• Happy birthday to daughter Scarlette tomorrow.  We'll see her the end of next week when we go up there to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  The actual New Year celebration this year will start Tuesday, February 5, inaugurating the year of the pig.
  • Started reading Concrete Boxes:  Mizrahi Women on Israel's Periphery.  The book explores the personal stories of 5 women, struggling in a southern Israeli settlement.  The author is anthropologist Pnina Motzafi-Hallar, a colleague in my Friday writer's group.
  • Mindy's play, "Women of Lockerbie," will run from this coming Wednesday through Saturday night, January 30-February 2. Granted that I have a conflict of interest in recommending it, but it is highly satisfying for its theme, emotion, deep thought, and acting.  Click here for the review.

January 27, 2018
Getting Through to Earl-the-Cat
Excuse me for being a bit grouchy today.  As I was leading the 8 a.m. worship service this morning, I kept feeling small pebbles and sand inside my shoes.  But since taking my shoes off while preaching strikes me as being inappropriate, I waited until the end of the service to remove them and empty out the offensive debris.

Rushing into the 9 a.m. worship, I started to feel the same irritation all over again.  Afterward, I ran into my study and emptied out the same shoes a second time. During the third worship service, again, the same trouble.  As I emptied the shoes out a third time, I noticed that the agitation was coming from kitty litter.
Earl-the-Cat likes to wear my shoes.  It's not that he puts them on and clunks around the house.  It's just that when I'm not looking, he sniffs them out, lies down on them, and sticks his front paws in.  Then he takes a snooze.  He must have needed an urgent nap last night immediately after completing his hygienic chores. 
It is occurring to me that Earl-the-Cat isn't as cute as when he was a kitten.  At almost 10 years old, the all-knowing internet informs me that he is the equivalent of a 56 year old man...a neutered 56 year old man. He really doesn't seem to care anymore. His grooming was never all that good to start with, but now he doesn't even bother to wipe his filthy paws before wearing my Sunday shoes.  
Like many other 56 year old men, he's also shedding.  But unlike humans that age, he never seems to go bald.  Jie and I are both allergic to the dandruff in his hair, and so she will once in a while catch him and give him a bath.  It helps for a day or two.  

 When he was little, his meow used to be so soft and cute.  But now that he is a 56-year old, he's just whiny and crabby. Do old neutered cats go through a mid-life crises...or male menopause?  I wonder.
I had a dog once who constantly and rudely misbehaved.  Her name was Hannah.  And I realized that she was acting out the very things I might like to do if I weren't an esteemed and respectable pastor.  But I'm afraid that Earl-the-Cat may not so much be my alter-ego as simply a mirror of my own growing frustration with the world.  He may be reflecting back my own crabbiness.  Except...I certainly do NOT go sticking my feet in other people's shoes and littering them with litter.
While pondering my crankiness these days, let's mention the government:  our leaders are finally letting the people who work for them go back to work tomorrow. 

 During this latest shut-down, I kept thinking of Calvin Coolidge, our 30 th  president.  I never thought I'd be pining away for Calvin Coolidge.  But Mr. Coolidge would have never let this strike happen.  

Coolidge's road to the White house had its beginnings in the Boston Police Strike of 1919.   At that time, many police officers there were veterans of World War I. But their wages were lower than other public servants, and they had to spend over a quarter of their first year's salary on buying their own uniforms.  There is a long list of  grievances  that would make most of us sympathetic to the police officers...today.  But when they tried to form a union and go on strike, Coolidge (the governor of Massachusetts) held a hard line.  I'm not impressed with his callousness toward the police officers, but I do agree with a statement he made, "There is no right to strike against the public safety, anywhere, anytime."  When the officers walked off the job, riots and looting got out of hand.

Coolidge's statement statement hit the papers nationwide, and he was a clear and obvious choice for Vice President when the Republican nominating convention met in 1920.  He and Warren Harding were elected in a landslide that fall. And when President Harding died suddenly in 1923, Coolidge moved into the White House.
The effective functioning of the federal government is part of the trust and social contract that we Americans have with one another...and our leaders. A functioning federal government satisfies the mission of our constitution:  to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty."  To riff off of Calvin Coolidge, there is no right to shut down the government, to compromise justice, public safety, or our general welfare, anywhere...anytime.  
We were expected to continue paying taxes during all this time.  Don't expect a refund for the 35 days the government was shut down. Many government workers were expected to keep working.  Many private companies that had legal contracts with the government have been ripped off without any recourse.  And meantime, our federal leaders will soon go back to acting like nothing bad ever happened. 

I suspect that if the drafters of the constitution could have foreseen what has happened in the past month, they would have prohibited all shut-downs.  It's never too late for a constitutional amendment.  
Between Earl-the-Cat and certain leaders of our federal government, no wonder I'm cranky.  But the good news is this.  I love Earl-the-Cat even more than I did when he was a cute kitten.  He and I have memories and years built up between us.  

 And I still love the United States...and its government ...commissioned to protect us and keep us just and prosperous.  So, let me just say this:  keep your feet out of my good shoes...and treat your employees and your citizens right...and let's just get on with things.  --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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