Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, November 28, 2019


I’m thinking on this Thanksgiving Day of former Thanksgiving Days, and giving thanks for those memories. Thanksgivings with grandparents when our girls were little, Thanksgivings with stray singles they brought home when they were young women, Thanksgivings with our own grandchildren, Thanksgivings when we worked the homeless shelters and community kitchens.

I’m also giving thanks for Marsha and Tom Huberty..

Our car was in the garage for five days over the weekend, so Tom and Marsha took us to church, and to lunch. In the process, they told us this story…

Their son, Christopher, lives in Oregon. On weekends, he goes with a church team to the homeless camps, handing out sack lunches, and now that it’s getting cold, warm socks and mittens and the like.

One weekend their van’s battery died, and they had to get a jump start from a homeless guy who lives in his car!

Everyone is a giver, and everyone is a recipient. Even the least among us has something to give. That is what makes us humans. I give thanks for that common humanity.

John Robert McFarland

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


When our granddaughter was in kindergarten, she told us one day that a boy in her class had called another kid “a tootie-head.”

We know not to get ahead in a conversation with a child. At least, Helen does. When daughter Mary Beth was in first grade, she asked me one day, “What is sex?” I thought, “Oh, no, I’ve got to have the talk with her, and I have no idea how…” Helen jumped in, “It means whether you’re a boy or a girl.” “Oh,” said MB, going merrily on her way.

So, knowing one should not assume too far too fast with a child, we asked Brigid what tootie-head meant.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but it must be something awful, because the teacher sent him to the office.”

We respected Edna Jablonski, Brigid’s kindergarten teacher, a lot, and we knew she had sent a kid to the office for just calling another a tootie-head, so we were taken aback when Brigid told us one day that Mrs. Jablonski had threatened “to give us the finger if we didn’t behave.”

This time it was hard to hold back on the assumptions, but we tried. Turns out the dreaded “getting the finger” was when the teacher holds her index finger up in the air and wags it back and forth.

A lot of problems arise when we assume we know what is meant before we have checked it out.

When the afore-mentioned Mary Beth grew up and was a teacher, fifth grade, yet, a prime age for referring to others as tootie-heads and worse, like excrement-orifices,  she had only one rule in her classroom: You cannot be disrespectful to anyone, in any way. “Not every kid can get good grades,” she said, “but every kid can be respectful of others. Besides, respect solves every other problem.”

There are a lot of people these days in high places that I think are tootie-heads, but I try not to call them that. I should disagree with them, and oppose them, when they are disrespectful to others, but that opposition cannot include a similar disrespect. No, not even if you add an honorific title first, like President Tootie-Head.

John Robert McFarland

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus of Nazareth

Friday, November 22, 2019


The New Testament reading for Sunday, Nov. 24, is Colossians 1:11-20.
The writer gives such a full “listing” of the attributes and actions of Christ. He is rescuer, redeemer, forgiver, creator, firstborn from among the dead, reconciler, head of the church.

As with the Gospel of John, Colossians attributes creation to the Son. Doesn’t this make God irrelevant? Creation and salvation both are through Christ. So do we need God? Why does the early church feel the need for an intermediary to God?

I personally have never felt the need for an intermediary to God, either Christ or angels, saints, Mother Mary, etc. But some folks obviously do, and that’s okay. I don’t assume my form of relating to God is better than anyone else’s. Still, I am puzzled by the theology of separation.

The most obvious reason for Christ as intermediary, I think, is that God can seem so distant, so transcendent, especially when we believed in literal heavens. Jesus, the Christ, is not way out there. He’s right there, one of us.

There’s an old preacher story about a child drawing a picture. “Who is that?” she was asked, “God,” she replied. “But nobody knows what God looks like,” she was told. “They will now,” she retorted.

Christians say that Jesus, the Christ, is the picture of God.

More important than Christ as immanence, closeness, outward picture, I think, is that in Jesus, God is incarnate, in the flesh. Not just face, but guts. And brain.

We should not be surprised by brain research that shows there are “religious” parts of the brain. EVERYTHING in the world is material. There is always a material form for every spiritual reality, just as there is the material Christ as the form of the spiritual God.

Interestingly, people who point out that religion is “just” the stimulation of a particular part of the brain ignore the fact that skepticism is just the stimulation of a different part of the brain,

I think if Colossians were written today, the writer would also say: Christ is not just the face of God but the guts of God. Not just the mind of God, but the brain of God.

John Robert McFarland

Thursday, November 21, 2019


 My father and I were sitting alone on the patio behind our parsonage in Arcola, IL. It was following my end-of-chemo celebration in the church basement. Most folks had gone home, but there was still some family inside the house. Daddy was in a reflective mood.

“Well, I’ve lived a long time,” he said, “and I guess I wasted most of it.”

Today I am almost exactly the same age as Daddy was when he said that.

I understand better now what he was saying. Then, I wanted to fix him. It sounded so forlorn. I wanted to say something to make him feel better.

“Well, at least you had four good children,” I suggested.

He did not seem comforted.

But I do think I understand what Daddy was saying. Yes, I’ve wasted most of my almost-83 years, too. [He lived another 13.]

At earlier ages, it is easy to see all the dead ends we’ve walked down, despite the warning signs, and to say, “Well, I’ve still got time left to get it right.” In our dotage years, we not only lack the time, we lack the energy, and the ambition.

Perhaps the gift of old age is that we finally must accept grace, the way God says--the same way Fred Rogers used to say it to little children in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” -- “I like you just the way you are.”

That’s when this business of old people entering “a second childhood” really comes in nicely.

John Robert McFarland

“The greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of love.” Fred Rogers

Sunday, November 17, 2019


The Gospel reading for Sunday, 11/17/19, is Luke 21:5-19, Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Many scholars believe that this passage was actually written after the temple destruction, that the memories of the disciples were “refreshed” after it happened and that they then remembered Jesus saying something about it, so they “remembered” more words than Jesus actually spoke. That’s probably true.

Even though this passage might not be exactly “accurate,” word by word what Jesus said, it’s surely “true,” because it’s certainly in keeping with what he taught at other times.

There is one phrase, in particular, that echoes Jesus’ thought from several occasions: “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he,’ or ‘The end is near.’ Do not go after them.”

Jesus warned many times about those who try to predict the end. I think he did it because getting fixated on the end allows us to ignore what Jesus wants us to do right now.

It’s simply amazing how many people who claim to be Christians just laugh in the face of Jesus when it comes to end-times predictions. There is a whole cottage industry, maybe a factory industry, of people who make money and reputation by ignoring Jesus and claiming that they are the one who knows when the end will come.

It reminds me of the time when my friend, Walt Wagener, was campus minister at the U of WI-Whitewater. It was in the highly racist civil right struggles of the 1960s. There was one young black man at Whitewater. He was regularly hassled and arrested by the town police, just for being black. He was a poet, and Walt invited him to read some of his poetry in a church service.

One member of the church was particularly enraged by this. He called up the Dean of the U, who was president of the board of directors of The Wesley Foundation, Walt’s employer, to complain. Of course, he couldn’t voice his main complaint, that the student was black.

“That guy’s a criminal. Arrested all the time. Maybe I’ll just go over to Milwaukee and get some whore prostitute off the streets and bring her over to read her poetry in church,” he said. “That’ll be the same thing.”

Dean Graham allowed as how that would probably be okay since Jesus had said about the woman of ill repute that the one who was without sin should throw the first stone at her.

There was a silence, and then the man said, “I never did agree with Jesus on that one.”

At least he was honest. Not many are. So many who claim the name of Jesus then willingly and perversely ignore his clear teaching and intentions, if it is more convenient and profitable, financially or emotionally, to do otherwise.

I don’t know what to do about that. I am not without sin, and so I am reluctant to throw stones. But I am thinking about some name other than “Christian” by which I can identify myself.  Maybe I’ll revert to the days of the hippies and call myself a “Jesus freak.”

A music critic once said about Johnny Cash: “He does make an honest attempt to hit every note.” I think if you call yourself a Christian, you won’t be perfect, but you do have to make an honest attempt to follow every teaching of Jesus. You can’t just disagree when you want to.

John Robert McFarland

“The Bible, like any book, is something of a mirror. If an ass peers in, you can’t expect an apostle to peer out.” Wm. Sloane Coffin

 This isn’t writing, just an experiment, using the Sunday scriptures, that I used to study so I could preach on them, just for my own spiritual reflection. If it’s any help with your reflections on the scriptures, that’s okay.

Friday, November 15, 2019


Many years ago, a District Superintendent told one of his young preachers that he would come to that novice’s church to preach on a particular Sunday. When he arrived on the appointed day, there were very few people in the pews.

“Apparently you did not tell them I was coming,” the DS huffed.

“No, sir, I didn’t,” the young preacher replied, “but they found out anyway.”

So the DS in his sermon excoriated those who were there because there were so few of them. He scolded the faithful about the faithless, which is both disrespectful and counter-productive.

I’ve heard that done throughout my years—teachers scolding present students and parents for those who were absent, politicians scolding present voters, retailers scolding present shoppers… and the list goes on.

Recently I was thinking about the attendees at my funeral. Most of the people I want to be there won’t be. They have a good reason. They are dead. I won’t be there, either, so I can’t even scold those who do attend about those who are absent. Life is so unfair…

John Robert McFarland

Friday, November 8, 2019


Each day the line
around me comes closer,
drawn by the unseen
hand of time.
It is not darkness
that gathers outside
the line, but memory.
Memory is not dark.
It is not a past,
but a present.
It is bright with hope,
ready for perfecting
through forgiveness
and mercy…

John Robert McFarland

Friday, November 1, 2019


I live in a land
beyond the bells.
No church bells
tolling the toiling
of men and women,
beast and God.
No school bells
called to life
by girls and boys
in sweaty jeans,
pulling on a gnarly
rope. It is only
now, as I listen
to the gathering
silence, that I miss
the bells.

John Robert McFarland