• In my sermon this morning I offered an illustration in which I described a pastor who was having troubles in "her" church, and people treating her meanly.  Several people on the way out gently asked me how Jie was doing at her church up in Pesotum.  It wasn't until I was eating lunch that Mindy brought up the subject.  And then I realized that because I made my character a female, many in my congregation thought I was talking about Jie and her little church up the road. Actually, the reference was to another pastor.  Not Jie. (Not necessarily female.  I always doctor up the characters in my sermon illustrations.)  In fact, Jie is doing very well in Pesotum...and the people there have been very gracious and helpful and kind to her in her work there.  
  • I have decided to step down from my work on the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  This is a work I have been doing for six years now, and I have loved working with potential pastors and assisting other board members in their work.  This has been the fifth conference board I have worked with over the course of my ministry. Each one of those boards has allowed me to work for change and reform in the church. And each one has allowed me to meet and work with people who have pushed me toward more faithfulness and fruitfulness in my own ministry.  It is always hard to move on when I have engaged a work that engages my heart and mind and soul.  But we do move on.  I will continue to teach in the conference License to Preach School and to support my many ministerial colleagues and friends on an informal basis.
  • Reading Gish Jen's novel, World and Town, about families moving to America from Asia and the challenges they meet.  Also reading, Paulette Giles's novel, News of the World, about a old Army veteran who travels through Texas after the Civil War, reading newspapers to audiences who can neither get the news papers, nor read in some cases.  Along the way he ends up trying to care for a 10 year old orphan.

April 8, 2018
Books and Books and Books
I don't buy so many books these days.  When the used book store here in Mattoon announced that they were going out of business, and all books would be half-price, I didn't even wander through the door.  Last month, when our pilgrimage group spent some time in Oxford, Mississippi, I wandered in two bookstores and didn't buy a thing.  My family thought I might be really sick...or something

Part of my abstinence has to do with my getting older.  Books are heavy to lug around each time I move.  And they take up room:  I have seven sets of bookshelves full at the house, and another 14 sets of bookshelves full at the church.  When I retire in a few years, I won't be able to afford a house big enough to hold all of them.  A good many of those books will have to find a new home.  I'm downsizing more than accumulating these days.   

And then there's the guilt thing:  even though I read many books, I've always got a couple hundred sitting by begging for my attention.  It's bad for one's self-esteem to have unread books lounging on the shelf.
Technology has also cut down on the physical books I buy. The Barnes and Noble Nook is easy for my surgically repaired hands to hold, and I'm always reading one or two books at a time on it.  

And then there are the oral books.  At first I couldn't get the hang of an oral reader.  I'd listen while trying to drive and I'd keep falling asleep.  But in recent years I've finally mastered the art of listening to audio books, and no longer a hazard on the highway.
But even with all the technology, and the guilt, and the heavy lifting involved, I still love a good book...a real book.  Here are some of my favorite "physical" books: 

Switching to the Mac  (author:  David Pogue)  I know: I'm supposed to be able to learn all about computers by getting my information online.  But the computer-learning is useless if you can't get your computer to work. Electronic information is a dead end when you are an old geezer trying to work a computer. It was either adopt a 13-year old to keep around the house...to help me with my computer...or buy this book.  And the book was cheaper.
Baseball America Directory 2018  (editor: Josh Norris)  Actually, my 2018 copy will arrive by UPS tomorrow.  I order this every year.  It lists every minor league ball team in North America, their schedules, and their stadium locations. I plan my summer vacations around this book.  It includes sectional maps of the United States so I can see in one glance all the teams located in any one state or region.

The Holy Bible   (author: God, sort of)  I have several translations of the Bible on my Nook, and my smartphone, and on my computer...but none of those electronic versions seem to me to be the Holy Bible.  I have a dozen physical copies of the Bible, real Bibles,  and I love reading them and taking notes in them and flipping through their pages...chasing idea threads back and forth. Not sure why.  Maybe I'll figure it out someday and write a Sunday Letter on the irony of how only a material Bible seems holy to me.
Minister's Prayer Book  (editor:  John Doberstein)  Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't talk a lot about prayer.  My prayer theology is not shallow, but it is minimalist:  sharply focused on the Lord's Prayer as the essence of what Jesus wanted us to know about praying. Plus, I take literally his teaching that our prayers should be secret and mostly confined to the closet.  But this book, outdated and parochial as it is, has often given me words to love people and institutions when they are hard to love.  In other words, it's a great thing to take to the closet when you pray.
Watch with Me:  And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remember Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Nee Quinch (Author:  Wendell Berry)  This is only one of Berry's many fine writings.  He writes poetry, essays, short stories, and novels. The author is a contrarian Kentucky farmer who believes that not all "progress" is good for us...or the earth.  When I get all caught up in my pastor role, and saving the world, etc., Berry calls me back to being an earthling...and to the earth that grounds and nurtures me...and all of us.

Glittering Images (author:  Susan Howatch)  This is the first novel (of six) in her Church of England series.  She combines the work of a pastor with English culture, psychology, sex, guilt, deception, and grace.  Her deep insight into spirituality and psychology have been a guide for me through many dark times in my own life and ministry. Her novels are well written, informed, and suspenseful.  

Forty Acres and a Goat (author:  Will Campbell) Campbell is a Baptist preacher from the south who had a falling out with his fellow Baptists over the Civil Rights Movement.  Then he had a falling out with his fellow liberals because he believed in sharing the grace of God with everyone, even blatant racists.  Eventually, the man became a pastor without a church, the only thing left for him to tend was forty acres and a goat.  This is one of two excellent memoirs of Campbell, the other being, Brother to a Dragonfly. When I get passionate about social justice issues, and verge on self-righteousness, Campbell's writings call me forward to humility and mercy.

Home to Harmony (author:  Philip Gulley) Gulley, a Society of Friends pastor, handles the challenging people of his churches by putting some of them in his funny novels.  He is grace filled in how he portrays his characters, but also truthful.  When I need a spell of gentle (but sharp) humor, I turn to one of Gulley's novels in his Harmony series.

I could go on.  A Shakespeare play must be on a physical manuscript and held in one's hand to be brought into the 21st century. 

Biographies, especially presidential biographies, must be tangible in order to bring the characters of yesteryear into our own lives.  

Neither history nor biblical scholarship can be studied or pondered thoroughly through the fleeting words of an audiobook or the ethereal and surrealistic nature of an electronic document.  

I may be slowing down in the accumulation department, but find myself treasuring and enjoying a good book more than ever. Now...if you'll excuse me, I must draw this epistle to a close...turn off this computer, and back to my old fashioned reading. --Mike

 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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