Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, February 28, 2019

NOW OR NEVER-poem [R, 2-28-19[

Some long gone
from this world
returned to star dust
are still in my soul
Either they are in the Now
or they Never were
New friends and old
encircle together
this present moment
no gap between
those met yesterday
and those of eighty years.
They are all
Now or Never

John Robert McFarland

I don’t think a poem counts as writing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


I have been thinking about sins and forgiveness quite a bit as my denomination, The United Methodist Church, has met in a special General Conference to deal with its homophobia problem. It has failed.

It made me think of Mrs. Plummer. [Not her real name.]

A woman from the church I was pastoring back when asked me to call on Mrs. Plummer, in the local nursing home.

“She’s getting pretty old,” my church member said, “and she knows she’ll die before long, and she thinks she’ll go to hell because she committed the unforgivable sin.”

“Do you know what it is?” I asked.

“No, she was too embarrassed to tell me.”

“Doesn’t she belong to another church?” I asked.

“Yes, she’s a Baptist. She’s afraid to talk to her pastor about it. She says she’ll talk to you, though.”

I knew Mrs. Plummer slightly, because I called in that nursing home often, and she was one of those nursing home ladies who takes care of everybody else in there. I was a good choice for her to talk to, because she knew me enough to trust me, but not so much that she would be embarrassed.

Well, that wasn’t quite the case. First we had to go off to a far corner in an unused room so no one would see us talking. Then she would talk only in symbols about whatever unforgivable sin she had committed, apparently a long, long time ago. She had been trying to atone for it ever since. I gathered that it had something to do with sex, as was often the case with women of her generation, but I was having difficulty figuring out her approach, and it didn’t make any difference anyway. The point was that she thought she had committed the unforgivable sin.

“So, you sinned against the Holy Spirit,” I said.

She looked blank. “What do you mean?”

“Jesus says that the only unforgivable sin is the one against the Holy Spirit.”

“But…but… what is that? I mean…”

“The unforgivable sin is to think you are always right, because then you cannot be forgiven. You can’t be forgiven if you can’t admit you committed a sin. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit. You just told me you committed a sin, so it couldn’t be against the Holy Spirit, because you admitted it. You can ask God to forgive you, and He will.” [1]

Her relief was so complete. For about 50 years, maybe 60, she had that “unforgivable” sign hung around her neck, upside down, where only she could see it. A woman who had read the Bible daily for all those years, and never seen what Jesus actually said. That is such a shame, but it’s what we do. I guess it’s a sin, but it’s forgivable. That’s good news.

John Robert McFarland

1] I try to be careful about using male—or female—pronouns for God, but I knew “He” would be what she related to.

Monday, February 25, 2019


A long time ago, when I had preached to the same congregation for many years, I struggled each week to find some new and interesting way to present the Gospel, something they had not heard over and over already. Helen said, “You worry too much about that. Your only job each Sunday is to remind us that God loves us.”

Yesterday I preached at St. Mark’s UMC, because our pastors were at the Special General Conference of the UMC that is trying to deal with our homophobia issues. In the process, I tried to explain the way God loves us.

I heard recently the phrase “minimum interference and maximum support.” I liked it, but I think God deals with us through maximum freedom and total presence, presence with us even when we don’t know it.

That’s the way good parents deal with children. Maximum freedom is different at each stage of life, but it is necessary if children get to grow. Total support is possible regardless of how young or old a child is.

Anyway, it made me think of this poem I wrote some time back.

There is freedom at the boundary line
Where the trees are thick
And wild flowers grow along the lower edges
I dare not go into the woods
For there I cannot survive
I dare not even look between the trees
For that dark vale invites me to my death
There is freedom within the limits
That God has placed on me

John Robert McFarland

Friday, February 22, 2019


In the depths of winter, one scans often through the many channels on TV, especially if one got a new remote for his birthday, hoping for something new. And I found it: “The Police Women of Somewhere.”

The Somewheres are Memphis and Miami and Dallas and Phoenix. I don’t watch the Phoenix police women any more. Either because they take their cues from Sheriff Joe Arpaio—the guy who said “I think it’s an honor to be called KKK”--or because they feel that when they are on TV they have to please him, they are not nearly as good at their job, and not nearly as interesting as human beings as the police women from the other cities.

The police women of those other cities are tremendously interesting both as police officers and as human beings, because they take their oath “to serve and to protect” quite seriously. They know their first duty is to protect the good guys against the bad guys, but they also want to serve and protect the bad guys from their own worst instincts, help them to switch to the other side.

I have never known a woman police officer. I have known campus police officers and town police officers and sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, in four different states, some of them quite well, because they were members of my churches, but they were all men. So it’s interesting to see the way women do the same job.

I have gotten to see women in almost all professions, including my own, go from being marginal or non-existent to being full colleagues, most of the time. I regret that I have gotten to see it, because it should have happened much sooner. But I also appreciate it, because it has been fascinating to watch women take on full citizenship.

I know part of this is because I am the father and grandfather of women. I want them free to do and be whatever God calls them to do and be. But I want this for my grandson, too, to live in a society where all people, regardless of gender, are free to follow where God leads them.

I don’t think I’ll ever see my daughters or granddaughter on a “Police Women of Somewhere” TV show, though. My younger daughter, Katie Kennedy, the famous YA author [1], recently went through the Citizen’s Police Academy in her town. When they did the simulation of stopping a suspect motorist—played by a male cop—he ran away from her. So she shouted, “Come back here. I’m too old and fat to chase you.” I don’t think they’d want to show that on “Police Women of Iowa.”

John Robert McFarland

1] Learning to Swear in America and What Goes Up, published by Bloomsbury, that also publishes lesser writers, like JK Rowling.

No, this isn’t writing. It’s more like journaling. If you write, you need to take the reader into account, write something worth reading. In journaling, you just say whatever you want. But I don’t have any place else to put my mental meanderings, so I have to put them where I used to put my writing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


One of our daughters recently heard a church lady say, “We need to do more for the alphabet people.” No one knew what she meant. Finally someone figured out she was talking about LGBTQ folks.

I add “H” to that list, for Homophobic, for that is really the issue. It’s not an LGBTQ problem the church has; it’s an H problem.

With that in mind, since I now live in Indiana, I wrote the following letter to the delegates from the IN UMC [United Methodist Church] to the special called session of General Conference [legislative body for the world-wide UMC] that meets this weekend in St. Louis:

Dear General Conference Delegation:

When I grew up in Gibson County in the 1940 and 50s, I don’t think we even knew there were people who were not heterosexual. It just wasn’t talked about. The big sins were smoking, drinking, and divorce.

It wasn’t until I was the Wesley Foundation minister at INSU that I began to encounter non-heteros, whom I counseled not to make up their minds too early about their sexuality.

When our older daughter had the second of her three cancers, she had to go to the Cleveland Clinic. Her ex-husband’s gay friend [She got him in the divorce], Chris, invited her to spend two weeks recovering at his house, where he took marvelous care of her. One day, as he prepared breakfast, I asked him, only half-facetiously, to “come over to our side,” since he would be such a good husband for our Mary Beth. He said, very kindly, “You are the straightest man I know. Could you come over to our side?”

The answer was “no,” because God has not made us in such a way that we can switch sides. Chris can’t become straight any more than I can become black. And I certainly cannot become gay!

It’s the “ick” factor, not theology or scripture, that bedevils us on this issue. Being the straightest man that Chris, or anybody else, has ever known, I find the thought of homosexual activity to be totally “icky.” I also find avocadoes icky.

But that just isn’t the point, wither with non-hetero folks or avocadoes. The point is: Since God has made us as we are, then we are all welcome, in the same way, in God’s house.

Thank you for all your work, and may the peace of Christ be with you.

The Rev. Dr. John Robert McFarland, Retard {Which is how we pronounce “retired” in Gibson County.}

Sunday, February 17, 2019

THE UNFINISHED STORY-a poem [Sunday, February 17, 2019]

This morning I wrote a story
An interesting story
A true story
A good story
But I did not finish the story
It is not a bad story
No one is harmed in the telling of this story
But I did not write the finish of the story
It seemed wrong to let others read the story
An intrusion as they try to tell their own story
I know the ending of this story
That is enough

John Robert McFarland

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Last Sunday morning, Helen looked around the congregation, and said, “I don’t know everybody here, but everybody I do know has a lot of worries and concerns and burdens.” I thought, “We’ve GOT to get some better people into this church!”

Hasn’t happened so far. This afternoon we go to the funeral for Dave, a young man in his 60s, not yet retired, who just got the sweetest little granddaughter, Charlotte, and now he’s not going to get to enjoy playing trotty-horse with her, or go to her high school graduation, or…

And just now we got a text from Mark, saying that he took Michael to the ER last night and maybe he’s had a stroke. So we’ll go see him after Dave’s funeral.

And another Dave friend is having a really hard time recovering from his cancer treatment. And another friend is dealing with neuropathy and leukemia. And another has stage 4 kidney disease… the list goes on…and on…

I need a better family, too. Not only have I had cancer, but so has Helen, and our older daughter, and our grandson, and my parents, and her mother, and my brother, and my little sister, Margey, who died in her early 60s, and now Margey’s daughter has cancer, and it’s being very hard on her teen son, who has a heart condition, and her daughter, who’s at a vulnerable age emotionally for all this, and her husband, who has to bear everybody’s load… sheesh!

So, if you have no worries or concerns or burdens, and there is none in your family, please tell me, so that I’ll know at least one person I don’t have to pray for. In the meantime, I’ll listen to Pachelbel’s Canon as I pray…

John Robert McFarland

Saturday, February 9, 2019

HOW MOTHER FELT, Poem [Sat, 2-9-19]

The only time I feel comfortable,
my mother said, is when I am
in bed. I was glad there was one
time she felt comfort, for she spoke
so often of her discomforts.
She was then the age I am now.
There are many spots in the day
when I know comfort, but for the first
time, I can feel at ease
along with my mother.

John Robert McFarland

In the"Comments" list this morning, that only I see, the top line noted that a comment from NinaB on 2-7-19 had been "removed by the editor." I always assumed that I am the editor of this blog, but I neither saw nor removed the comment.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

WALK THE WALK [R, 2-7-19]

In his journal, when he was 84, John Wesley noted that he walked six miles to go some place to preach. People remonstrated with him. At his age, he should not walk that far.
It embarrassed him that people would think that way. Why would six miles be too far for any Methodist preacher to walk to get a chance to preach?
I’m younger than Father John was then by two years. This morning I walked three miles, in the mall, because it is raining. I did not preach. Now I am home, reclining on the sofa, drinking coffee. Later I’ll take a nap. I should turn in my ordination certificate.

John Robert McFarland

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

KNOWING THE WAY, a poem [W, 2-6-19]

Perhaps it will be only God
and I, who know how far
I have come, and how difficult
was the way

perhaps only God and I who know,
at the end, how treacherous
the roads, how deep the holes
along the way

but it is enough for me
to say that God knows, not
to give some reward for walking
in the way

only that I have not been alone
in my loneliness, but walked
in glory in the darkness
of the way

John Robert McFarland

Saturday, February 2, 2019


I receive the obits, by email, from several newspapers. This morning there was the obit of a woman whose picture makes her look like a very normal and likeable person. But, “There will be no services, at her request.”

I understand why they put in “at her request.” Her family wants to make sure other people don’t think they are weird, or don’t like her.

I’m always puzzled by people who “request no services,” and not just because I’ll miss out on the ten dollar honorarium for doing the service.

Scenario 1 Trying to do a good thing: Maybe this woman thought there would be a big fight among her survivors if they all came together in one place, and she wanted to spare them that. I’ve been in the middle of some of those fights, one very close to literally so. Thus I applaud her if that is her motivation.

Scenario 2 Trying to do a bad thing: But maybe she just wants to be mean to her survivors by not allowing them closure. One of my friends, a coffee shop operator, left the ministry when a woman came to see him for counseling. She said, “We were at my mother-in-law’s for Thanksgiving, and she prepared a wonderful meal. We were all sitting at the table when she brought the turkey in, set it down on the table, sat down at the end, took a pistol out of her apron pocket, and shot herself in the head.” Talk about being hostile to your family! [And wondering what they said at her service.] My friend said, “I figured if I had to deal with that sort of stuff as a minister, I’d better go to roasting coffee.” I understand. I’ve dealt with too many of those.  

And there are other considerations:

Services are for the survivors. Shouldn’t they have the right to a service if they want one? Why should the deceased get to keep making the decisions even after she’s no longer here?

But shouldn’t we honor the wishes of the deceased? Isn’t that the loving thing to do?

I don’t know. It shouldn’t be a problem for my family. It’s okay with me for them to have a service, as long as they don’t play “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” on the church sound system as they take off after to go to Red Lobster.

John Robert McFarland

No, the above isn’t writing; it’s just the fevered musing of a confused mind.

Friday, February 1, 2019


It seems now that I never belonged
in high-top lace-up shoes on dirt
roads beside dusty sumac leaves
and tall, bristling blackberry canes
even as I walk those same roads
in the sepia images of memory

I have walked so many streets of style
and poise, in garments flowing with the honors
of the tall and sun-lit towers
pennants flying with the colors
of the wars of minds and bowels
walked with steady gaze and steady gait

Why now these same dirt roads of youth
that took me toward the small town lights
and small town smells and small town hopes
the dusty panes and lusty pangs of small town truth?

Is this where I belonged all along
this place of non-belonging?

John Robert McFarland