Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, March 31, 2019


 Sunday morning, just before the dawn,
is a good time for remembrance…

slanting sun through stained glass
stained with sin
lighted with mercy

the little babies—how I loved
the little babies—named in my arms
placing the water
made holy by grace
on their wondering heads

old men in gray suits
passing the plate

girls in Easter dresses
perfumed with wishes

ladies in flowered hats
giving sideways glances

at boys in white shirts
fidgeting and whispering

shimmering lights on a Christmas
tree, the baby Jesus underneath

preparing already for the sunrise
service, always come too soon

a line of hopers shuffling
up for bread and wine

a hymn that never ends
never quite in tune

John Robert McFarland

“If you believe that you must know the name of Jesus in order to be saved, you are talking about salvation by syllables.” Marcus Borg

Friday, March 29, 2019

DEATH & GREEN BEANS [F, 3-29-19]

Our friend, Kathy, told us of cooking for a funeral meal for a famous person. I realized…

This is what it comes down to: no matter how important you were in life, even had public buildings named for you, in death, somebody has to fix green beans for your funeral meal.

John Robert McFarland

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Don Newcombe died, fittingly, during Black History month, Feb. 19. Fittingly, at the start of spring training.

I saw him pitch once. He was with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but I saw him pitch in St. Louis, at Sportsman’s Park, which the National League Cardinals shared with the American League Browns. Not quite as much a scheduling problem then as it would be now, for there were only 8 teams in each league, and none except St. Louis west of the Mississippi River.

It was 1954. Newk had started his career in 1949, and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, three years after Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier. He would win the MVP and Cy Young Awards in 1956, the first player to win Rookie, MVP, and CY awards, all 3, but he was already in the peak years of his ability in 1954. The Cardinals didn’t stand a chance that night that I saw him pitch.

Even though Newcombe later pitched for my own Cincinnati Reds, I always think of him as a Dodger. Not the LA Dodgers, even though he pitched there, but Brooklyn.

High school senior Benny Albin decided he wanted to see a big league game. He had a car. He also had three underclassmen in Bob Keeton and Bill Burns and me who were willing to pay for the gas to get a chance to go along.

Of course, it was hometown boy, almost home town, Gil Hodges, Brooklyn’s first baseman, that we wanted to see. Watching Newcombe pitch was just an extra bonus.

Gil was actually from Petersburg. 13 miles from Oakland City, but he played basketball and baseball at Oakland City College before going pro, so we OC folks like to claim him. The family name was Hodge, but a Dodgers secretary made a typo on his first contract, adding the “s” to his name, and he was too gentlemanly to tell anyone that she had made an error, so he was Hodges the rest of his life.

None of us had ever seen a big league game before. We had peanuts and Cracker Jack. Hodges hit a home run. It was a beautiful night. Until we were on the way home.

It is only 175 miles between Oakland City, IN and St. Louis, MO, but this was before interstate highways, before any kind of highway, it seemed. I guess it was about ten o’clock when we got started home, about midnight when we got to Flora, Illinois, where Benny’s 1949 Chevy decided it had gone far enough for one day.

All car repair places being closed at that hour, we checked into the Star Hotel, in downtown Flora. We had spent most of our money on tickets and popcorn at the game, and we knew we’d have to pay for a new fan belt the next day, so we rented one non-air-conditioned room with one bed, on the third floor.

It was a hot night. There were no screens on the windows. There was, however, an old rope tied to the radiator that we were to throw out the window as an escape route in case of fire. I can’t remember if it were Keeton or Burns, but one of them had nightmares all night, which with four of us in one bed, in our underwear, made for an interesting sleep experience.

It would be rude to my wife and children and grandchildren and Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski and a lot of other folks I’ve encountered in the 75 years since Sportsman’s Park and Flora, Illinois to say that was the best day of my life, so let’s just say it was in a class by itself.

John Robert McFarland

I matriculated at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in time for the summer sessions of 1960. When autumn came, lots of other students showed up to begin studies. I noticed a car with an Illinois plate. It disgorged a handsome young man and a couple of older women, probably his mother and an aunt. They began to carry his stuff into the dorm. I was excited to see another car in the lot from the Midwest, since my Indiana plate was usually as close to “north” as those license plates got. I asked them where in Illinois they came from. They said, “Flora.” That got me really excited. “I once spent a night in the Star Hotel there,” I exclaimed. Apparently the Star did not have a very good reputation. They turned around and walked away.

Monday, March 25, 2019

I DID IT YAHWEH [M, 3-25-19]

[With apologies to Paul Anka]

And now, the time is near
I have no fear, I see it clearly

I’ll wash up on some shore
I’ve seen before and walk it dearly

I’ll speak in tongues unknown
When time has flown and life is merely

A spot in space and time is stopped
In a place called nearly

John Robert McFarland

“If at first you don’t succeed, hide all evidence that you ever tried.” Billy Collins

Saturday, March 23, 2019


I was on the staff of the Oak Barks newspaper of the Oakland City, IN high school for five years, since 8th grade was in the high school. I’m re-reading all my old copies before the mimeograph paper fades so much that they are illegible.

One of the most consistent features of Oak Barks from year to year was senior biographies. We published them each of the five years I worked on the paper, and I assume they were a feature before and after my years at OCHS, too.

They were pretty straight forward, a grocery list of staples, such as physical characteristics [I was 150 lbs, 6 feet 1 inch tall, and had blue eyes and blond hair. I still have blue eyes.] favorite subject, favorite teacher, favorite school activity, plus a listing of all the activities through that student’s years, and perhaps an ancillary listing or two that varied with the year, or the editor, like states traveled, favorite song or movie or actor.

Underclass reporters did the biographies. It’s interesting to me that the uncredited reporter who did the senior bio for this editor of the paper couldn’t keep my name straight. [Also I wonder why the editor didn’t make changes.]

In my extended family I was known as John Robert, to distinguish me from my father, John, and my uncle, Johnny [Pond], my mother’s youngest brother, who owned and operated Francisco Hardware and Lumber. [Although he was 16 years older than I, we were very close. He was the best man at my wedding.]

But John Robert was too much for high school. That double name served me well as an adult, in my professional career, but to teen ears in the 1950s it sounded like the rich boy in a story, an out-of-it rich boy. I was a poor boy, and I wanted to be seen as with-it, not out of it. Besides, this was southern Indiana, for heaven’s sake. If I tried to go by John Robert I would have been known immediately and forever as Johnny Bob, which is the equivalent of being called Bubba. So I decided to be Johney in high school.

This was partly to distinguish me from my father and uncle, [and my cousin Elizabeth’s husband] but it wasn’t just a family matter. John is such a common name, even more so back then than now. I wanted a name that said I was different and exciting. Johney didn’t really sound different, but it looked different, and exotic, like a hero on a ball field or in a comic book.

It never took. I was right; the name was different and exotic, but none of my school mates thought of me as different and exotic. My bio writer headed the piece with “Johney,” but called me John throughout the bio. In fact, very few of my school mates or teachers ever called me Johney. I was almost always John.

I understand that now. That’s why I’m so successful at being old. I’ve had so much experience. Even as a teen-ager, I was an old man, and John was the appropriate name for an old man.

John [Robert] McFarland

My cell phone just gave me a report on my screen usage. It’s never done that before. It said that I averaged one minute of screen time per day last week. I’m rather proud of that. Very appropriate for an old man who spends his days reading mimeographed stuff.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Any interviewer or reporter who starts a question with "How important was it..." or "How proud are you..." should immediately be deported to Lower Slobbovia.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


It is so easy, when distracted,
say, by a chicken, selling fireworks
from a kiosk on the roadside,
to let the tires drift slowly
from the straight and narrow
pavement into mud
that sucks us down so hard,
or loose and scattered gravel
that inveigles us sideways
on the slope, into the ditch.

The experts say to slow it easy,
steer gently into a smoothing glide
back upon the road while watching
warily in all directions at once.

When we are old there is no time
for expert stuff. Jerk those worn down
tires back up onto the road.

John Robert McFarland

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I was once in a group of seven colleagues who had to work together on numerous projects. We were all the heads of our respective organizations and of equal status and authority. One, however, whom I’ll call Jim, did not understand that. He had been in that town the longest and thought that gave him some sort of primary role. To make it worse, he wanted to take the credit for our mutual projects but not do any of the work.

I was never too worried about who got the credit for a project, then or at any other time, except when someone wanted, like Jim, to take the credit without working. Then I didn’t mind who got the credit as long as it wasn’t Jim.

Jim opposed any project he did not originate. After discussion, we’d vote, and it was usually 6 to 1, Jim being the lone holdout.

The strange thing was that he never seemed to learn, and it never seemed to bother him. Every week and every project was the same, six to one.

Finally one of the older colleagues said, “I’ve seen this before. Some people just have to get the attention. It’s like a kid who acts out in order to get punished because it’s ignored otherwise. Getting a spanking is at least getting attention. Jim just wants us to have to go through him to get any place. Winning to him is not carrying the vote but being the bottle neck.”

I am a bottom line guy. I want to get the decision made with the least amount of discussion and the project started in the most efficient way. So I was never comfortable with Jim. But I learned to be patient. In the end, we both got our way. The rest of us had to go through him, which satisfied him, but once we did, we got to jump in and do a worthwhile project together, which satisfied the rest of us.

Jim has come often to mind in these days of the Trump presidency and the UMC General Conference. I’m ready for the part where we get to do worthwhile projects together.

John Robert McFarland

“Yesterday’s home run doesn’t win today’s game.” Babe Ruth

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A SONG IN SNOW [Su, 3-10-11]

 Today I walked in snow.
A tiny unnamed bird,
--unknown by name,
unnamed except for courage--
did its best
to sing a spring-time song
in a winter tree
--“bare ruined choirs”—
I sang along.

John Robert McFarland

“Two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” Edwin Arlington Robinson

Friday, March 8, 2019


Today as I was driving to the Y to give Helen a ride home from her h2o aerobics class, I made a funny noise and made myself laugh out loud. No, not that kind of noise. I was singing a song and suddenly, without thinking about it, I did it in a warbly bass approximation of Art Carney’s Crazy Guggenheim voice. I started laughing and had a hard time stopping. Then I thought, “Why should I try to stop laughing? I’m really funny,” so I laughed some more.

There are two ways to laugh at yourself. There is the rueful laugh, the one that says you recognize that you are a dunce. That’s what we usually mean by “being able to laugh at yourself.” We can laugh at our own foibles. But it’s equally worthwhile to be able to laugh at your own self as an entertainer, not just as a dumbkopf.

I thought, “This business of giving up something for Lent so that something else can take its place is really paying off. I’m giving up those mental arguments I have with stupid politicians and hateful Christians--the ones I always win but that they don’t even know about—and now there’s room for me to entertain myself with silly songs.” [1]

I don’t know if that’s all that God has in mind for that newly empty space in my soul, but it’s been a long time since I got to laugh out loud at my fun self. Maybe something that seems more spiritual will come along, but right now laughing at my comedic singing ability is a blessing that I’m happy to accept.

John Robert McFarland

[1] In older English, “silly” meant “blessed.”

“My body is a temple. [Ancient and crumbling]”
On a t-shirt in the Signals catalog.

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Our church had two Ash Wednesday services yesterday. Helen and I went to the noon service, for two reasons—we didn’t have to drive at night, and it gave us more opportunity to wear our ash-crossed foreheads around town and thus witness to folks when they pointed out that our faces were dirty.

That didn’t happen, for two reasons—it was real cold, so we wore hats down low on our heads, and people in Blomington are too polite to point out that your face is dirty.

We did give people plenty of opportunities to see our ashen faces, because I took Helen to supper at O’Charley’s, for two reasons--it was her birthday, and Wednesday is free pie day at O’Charley’s.

As the line for having our pastor impose ashes on us got short, Helen whispered to me, “Someone needs to put ashes on Jimmy.” So I got back in line, at the end, and ashed him. I tell this for two reasons—first, to point out that everybody needs the blessing of the ashes, even preachers, and also to point out that even though it was Helen’s birthday, she was thinking about others, which is typical of her, and pretty much what being a dirty-faced follower of Jesus is all about.

It was a good service, for two reasons: first, because Jimmy Moore is such a good thinker. You can’t be a good preacher until you’re a good thinker. You can’t be a good leader of any kind until you’re a good thinker. Secondly, Jimmy’s good thinking gave me an intriguing reason, I’d never really thought of before, to give up something for Lent: getting something out of your life makes room for something new to get in.

I know what I’m giving up. It’s really quite exciting to start watching to see what will take its place.

John Robert McFarland

“At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded because of who I include than be included because of who I exclude.” Rev. Eston Williams. The “Sizzle” site says the original source is Caleb Miller.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


I learned from my mother
to let the bed air out a bit
before covering it up again
And not to sit on its side
to lace up my shoes
lest the edges start to droop
and make me roll onto the floor
in the middle of the night
And most of all never
to draw the drapes against
the slanted sun
so that the colors of the couch
would not fade
But now that I am old
I never pull the drapes
against the sun
This couch will outlast me
If it does not
I shall sit on the floor
in the sunlight

John Robert McFarland

Monday, March 4, 2019


To follow up on my post of F, 3-1-19, “The Times, They Are A-Changing,” and Albert Outler’s statement: “The church has never done the right thing except under pressure from the world…”

Despite being a Methodist, church historian and theologian Albert Outler was an invited participant in Vatican II, the Roman Catholic ecumenical council in the early 1960s, because he was able to translate obscure Latin documents that were a mystery to others, and he knew more Catholic church history than anyone else around. [1]

I was having lunch one day with fellow theologian, David Shipley, then a professor at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, and we fell to talking about Outler. He had been one of my professors at Perkins School of Theology at SMU and had been a fellow PhD candidate with Shipley at Yale.

Shipley said: “It was hard to like Albert, because he was so smart, and he knew it. One day we were studying together for exams. He read a whole page of St. Charles Borromeo in Latin and then closed his eyes and recited it, word for word, off the backs of his eyeballs.”

The Vatican Council wanted Outler precisely because he was so smart, in Latin and lots of other languages, and they didn’t care if he knew it. Besides, he was almost sixty at the time of the Council, and he had mellowed from his graduate school days.

That Latin ability was one of the reasons the Vatican Council wanted Outler. It’s hard to change if your whole theology is based on the idea that you have always been right. Outler was able to find precedents in church history to allow the RC Church to “change” while claiming that it was what they believed all along. [2]

 The Council was a pivotal event, for John XXIII declared it was time to “open the window and let in some fresh air.”

Letting in fresh air was the right thing for the Roman Catholic Church to do, and it was because of pressure from a changing world. After his participation in that Council and his life time study of the church, Outler made his statement, because, he realized, God is not at work in the Bible or the church, but in the world. It is there, in the world, that God makes the necessary changes. The church’s job is to respond to the changes God makes in the world. As my friend, Herb Beuoy, always said, “It’s our business to love people, and God’s business to change them.”

I remember walking by a bakery in Moline, IL, in early July, several years ago. A beautiful cake was displayed in the window. It showed a red, white, and blue Bible, open to John 3:16, with the words: “For God so loved the USA…”

Whenever we try to restrict God’s action, God’s love, to a particular race or nation or gender or religion, we are the ones on the outside, because God is at work in the whole world.

The church’s first job is to find out what God is doing in the world. Our second job is to go with it. Our third job is to point it out.

God is at work in the world, not in the church. The church's job is to tell what God is doing in the world.

John Robert McFarland

1] “Ecumenical” didn’t mean what it generally does today, joining together disparate religions or denominations, but just the entire Roman Catholic Church, with its various orders, etc. coming together to decide on “a way forward.”

2] They also wanted Outler because he was a convivial companion when the theologians met together after hours at the Vatican’s “Bar Jonah” watering hole. He had lots of great stories to tell the Catholics in Rome, and lots of great stories to tell about them when he got home.

Okay, so I promised to stop writing and preaching. As my YGLF [Young Gal Lutheran Friend], Rebecca Ninke, says, “You’re really bad at quitting.”

Speaking of my YGLF, her ten-year-old daughter, Kate Watson, wrote a picture book, called There’s No Wrong Way to Pray. I read it for Children’s Moment in our worship service a week ago and was immediately besieged by folks who want to buy copies for kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews and neighbors. Here is the publisher’s link with all the information about it.

Friday, March 1, 2019


We sang Bob Dylan’s anthem a lot in the 1960s, as we crusaded for civil rights for black folks. A majority of Methodists then believed the Bible was against racial integration and civil rights for black folks. But black folks got those rights. A majority of Methodists later voted for a black president. The Bible had not changed.

There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible gave kings a “divine right,” and so opposed the freedom of the American colonies, since the king was against it. The church split over that. The colonies became free. Methodists became US patriots. The Bible had not changed.

There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible gave them the right to own slaves and treat them any way they wanted to. The church split over that. It came back together when I was two years old. The Bible had not changed.

There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed that the Bible says black folks and white folks should not be allowed to marry one another. They supported laws against it. The laws were changed. The Bible had not changed.

There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed that the Bible said that women should not be pastors. It wasn’t long ago. I was already a preacher when Methodists started ordaining women. The Bible had not changed.

There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible said a pastor should not continue in the ministry if divorced. Now I know a pastor who has been divorced three times and is still being appointed. The Bible has not changed.

Albert Outler, the great Methodist church historian--who codified and explained John Wesley’s “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Bible, experience, tradition, and reason, and one of my professors at Perkins School of Theology at SMU before I got thrown out of Dallas and finished seminary at Garrett, at Northwestern U—used to say, “The church has never done the right thing except under pressure from the world.”

A majority of Methodists don’t know that the world, it is a-changin. That doesn’t matter. The world is gonna change anyway. “Get on board, little children,” or get left behind.

John Robert McFarland

Helen’s father always claimed that spring starts March 1, regardless of what a majority of Methodists and weather forecasters might say, so in the name of Earl “Tank” Karr, I wish you a happy spring.