Personal Notes from Mike
  • Scarlett, Sean, and Tristan arrived in China yesterday. It is Tristan's first trip home since he immigrated.  It is Sean's first trip to visit all his relatives there (he is a year and a half now.) They will be there two weeks.  The boy made the trip just fine and is now being wined and dined by all his oohing Chinese grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and great-grandparents.
  • Alison had her wisdom teeth taken out Friday.  She seems to be recovering quite well.
  • Mindy was also cast in two plays this fall at Parkland College:  The Crucible (by Arthur Miller) and Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare.) She spent the weekend in Madison, Wisconsin with her sister to give post-wisdom teeth encouragement.
  • Jie is meeting a whole new group of Chinese scholars these weeks for her Chinese ministry at U of I.  It is a bittersweet time of year:  good friends are leaving the U.S. and heading back to China, new friends are yet to be revealed, even though their emergence will be inevitable.
  • My brother Jim has finally arrived at his permanent residence for the next three and a half years:  the federal prison camp in Terre Haute, Indiana.  It is a much more humane facility than the county jail in Decatur.  We will be able to email him and visit him.  The camp also allows the inmates to go outside, take classes, and get counseling to adjust to new lives that will await them on their release.
  • Reading Tom Perrotta's novel, Mrs. Fletcher, a quick read about several individuals (mostly single) who struggle and take risks to find companionship, affirmation, and meaning as they go through transitions in their lives.
  • The "Business Insider" report I reference below can be found if you click here.

September 3, 2017
National Courtesy Month
According to the internet, which is never wrong, September is National Courtesy Month.  Not to be discourteous, but whose idea was this?  

Sometimes the President is the origin of things like this. So, I checked it out and discovered that past presidential proclamations have devoted September to fighting cancer, sickle cell anemia, and obesity in children.  Presidents have also urged us to use the month of September to support the wilderness and cheer for drug rehab. But I can't find any indication (anywhere) that the White House is promoting courtesy.  So, I guess we're on our own.  This will have to be a grass roots thing.
My mother was big on courtesy, trying to instill it in all us kids.  But there were times when she was fighting a losing battle, what with all the hillbilly relatives who thought nothing of belching during dinner, showing each other surgery scars, and tossing racial slurs about the room.  After all us kids left home, she took up teaching 5th grade in the Elgin school system, hoping to persuade yet another generation to be courteous to one another.
A Business Insider report researched and compared the degree of courtesy found in each of the 50 states.  They collected data by listening in on more than half a million phone calls from business customers (of cable companies, auto dealers, pest control centers, etc.) and noting the amount of cursing (not very courteous) and times people said "please" or "thank-you," (quite courteous.) From what I can tell, the two worst states in the country are Ohio and Vermont.  People from those places evidently cuss quite a bit and they don't say "thank-you."
But there are other ways to measure courtesy.  I dug out my old kindergarten report card a year or so ago, and it was entirely made up of whether or not I was courteous:  things like keeping quiet, keeping my hands to myself, obeying the teacher, sharing with other children, and taking turns.  It has now been nearly 40 years since Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian pastor, wrote a whole book entitled, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was a call to courtesy and common sense.
The Bible doesn't say much about courtesy, directly.  But it does say that we should love our neighbors.  This frequently involves courtesy:  keeping our hands to ourselves, not acting like a nuisance, taking turns, refraining from thoughtless comments, etc.  

The dictionary says that the word, "courtesy" comes from the same French word as " court."  When one appears in a royal court, one tries to win the favor and affection of the king and queen with behavior and speech that is thoughtful and pleasing.
To please my mother today, even though it's not Mother's Day, here are my top ten courtesy things...that I try to do...and especially appreciate in others: 

1.     Don't let your body be an unpleasant distraction to the people around you (sounds, smells, flying fluids, etc.) unless you are an unconscious surgery patient.


2.     Work to remember people's names, and if you forget, just ask. It shows people that they matter to you.


3.     Don't interrupt another person when he or she is talking, unless he or she is discourteously hogging all the conversation, in which case, be courteous to yourself and break in


4.     Wear your nicest clothes to a funeral, a wedding, and church.  If you don't have formal or expensive clothes, no problem.  You don't have to dress like everyone else.  Just don't wear your worst.


5.     Leave a tip of 20% to your waiters.  They have just been your slaves for nearly an hour.  Get over yourself before you leave by giving them a generous tip.


6.     In a room full of people, walk over to the person who is alone.  Give him or her a chance.


7.     Apologize if you are late.  It's boorish and makes others think they are not important to you.  On the other hand, don't show up at my house early for an event, I'm still trying to get the vacuuming done.


8.     Learn the line between curious and nosey.  Failure to be curious is as discourteous as nosiness.


9.     Be sure the person you are talking to is interested in what you are talking about.  Failure to read nonverbal clues is rude.


10.  Have a generous repertoire of gentle and kind gestures and words to share with others.  It's tough out there.  Those words and gestures are often someone else's temporary salvation.      




 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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