/ Letter-Writing / James Faris

In Praise of Letter-Writing

Last year, my wife and I sent our first child off to college. Next week, we will send our second. For their benefit, I am encouraged to take up the lost art of letter-writing. My late grandfather took up writing a weekly letter when his children went to college. He carried on the tradition until he could no longer. By that time, his weekly letter was going out to dozens of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If I could simply write most weeks this year, I’ll be happy.

In his regular post, usually a page long, he reflected on his week, events in the life of his community, the church, politics, the books he was reading, memories from his childhood, people who had influenced him, the Psalms, the work of God in history and in his own life, and whatever else was on his mind. His letters pulsed with love and creativity. He wove together rich themes of God’s covenant love and the ordinary things around him each week.

At the time, his letters didn’t always seem as valuable as they do now. Perhaps none were masterpieces by literary standards. Sometimes, parts of them could be hard to track or assumed more background knowledge than we had. But, today, they are precious in my hands. As I glance over them now, I realize just how much he inculcated into me, my siblings, and our cousins through that regular, thoughtful contact.

As a sample to encourage everyone towards letter-writing, I’m posting one below that displays his style. This longer-than-normal composition flowed from his seventy-five year-old fingers in 1991 after he had retired from pastoral ministry some years earlier.

In that week’s rendition of his weekly dispatch, he made a metaphor of our local golf course, Bachelor Runn, in Flora, Indiana. To Grandpa, each hole represented a decade of life. Certainly, the metaphor is most meaningful to me because Grandpa and I played that course hundreds of times together. I find myself in this metaphor at age 41 leaving the tee box of the double-dogleg fourth hole. I won’t forget Grandpa’s reminder that attempting a shortcut in this decade of life is oh-so-tempting, and that “often it is costly and strokes add up quickly.” Instead, remember the guidelines. “Good shots. Easy hole.” Truthfully, I didn’t listen to his counsel on the course and usually decided try to go over the trees...and watched the strokes add up quickly. So, I’m working a little harder to heed his life counsel.

Grandpa graduated to glory on the last bend of the ninth hole at age 94, and the Bachelor Runn Golf Club has gone the way of all the earth. But, the memories and the lessons live on. Through his faith-filled letters, Grandpa, though dead, still speaks.

August 28, 1991

Dear Family:

On Sabbath, August 18, 1991, Pastor David Long began his sermon with an introduction about how sports-minded we are in this country and with this focus we have lost sight of what our real goals are. I had just played 72 holes of golf the previous week - I think it was the first time I had ever played that much in a week.

I’ve had thoughts of why do I keep playing anyway when playing with others I find it takes me two strokes to equal one of their drives - yet this is nothing new; in seminary I vividly recall hearing my classmate down entertaining himself on the piano; he had read 42 pages of systematic theology while I was only through 7 pages.

Whether it has been in study or in sports, I find satisfaction in the Apostle Paul’s reminder that we are not to compare ourselves with others, so I keep plugging along in the game of golf in my retirement. The game of golf is from green to green - like the Psalmist talks about “advancing still from strength to strength, they go where other pilgrims trod.” So I walk the fairways where others make pars, birdies, even eagles.

I do this on a course that claims to be “the toughest nine in northwest Indiana.” Bachelor Runn is a special course with character all its own. I don’t ever expect to par the course, but I do enjoy its challenge and its message in beauty and layout.

Besides playing the game of golf, time on the course has more meaning to me than to some golfers. The layout of Bachelor Runn has a message all its own; had the game of golf been developed before the time Christ walked this earth and had this course been in the area of Jesus’ earthly experience, He might well have used Bachelor Runn as the topic of one of His parables as He taught often by what could be seen by His vantage point at the moment.

Golf is mainly an adult game- most courses have the general rule - “Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.” So Bachelor Runn’s message is about the decades of life in general.

At the first tee I’ve seen and also experienced many a frustration- balls often go in unbelievable directions and angles.

In the publicity when the course had its official opening, Maurice Sharp, owner and designer of the course is quoted - “No. 1 - 338 yards - Straightaway with gently sloping hill on the right and water on the left. Slightly undulating green.” He does not mention the brook on the right of the tee area which then curves across the front nor the bridge that lower one’s hopes quickly. The gently sloping hill has a dozen or so trees; then more to the center of the fairway is a tree that becomes an obstacle to many a ball.

Many a youth thinks the teen years are hard, and life during those years is especially tough; it is just plain difficult when you are not properly prepared for the game.

The decade of the twenties is outlined by the second fairway. Again, Sharp’s description - “No. 2 360 yards - Straightaway with no problems on left but two areas of trees on right.” But what about that big tree in the center that can deflect some drives off the tee? The early twenties are often years of great expectation as college is completed, the home is started. The testing times seem to come like those areas of trees on the second shot from the fairway.

“No. 3 - 367 yards - Straightaway with out-of-bounds on the right and big difficult green.” The out-of-bounds is the neighbor’s corn field (or bean field). Somehow, this year one often sees carts parked along the corn field with no one in sight. The thirties are years of an easier life. You’ve settled down to the game of life with the challenge to make the most of the open field before you. The difficult green may be likened to the fear that may arise as you near that fateful year of forty.

“No. 4 - 520 yards - Pronounced dogleg right after tee shot. Tee shot crosses Bachelor Runn with green hidden by trees on the right. Good shots, Easy hole. Many golfers will have trouble crossing the water hazard.” The ladies tee is across the water, and some old men must take that course as I do at the age of 75! This fairway being the decade of the forties reminds us of the so-called change of life. I am unable to find one of my books in which the author uses of the Psalms stating that even men undergo a distinct but subtle change. The fairway from the women’s tee is narrow and demands close attention to direction - Bachelor Runn on the left and woods on the right. Toward the end, the temptation is to go over the trees or through them as the area has been cleared - the brush removed under the trees. But often it is costly and strokes add up quickly.

“No. 5 - 140 yards - Probably will become the toughest hole on the course. Elevated green guarded in front in front by trees which create narrow entrance to green. Recently planted myrtle, when mature, will be a hazard in front of green with out-of-bounds several yards back of green.” I call the hazard in front The Pit. Though called the most difficult, it is one I’ve parred. The decade of the fifties is a period when goals are often reached; yet by the wrong stroke hopes may be dashed and another career launched. Many a time I’ve changed my strategy on the hole, trying to reach the hole in three.

“No. 6 - 407 yards - Elevated tee with nearly straight shot to green. Water hazard on left and trees on right. Narrow fairway with slice or hook causing great difficulty.” Modern life in our culture has made this the decade of retirement. The continual fear of the water hazard on the left reminds us of the potential lessening of opportunity as the years advance. Off the tee, a group of trees - dense woods on a steep hillside with dense brush - create the first hazard on the right making the fairway narrow. Early retirement is not always found to be cut out for what we thought. But the second group of trees might be likened to retirement at 65. The woods there have been cleared of brush but getting out on the regular fairway can be a real problem; then out of that a partly dead tree stares down upon us sometimes deflecting balls before they finally reach one of the most beautiful greens on the course - still difficult to putt.

Then, crossing the bridge over Bachelor Runn, you come to the last three holes on the course. “No. 7 - 520 yards - Straightaway with no apparent hazards. Large green is tiered and will be potentially tough for putting, depending on the pin placement.” No apparent hazards - but from the tee, many balls have gone to the water on the left or across Highway 75 to the right. The long fairway reminds me of Psalm 90 - “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow.” Strength is needed to par this hole.

“No. 8 - 176 yards. Distance makes par rather tough. Front of green is crescent shaped. Nothing spectacular about hole.” Few are the men in their 80s with the strength needed to be great competitors. Often the man is seated on the passenger’s side; the wife at the wheel.

“No. 9 - 320 yards. Good finishing hole with better golfers having easy opportunity for birdie. Slight dogleg right. Second crescent green. Most greens show subtle rolling which can cause trouble on entire nine holes.” A professor at Sterling College in the years we lived there reported on research he had done on centenarians - he found them to be people of strong character; many were still operating businesses. They rather coasted through the 90s, so to speak; in Psalm 92 it speaks of those who trust in the Lord will still bring forth fruit in old age. On one of my last visits for a hair cut, my barber, whose son worked on the course during the summer thus knowing that I frequented Bachelor Runn, asked if my game was improving; my reply had to be, “Not really!” But then going back to the course the next time, I parred this hole for the first time; upon hearing this, Sharp’s comment was “We’re really going to have to make it tougher; there are too many parring that hole!”

Thus ends my version of the possible parable from Bachelor Runn.

With love,

Golfing Grandpa Faris

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

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