• A little sore today.  One of the ways I get exercise is to take several days a week and spend an hour or so shooting basketball...with no one around...to give myself a good workout. But yesterday a couple seventh graders wandered up and wanted to play a game with me.  So last night I had to sleep with my ankle elevated (for the pain) and in an odd position to keep my strained shoulder from aching.  No more seventh graders during my exercises!
  • Reading and thoroughly enjoying Julia Kellman's novel, The Snake.  Julia is in my writer's workshop and was writing that book when I first joined the group three years ago.  It is her first published novel, a murder mystery that takes place between Guatemala and a very Champaign/Urbana like town called "Big Grove."  You can find the book on Amazon if you click here.
  • I'm also listening to the history of Apollo 11,
    Rocket Men:  The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson.  It not only covers the history of Apollo 11, but gives a great backstory of the entire space program and the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

September  15, 2019
The Preacher and the Plumber
The difference between a plumber and a pastor is this:  plumbers fix things and pastors don't.  If it's a leak, a clog, or a break--a plumber can fix it.  But low worship attendance, or a struggling children's program, or an officer who gets burned out--those aren't things you "fix."  Instead, pastors have to pay attention, encourage, comfort, challenge, try to cash in when opportunities arise, struggle to create more nurturing environments...but pastors never actually "fix" anything.
I am well experienced in trying to make life better in an organic or spiritual sense.  But I am a lousy fixer.  In the Methodist church, we have a committee that is assigned to "fix" material things.  It's called the "trustees."  And since I've lived my entire life in church owned houses, it has always been the responsibility of the trustees to fix anything that goes wrong around the place.  "Fixing" things is one of the jobs I've never had to do.  The church expects me to spend all my time and patience working with people.  And perhaps because I generally use up all my energy and patience working with humanity, I've had very little left through the years to tinker with stuff.  

Consequently, even though I'm an old guy and ought to know more about mechanics than I do, once I get past changing light bulbs, I'm pretty much a rookie when it comes to the fixing anything. I f it's not something the trustees are supposed to fix, I either pay for a repair shop...or cajole a friend into helping out...or just throw the thing away and get a new one.  
But a couple years ago Jie decided to buy a house in Urbana (to rent out to Chinese scholars) and to my dismay it did NOT come with a group of trustees available to fix things in it.  If Jie has to pay someone to do something (like putting in new windows) she will.  But if it seems to her to be something that her husband should be able to fix, I get informed. Unfortunately, Jie has decided to NOT drawn a distinction between what I am actually  able  to do and what she thinks I 
ought to be able to do. So, when she tells me to fix something, the simplest way to handle matters is for me to just say, "yes dear," whether I know what I'm doing or not.  
This week it was the garbage disposal...cracked and leaking...and Jie either had to call a plumber ($350-400) or tell me to fix it (only $80 for the new disposal at Menards.) She delegated the job to me.
So, I called my friend Steve and asked him if he had ever changed a garbage disposal.  Steve is a really nice guy...who has trouble saying no to people...which, out of concern for him, is why I'm not printing his last name in this essay, which will be published on the internet.  Steve responded that he 
had changed a garbage disposal...a long time ago...and that it wasn't his strong suit, but he'd help me.  
So, this past Friday night he and I met at Jie's house to fix the garbage disposal.  Steve prepared himself by bringing a few tools and trying to remember what he'd done a couple decades ago, the last time he'd taken on this job.  I prepared myself by watching a YouTube video on how to change a garbage disposal.  The internet made it seem really easy:  virtually a snap.  
I think I had eaten some bad guacamole before the job, because when I laid down on my back and looked up at the garbage disposal and tried to unscrew some of the stuff, I got vertigo...and a little nauseous.  

That's another thing about being a pastor...you really never have to do any of it upside down.  Therefore,  after forty-seven years of never having to do any pastoring while trying to stand on my head...I was just unprepared for this little chore.
We spent a really long time trying to get the old garbage disposal dislodged.  It was rusted on.  I re-watched the You Tube show to see if I'd missed something, but the guy on the video didn't say anything about what to do when it you couldn't budge the @#$% thing.  He did use a lot of @#$% words on his video...but none of them seemed to do the trick 
we needed done.  
So, Steve grabbed hold of the bottom of the old disposal...and I grabbed the top of it with wrenches...and we twisted against each other...but the only thing that made any movement was whatever was churning in my stomach.  We finally decided that we would try a hammer to see if we could tap loose any of the rust. No luck.  
Then I found another You Tube video on what to do when your old disposal won't come off.  After the person in this video described our problem...exactly...the first thing she said was, "Don't use a hammer."  After another five minutes of telling us why that was a stupid idea, (during which Steve and I just looked at the floor and didn't speak) she finally whipped out a can of WD-40 and told us where to spray it.  
So, we got a can of WD-40 and sprayed it just where she told us.  And after two good sprays, the @#$% thing came off.  The rest of the job did go much easier.  All in all, it took us three and a half hours (including a trip to the hardware store to get a new three-pronged plug for the new disposal.) 
Before we started the job (5:30 on a Friday evening) I told Steve that I would take him out to dinner for helping me out.  But by the time we got done, neither of us had an appetite and we decided he would take a rain check on the dinner.  
It felt  really  good, however, when we had everything hooked back up, discovered the pipes didn't leak, and the new disposal ran very quietly and effectively.  It was a long but satisfying Friday evening...this fixing business.  But after returning to Mattoon, it was time to tend to things again that cannot be fixed...just coaxed and nursed back to strength. For people and systems, all we can do is pray and be wise.  But thank God for things.  For them there is You Tube...and Steve. 

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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