Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

DEPRESSED? A poem-sort of [T, 1-29-19]

The pretty young woman
at the doctor’s office
gave me a form
to fill out.
It asked this question:
Are you ever depressed?
I am old.
I am circling the drain.
The world is going to hell
in a handbasket.
Why would I be

John Robert McFarland

Sunday, January 27, 2019

THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST-Poem [Sun, 1-27-19]

If you start with the power
Of God, you get omniscience
Which ends in predestination

If you start with the creation
Of God, you get naturalism
Which ends in pantheism

If you start with the humanity
Of god, you get humanism
Which ends in anthropomorphism

But if you start with the loneliness
of God, you get no isms,
just an old man on a park
bench, a housewife with her head
in the oven, a teen crying at the end
of a row of lockers, and an old woman
with rolled hose, feeding pigeons

Which ends in Adam and Eve

John Robert McFarland

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


I had two shocks this week. The first from Dr. Jerry Muskat, my optometrist. I explained to him why I had not been taking all the diabetes medicine prescribed by Dr. Vucescu, my GP/Gerontologist, because it upsets my insides. “But don’t worry,” I told him, “I’m walking twice as far every day, so my A1C test will come out the same way.” He thought for a while and then said, “Here’s an idea; why don’t you talk to her about it?” Well, I can’t do that, because I don’t have another appointment with her for months.

Then quite by accident today, I was scrolling through some notes and found one that said I have an appointment with her in LESS than one month! Wait, what? I thought it was 6 or 7 months yet. Oh, gosh, what if I fail the test?

Every once in a while I am reminded of something I should have learned a long time ago, but have found in consciousness only recently: the purpose of healthy living—exercising, eating good stuff, not eating bad stuff, etc—is not just to pass the tests.

The problem comes from staying too long in school. I spent 22 years in school full-time, supplemented by dozens of hour-long and day-long and occasionally week-long episodes of education for one thing or another. And lots of years ministering to people in schools.

So I think that the purpose of life is passing tests. The student anthem: “Will this be on the test?”

I eat all the wrong stuff until I know it’s going to show up on my A1C blood sugar test. I walk only half as far as I should until a cholesterol test gets close. After all, that particular piece of cake, and that hour in front of the TV instead of out walking—they won’t be on the test.

We’ve done that for centuries religiously. You live right, doing the good, health-giving things of life, not in order to live well and be a part of the world’s love instead of a part of the world’s hate, but in order to pass the test St. Peter gives you at the gates of heaven.

No, the purpose of life, along the way or at the end, is not to pass the test. The purpose of life is to live. But I don’t think this particular cookie is going to show up on… Wait, what?

John Robert McFarland

Monday, January 21, 2019

MULTI-LEVEL HOPE [M, 1-21-19, a repeat from 1-18-17]

This being MLK Day, here is a repeat from 1-18-17

I sing a lot. Often I’m in public when a song pops into my head, so I don’t sing out loud, or even sub voce, just in my brain. One song that became part of my repertoire when I was only about twelve was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” because my voice was changing to bass, and that song sounds very nice in low bass as you’re walking by yourself on a gravel road, keeping your spirits up in the dark. I hoped it sounded intimidating to any wolves or demons that lurked in the dark, waiting for a tenor.

That’s what I thought “Swing Low” was all about, keeping one’s spirits up in the dark, starting with the slaves in the South, who had to keep their hopes up not only in the night but in the day.

A few years ago Helen and I spent some time at a continuing education event. One of the professors, an heir of slaves, did a workshop on what we have traditionally called “Negro Spirituals.” I had learned in history classes as an undergrad that the Negro Spirituals had a political dimension, and I added to my repertoire songs like “Oh, Freedom,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “We Shall Overcome.” Our professor elaborated on that theme, how the slaves communicated with one another, often right under the noses of their slave masters, by singing directions on how and when to escape. I find that both inspiring and thrilling.

Our professor, however, would not acknowledge any “spiritual” dimension to the “spirituals.” Those songs, for him, were all and only about bodies escaping from slavery, not at all about souls and spirits escaping from slavery.

I understand that, as much as a white person can, which is far from completely. But hope is never one dimensional. Hope is always multi-level.

I’m now in that upper 2%. No, not that 2%, the ones with all the money, but the 2% who will die next. That is where you get just by living long enough. I still have hope for escape from the wolves and the demons, but I have hope for escape of my soul from a declining body into a new reality in a way I could not have when I was in that other 98%. We never move out of one level of hope; we only add new levels.

Hope is different from wishing. Hope pulls us on when there is no hope, in this moment, in this year, in this presidency, in this life. I wish for things to be different and better. My wishes will not all come true. But I can sing, in a now-faltering bass, swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home and know that my hope is built on nothing less… and know that hope is real even when wishes fail.

John Robert McFarland

See, I’m not writing again.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


My late great friend, Bill White, was a premier C.S. Lewis scholar. [He once took us to lunch at The Eagle and Child inn, where Lewis and Tolkein and Charles Williams and the other “Inklings” gathered each afternoon. That was a fun day!]

In The Image of Man in C.S. Lewis, Bill points out [page 199] that Lewis believed that every person is immortal, and so every individual is more important than any political or religious entity on earth because each of those lasts but a moment in time. A heartening thought for our age.

I find that incomprehensible, about everyone being immortal, which probably means it is true, because my comprehending abilities are really limited! Yours may be, too.

It’s always good to be reminded by Lewis on this topic: “You are not a body that has a soul; you are a soul that has a body.”

And using the word “but” in the way I did in the last line of the first paragraph reminds me of the preacher doing the pastoral prayer in church and intoning, “Lord, we are but dust…” and would have continued but was unable to when a little voice piped up and said, “Mommy, what’s butt dust?”

John Robert McFarland

No, these are just random thoughts—doesn’t count as writing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


As The United Methodist Church tries to find a way forward to satisfy everybody on the homophobia issue, I think it is worthwhile for Methodists to see what our “founder” thought Methodism should be, and by extension—especially for you if you are a non-Methodist—what this major religious figure thought the church should be…

From John Wesley’s Journal, Sunday, June 18, 1888, ten days before his 85th birthday:

            “The Methodists alone do not insist on you holding this or that opinion; but they think, and let think. Neither do they impose any particular form of worship; but you may continue to worship in your former manner, be it what it may. Now, I do not know of any other religious society, either ancient or modern, wherein such liberty of conscience is now allowed, or has been allowed, since the age of the apostles. Here is our glorying; and a glorying particular to us. What society shares it with us?”

There are other “religious societies” now that claim to share such, and there are certainly now Methodist sons and daughters of Wesley who do not share in this particular glorying, but I find it helpful to know that when the founder of my “society” was an old man--an age I share with him, almost--130 years ago, he believed in open doors and open minds and open hearts. That’s not a new thing.

John Robert McFarland

Monday, January 14, 2019


I have not been stopped by a police officer for 40 years, and now it has happened twice in 3 months.

Even though I was too puny and feeble to go to church yesterday, today is cleaning lady day at our house, which means an “errands and coffee” day for me. I took a bunch of donations to Opportunity House, then went to The Pour House for coffee and a blueberry bagel. As usual I asked for “only a smidgen of butter.” As usual they gave me enough to sculpt a cow at the county fair.

Then I went to the mall to walk, even though it is a sunny day, when I would normally walk outside, but it was 20 degrees, which in Bloomington, unlike Iron Mountain, is considered cold. As I went east on 2nd St, I passed a police car that had a pickup truck pulled over. Many blocks later, as I approached High Street, here came the police car, lights blazing and twirling. I knew I had done nothing wrong—at least not in driving—so I tried to pull over to let him pass to go get the bad people.

But the 2nd and High intersection was designed for buggies and has not been changed since then, and the best I could do was pull up onto the curb. Well, then the car with the twirling lights stopped behind me. So it was I he was after all along! But I had dong nothing wrong!

I prepared my defense as I sat there. And sat there. And sat there some more. You’re not supposed to get out of your car when stopped by a cop. But I was worried. Maybe he was having a heart attack. I was just getting out to go give him CPA, when he walked up.

A very pleasant young man. “I won’t lie to you,” he said. “I forgot my lights were on.”

“I pulled over behind you because you drove up on the curb. I wondered why you did that. I thought maybe you were having a heart attack and maybe I should give you CPE.”

“Alright,” I said, “but the next time you stop me you have to let me go, because you owe me one.”

He looked a bit perplexed but said, “Okay.”

Twice in 3 months now, after 40 years of minding my own business!

The other time was in October and we were hurrying to the hospital because our Brown County friend, “Mississippi Bob” Butts had been taken to the hospital. [Mississippi is not usually part of his appellation, but I put that in for Jimmy Moore or Robert Sharp or some other misplaced person.] His wife, Kathy, was stuck in October Brown County traffic, and poor Bob was languishing in lonely isolation at the hospital. [Actually he was chatting up the nurses and eating snacks, but we didn’t know that. Yes, we should have assumed it, but that’s a different story.]

We needed to get to the hospital right away. But I wasn’t stopped for speeding. No. It was profiling. The officer looked at me and said, “That guy is much too old to drive.” But he had to let me go. Not even a warning. Because my license was in order. Besides, those people on the sidewalk weren’t scared that bad!

John Robert McFarland

No, I’m not writing again, but every once in a while a story just must be told. Maybe by CPB. Or CPU.

Friday, January 11, 2019


Dave Lamb was the art editor of Oak Barks, the Oakland City, IN HS newspaper, when I was editor. We both considered going into the preaching ministry. We even went to little churches throughout southern Indiana’s “pocket” [southwest corner] in summer, with Bob Robling and Bob Wallace, wherever the District Superintendent sent us, to fill in for a pastor who was on vacation or otherwise missing in action, where we sang as a quartet and I preached. [1]

Dave would have been great as a preacher/pastor, but he was also aware of his gift for art, and so he went that way, majoring in art at the U of IL, where he was active in the Wesley Foundation [campus ministry] with Joe and Ruth Miller, friends of ours now at St. Mark’s UMC in Bloomington, IN. [1] He started as a graphic artist at Foote, Cone, and Belding Advertising in Chicago, and worked his way up to being such an effective creator-executive that he was sought out individually and became one of the premiere US ad men of the 1970s and 80s.

We recently discussed, via email, why “evangelicals” are so obsessed with President’s Trump’s wall that they are willing to forgive him for breaking every one of the 10 Commandments, repeatedly. I told of reading the thought of an “evangelical” leader about walls in our society. “The problem is that we’ve taken down all the walls.”

He meant, of course, the walls that keep women in their place, that keep black folks in their place, that keep poor people in their place, that protect white rich people from the rabble, that keep Muslims and other “furriners” out. “THE WALL” to “evangelicals” is a total symbol of correcting all that is wrong with a wall-less society. President’s Trump’s advocacy of THE WALL excuses all of his perfidies, which they would never excuse in a different politician. Just look at how upset they are at a young mixed-race woman for using a swear word once while “forgiving” a billionaire thrice-divorced white man for saying it is okay to “grab women by the pussy.” The standard is not just double; it is so multi-layered it is completely lost.

Dave has that gift for art, and he also has a gift for theological thought. In discussing “evangelical” thinking about THE WALL, he said: “I’ve always been taken more with Wesley’s assurance that faith continually develops within us and challenges us to grow, bend a little and seek the same assurance in all others… look for doors.”

I’m glad Dave used his gift for art, and I’m glad he is still using his gift for thinking.

John Robert McFarland

For a prophetic interpretation of the writing on the wall, see the 5th chapter of Daniel.

1] Bob Robling said for 55 years after, every time he had the chance, “The best preacher I ever heard was an eighteen-year-old kid.” Which proves that Bob did not go to church much for 55 years.

2] Joe Miller and Helen recently had opportunity to spend an hour together in a doctor’s waiting room, where they got a lot of good talking done, including their mutual consternation at college chemistry, which came up because grandson Joe Kennedy is even now taking chemistry at the U of IA, and wherever Helen is, the subject of grandchildren gets into the conversation. Joe Miller’s discontent with college chemistry dealt in part with his lab partner. “He was so smart. Even had gotten patents on things when he was in high school. You might have heard of him. His name was Linus Pauling.”

Thursday, January 10, 2019

SUNFLOWERS AT MIDNIGHT- a poem [R, 1-10-19]

There are harder days
to come, I know
but I have given up
planning, the way
a sunflower
gives up midnight
Never much good
at it, anyway.

John Robert McFarland

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Just to be sure everyone knows: I am NOT the Rev. John R. McFarland, UM minister, recently arrested for child molestation. We are not even related, except through name.

I do know who he is, from when I wrote several years ago a slightly-noted article advocating the disbandment of the UMC. His friends were considerably aghast. Not at the idea of disbandment. They were all for that. But as clergy members of the Closed Doors, Closed Minds, Closed Hearts wing of the UMC, they wanted disbandment for very different reasons and for very different outcomes than those I espoused.

So I became aware of him, via unsocial media, as they debated how to use my ideas to accomplish other goals.

I thought we might get through his arrest with no one here in this progressive haven of Indiana even aware of that Rev. John R. McFarland—until one of our pastors, Mary Beth Morgan, accosted me with far too much glee after worship Sunday morning. [That’s being unfair to MBM, but what’s a parishioner for besides criticizing the pastor?] After all, CA is a long way from IN. Phil Amerson? Yes, he’s atoning for his sins in San Diego this year so he might know, but…

Having served on the Investigation Committee and the Board of Ordained Ministry in the Central IL Conference of the UMC, I know that this is serious business. It’s a sad time for Rev. McFarland, his family and friends, clergy in general, the UMC, his conference. They all need our prayers. Especially, though, it is a continuing sad time for the victims, and we need especially to pray for them.

I thought in my old non-writing age I would start being just John, as befits one at the pinnacle of irrelevancy, but I think I’m going to stick with the whole John ROBERT McFarland.

May the peace of Christ be with us,
John Robert McFarland