• My mom spent the week at Memorial Hospital in Springfield with pneumonia.  She is hoping to get home around the time this letter gets emailed, but we're not sure yet.  She's feeling a little better, but isn't nearly 100% what she wants to be yet.
  • Reading John Farrell's superb biography, Richard Nixon:  The Life.  It is one of the best presidential biographies written on any president. The author is a good story teller, fair, and thorough.  Richard Nixon, because he is so recent a figure...and so polarizing, is hard to write about historically.  Almost everything about him is still political.  But Farrell has covered his subject well.
  • Mindy introduced me to a great television series, from Canada, "Slings and Arrows."  It ran three seasons, with six shows a season, and is centered on a theater group that performs Shakespeare plays.  Season One was about Hamlet, Season Two about Macbeth, and Season Three on King Lear.  The characters, drama, storylines, and acting are at the top of anything I have seen produced by television.  
  • I also recommend Season One of a Netflix production called "The Politician." It is a witty, nuanced, and disturbing story of a high school student whose life goal is to become President of the United States.  Find someone smart to watch it with and have some good conversations about it.  
  • Today is an important personal anniversary for me.  It was 41 years ago that I had open heart surgery at Duke University Hospital for a cardiac electrical problem.  It was an experimental surgery at the time.  The doctors were successful in resolving the problem, and I continue to feel grateful for that help they gave me...and the quality of life I have been able to enjoy ever since. 

October 20, 2019
Can You Wear Your Playboy Jacket in Church
We had a children's musical at our church this afternoon.  The kids combined talent and cuteness to put on a good show.  And my daughter Mindy, applying expertise gained from her own career in theater, added numerous special touches in producing and directing them. There was only one hitch.
The play called for the narrator to sit in a swanky chair, hold a pipe, and wear a purple smoking jacket. Elliot, the narrator, is in the sixth grade.  I raised my eyebrow a tiny bit at the pipe...we have a 'no smoking' policy inside the church building...but the play came from a conservative Christian publisher...and I've got real battles to fight...and the show must go on...and I didn't think the pipe would stir any ruckus.
Mindy remembered that I used to have a pipe from my college days and wondered if she could use it as a prop.  

My motives (the college-aged me) for getting the pipe back then were first, I liked the smell of pipe smoke and second, I thought it would make me look smart.  After all, Walter Cronkite (that august newsman) used to smoke a pipe while broadcasting the evening news...and one of my respected college professors used to bring his pipe to class and brandish it about while he lectured.  
Fortunately, the "smoking phase" of my life didn't last very long.  First, I found the taste of a pipe obnoxious:  not even close to the pleasant aroma wafting out of the pipe bowl.  And second, I never figured out how to keep the tobacco lit.  Whenever I tried to light the pipe...the fire would fizzle out.  I'd go through several books of matches trying to get the dang thing ignited.  In the end, instead of being my means into the world of the intelligentsia, my pipe only made me feel stupid.  And I intensely dislike feeling stupid.  So I gave up the pipe.

I have no idea where that pipe is right now...or whether I even still have it.  Mindy also would have borrowed my purple smoking jacket, but I never possessed one of those. I never smoked the pipe long enough to make it worth accessorizing with any sort of wardrobe.  

Mindy ended up finding a pipe on Amazon...along with a purple smoking jacket. But when the purple smoking jacket arrived, it was emblazoned on the back with a huge "Playboy" logo.  I repeat:  Elliot is in the sixth grade.  The jacket might have been a hit among Elliot's male classmates, but Mindy sent the package back without even telling me about it...until later.
How do we decide what things are appropriate at church...and what things aren't:  why a pipe, maybe...but not a Playboy logo?  

 My own list of "don't bring that inside the church" is probably different from your list.  For example, I have a personal bias against bringing germs, guns, and groundhogs into the church. 

If your spewing out cold or flu bugs, much as I want to increase church attendance, please don't bring yourself and those germs into the building.  

As for guns, since I'm the pastor, it's likely I'll be the first one hit when the shooting starts.  So, no guns please.  

As for groundhogs, I never really thought of that being a problem until about 25 years ago, when a woman brought her pet groundhog to church and asked if I would offer a prayer for him.  She complained that "Bob" had been depressed lately.  I did pray for "Bob," but I sure as heck didn't try to lay hands on him. Those suckers will bite you.  Ever since I've had a rule: no groundhogs in the church.
There are other things I'd like to banish from the church, but I don't have time to go through the whole alphabet today...just the "g" words.  
I should end with this, however: the only thing I'm adamant about NOT banishing is people.  I side with Jesus on that one.  He argued all the time with the Pharisees over 
who to let in and  who  to keep out.  The Pharisees only wanted to let people in who looked and thought like themselves.  Jesus, on the other hand, felt that you just can't start the party until you round up some people quite different from yourself.  And around and around Jesus and the Pharisees went...arguing about  who  to let in. 
So, whoever you are...know this:  if you ever show up where I am the pastor...you will be welcome.  But you'll have to leave your groundhogs outside.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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