Personal Notes from Mike
  • Jie is in New York this weekend, at a wedding of a longtime friend from her hometown in Nanjing.  Also on the trip are Scarlette, Tristan, and Sean.
  • Looking forward to the Illinois State Fair opening next weekend.  I'll probably be writing my annual "State Fair" letter next Sunday.
  • I ran across a list of the most common last names in America.  Glad to say that we "Smiths" are still in first place.  The site also includes the most common last names found in each of the 50 states.  ("Smiths" do not make the list in Hawaii.  We also seem to be scarce in a few other states, like North Dakota.  Click here for the list.  
  • Several requests for last Sunday's sermon, "God's Judgment Hall and Homosexuality."  You can click here for a manuscript of it.   

August 6, 2017
Church League Softball
I am walking about these days with my head held high, my chest puffed with pride, my humility suspended...all because of a great honor that has just been bestowed upon award I received Friday afternoon.  Forgive the bragging, but I've just been named MVP (Most Valuable Player) of our church softball team.  

It was a complete surprise to me; especially since I missed the first third of the season after spraining my ankle in our opening game.  And then I returned to 'active duty' too early (since we didn't have enough players and would have had to forfeit the games) which meant that someone had to run for me during the middle third of the season...which didn't really matter since I didn't get a base hit that whole time.   
I also didn't catch a pop up the whole season, missing about six of them (since I wear glasses with progressive lenses.)  With the glasses I wear, there is a gradient increasing of lens power from the top of my glasses to the bottom.  As a ball falls from the sky, it appears to me that there are six or seven balls in succession descending.  I am seldom able to detect and catch the "real" one.   
In major league baseball, the MVP is almost always what you call a "five tool" player.  This is a player who can 1) get on base frequently, 2) hit for power, 3) throw hard and accurately, 4) run fast, and 5) catch the ball.  In church softball, it turns out that you do not need to be a five tool player to win the MVP.  In my case, the tool chest is nearly empty.  

I am a streak hitter, able to go for several games without getting on base.  Then all of the sudden, I will get hot.  I do not hit for power anymore, glad just to pop the ball beyond the infield.  And I don't run fast, especially with arthritis in my hips and knees.  And when I am limber, I run out of breath every 60 feet and have to stop on the base to suck some oxygen, even if the ball is still in play.  

My best asset is my fielding, except, as I just noted, I don't do pop-ups.  My throwing never was very good, but there is an explanation for that.  When I was in the 5 th and 6 th grade, we lived next to a smooth concrete block garage.  I would buy a 25-cent rubber baseball and spend hours throwing it against the garage and catching it.  And I got really good at fielding the ball.  But since all I had to hit was the side of a garage, from 15 feet away...I never developed my throwing skills.  I can still hit the side of a garage...from 15 feet away.  But ask me to throw 60 feet to the next base...and well...we have a word for that in softball:  throwing error. 
By this time you are probably wondering how I became the MVP of the team.  There are several theories.  First of all, our team only won one game all season:  it was the night the other team only had six players and had to forfeit.  On such a team, almost anyone can win MVP.  Then there is the fact that three players on the team were co-MVP winners.  When a third of the team shares an award, it dilutes the individual accomplishment a bit.  Then there is the fact that I am the oldest player on the team (also in the league I think.) They were humoring me.  And finally, there is the fact that the MVP recipient was decided by Jordan Thomas, and I happen to be his boss.  But never mind all these theories, it is my day of glory nevertheless. 
Here is the dedication Jordan wrote for the church newsletter:  "The MVPs for the season absolutely have to be Mike Smith, Dan Young, and Tom Sherman.  These are our three 'old timers' and also our three most dedicated men on the field.  Never will you hear a word of complaint from any of them and their consistency with being at the games was what kept us from having to forfeit as we build our team this year." ( Of course we didn't complain:  we were too out of breath to say anything.)
I've been playing church league softball since I was in high school, 48 years.  It is about the teammates, the after-game story-telling, celebrations, embarrassments, surprise endings, church members cheering from the sidelines, injuries, high-fives, sweat, exasperation with the umpire, infield dirt, outfield lumps and holes, weak lights (except when you lose the ball in one,) and hats off for prayer before the game.  

I seldom feel sorry for Jesus, except for this:  too bad baseball/softball wasn't invented until the 1830s.  He surely would have enjoyed winning the MVP on his "Disciples" team.  -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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