• Jie has returned from China.  She had a very good trip, spent time with family and friends, visited several churches and religious organizations there, and got to meet up with old friends who returned home to China after gracing our lives while at the U of I.  Her jet lag isn't too bad, but she is trying to get adjusted to the quiet of Mattoon after being in all the big cities and running the fast paces in China.
  • Reading three novels these days (along with a new translation of I and II Samuel as I prepare for the July sermon series on King David.)  Just started the joint venture by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, a novel entitled, The President is Missing.  Just finished an excellent novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  It is a British novel about a woman who was abused early in life, entered a long period of maladjustment, and then found herself challenged to find healing in her early 30s.  I'm listening to Ben Winter's novel, Underground Airlines a story set in modern America, under a "what if" motif.  What if Lincoln had been assassinated before his inauguration and the slavery were still legal in the United States?  The novel has this "what if" theme in the background, but it focuses on a black man who has escaped slavery in the south, been caught, and been promised his freedom only if he turns in other escaped slaves. 

July 1, 2018
Musings About My Country
The United States of America will be 242 years old this week.  And since I've been around for more than 26% of this history, I fancy myself entitled to make a few comments.  Granted, I arrived too late for the Civil War, Prohibition, or even Pearl Harbor. And of our 45 presidents, 33 had already waxed and waned by the time I was born. But I've done my history homework, (and keep doing a little almost every day.)  And I love this country.  And in these turbulent days of our national saga, now may be as good a time as any to share why I still love it:   my top 5 reasons.
First, we are a diverse people who gravitate together around a common set of ethical ideals.  Ours is is one of the world's stranger nations:  one not based on race, religion, political party, language, geography, or cultural conformity. The only thing Americans have in common are those ideals in our pledge of allegiance, "liberty and justice for all." 

Americans are a cacophony of nearly all the races of the world.  We spout racial slurs at one another every day, but then in the night, shrouded in darkness, we rendezvous and reproduce, until no race remains pure for long, not in this place. 

Some think that we were founded as a Christian nation.  I'll grant you that America is a great place to practice Christianity. But those who believe that this country was founded to protect or promote the Christian religion are misguided.  Such notions are f abricated, foisted into our national dialogue by bullies, aiming to demean and dismantle other religions.  Read the writings of Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, and Paine.  We were founded to protect all religions and to promote none.  Christianity is richer here than any place on earth because it exists in a matrix of dialogue and tension with diverse denominations, religions, agnosticisms, and atheisms.  In such a diverse religious environment, our faith is deepened, our thinking sharpened, our grace ripened to fruition.

Some think our nation is centered around the English language.  But this is only wishful thinking on their part.  The English language has become the most sophisticated and useful language in the world here in America, not because is is exclusive, but because we have welcomed tongues from around the globe, and in so doing have enriched and expanded English to the point of making it the most desired and precise language on earth.

We are not of one political mind in this country.  In fact, our political parties come and go, and it is not unusual for a political party to start out with one set of beliefs and completely flip to the other side...within a generation.  

Even our geography is weirdly inclusive:  what other nation in the world could bring Oklahoma together with Hawaii, or New York with Mississippi, or California with anyone. The only requirement for possessing the American spirit is this:  we believe in liberty and justice for  all.  
Second, we are secure enough and strong enough to admit when we are wrong and make whatever sacrifices are needed to make things right.  Of course, a nation with high ideals will constantly fall short.  We have these ideals in part so that we can improve ourselves.  No nation can become strong without strenuously striving to be better than it is. 

I have met people from other nations who never talk about the darkness in their national histories.  But we Americans talk about such things all the time.  We are not afraid to speak of slavery, Jim Crow, child labor, massacres of American Indians, presidential immoralities, struggles for civil rights for people denied because of gender or gender preferences, stupid wars, or corruption and greed.  We relish political cartoons that lampoon our politicians, flock to museums that tell the stories of our national sins, and value journalists who are willing to question and doubt even the most powerful people in the country.  We are too strong to be afraid of the truth.  And we know that the truth will set us free.
Third, democracy is our method of both remaining stable and risking change.  Okay...so the vote doesn't always go my way.  And it doesn't help matters when people don't educate themselves before they go to the voting booth.  And it sure doesn't help us when 110 million people sit out an election (like happened in 2016.)  

Idiots do get elected...often.  But once they are elected, we don't have to shoot them to get rid of them.  We just need to get organized and elect someone better...or run for office ourselves.  WE THE PEOPLE are the bosses around here.  Government is how we exercise our power, when we vote and when we pay attention to the people we elect.  
Fourth, we care about freedom and injustice, anywhere in the world.  People from other countries are always asking me why America keeps getting itself in wars. It's complicated.  

Some of us get into a fighting mentality because of those deadly sins.  Greed, pride, envy, and anger have punted us into more than one war in our nation's history.  Some of our political leaders soar past all reason right into battle.

But that's not the majority of Americans.  The majority of us, committed to liberty and justice for all, have trouble staying still when we see things like genocide and slavery. And while many of our wars were unethical and un-American, not all our spunk and fight has been stupid or selfish.  Without American courage, sacrifice, and risk taking, slavery would still exist, the Nazis would be ruling Europe, the Chinese would be fending off genocide, and Saddam Hussein would be governing a large swatch of the Near East. My Christianity tilts me toward pacifism.  But I do like being part of a nation that is feisty. Apathy doesn't suit America.
Fifth, our natural resources are beautiful and nurturing.  America is a physical place:  farms, forests, small towns, unique cities, beaches, mountains, canyons, creeks, deserts, hollows, tundra, prairie, bluffs, lakes...  Where we are born:  these places stay with us all our lives.  Where we have lived, these places offer us peace, strength, and wisdom.  Where we have traveled, these places open our minds and inspire our creativity.  

We cannot distinguish our country from its physical places.  And in ways that deepen our relationship with American earth and water and sky, we have established a network of National Parks, Forests, historical sites, and waterways.  Every nation on earth has its wonderful places.  And waters and skies are precious everywhere.  But like every other nation on earth, America possesses places that have been uniquely touched by the creator of all the earth.  And so we love our country for these one-of-a-kind places.

God bless America.   May our generation mend our every flaw so that we can pass a great country on to our children...and grandchildren...and to the rest of the world.  --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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