Personal Notes from Mike
  • We'll be celebrating Mindy's birthday the end of the week.  She was born in the middle of a snowstorm (in Carbondale in 1982.)  Not sure what we'll do yet, but there will be a birthday meal involved sometime in the next few days.
  • With the end of the holiday season, Jie is back to making trips to Urbana to work with the Chinese scholars at the Wesley Foundation.  
  • Reading Aaron Bond's In Gray  Aaron was in my church in Urbana and wrote this as a memoir to celebrate and examine the diversity of his life.  He is the son of a Dutch-German mother from New York and a Black father from Virginia.  He himself is a thoughtful, gentle, and vivacious personality.  And it is good to spend some time in his presence and become acquainted with him in new ways as I am reading his book.

January 8, 2017
Teaching the Preacher to Curse
I just finished an article that suggests I'll be happier if I curse more. (This is from the magazine published by the AARP telling me how to be happy in my old age.) The research for this article also suggests that a  leader of an organization will be more effective if he or she spews out some bad words now and then.  Of course, the people who wrote this are oblivious to the fact that I lead a church.  But if it's in a magazine, it must be true...right?
The article warns me against over-cursing, however:  too much profanity and I might endanger the camaraderie in my church.  There must be just the right amount of cussing:  enough to keep people on their toes and signal that it is okay for them to vent now and then.  And it's true: it would indeed be better if people would just cut loose with an obscenity or two..and then be over it...rather than sulk and stew and murmur and gossip.  

As I was pondering all this, it suddenly dawned on me that I chair our conference's committee on "Ministerial Effectiveness." A light bulb went off in my head:  if we want more effective pastors, we must teach them to curse more!   
But how can I do this?  I obviously don't know any curse words, since I am a pastor.  What to do?  So I googled "curse words" and got over 4 million hits.)  According to one website, there are 349 "bad" words in English, none of which start with the letters "e," "i," "o," "x," "y," or "z." But watch out for words that start with "c," as 55 of them are dirty.  
Profanity is so prevalent that even pastors cannot avoid coming across some nasty phrases.  Loutishness is all around us.  

For example, my little brother once got his mouth washed out with soap for using a word that started with "d."  He was talking about something the dog had just done.  His impulsive and alliterate adjective seemed just dandy for the occasion.  But the authorities (my dad) evidently disagreed.  We of course had to ban him forever from becoming a pastor after that.)  When you are a kid you have to watch out for the "d"words.  Did you know that 40 of those little buggers can get you in trouble?  (Don't worry, I just checked THE LIST and " buggers" isn't on it.)
There's even cursing going on in the Bible.  Of those 349 bad words?...five of them are in The King James Bible!  

Plus there is this:  104 references to cursing in the in God will curse us if we make too many bad choices in life. Apparently, God, being omniscient, knew long ago about this AARP article and reckoned that a little cursing would increase his effectiveness in working with folks.
The most famous Bible story about cursing comes in the Old Testament book of Numbers:  when King Balak (of Moab) hires a professional curser named Balaam. (I didn't know you could do that for a living... I may look into it when I a possible second career...might be fun after keeping a lid on things all these years as a pastor.)  

Anyway, back to the Bible story:  Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites.  Thus he set out on his donkey to do the job.  But even though God isn't above a little cursing now and then, he didn't want the Israelites cursed on this occasion.  

Balaam, however, didn't get the memo and consequently rode his ass as hard as he could to try and get the job done.  That was when God decided to get word to Balaam through the eyes and mouth of the donkey.  It was the donkey who saw and understood that God was calling off the cursing.  And it was the donkey who whipped his head around and spoke the truth to Balaam.  

And ever since the Lord has tended to use one ass or another to pass on critical instructions we need to hear.  In a sense, every preacher that ever existed is just another ass being used by the Lord to communicate to the community.
People in churches are already familiar with the biblical curse...sort of.  Granted:  they don't want me swearing from the pulpit.  But they will accept euphemisms. They'll say, "we need you to step on our toes now and then," or "we could use a little hellfire and brimstone."  In other words, it's okay to lower the boom on the congregation, but only if I don't use one of THE 349 words. 

People have become so accustomed to "preaching," "stepping on toes," and "hellfire sermons," however, that they readily filter out any benefit a prophetic curse might provide.  So wouldn't it be more fun...and more effective...if I just used some of those "d" words once in a while?  Just a little spice to jigger things up?   

Mercy.  --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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