Personal Notes from Mike
  • The highlight of the past week was a three day swing north to visit kids and the grandkid. I try to make it to Naperville (for grandparent duty) about once a month.  Alison and Nelson live in Madison, Wisconsin, and so my goal is to make it up there about once a quarter. Unfortunately, this past week was the first time I made it there since last October.  Mindy lives in Champaign, so I try to see her about once a week.  My parents live in Springfield and I try to see them about once a month.
  • Activities in Naperville involved a playground and the children's library. Activities in Madison involved a Belgium restaurant, a long dog walk, and evenings talking baseball and politics. Friday night was Mindy's play, "The Importance of Being Earnest."  Both Mindy and the play were delightful. 
  • One of my favorite lines in that play (from Mindy) reminded me of her childhood, "The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.  Whatever influence I had over mama, I lost at the age of 3."
  • This week I will be on the road again: 6 Americans and 9 Chinese (Jie's group from U of I) will be on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Memphis and Little Rock.  We'll be gone from Tuesday through Friday.
  • Reading Jeanne Ray's novel, Calling Invisible Women.  Mindy recommended it to me and it's a fast read with some thought-provoking plot.  I also started Pankaj Mishra's book, Age of Anger:  A History of the Present, (just out last month.)  It addresses the issue of the enormous anger we are seeing in the world, in our politics, and even in churches.  Mishra's argument is that this anger has been coming on now for more than a century.  He does a nice job of giving us some historical perspective on it. And of course, I always think that having historical perspective helps us navigate the present with more compassion and wisdom.

March 19, 2017
Let Me Apologize for My Apology
Today's sermon is about apologizing.  So first let me apologize to those readers who also showed up for the sermon: for making you read an essay on the exact same subject.  

Secondly, let me apologize to grammarians for the redundancy found in the last sentence, when I used the words "same" and "exact" back to back.   
Apologies range from the top-of-the-line to the worthless.  The five marks of a great apology are as follows:
  1.  I ask for nothing in return.
  2.  I can see the connection between my misbehavior and those flaws that inhabit my attitudes, character, and personality.
  3.  I demonstrate empathy with the person I hurt.
  4.  I undergird my apology with an actual shift of habit and        attitude (in order to help me avoid such transgressions in the future.)
  5.  I offer to make restitution, accept punishment, and abide by a system of accountability.
Not every apology, obviously, needs to be so excellent.  For example, I have just apologized to Earl-the-Cat for knocking him off my lap.  He gets in the way when I try to write.  After landing on the floor, he jumped up on a nearby chair and won't look at me.  I can't tell if he's sleeping...or pouting. 
Thus, I perfunctorily apologized to him.  But outside of a little empathy (see #3 above) my apology was quite lame.  (He and I both know I will toss him on the floor again someday.)  I'd appraise this "I'm sorry" at somewhere around 15 cents.

There's no way the human members of my family let me get away with a 15-cent apology.  Imagine if I did to Jie's cooking what I did to Earl-the-Cat.  Even if she has just served me a bowl of fried chicken feet and a side order of fish-eyeballs, I'd better not throw them on the floor.  We're talking somewhere in the vicinity of a $75 apology for that error.
Actually, I wouldn't even try to apologize at first.  The lowly persimmon gives us a lesson here: if the time is not right, an apology will leave a bitter taste.  Many men are known to suffer from premature apology. For some offenses, it is best to just grovel and kowtow for a day or two.  Or become invisible.  Or my favorite:  suddenly remember that I have to go to a meeting...or get ready for a meeting...or...arrange a last-minute phone meeting.  A good apology requires a knack for timeliness:  too early and you'll have to apologize for apologizing too early; too late and you'll be dinged for the tardiness!
I occasionally must apologize to my parishioners.  In those cases, I find it is best not to wait.  

A few years ago, I bumbled a wedding, back when I was pastor in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  The couple didn't belong to my church, but they wanted me to come out to their estate on the Potomac River and perform the ceremony.  I thought it was a 2 p.m. wedding.  It wasn't.  So, when they phoned, about noon, informing me that the wedding was scheduled for 11 a.m., I imagined they were quite irate.  As I drove furiously up the river road, embarrassed at my tardiness, I decided I would forgo my $50 honorarium, as a self-punishment. (In those days, it felt like a thousand dollars!)  When I got there, no one was mad, though.  They had simply decided to hold the reception first...and hold off the wedding until I got there.  Consequently, everyone was quite inebriated upon my arrival. I apologized profusely.  But it is hard to apologize to people who have slipped the bounds of sobriety.  They kept apologizing back.  But all these years later I feel better for doing the right thing. 
And in those rare times when I have been on the receiving end of a genuine, high dollar, classy apology:  it has been unspeakably priceless.  May we all get our apologies out just right...and receive invaluable ones in return.  --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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