and our own nation in particular, Michael said, “I wake up angry every morning.” I said, “Oh, so do I, and I don’t want to be that kind of person.”

So I wrote this song, “Pray It Down.” You can do it to your own tune, but I warn you, it does not work to either “Bill Grogan’s Goat” or “Have You Seen the Ghost of Tom?”

I went to God with my lament
Said my life is almost spent
The world and all its sorrow makes me frown

I am tired and I am worn
Last days should be praise, not be forlorn
Help me, please, help me lay this burden down
I want to lay this burden down

God said, It’s the burden of the spirit
You can’t ever lay it down
Still there’s no need to fear it
You can’t lay it but you can pray it
Pray it down, my brother, pray it down
[Just pray it down]

Pray it down, my brother, pray it down
When you face the world and all its wrong
Face it with a prayer, face it with a song
Pray it down, my sister, pray it down

You can’t lay it, you can’t slay it,
You can’t even just delay it
But you can pray it, brother
Pray it down
[Pray that burden down]

The problem with praying it down is that you become even more aware of how you must rise up after prayer and proclaim, “We shall overcome…” Now I wake up less angry, and more determined.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

FEELING SAFE [Fathers Day, Sunday, 6-17-18]

6-17-18 [su] I think about and pray for all the churches of which I have been a part each Sunday morning. This morning I stopped at Forsythe. Too much to remember and pray about to go on.
            I started wondering why it was that I blossomed, came into my own, at Oakland City, and realized it was because I felt safe there, for the first time.
            In Indpls, I did not feel safe, at home, at school, in the neighborhood. I did feel safe at East Park Church, but that was a small amount of Indpls time, over all.
            This morning I recalled one of my fist times at Forsythe. We had just moved to the farm. I was ten. A really big tree had to be cut down on the southeast corner of the church bldg. and the cemetery. Mr. Heathman—nearest neighbor and church trustee--took Daddy and me, to meet some other men there one evening, to cut it down.
            There were no power saws then, of course, in 1947, so they cut it down with a cross-cut saw. Took a long time. For the first time, I saw my father interacting with other men in a friendly fashion. They seemed aware of his handicap, but also realized that he was strong, and you didn’t need much eyesight to work a crosscut.
            I didn’t think of it that way then, of course, but cutting down that tree together outside the building was as much church as the worship we did inside the building.
            When I was a cancer patient and advocate, and reading a lot about medical settings and procedures, and listening to patients and survivors tell their stories, I learned that the basic thing any patient asks in a medical setting is, “Am I safe here?”
            Safety is a strange thing. Obviously, if you are a patient, you aren’t safe, either from the disease that threatens you or the procedures designed to heal you. Yet as a patient, you know if you are safe, spiritually, even if all kinds of bad things are happening to you, physically.
            In many ways, life on a primitive farm was less safe than life in Indianapolis was, and certainly cutting down a big tree with a crosscut saw is not a safe activity, but the farm, the neighbors, my classmates, and especially Forsythe Church—there, for the first time, I felt safe.
            Now, having intended this just for my journal, trying in my last years to understand my first years, as usual I’m not satisfied with not sharing it, so I think I’ll post it in CIW, even though “officially” I have stopped writing CIW.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Through the years, one final gift I could give to my friends was to use my writing ability to eulogize them. They keep dying faster than I am, though, and it has occurred to me that there will be no one—no one who has really known me through the years—to eulogize me. So I have begun to write for them what they would say if they had outlived me. This one is the nameless hobo I was called on to bury along about 1970…  


We never met each other, and he didn’t know my name. I didn’t know his, either. But I’m glad he was there.

I didn’t even know it was Bloomington, the one in Illinois, where I died. Didn’t make any difference. Never made any difference where I lived, either. I never got any more respect in life than I did in death.

They had to bury me, though, so the sheriff and the undertaker got the out-cast preacher to read the words for the out-cast nameless hobo. I guess they figured we deserved each other.

They just stood beside the hearse, talking, the sheriff and the undertaker, didn’t pay the preacher any more respect than they did me, just let him follow his nose to my pine box. They didn’t even bother to walk over to hear him say the words.

So he got out his book and gave me the whole treatment—every prayer and every scripture in the whole funeral part of that book, just like that first funeral he did, when he didn’t know better. He even said a little sermon, told a couple of stories. Nobody there to hear. That was really funny.

Yeah, part of it was to make the sheriff and the funeral director have to wait, but I was great with that. Mostly, though, I liked it just because I finally got some respect. Yeah, that preacher and me, we deserved each other.

Friday, June 1, 2018



Ernie always liked me best. He went crazy whenever I showed up, danced in circles around me, wouldn’t let me out of his sight, sat beside me on the sofa with his paw on my leg to keep me in place, sat on my lap at family meals [even though other people forbade us]. Until the last time.

That was when I knew I had reached the pinnacle of irrelevancy.

I have been in the process of becoming irrelevant for some time now. That’s the way of old age. Don’t misunderstand, please; irrelevancy doesn’t mean that we are not liked or appreciated or loved. It just means we aren’t needed for anything, except being liked and loved and appreciated. No one needs us for the practical stuff, like preaching or writing or playing third base or providing ideas and advice. There are younger, more with-it people for that.

But I knew I would never be irrelevant to Ernie. He would cry at the front door when I left. He would sit there for two days hoping I would return. Until the last time.

He was four years old when our daughter, Katie Kennedy, the famous YA author, and her family got him from the shelter. His first people had been an older couple, with the man doing almost all of his care. Finally it became too much for the old man, and they gave him to the shelter, to find a new home for him. Just after grandson Joe, then ten years old, had told his mother, “I don’t just want a dog; I need a dog.”

Naturally, when Ernie met me, he assumed I would be at his beck and call, be his faithful and constant servant, just as the former old man. He was right.

Three years later we moved 650 miles away. We saw Ernie only twice or three times a year. Nothing changed. I was still his favorite person, the one he went crazy about each time I showed up. Until the last time.

Last Sunday, grandson Joe graduated from high school. When Helen and I came in the door on Saturday, Ernie didn’t even notice. He paid no attention to me the whole weekend. Just because Katie now provides his care the 362 days of the year that I am not there, she is now the one he cries for at the front door when she leaves.

I had reached the pinnacle of irrelevance, unneeded even by the dog.

The graduation trip required a respite from writing CIW. Now, through Ernie’s prescience, I have come to realize what he already knew: I am irrelevant. I have nothing to say, nothing that is worth your time to read.

Thank you for being a faithful reader. Writing CIW has kept me sane. It has also allowed me to put off realizing how irrelevant I am. Now the time is here to do what old men do best—be irrelevant. I’m sure I’ll do that well, because I have already reached the pinnacle.

Grace and peace,