• As I write, we are all well here...and all my family is well...and none of my friends or church members at this writing are suffering from Covid 19.  Please let me know how you are doing...I would love to have you drop me a line and catch me up to date.
  • I have enjoyed producing video for our music and worship services.  You can catch some of the things I have been working on at the church's website:  mattoonumc.com
  • Our moving day (from Mattoon to Urbana) will be June 10.  That day will mark the end of my active ministry.  With "Stay-in-Place" orders in effect for Illinois through at least the end of May, it is unlikely that I will have any more live gatherings with the people in my church here...so we will be thinking of unique ways to bring closure...

April  26, 2020
The World's Worst Game
The incident happened years ago in the church nursery.  I can't even remember for sure which kids were involved. One little kid bit another, and I was called upon to notify the parents.  I first went to the mother of the "bitee" and reported to her that we'd just had a biting incident involving her son.  Her face turned white with terror.  My second sentence was, "I'm sorry your boy got bit."  She heaved a big sigh and blurted out, "Oh, thank goodness he was the one that got bit!"
It turns out that sometimes it is easier to get bit than blamed.  I keep thinking that one of the best things about retiring from the ministry is that I probably won't be getting blamed as much for stuff that goes wrong in the church.  Of course, I'm still married, so there'll be that to navigate.  Back in the days when Earl-the-Cat used to roam outside quite a bit, we had to keep an eye on him or he'd wander off and get in trouble.  A gentle, not-so-bright, neutered tomcat shouldn't be loose in the neighborhood, especially at night.  In addition to more manly tomcats on the prowl to beat him up, there were also coyotes lurking.  Occasionally one of us would let Earl out and forget to let him back in.  I'm not sure what I feared most:  Earl-the-Cat actually disappearing...or me getting blamed for not watching him better. 
I grew up with three brothers.  One learns how to play...and fear the blame game early in life.  
You don't have to be in the church very long to realize that the blame-game is played all the time by some people.  In every church I've ever served, I've had people who either 1) blamed me, 2) idolized me, 3) treated me thoughtfully and honestly, or 4) didn't give a damn.  I was always got along with fine with people in categories three and four.  But people in categories one and two scare me.  Those who either villainized me or idolized me fabricated a much more interesting person than I really am.  
A big problem with the blame game is how loose it can make people with the truth.  Let's say I burn the toast.  I can blame the toaster.  Or, I could blame someone else for turning the heat setting up too high when I wasn't looking.  Or, I could blame the person who asked me to fix them toast in the first place.  Or, I could blame my wife for not agreeing to go out for breakfast.  Or, I could blame the grocery store for being out of donuts...thereby forcing me to eat toast.  Or, I could blame the church for not paying me more money so I could buy a new toaster.  Or, I could blame Hillary Clinton.  
Of course, none of this blaming will make the toast taste any better.  In fact, if I hadn't blamed Hillary, one of her supporters might have gone to the trouble to explain to me that I could just use a knife, scrape off the burnt crumbs, and my toast nevertheless.
Blaming seldom gets at the truth of a situation, but it certainly fractures and paralyzes relationships.  
Why then do we do something as stupid and destructive as "blaming?" When something bad comes our way, we should respond.  To not respond would be irresponsible. "Blaming" is a quick way to lash out, to identify a scapegoat, to save ourselves the trouble of understanding a complex situation...  It also helps us avoid self-critique, self-growth, and self-responsibility.
And this brings us to the 2020 election season in the United States.  Democrats are planning to blame Trump for responding poorly to the COVID-19 pandemic.  And Republican strategists announced this last week that they plan to blame China for the pandemic...and then target the Democrats for being soft on China.  "Blah-blah-blah" mutates into "blame-blame-blame." And we all going to be getting even sicker in the coming weeks, in more ways than one.
I have hundreds of friends in China.  And I have hundreds of friends in the U.S.  And my friends and family are pretty much 50-50 when it comes to Republicans and Democrats.  The readers of this Sunday letter are represented in those figures.  
I am imagining the misery ahead if my friends get caught up in this blame game...especially regarding this pandemic.  It's not that we can't have strong opinions about who the heroes are, who didn't do their jobs, who was clueless, who was selfish, who was empathetic, who was reliable...  And I'm glad we get a chance to vote this November.  But blaming anyone for this pandemic is simply a violation of the Ten Commandments:  the one that says we should not bear false witness.
No one has been perfect during this pandemic:  not China, not the U.S., not the World Health Organization. .. But I wouldn't have expected perfection when called upon so suddenly to respond to a previously unknown virus.  I do, however, expect honesty, and self-correction, and cooperation.  The blame game destroys all these things.  And if truth and partnership are destroyed, the result will literally be death.  Those who play the "blame game" can thus add "Do not kill" to the list of commandments they have violated. Let's be tough and let's be honest, but avoid the blaming.  The ONLY thing we should be blaming anyone for these days is playing the blame-game.

 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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