Mike and Earl
With Earl the Cat (last year)
Personal Notes from Mike
  • The temperatures remain unseasonable warm here, a little creepy.  My anticipation of spring (always exciting) is focused more on the seed catalogues I have ordered than the weather these days.  I'll be planning my summer garden this week.
  • Just spent two days in Springfield and lots of time with ordination candidates...a great chance to get to know the new pastors coming into our conference...and mixing it up them.
  • I dabble occasionally in "The Great Courses." These are video classes on almost any subject you can imagine.  I'm currently taking a class on "Brain Myths Exploded:  Lessons from Neuroscience."  It is taught by Indre Viscontas.  She's on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory Music, teaching music therapy.  Her Ph.D. is in cognitive neuroscience and her MM is in opera.  Seemed like someone who could teach me a thing or two!

February 19, 2017
Laughing Like an Ape
I hear that the average person laughs 31 times a day.  And since I tend to base this weekly letter on things that amuse me, you'd think I could just go on and on.  But some weeks a re difficult; my brain simply can't conjure the funny stuff. 
I blame my cat. Scientists have discovered that several animals have a "laugh reflex," just like humans.  Cats are decidedly NOT in that group.  Although Earl-the-Cat will occasionally do something to make me laugh, he himself never seems to join in.  The look on his face is always blank; his body always flaccid.  No matter how funny something is, he has only one expression on his face, the one that says, "I don't get it."  Kill joy.
Writers' block has many causes.  If you want to write humor, beware of the cat; just saying.  Scientists assert that if we want a pet that laughs with us we should get a dog, an ape, a bird, or a rat.  My colleague Jordan had a rat get in his house last summer, but I noticed it didn't make him laugh much.  In fact, every time I bring up that old story, Jordan actually stops laughing.  So forget the rat.
I never had a bird.  But I'm pretty sure if I go out and get one for laughs...that Earl-the-Cat would eat him, especially if I go to Hawaii again for ten days.  He may not communicate laughter, but he does let me know when he gets honked off...which is what happens to him when I'm away for a few days.
I used to have a dog, and I love dogs...but they are high maintenance.  And as I get older, high maintenance pets...or people...make me grouchy.  

My one year old grandson, who is really high maintenance (his mother is always worn out) makes me laugh. And I've never been grouchy with him. But that's because he doesn't live with me 24/7.  Successful grandparents know how to get their delightful grandchildren back to the parents in just the nick of time.
This of course leaves me wondering about getting an ape.  But it turns out that Illinois law prohibits me from owning an ape. Of course...Illinois and its law-makers...along with governments everywhere...are among the main reasons I need an ape to help me laugh.  

I could move to Texas, where they will let me own an ape...if I have a permit.  Since I haven't talked this over with my wife yet, I might check if Texas would allow me to get a permit for a concealed ape. 
I'm guessing yes.  

Then I discovered that West Virginia will allow me to have an ape... without a permit...and I only need to pay a tax of $2.  But if I can prove that my ape is not originally from West Virginia, they will waive the $2.  Aren't laws great? 
Since I'm not about to move to West Virginia just for laughs, I guess I'm back to Earl-the-Cat...and letting him amuse me...even if he doesn't seem to get the gist of his own antics.  

Scientists tell us that laughter is good for us.  According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the heart, lungs, and brain.  It relaxes muscles and reduces stress.  Laughing strengthens the immune system, increases pain tolerance, and fights cancer cells.  This is probably why the crazy people who guffaw at scientific warnings about climate control seem to be so robust. 
We've been talking about reviving a healing service in our church.  I can see it now:  we'll start with a comedy routine, then listen to some great music while sniffing our aroma-therapy, then eat a healthy meal together...with laughter and conversation of course...then pray and then go for a walk.  We can throw in a few blessings, lay hands on each other, pass the anointing oil and wine...and it would be like hanging around Jesus.  

Oh wait!  I do hang around Jesus.  I do hear laughter in our church (the "body of Christ") all the time!  

Come to think of it, I encounter the laughing Christ at every turn:  in my silly cat and my giggling friends, in Jie's sweeping gales of laughter, in the intelligent wit of my daughters and sons-in-laws, in the political comedians that are keeping me sane these days...

And finally there are my readers...who demand a little humor from me each week...who hold me accountable for serving up a tickle or two.  Thank you.  Some weeks I would prefer to stew in my crabbiness.  But you urge me on...anticipate that God has given me a laugh to share...and affirm the goodness of life every time you chuckle.  Keep laughing.  :)     --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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