Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, November 2, 2018


Christ in Winter: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…

The “jump,” of course, refers to the Iron Mountain ski jump in the picture above, “the highest man-made ski jump in the world,” as folks in Iron Mountain always say, the same way IU people always say that the IU union building is “the biggest university union building in the world.”

I always said about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Iron Mountain in particular that winter there was thirteen months long, that March was just February under an assumed name, and that life there was defined by winter, even in the summer.

By that last phrase, I mean that summer is so late and so short in Iron Mountain that people take advantage of every minute of it. Even on the hottest day of summer, you’re aware that winter is breathing, with frosty wind making moan, right over your shoulder.

It was in that environment, so strange to a boy who grew up in southern Indiana, the part I always called “the Mississippi of the North,” that I wondered how to go about being a follower of Christ in such a cold and shivery atmosphere. Since I find out what I think and believe by reading what I write, I started writing Christ In Winter to learn how to be a follower of Christ, a pilgrim on The Way, when the way is covered by snow and ice.

The ski jump above symbolizes Christ In Winter, where being a follower does not mean a “leap” of faith so much as a “ski jump” of faith.

But John Robert McFarland, the author of Christ In Winter, is no more.

That name was my persona for a long time. A persona is not a bad thing. Each of us has one. It’s our interface with the world. It is always partially real/true and partially unreal/false.

For instance, as John Robert McFarland, if I were tired at the end of the day, and could not stand the thought of one more person with a problem, and just wanted to go home and put up my feet and watch TV, if someone bopped into my office and said, “Do you have time to talk?” I never replied, “Yes, I do, but I don’t want to, so I’m just going to go home and watch the Reds lose.” I said something along the lines either of “Yes,” or, if I felt really guilty about not wanting to do it, “Sure, always time for you, come on in…”

False? Yes, but true, too. It was not truly my immediate personal reality, but it was truly my ultimate personal reality. In that situation, it was better for both of us for me to call upon my persona. I liked my persona. It served me, and others, well.

But I don’t need my persona, John Robert McFarland, anymore. It was my reality for pastoring and writing and speaking and administering. The only thing left of any of those is writing this blog, and the blog is no longer necessary, for I have no more stories, at least not that are worth your time to read.

That’s what I have tried to do in this blog—tell stories. That’s what I always have tried to do, both as John Robert McFarland and as just plain John—tell stories. I often tried to pull a broader application out of a story in Christ In Winter, but the story was both starting point and ending point, for we live in stories, not in propositions or theories.

It is time to go down that long ski slope one more time… and just keep flying. Thank you for reading. You have been kind, patient, and faithful to John Robert McFarland. He is grateful.


“Persona” originally meant the literal mask an actor wore in a play. It was cheaper to have a few actors and a lot of masks. That’s helpful in understanding the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity—God being one actor wearing three different masks, according the role played at the moment: Creator [Father], Savior [Son] or Sustainer [Holy Spirit].