Mike's Sunday Letter

Last Sunday in Miami Beach
--with personal notes
  • Happy birthday to my daughter Mindy (this coming Wednesday.)  She appeared in the midst of a major snowstorm a score and a quarter of years ago, plus or minus a decade.
  • We returned home Thursday evening after a trip to Florida with Chinese scholars.  The visit involved long conversations about life and faith, a variety of international restaurants, time at the beach, trails in the Everglades, a journey to Key West, a day at the Space Center, and pilgrimages to the Holocaust Memorial, Botanical Parks, a Zoo, and the Florida State Department of Agriculture.
  • Reading Jules Verne's 1905 novel, Around the World in 80 Days.

January 10, 2016
Fortune Cookies and New Year Resolutions
I sit down to write this letter while snapping open a fortune cookie.  "You will succeed in your current endeavor."  But since my current endeavor is to write this simple missive to you, I fret that I have wasted this propitious fortune on something too small.  

It's like having a genie pop out of a bottle to grant me three wishes.  Why would I waste one of them on something like "make my bed for me," when I can do that perfectly well on my own? In retrospect, I wish I had been trying to do something gallant or profitable when I plucked this little prophecy out of that delicate refreshment. 
All this of course raises the issue of whether or not fortune cookies are trustworthy.  

Consider this: fortune cookies are neither baked nor sold in China. Doesn't that raise a red flag? In fact, the Chinese fortune cookie is about the only thing we have left in America that is NOT made in China.  Most of them are made in New York. 

You may be wondering whether or not the Bible weighs in on the subject of fortune cookies.  Sorry, but no. The Bible tells us to trust in God rather in sorcerers, necromancers, etc.  And when you read between the lines, you get the idea that since we humans are made in the image of God, our own resolution is probably superior to an oracle plucked from a cookie.  

Thus I have arrived at my "point" for the day:  the power of human resolution.  We are 10 days into the new year and I am proud to report that I have not broken any of my 2016 New Year's resolutions.  This is due, in large part, to the fact that I neglected to make any resolutions.  I guess I just didn't feel very resolute this time around.  

A good shrink might attribute my neglect to several things.  Perhaps it is the slight and inevitable depression that follows in the wake of two major hand surgeries in two months.  Or perhaps it is the mawkish mood that possesses me when it hits me once again that my tenure at Grace Church is almost over and I despair that my work with the marginalized people in Urbana is about to be aborted.  Or maybe it's my surliness in reflecting that in the next few weeks my future is being dictated by a secretive group of superintendents who only know superficial trivia about me. 
But then again there may be a holy reason for my lack of resolution. Our prayer of confession includes this line:  "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts."  And after all, aren't all our resolutions merely composed of the "devices and desires" of our own hearts? 

Honestly?  ...I am more than a little weary of all the resolutions rolling around in my mind, whether corporate or personal.  So instead of beginning this year with resolutions, I'd really rather travel lightly into the months ahead, saving my energy for the surprises that await.  

 I'm okay with that when I recall that the greatest joys of my life are the results of surprising graces beyond me rather any gumption within me:
  • When I ponder every person I love...every friend I have:  I know that I did not design or create a single one. 
  • The solution to every worthy problem I've ever addressed included at least a pinch of miracle that I could neither fathom nor control. 
  • The fire I've known in fighting every cause that has ever attracted me is an ancient fire, and I am merely its unwitting and temporary steward. 
  • The beauties of this world that so delight my eye, ear, and heart are serendipitous, only marginally improved by any resolve of my own.
  • The stories that enchant and inspire me are are creations of a mysterious synergy that emerges from a set of unassuming particularities. 
I am in a strange spell of life right now, where it seems wise to take a Sabbatical from making resolutions for a season.  Instead of self-determination and self-demand, I inexplicably find myself yearning for mere resilience, flexibility, and forbearance...for a while.  

This is strange:  for I am usually quite the political creature, inclined to strategize and maneuver and wrangle a deal in hopes of making life better...for others and myself.  But this new place feels holy, so I reckon I'll just take off my shoes and not kick about where the next waves take me...perhaps.
If I'm temporarily not making any resolutions for myself, maybe I'll have more time to munch and read fortune cookies.  So here goes:
  •  "If everything is coming your way, you're probably in the wrong lane."  
  • "Accept that some days you're the pigeon and some days you're the statue."  
  • "A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking."  
  • "Learn to laugh at yourself, and you will never run out of happiness."  

 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




J. Michael Smith | 2508 S. Cottage Grove | Urbana | IL | 61801