• Leaving for Alabama Tuesday morning, our annual civil rights pilgrimage.  We will have 9 Americans (from the Mattoon Church) and 5 Chinese scholars (from Jie's ministry at the Wesley Foundation, University of Illinois.  Stops will include 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the new Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, and a walk across the Selma bridge.  The fellowship, the meaningful conversations about justice, and the inner-spiritual growth are always features of these trips. We will return on Saturday.
  • I went to the gym and shots basketball for about an hour yesterday.  It is the first good exercise I have been able to get since last fall when I had three surgeries on my hands.  Didn't even have to take any ibuprofen afterward.
  • Tulip and daffodils are up in the yard, the color should start in another 5 weeks or so. Robins have been dancing around the house now for about 3 or 4 weeks...harbinger of spring, even though some days keep throwing us back into winter.

March 18, 2018
Secrets from the Bedroom Closet
Those who spend much time around me much know that I don't worry much about thieves...as in... I'm not big on locking doors. But when the "AARP Bulletin" arrived yesterday (it is a monthly publication that warns old people about all the problems out there) I got a little worried when I read their essay about house burglaries. The author predicted exactly what a thief was going to do in my house once he broke in.   (Although in my house, there's no need to break in since they can just open the door and walk in.)  

Anyway, this article said that as soon as a thief enters my house, he (or she?) will head straight for the master bedroom.  According to the writer, this is where I keep my valuables.  

Maybe the author knows something I don't.  So I decided to check my closets and drawers to see what is at risk.  It could be that I need to buy a 900 pound safe and just don't know it.  

So I moseyed around my bedroom, trying to think like a thief. Probably he would check out the drawers on my dresser.  I opened the first drawer, closed my eyes, (since it would probably be at night and the thief wouldn't be able to see anything) and reached in to pluck out a treasure, wondering what precious valuable might be my first loss.  It was a slightly used eyepatch.  Way back when I had something wrong with my left eye, the doctor said to buy an eyepatch and wear it.  I bought the patch, wore it 15 minutes, got irritated, then threw it in the drawer.    That same drawer also hosts several bottles of pain killers, jars of muscle ointments, a tube of out of date Preparation H, nasal sprays, and gas relief potions.  

Thinking like a thief, I quickly gave up on that drawer and tried another:  found four bottles of cheap shampoo (99 cents a bottle) and some spare toothbrushes.  If I was a thief, I'd give up on the drawers and head for the closet at this point.  

I opened the closet door and found a crutch, only one.   If a thief came and wanted some crutches, he'd have to search the house to locate the other one.  I'd be interested to learn where he'd find it.  
The same closet wold also net our crook a basket of dirty clothes.  If he wanted clean clothes, he'd only get about six shirts, three pairs of pants, and two suits. Oh, and he's more than welcome to the ten  items of clothing that my wife won't let me wear anymore...and another 10 items of clothing (folded up on a shelf) that I can't wear yet.  Those last items were purchased a couple years ago... right before I stopped losing weight.  As soon as I can fit into them, I'd like for the thief to bring them back.

He will also notice four pairs of swimming trunks on the shelf and he'd be more than welcome to three of them.  It's not that I do all that much swimming.  It's just that I forget to take my swimming trunks with me when I travel, and then I have to go to Walmart and buy another pair.  (By the way: why are men's swimming trunks called a "pair" when they are one-piece items of clothing?)  

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus would think of me if he showed up and checked out my closet and drawers.  After all, he warned us against storing up earthly treasurers.  Whatever Jesus thinks of me, I'm pretty sure a thief is thinking, "Geez, this guy needs to get a life!"

My real valuables are stored away at the back of the closet.  There is a guitar that I never learned to play.  There is also a box of political buttons, going back to Richard Nixon and George McGovern.  One box is full of family photographs that go back 65 years.  And then there are a couple boxes in which I've simply stashed away things that felt sentimental.  

The thief is going to be really angry by this time.  So I stopped thinking about him and just started enjoying myself.  I opened one of my "stash" boxes and started rummaging through.  There were graduation programs from my seminary graduation (in 1980) and Alison's high school graduation (in 2002.)  There was an envelop of pictures that Mindy drew when she was two or three...we probably had them tacked onto the refrigerator.  That envelop also included a letter she had written to an old woman in the church who used to babysit the girls.  (Keep in mind that Mindy (age 6 or 7) wrote the letter...as Alison wasn't old enough to write yet.  It said this:  

Dear alice,
Sometimes you are mene to me and I don't like it.  
Sometimes I don't like you.  You get angry at me.
Don't get angry at me.  Just calm down.
Write me back if you are not angry.


p.s.  Mindy sends her love.

I always wondered all those years why we had so much trouble getting babysitters.  I also have wondered why Alison turned out so tough.  Now I know.

That box also included my first effort at writing a book.  I must have been in the second grade.  It appears that we had to draw and color pictures of animals each day, write a story about each one, and then staple all the pages together in a booklet at the end of two weeks. 

All my animal drawings look the same:  elephant, monkey, raccoon, turtle, all look identical, each one kind of like road kill.  The only critter that comes even close to looking like the real thing was my rendering of "Nibbles the Squirrel,"  except that as he is standing outside our house he is taller than our front door.  

The stories about the animals foreshadow my later writing creativity.  Each one of them kept trying to get into people's pockets. (There was also a bobble head doll of Sigmund Freud in the same box, no doubt lurking around so he could analyze why a child would be so obsessed with animals trying to crawl in people's pockets.)   

Below all that, I found a newspaper clipping from my senior year in high school.  The Republican Women (of Sterling-Rock Falls) invited me to give an oration entitled "Americanism."  It was my first...and last political speech.  No Republican group has ever invited to speak again.  The clipping said that at the following meeting, the Republican women were going to hear a presentation on "Republicans:  the Party of the Open Door."  But I guess they had their limits.

At least the Republicans let me talk to them.  The Democrats only ever let me offer a prayer at a banquet one time.  If I remember right, they lost the next election in a landslide...and never asked me to pray for them again.  

After an hour or so of going through my stuff, I was beginning to wonder what an average stranger would think about me: if she or he happened to go through all this.  Did I live an interesting life?  Did I have a sense of humor?  Did I my box of mementos reveal what things I really valued?  
What story does all that stuff tell about me?  

And you?  
 H ere's my challenge:  go through your stuff.  Look at it through the eyes of a stranger...one who doesn't know anything else about you.  What story does it tell?   --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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