• I'm planning to pull out my seed catalogue this week, plan my garden, order the seeds, and get started indoors in the next couple weeks.
  • Alison started back to work this week after being off with newborn Isobel for over 5 months.  It was a big adjustment...and Aunt Mindy was able to be up there for a few day to help out.
  • Grandson Sean is 3, in pre-school, and learning English for the first time.  They speak Chinese at home. On one icy day, the teacher announced to all the children that they should be careful because the ground was covered with ice. When he went home, he reported to his mother, in Chinese, that they had a problem at school that day because the ground was covered with eyes.  Scarlette texted me that even though his English is coming along, he's not quite ready to do translations yet.
  • Reading a Barbara Pym novel, Some Tame Gazelle. Last Sunday night Jie and I went to see "The Green Book."  It's a very good movie about a black singer who makes a southern tour...and hires a Bronx body guard and driver to go with him...based on a true story.  I recommend it.
  • Each year I lead a Civil Rights trip to the south...the group includes both church folks and Chinese scholars from Jie's program at the University of Illinois.  This year's trip will be March 19-23 (Tuesday to Saturday) and include Nashville and Atlanta.  I have a few spots left if anyone would like to join us.  Contact me in the next few days for details if you are interested.  Spots are filling up fast.

February  17, 2018
Oil Leaks
It seems like the winter weather is attracted to Sundays this year. Our church has had a full schedule of activities each Sunday morning, but this was the third weekend since the beginning of the year when some of the other congregations in the area have cancelled services.  Tonight, as I returned from a youth group dinner, a mix of sleet and rain made the roads icy and treacherous.
It took me back almost thirty years when I was returning home from another youth group dinner...on icy roads.  Like tonight, there wasn't much snow, but the roads had turned into a solid sheet of ice. My car was a 1986 Toyota Corolla...with over 100,000 miles on it, and never a mechanical problem.  
Tonight's youth group dinner was nice.  They called it a "date night." The kids wore formal(ish) clothes, provided babysitting for those with children, and served a romantic spaghetti dinner in the fellowship hall.  There were black table clothes decorated with tea lights.  There was live, easy listening music.  And it all felt very classy and sophisticated.  They're raising money for their summer mission trips.
It was a different kind of meal almost 30 years ago.  The youth were simply having pizza and fried egg rolls and some other snacks...for themselves.  I was in charge of the egg rolls, had brought my deep fryer from home, and deep fried everything right there in the church kitchen.  When the dinner was over, I didn't want to just pour out all that cooking oil...I could reuse it at home.  And so I carefully carried the full fryer to my car, placed it on the floor on the rider's side, and set the glass cover over it.  I would have to drive very carefully...but at least I was being frugal.
Before I could go home for the night, however, a family in the church had just received news that one of their relatives had died.  And so I decided to do a quick pastoral visit after the youth meal.  I drove to the family's house, made my visit, and then headed for home, my work all done for that long Sunday.  Since it was icy, I was driving very cautiously, giving myself plenty of distance to get stopped at stop signs.  
As I approached the first stop sign, there was an ever so slight decline in the road.  I was only driving 10 miles per hour...and figured that 100 feet would give me plenty of space to get stopped.  But the ice made it impossible.  As I approached the intersection, it became increasingly clear that I would slide right into the middle of it.  It also became increasing clear that there was a Ford Fiesta coming from the east...and we would arrive at the same place at the same time...and she had the right of way...no stop sign for her.  She saw my predicament and tried to stop...or swerve.  But she too had no control on that ice.
It was a collision in  really  slow motion.  The two cars were going less than 10 miles per hour, and when her car hit mine, it felt gentler than two bumper cars at the county fair bouncing off each other, for fun. The joy, however, failed to materialize. What did materialize was the cooking oil I had gently placed on the floor of the rider's side.
The jolt of the accident was just enough to bounce the oil all over the interior of the car:  the steering wheel, the seats, the ceiling, the dashboard, and the floor.  It also coated my trousers and my shoes.  
Since I wasn't hurt, I jumped out of my car to see if the other woman was okay.  And that's when I had the 
other accident.  It is not wise to try and walk on ice when your shoes have been soaked in cooking oil. I fell about four times before I decided to scoot myself to the side of the road and just wait for help.  The woman in the other car came over to me to see if I was alright.  I told her I was.  But my cell phone was still in my car...which I couldn't get to.  So I asked her if she would use her phone to call my friend, Brian Lee, who lived just up that street.  He came right away...parked 200 feet away from the intersection, and approached me with caution. He had trouble hiding his amusement at my predicament.  He used his cell phone to call my house and give them the report: "Mike is okay...he's been in a car accident, but there were no injuries.  But you may need to bring him some clean pants."  
The 86 Corolla had a molded exterior body, and if someone hit it with another car, it just crinkled all around like an accordion.  The insurance company decided to total the car instead of paying for repairs.  I don't know whether it was the outer body that was decisive for them...or the oil saturated interior.  
But history doesn't always repeat itself.  Tonight I made it home just fine...didn't have to change clothes at all...and had the joy of living that long ago event in memory...instead of firsthand.  --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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