• Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  This year we will have a small gathering at our house here in Mattoon:  Scarlette/Tristan/Sean will be here Thursday and Friday.  And some old friends of Jie's from China will visit us for the day.  Jie says she discovered a recipe for "Chinese turkey."  (That may be my topic in next Sunday's letter...we'll see.)
  • Mindy will be at Alison/Nelson/Isobel's place for thanksgiving, up in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Jie and I babysat Isobel (2 months) last night while Alison and Nelson attended Mindy's play.  It was 90% great.  Only at the last, when she was getting really tired...and wouldn't doze off...did it seem like we were dysfunctional grandparents.  But Alison and Nelson returned, and we all lived happily ever after...for the rest of the night.
  • Reading Kate Andersen Brower's book, First In Line:  Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power.  So far there is nothing groundbreaking, but it is fun to review the subject again.

November 18, 2018
A Whimsical But Sincere Prayer of Thanksgiving
Lord, I know I'm all the time bugging you about stuff:  giving you my suggestions on how to improve the world, make life better for my loved ones, or revitalize the church.  I keep nagging at you to forgive us our sins, provide us our daily bread, and let your kingdom come.  And sometimes my prayers aren't so noble:  all I want is for is for you to give me a break now and then. Not a permanent break, mind you...just a few more intermissions.  You take in all my cries, complaints, and confusions.

But it's Thanksgiving week.  So allow me to give you a break (from my counsel on how to run the cosmos) and simply go over a few matters that merit a "thank you." 
I'll start with my housemates, Earl-the-Cat and Jie-the-spouse. One of them sheds quite a bit, but thank you that I was able to get a new vacuum cleaner...and some air filters to mitigate that.  The other one keeps me really on my toes, and I sometimes wonder how my energy levels can keep up. But a constant infusion of the joy and compassion you give her keeps me hanging in.
You might not know it by listening to most of my prayers, but I'm also thankful for my work. I get to tell stories...and see new stories take shape.  As a pastor, I have a front row seat to people's lives...and to your miracles.  Thank you for finding some usefulness for a pastor as out-of-date as me...and letting me be your instrument to help churches through their growing and maturing pains.   
And then there are the thanksgivings for my family: Mindy has been in some great plays, gotten a new job, and is involved in the church here in Mattoon with me; Alison and Nelson brought Isobel into the world on September 7, right after they moved into their first house; Tristan and Scarlette have had a healthy and stable year with 3-year old Sean...and had a chance to catch their breath...right before announcing to us that Sean will have a sister...come springtime.  My parents have ridden the wave of good health this year, and don't seem to me to be anywhere near 89 and 84, except there are some days when I know they feel much older!  They're often not home, being out and about...sometimes in other parts of the country.  

Thank you for watching over all my relatives.  Unfortunately, they don't usually follow my advice, which makes me suspect that it must be your miracles that are keeping them all afloat.
Lord, as you know, I'm very interested in baseball and politics.  And this year I've been doing lots of whining and complaining in that regard.  But there's still music in baseball:  the crack of the bat, the snap of a ball hitting the glove, the roar of the crowd when a home-team player hits a walk off homerun, and the thud of an outfielder diving for a line drive.  

And there's still history...with its power to mend our political follies.  While politics can make losers and fools of us all, the long view of history can guide us into making our politics an occasional good thing.  Thank you that we live in a land where we make our biggest decisions with ballots, not bullets.
And thank you that I can travel...and read...and binge on TV shows...pretty often.  This year I've visited Israel and Palestine and got trapped in Turkey.  I'm thankful I didn't freeze in New Orleans, that my tent didn't blow away in North Dakota,that I didn't fall out of the canoe in Arkansas, and that I didn't spend all my money at the art galleries in Santa Fe.  And my visits to Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, went Minnesota mighty fine.  But one of the stranger places I got to visit for the first time was  Moonshine, Illinois for a hamburger. Thank you for hamburgers.

Kim's Convenience  and  The Good Place  on Netflix made me laugh.  And the end of  House of Cards , at long last, reaffirmed my belief that hell not need be eternal.  

Thank you for imagination and keen observations that you give to so many people, who in turn share with the rest of us their novels, poems, histories, paintings, acting, sculptures, music... 
I won't go into all the things I have eaten since last Thanksgiving.  It's best Lord, if we keep some of that just between you and me, and not mention everything to certain of my housemates............ But..... thank you!
And thank you for the things I can still do: whack a tennis ball, play first base, drive a car, write a blog, deliver a eulogy, plant a garden, babysit a grandchild, keep up with old friends, sleep through the night once in a while, argue with people, learn stuff from the internet, sing hymns, draw comfort from the Psalms, breathe in and out in centering prayer, kneel, journal, discover new treasures in my large print Bible, and notice when others are kind and graceful.  
We'll talk again soon...thanks for everything...and I mean EVERYTHING!     --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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