• Jie leaves for China this week, flying from Chicago to Shanghai Tuesday morning.  She will be visiting churches there, family, and friends.  Her return date is the end of June.
  • I will take some vacation time over the next two weekends.  In addition to some time with family and friends, I'm also going to try and get a short camping trip in at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  We'll see.  But in any case, NO SUNDAY LETTERS for the next two weekends.
  • Anticipating some extra car time, I hope to finish the CD set on "How to Listen to Opera," (a great lecture series by Robert Greenburg, from the "Great Courses") Caesar:  Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy, Gettysburg by Stephen Sears, Gut:  The Inside Story of our Bodies, by Giulia Enders, and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Conan Doyle.

May 20, 2018
Hard to Start
Things that are hard to start:  I have two lawn mowers I can't get started.  This never bothers me in January.  But in May, with the grass growing two inches every time it rains, I'm bothered.  Almost all mowers are hard to start in the spring, and I've been watching You Tube videos on how to solve my problems, but my grass is still growing.  The trouble with these You Tube instruction videos is this. The teacher shows you how to take your mower all apart.  Then he shows you step by step what you should replace or clean.  And then he mentions something like "and then you give this widget here a twist to the right!" But it turns out that you can't find that widget on your mower.  Maybe it isn't located in the same place as the one in the video.  So you start twisting everything to the right on  your mower.  But you know that this video is a dead end for you. And then you are stuck trying to put your mower back together...with the dispiriting knowledge that it won't work...because you didn't find the right widget to twist.
Another thing that is hard to start is a hymn.  If you are the song leader for a group, and if you have no piano player, and if you have little sense of pitch, and if you have to conjure the first note out of your head...you shouldn't be the song leader.  But if there is no one else, then you are the one who has to get it started.  And there's nothing worse than leading a group of people in a rousing rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers," starting the pitch too high, and hearing your army fall silent because they can't climb the scale.  

For years I led the singing in a nursing home, usually without a piano player.  We had to stop a lot of songs half way through and start over.  

But one of my congregants, Alice, didn't care where I started the song.  Her hearing was so deficient that she never had a clue what I was saying or singing.  When she noticed that I was in the singing posture, she would glance over at her neighbor's song book to see what number we were on, find it in her own book, and then start belting out the song, in her own key.  Of course, she always started singing about half a verse after the rest of us had already started. She turned every hymn into a round, whether it sounded good or not.  (It never did.)  When the rest of us got to the end of the hymn, we'd just wait for Alice to finish her version of it.   I tried standing closer to her once, hoping she'd be able to hear me better.  But...no. 
Another thing that is hard to start is the writing of these Sunday morning letters.  When Saturday morning rolls around, I start thinking about my Sunday letter.  I'll think back through the week and ask myself what has amused me.  If I can't come up with something, then I'll muse about what might amuse my readers.  That is why I started this letter off with my two lawn mowers.  I figure if I can amuse you, maybe I'll get over being so crabby. 
It's hard (for me) to start an exercise routine. The only exercise I like is when I'm playing sports, hiking, or gardening.  For many years I lifted weights three times a week.  I hated it.  But as long as I was in the routine, no problem.  Injuries and other medical incidents, however, have often sidelined me from any exercise, sometimes for weeks at a time.  "Starting over" after recuperating keeps yielding to procrastination.  Things I don't really like to do (even though they are good for me...like better eating habits) are tough to start.  
It's hard for me to start something that is really important to me.  I started writing this weekly letter almost three decades ago.  But I had wanted to do it for years before I actually penned the first one.  Sometimes I am afraid that I am not at a place in life to follow through on an important project.  

I started years ago to hand-write a letter each week to each of my daughters.  It lasted about a month.  And I really want to get started again, but don't want to fail in the follow through the next time.  I also want to start writing a novel, but so far I don't like my characters enough to spend that much time with them...or my plot.  I have tried a dozen times to re-start my Chinese lessons on Rosetta Stone. Sometimes I can't start because I can't get my footing.  And sometimes fear of failure keeps me from resolve.
The one word from my faith, however, that keeps inciting me is "baptism."  It comes from a Greek word.  And one way to translate that word is "plunge."  Just take the plunge.  Jump in with everything you've got:  head, heart, dignity, personality, wallet...whatever...and drag some of your friends in with you. They'll make sure you don't get out too soon.  

Baptism is a spiritual word.  When you "remember your baptism" (as we say in the United Methodist Church) you open your mind and schedule for God to kick start you into action.  It's not always gentle...but it's life giving.  

I'll keep starting all the stuff I can.  Feel free to egg me on.  But be careful, I can kick(start) back!     --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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