• We have a new granddaughter:  read below for the grand details.
  • Jie's dad was in an accident this week (read below for the details) and at this writing, he is starting to eat a few noodles...and hopes to get out of intensive care in a few days.
  • Re-reading Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town" after seeing it with daughter Mindy this past weekend.  It is my favorite play.  When I read it for the first time, in high school, it had a profound effect on my attitude toward life.  It's message about how much humans miss out on the ordinary things of life...and let day upon day go by without paying attention...to either the people around us...or the world around us...  That message has rescued me a number of times from being oblivious to the people and circumstances around me.
  • We are heading out Tuesday morning for our annual Civil Rights trip:  7 Americans and 22 Chinese.  Stops along the way will include Andrew Jackson's plantation, The Hermitage, (this year is the 400th year of slavery in America), the Tennessee State Museum, Martin Luther King National Historical Park (in Atlanta), the Carter Presidential Center and Museum, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (in Atlanta.)  We'll return on Saturday.

March  17, 2018
Birth...and a Brush with Death
The maple tree is my favorite.  When I was in high school we had three large maples in front of our country parsonage.  In the fall, one turned yellow, one red, and one orange.  But they brought us the greatest joy in the summer:  birds nested and sang in them, the wind made their branches dance, and the leaves gave us shade on a hot day.

I never knew precisely what kind of trees they were, especially now that I know there are 125 different species of maples.  But there was  soul  in those trees.
I was partial to the maple tree even before we moved to that house:  thanks to my map collection.

At the age of ten I clipped a coupon from the Sunday paper, filled out my name and address, and sent away for a map of Canada.  They were giving away maps of their whole country, trying to get Americans to head up there and try out their new coast to coast highway.  When the map arrived a few weeks later, it's cover featured a bright red maple leaf, symbol of Canada.  (Longtime readers know I have collected maps since my childhood--and this was my first "foreign" map!) That map, with its maple design, instilled a lifelong determination to go to Canada.  And I will, as soon as I retire. I'm going to put that map in the glove compartment, head for the maritime provinces, and take that highway all across the continent.
Also, when I was about ten, the state of Vermont mailed me their official highway map, and it's cover featured the fall foliage of New England maple trees.  I was convinced that Vermont was the most beautiful state in the country, and I also determined to get there someday.  I was in my early twenties when I made my first visit, but it was only a mere 18 months ago, when Jie and I headed to New England in October, that I first got to see in person the colorful maples I had only glimpsed on that long ago map.

Without realizing it, this midwesterner slowly adopted the maple as his more or less favorite tree. A few years back,  I determined that I would no longer suffer imitation maple syrup, but only partake of the pure, genuine liquid.  
But as of last Wednesday, the maple is now officially  my favorite tree.  For on that afternoon, our third grandchild was born, and her parents named her "Maple."  At first I thought they said, "Mabel."  And I thought  Lord have mercy!   But then my daughter corrected me.  I'm not usually glad to be corrected, but this time I was.  
While I know a few amateur factoids about the maple tree, of  Maple my granddaughter, I know virtually nothing at this point.  I've held her in my arms...but that's more about me than her.  Her grandmother and I had to drive through two hailstorms the next day in order to visit her in Naperville.  But that's more about the weather than about her.  I know that she weighed 6 pounds and 5 ounces, but that's only important because a newborn is such a blank slate that we don't know anything else to say about them.  When a guy starts counting "ounces" he is either talking about a newborn grandchild or the diet his wife is making him follow.
So here is the important stuff about Maple:  she's healthy, she has a name, and she looked just like a scrawny version of her father on the day she was born. It's also  really  important for Maple that on the day after she was born, she (thankfully) puffed out a little and stopped looking like her dad.  Tristan is a nice looking guy...but that particular look just didn't seem right on a baby girl.  We are all relieved that she now looks like herself...instead of someone else.
That's about the sum of Maple's story up to this point.  It's not yet got enough narrative for a best seller.
But here's the  absolutely essential  stuff about her you need to know. In fact, you don't need to remember anything else about her right now except this:  we all  really  love her.  

Okay...her three year old brother (Sean) is still on the fence.  He's been the prince of his parents' lives up until now.  But he's only three, so we'll give him time.  And Maple's cousin Isobel is only six months, so she doesn't even know what a  cousin  is yet.  But someday the two girls will have opportunities together that they will treasure those memories for a lifetime.  
Everyone else in Maple's family, however...and all who hear about her...can feel the joy.  She is new life for us.  The days surrounding her birth have been hard times.  We've seen airplanes falling out of skies, white nationalists massacring dozens in a mosque, the planet getting too hot, denominations turning nasty on those who need them most, and our political culture reaching new depths of incivility. 

For those of us in her family, Maple is a seedling of hope, of new life, of a better tomorrow. And we will need to give her all our love and nurture to be sure that she not only survives in the decades ahead, but so that she can also help others of her generation find joy and justice. 
Just hours after Maple was born, her 81-year old great-grandfather (Jie's dad) was riding his bike at 6 a.m. to go to the park (in Nanjing, China) for his daily exercise group.  He was hit by a van.  It gave him a concussion, broke numerous ribs, smashed his face, punctured his lungs, and bruised several organs.  He was not out of the woods for the first 24-hours.  

And then he woke up on the second day, asked for a telephone, and called his wife to see where she was.  Just like his great-granddaughter, he managed to follow a scrawny day with a better one. And the third day was a little better yet...for both of them.  

And so these two:  Maple and her great-grandfather: they made me cry this week, and they have given me hope; and the two of them have touched me with a holiness that is beyond words.  Thanks be to God for these two precious members of our family. 
THE most important thing about Maple is the love that already surrounds her:  from her parents to her grandparents to her great-grandparents ...to her aunts and uncles and cousins ...to church people who have lifted prayers on her behalf.  She is a child of God.  We will do our best to instill that in her... so that this world will never ever be able to take it away. We will teach her all the songs... and tell her all the stories of our faith:  the ones that will always remind her that night is always followed by God's new morning.

 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


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