• Two daughters were able to join us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Mindy and Alison, and Alison brought along Nelson and Isobel. My parents came for Christmas Day. Scarlette and Sean were sick, so they and Tristan didn't make it, but they were healthy enough for us to visit them at the end of the week in Lisle.  We went into Chicago (to Union Station and rode the Polar Express).  It was Sean's first train ride and I don't know how we are going to break it to him that all train rides are not that exciting.  The day after Christmas was also Sean's third birthday.
  • My brother Steve and his family were going to join us also, but he ended up in the hospital over Christmas will gall stones.  He is out now and doing better.
  • Jie and I leave for a one week trip to Florida this coming Thursday.  We will be in the Everglades (if we can get in during the government shut-down) and Miami and the keys.  There will be no Sunday letter next week.
  • This week's letter is a review of the different Sunday Letters I sent out this past year.  You can re-read some of them by clicking the links to the words that are underlined.  Or, you can check out my website and get access to all of them:  click here
  • Thank you for reading my writings this past year.  I am grateful to each person who takes time to read what I have written.  A writer LOVES readers!  I also love reading the remarks you send back to me. Who knows what things life will bring in the next year...but I will continue to write and share my amusements and perspectives...and hope you will continue to lend me your eyes.  Happy New Year.

December 30, 2018
A Salute to 2018
This is my last Sunday Letter for 2018.  You have now been deluged with 46 of them.  (There were no letters the two weeks I was in Israel, no letters the two weeks I was on vacation, no letter the week my granddaughter was born, and no letter the week I got into a fight with a flying bat, smashed my finger, and couldn't type.)   But the trip to Israel, the vacation to North Dakota, the birth of Isobel, and the flying bat all provided me the grist for later letters.  

Those of you who have read all 46 letters know far more about me than you ever wanted.  For instance, you know how many friends I have on  Facebook...and how many of them I don't like. I revealed my tastes in music (since I was a teenager) and let you in on my reading habits.  You had to suffer through a list of things that make me grouchy at Christmas...and how I fared in a conversation with a four-year old.  I made you read about my prostate cancer, and informed you that I probably have 13 secrets I am keeping from the world (although I didn't reveal any of them in the Sunday Letter that week!)  

I didn't make you watch any home-movies or slides, but I did impose stories about my travels to New Orleans, Israel, Alabama, North Dakota, and Arkansas.  I spared you the details of my trips to New Mexico, Louisville, and Milwaukee...  

...but in the spirit of sharing more  about myself than you could possibly want to know: the October trip to Santa Fe (for Jie's birthday and our anniversary) was filled with the art galleries of the city and the natural beauty of New Mexico.  The Louisville trip was with Mindy while Jie was in China.  Mindy dubbed it the baseball, BBQ, and bourbon trip. Louisville is the home of minor league baseball, major league BBQ, and regional distilleries.  The August trip was with scholars in Jie's Chinese ministry; we took them to the Irish Festival in Milwaukee:  really cross cultural.

As in years past, I plunged deeply into seemingly irrelevant research:  sharing my findings about prune juice, gin, deodorant, Mother Goose, bagels, beans, and horoscopes.  And I dabbled in politics, writing a whimsical letter about essay about teenagers who were running for governor of Kansas.  I also compared myself to Theodore Roosevelt...his robust lifestyle.  The only think I can say in my own defense is that I have now outlived him by 4 years...and counting.  I wrote less whimsical articles about being an American, about multiple presidents and the evils they harbored, and about Earth Day.  

One thing I did NOT write about was the two months I spent as a spiritual advisor to a candidate for congress.  It was an exciting and educational two months.  But he lost in the March 20 primary, and by midnight he and I...and all the others in his campaign went back to being total nobodies.

Several Sunday Letters focused on peace and justice, especially inspired by a trip to Israel and another from a Civil Rights pilgrimage to Alabama. Peace has been a theme important to me all through my ministry.

During 2018, I encouraged the church here in Mattoon to try some important changes.  The verdict is still out yet on whether we will continue those changes...or alter them...but I wrote about the challenge of leading a congregation through change when people feel so much nostalgia about their church.  

It has been a year of much writing.  In addition to these letters, I also added another 150 pages to my commentary on Matthew and started a short novel for my students to read at next summer's License to Preach School.  I taught a course on storytelling and wrote a couple Sunday Letters on the topic.  One of my favorite activities each week comes Friday afternoons with I get to participate in a writers group.

A highlight of the year was my family:  a new granddaughter, a grandson turning 3, three interesting daughters, and two patient sons-in-laws. They inspired one article on being a grandfather and another on birth itself.  My dad gave me good material for a Father's Day letter and my mom had to settle for a review of "Mothers in the Bible" for Mother's Day.  We got news in the autumn that Scarlette and Tristan are expecting again...around Easter.  Jie was my partner for many adventures that formed the basis of these letters.

You can read about any of the above letters by clicking on the link for words that are underlined. Or you can visit all the Sunday Letters by clicking here.

I hope you too find many blessings to count as you look back on this last year.  And I also earnestly hope...for all my readers, my family, my friends, and my parishioners...that we will see divine surprises and abundant causes for rejoicing in the new year just ahead.  Happy New Year!

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


Quick Links