Each year I put one decoration on the tree.  This year I added a tag at the bottom:  "2016, World Series Champs."  
Personal Notes from Mike
  • We pulled the Christmas decorations out of the closet and started thinking about where they will go in our new house.  The photo on this page is just prior to my completing the Christmas tree.  My job around the house (during the decorating enterprise) is to pull the large containers out of the closet and put them in the middle of the room.  Then I always hang ONE decoration on the tree: Santa wearing "Cubs" underwear.   I always manage to find someone else to do the rest of the work.  This year it was Jie.  In past years, our house and tree were decorated by visiting Chinese scholars.
  • The Muscular Dystrophy Association here is raising funds and has plans to put me in "jail" for one hour this Wednesday.  I am supposed to raise bail money.  So if you wish to contribute to my release, email me back and I will get you the proper forms to fill out.
  • Some movies I've seen that are good conversation starters:  Hacksaw Ridge, Moana, and Arrival.  
  • Reading Jonas Jonasson's novel, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared.  It is a quirky, funny novel, filled with absurdities...if you like that sort of thing...which I do.  I've also been chasing down some stuff about Napoleon and his battles.  As I've been doing research on strategy (for churches), I've become interested in how military strategy changed profoundly at the beginning of the 19th century.  The nice thing about doing unmonitored research is that I can follow digressions as my heart desires.

December 11, 2016
Parsonages, Houses, and Homes
A "parsonage" is the house that a church provides for its succession of pastors.  I have lived in 14 parsonages.  The last three have been wonderful: each one more accommodating than the last.  The one I live in now, here in Mattoon, is a large and beautiful home, has a spacious and pleasing yard, and includes a professional maintenance man (Jim) who graciously does everything he can to make repairs and assure that the house is comfortable and enjoyable. 
Okay, after I re-read that last paragraph I fear that some readers might get the wrong idea. Please do not misconstrue that this "Jim" guy is some sort of submissive serf who lives in a tool shed in the backyard...and ambles over to do my bidding whenever I snap my fingers.  Rather...he is a barrel-chested construction boss who drives a pick-up...and can match my own grouchiness growl for growl.  In other words, he doesn't do windows.  The church has him on "retainer" to keep its property in shape and oversee the use of the church building.  He's smart, generous, and available.  Just don't expect to get what you want if you snap your fingers at him!
My dad lived in seven parsonages during his ministry.  My mom lived in 15 (due to both her dad and her husband being pastors.)  My growing up years spanned four parsonages...and then you add another 11 that churches have loaned me while I was in their service. 

Not all those parsonages made their congregations proud.  There are, of course, always problems...true for any house.  Over time a place needs work: plumbing, electrical, painting, roofing, siding, carpeting, etc.  And you never know when you will get an infestation of fleas (Olney), mice (Granite City), or ants (Urbana.) The church can't help those things.  

But occasionally a church will simply disgrace itself.  The worst parsonage I ever lived in was... (ha ha...I'm smart enough to know not to post the name on the internet!) The people (in the place I will not name) hated the pastor who was my predecessor.  (They hated almost all of my predecessors.)  So, to show how glad they were to get rid of the guy before me, they fixed the parsonage up real pretty for my family.  But new wallpaper didn't help much.  It was still a poorly built structure fabricated on the cheap during the Great Depression. So when I learned that I would be moving to a new church I urged the church members to get a different parsonage for their next pastor. After all, none of the them would deign to live in that squat! 

My lay leader agreed.  But then he abruptly circled back with his argument: "Thing is though...if we go and buy a nice parsonage, then how will future pastors know that we don't like them?"  

I assured him that the church was sufficiently blessed with maleficent members and that no future pastor would possibly confuse such a purchase with genuine affection. He seemed pleased with my supposed compliment...and a couple years later the church bought my successor a better (albeit very modest) domicile.
Well...that's enough nostalgia.  Back to the present:  yesterday we got our Christmas tree and started putting up decorations...our first time in the Mattoon parsonage.  But I found myself more sad than happy.  The feeling was wistfulness: for that home in Urbana that comforted and pleased me so much over the past 15 holiday seasons.  

Much as I like my current abode, it still hasn't become a home.  I operate out of here, but I don't live here.  This doesn't upset me all that much...but rather leaves me curious.   Consequently, I've started to ask others how long for them before their present domicile became a home.  What grief over former abodes must be processed?  What dramas are prerequisite in a new dwelling before it becomes a home? What milestones must be passed before the new place is at last house-broken...and becomes home-bound? 
We video chatted with daughter Alison and son-in-law Nelson last night.  They live in Madison, Wisconsin and were getting snow while we chatted...and were expecting much more through the night.  This was their first major snow since they moved there last summer.  "Does the first snow make it feel more like home?"  She allowed that it might.  I mulled that maybe I would feel more at home in Mattoon once I had to shovel two-foot-deep snow out of my driveway.  Maybe. Or maybe I just need to experience a good belly-laugh in this place, or a long cry, or a prolonged worrying...all of which I've experienced in other homes. 
Or maybe it is this:  I just need to wait for a miracle.  Yeah!  It's God's fault this isn't a 'home' yet.  Whenever God fills anything that is simply 'ordinary' with grace...we say it is 'sacramental.'  The moment we experience the ordinary bread to be the 'body of Christ,' an ordinary nectar to be the 'blood of Christ,' a stranger to be 'an angel,' a breeze to be 'a breath of God,' a friend to be 'Christ to us,' a song to be 'heavenly,' a piece of nature to be 'paradise,' a change of circumstances to be 'salvation'...then we have experienced the sacramental.  Surprise! The ordinary becomes spirit.  

In such a manner a house becomes a home. God makes the makeover, mysteriously.  And so I relax into patience...and wait for God.  And one day in the future I suspect that I will be telling you another story of this parsonage... how it became a home.  So until then...I'll sign off with "to be continued..."        


 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