• Jie went to her school of study this past weekend, where she was
  •  giving a report on the book, Ducking Spears, Dancing Madly:  A Model for Church Leadership.  The "ducking spears" refers to how David (second king of biblical Israel) had to duck spears thrown at him by his enemies. The thought is that pastors also have to "duck the spears."  As Jie talked through the paper she would write on the subject, we had another one of those "darn that English language" moments.  We both wish you could have heard her speak with such eloquence about the need for pastors to be able to "spear the ducks."
  • Reading Jean Edward Smith's political biography of "W" Bush.  It is an interesting and insightful read of a recent figure...making it harder to do "history" instead of "politics."  Some political opinion sneaks into his book, but there is lots of good history there as well.  I've also been listening to Margaret Macmillan's book, Paris 1919 on the peace conference that reorganized the world at the end of World War I.  It is a fascinating story that explains many of the problems we are facing in the world today.

October 7, 2018
Trouble Ahead This Tuesday!
I've never been a big fan of horoscopes.  But a recent survey indicated that about 40% of Americans believe that astrology is either somewhat scientific or very scientific. In other words, about as many Americans trust their horoscopes as trust President Trump.  AND...the number of horoscope believers is about 400% higher than the number of Americans who have confidence in congress.  

About 46% of Americans trust the clergy, so we're running slightly ahead of those who trust the forecasts told in the sky.  (Just for the record, Americans trust in nurses is double the number who trust pastors.)  In addition to having congress beat, astrologers also have bankers and lawyers beat...by a 2-1 margin.

Among those under 30, it turns out that about as many believe in astrologers as believe in God. It turns out that astrologers, psychics, etc. are a $2 billion business in the U.S.  This is in contrast to China, where 92% of the population think astrology is a bunch of hooey.  But in China, an officially "atheistic" country, belief in God is on the rise.
Since so many Americans are getting hooked on astrology, I thought I'd look mine up for this week.  It warns me that this Tuesday my job will be plunge me into the middle of a great conflict.  When I checked my calendar, the only thing scheduled that day is my morning Bible study group.  So, now I'm a bit worried.  This has always seemed like such a pleasant group of people.  But according to the stars and constellations, some of them are planning a ruckus for this week. I'm going to be in a dither now for the next 48 hours. 
My horoscope also tells me that today (Sunday) I need to shed my inhibitions and not worry about what people think.  I'm guessing that my bishop does NOT think this is a good idea.  What would happen if all 800 pastors under him shed their inhibitions in front of their congregations during Sunday morning worship?  I'll bet his phone would be really busy Sunday night and Monday morning.  The world already has too many people on a public stage who have no inhibitions. Sorry, psychics. I'm going to disregard your advice on this one:  this Sunday letter is the closest I get to letting it all hang out.
On a positive note, my horoscope tells me that my family relationships will flourish this week, and that I am supposed to do very well financially between now and the end of the month.  Of course, any time that dad gets ahold of any extra money, everyone in the family is nicer to him...and it feels like family relationships are flourishing.  

On a lark I decided to check out Jie's horoscope, and was alarmed to see that "frustration is in the air," and that she will have "friction" with the men in her life.  Oh boy.  

She is also warned that she will have spells of lethargy in the coming week and should consider calling in sick. Her horoscope suggests that she demand more empathy from family members.

This puts me in a quandary:  do I stay home Tuesday and have friction with her...or do I go to the Bible Study group and let them ambush me???

Jie's horoscope closes by promising that "Jupiter" can help.  Since I am not familiar with the principles of astrology, I have no idea who "Jupiter" is. But if any of my friends happens to be "Jupiter,"  and you are reading this...please...help!
It has been suggested that our growing belief in astrology is due to the growing stress levels of our times.  People are yearning to find some kind of coherence in this crazy world.  When nothing makes rational sense, we turn more and more to our crafts, arts, and myths to get us through. People would rather be certain and wrong  than truthfully uncertain.  Astrology fills the bill.

The key principle of astrology is that our lives are governed by the visible movement of stars, planets, and moon. According to the premise of astrology, not only are our personalities shaped by these celestial activities, but everyday opportunities and threats are also predetermined by them.  The fundamental premise of astrology:  our future is in the hands of fate.  The best we can do is escape, duck, or finagle our way through whatever inevitable doom may await us.  

The thing I've noticed about astrology...and many of you have also, is that nearly every "sign" applies to me, even though I was born under the sign of Cancer.  And in the Chinese Zodiac, not everything in the year of the horse (my year) applies to me, but much of it does.  The thing is, however, that some stuff in the years of the monkey, rat, tiger, and pig apply to me also.  And if there was the year of the anteater, some of that would also hit home as well.  I get suspicious when I notice that there is a little of me in everyone else's horoscope.  
This belief in the deterministic power of heavenly bodies moving through the sky has been around since before the days of Abraham (Old Testament.)  And in many ways, the writings of the Bible are the positing of an opposite viewpoint: that what really matters is a matter of what is in our hearts...and in our relationships.  

The making of peace and justice, the practice of mercy and forgiveness, the persistence of love and hope...in these and these alone can we trust. 

There are powers beyond our control...to be sure. But the essence of the gospel message is this:  we are not victims.  Whatever ethereal powers may float around the universe, (and I believe there are spiritual powers and principalities) t hey are no match at all against those powers emanating from God...wielded in our hearts and nurtured in our communities.  We (along with a good God) are the main authors of whatever comes.  And fortified with this faith , I shall get up Tuesday morning and do whatever I had planned prior to being scared by my horoscope! 


 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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