Mike's Sunday Letter

--with personal notes
  • Our exciting news these days is Mindy's new job.  She is now the Coordinator of the Summer Employment Program for the Champaign school district.  It is a full time job (with benefits, an office, and an assistant.)  Most importantly, it is exactly what her soul has been seeking for many years...a chance to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable kids.
  • We were in Chicago the past couple days to celebrate Scarlette's birthday, see our grandson, and simply take a couple days away.
  • I've been spending some time this last week creating a new website so I can store all my writings:  Sunday letters, manuscripts I've been working on, select sermons, etc.  It will be ready early this spring, giving me an ongoing venue...and goal.  I'll let you know when its available.

January 31, 2016
Let Me in This Fight
Anytime there's a good argument going on about the Bible, I feel this primitive itch to roll up my sleeves and barge my way into it.  And if one of my daughters is involved, it's impossible for me to keep from plunging in.  So...here goes.  

Alison (on the staff of a United Methodist Church in the Chicago area) recently had a volunteer quit in protest.  This was the woman's complaint:  "The Book of Esther in the Bible should not be taught to children."  Alison had included a story from Esther in the curriculum.  

The resignation culminated a long line of complaints, going back to the time this particular woman had been in charge of the program herself. She sadly modeled her words and actions after those many biblical characters who get overly personal and aggressive.
So I hereby announce, in TODAY'S article, that I am joining this argument.  Count me in!  Oh...and give me just a moment here to decide which side I'm on.  Just because family is involved doesn't mean I'll agree with them.  What a curse to have such a contrarian for a father.  

Of course I'm upset that someone would personally insult my daughter.  But Alison is mature and quite capable of handling that situation herself...no need for her and me to gang up on the poor woman.  I'll confine myself to wresting with the biblical question. 
Christine Hayes, a prominent professor of Religious Studies at Yale, has advocated that "the Bible is not for children."  She does have a point.  Would you want to explain to a gaggle of fifth graders why Onan died?  Or how about doing the biblical math and discovering that Jacob was about 70 years old when he was smitten by the prepubescent Rachel.  How do you explain that one to the kiddies?  Or there's this:  can you even get a cartoon of David's dalliance with Bathsheba without going into the "adult" section of the video store?  Or try imagining the list of questions you will get on the Sunday you teach Deuteronomy 20: the chapter where God reveals which six ethnic groups he wants exterminated.  (Let's just hope those darn kids haven't read the 1948 UN resolution on genocide...or the Sunday School session that day may deteriorate into a free for all.)   
Okay...I'm ready to take sides now.  I think I'll side with Alison.  We should tell kids Bible stories, including some out of Esther.  

I'm NOT in favor of telling the kids everything that is going on in the Bible.  But that doesn't mean we need to clam up entirely either.  It's like this: I hope mom and dad don't yap to the kids about everything that went on during the engagement, wedding, and honeymoon, including the fights.  But isn't it okay to take out the photo book and share some of the stories of those occasions?  

Common sense in church is actually permitted...AND encouraged, in spite of what you might have heard. 
One aspect of the Bible's mystical brilliance is its "voice."  No matter the ancient author, the biblical voice allows each of us to hear the stories and ideas...as we are able to hear., at the right time.  Bits and pieces of the Bible only come into focus when God needs to send us a fresh message, for his sake and ours. 

In fact, until we are ready to truly hear a particular message from a Bible passage, it will most likely simply be confusing or consternating.  But when we are ready, scripture will always be deep enough to accommodate our experiences, questions, and needs. 
Meanwhile, I suppose Alison and her staff are capable of figuring out which parts of Esther to tell the kids.  They'll probably leave the little kids in the dark about that part where the Jews are encouraged to kill 75,000 of their enemies.  But by the time those same kids are in high school, shouldn't they read that story alongside the latest development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  And I wouldn't tell the third graders about hanging Haman with a noose from a 75-foot pole.  But their parents should be challenged to grapple with that story...AND the execution the next day of Haman's ten sons, AND the killings that go on in our own country when folks are deemed guilty by association, or race, or ethnicity. 
As for the kids?  Do turn them loose on that part where the husbands of the kingdom try to keep their wives in line.  And definitely introduce them to Mordecai and his courage.  And let's for sure tell them, wide-eyed, about the life and death decisions facing Esther, and how she thought it through. 

So, Alison, perhaps it was for just such an occasion as this that you were put in this spot.   Teach away!   

-Mike (Dad)
 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