Mike's Sunday Letter

One of my BIG relationships.   So far its a little boring for both of us.  But the day is soon coming when we will start making each other's lives more interesting.
--with personal notes
  • Jie and I will take a few days the end of this week to visit in Branson, Missouri.  She has never been there.  
  • After the two of us return, I'll leave again to lead a trip with the international scholars to Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia.  
  • Wandered into a Bernie Sanders campaign rally yesterday at the university.  Write to me (or call) if you want my reactions...or if you want to engage in a thoughtful dialogue on what is happening in the political process this year.  I'm eager to engage.
  • Reading Carmine Gallo's new book, The Storytellers Secret:  Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don't.  

March 13, 2016
Improving My Brain
I used to belong to lots of groups:  the Boy Scouts, the Dalton City little league team, the Rock Grove Youth Fellowship, the Madison Rotary Club, the East Jordan E.U.B. Church, and the Modern Woodman Insurance Fraternity.  But alas my membership has lapsed in all those esteemed organizations. 
I have never joined a political party.  I was going to join the Republicans when I was in high school, but Spiro Agnew (Richard Nixon's Vice President) scared me.  And I might have joined the Democrats, but their Chicago shenanigans turned me off.  (When it comes time to vote, I split my ticket.)  

My love of history lets me fancy that I am part Whig, part Federalist, part Progressive, and part Bull Moose.  (Just try to get into a political argument with me:  I'm a little obnoxious and snobby, but very hard to pin down.)  And the best thing is, since all of these parties are now extinct, I have no dues to pay, no rules to follow, and no meetings to attend.
I do belong to some things these days:  the Triple A, the AARP, the National Geographic Society, a clergy group that meets occasionally for donuts, and Grace Church's D League softball team. 
I'm surprised I'm still on the softball team.  I will start this season with a bone missing in my right hand, a brace on my left pinky, a questionable rotator cuff in my throwing arm, a little problem with my vision when it comes to seeing the ball, and pre-rain arthritis in my hip and knees.  But think about it:  it's the "D" League.  I'm actually one of the more reliable players on the team, so the coach keeps letting me play.  

To summarize up to this point: I have never belonged to anything that was too hard to get into. 
What got me started on all this?  My AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) renewal notice came this week.  I am surprised that they let me join them (six months ago)...since I am not retired.  But it turns out that their standards are very low:  anyone over 50 with an extra 16 bucks can become a member.  And when you join, you will be sent 50 nuisance emails a week.  You will also get three unwanted phone calls a day from an 800 area code.  But you will also get their monthly bulletin.  I like the bulletin.
The latest monthly bulletin tells which state has the healthiest old people:  Vermont.  It turns out that if you are old in Vermont, hip fractures are down 19% this year.  Of course, that could be due to global warming, thus the dearth of snow on the ski slopes, thus more old people staying put in their parlors in recent years.  

The bulletin also tells you which state has the unhealthiest old people:  Louisiana (something about not eating right down there.)
Illinois ranks 37th.  It turns out that smoking is on the rise for old people in Illinois:  up 12%.  I'm not sure how they got that statistic, but I'd start by taking a peak at the  "margin of error" on their statistical surveys.  I have yet to meet an old person who "just started" smoking.  So how can the percentage go up?  The only other way the percentage of old smokers might go up is if the people who do NOT smoke are dying at a faster rate...which would logically indicate that smoking might be good for you.  Mind you:  I'm not advocating that we all start smoking once we join the AARP.  I'm just trying to figure out the statistics. 
There was another big thing I learned in this month's bulletin:  today is the beginning of "Brain Awareness Week."  Umm...but there is no article in the publication telling us what we are to actually DO during brain awareness week.  I guess they want us to use our brains to come up with something on our own~~~
So how about this:  Why don't we give our brains a break?  Since they are stuck in our skulls, they're forced to focus on whatever neighbors we give them:  the TV set, the Internet, the cell phone, negative people...  Let's give them a week long Sabbatical.  If our brains have been exposed to too much politics, for example, let's just let the clowns play without our being in their audience for a week.  (The mesmerizing goofiness will still be there when we get back...I guarantee it.) 
Maybe we can give our brains some time with a real live friend instead of Facebook, news from a real paper newspaper, entertainment from an in your face child.  We could liberate our brains from servitude to a GPS and instead let them play with a real map.  Or we could take our brains for a walk outdoors and unleash their curiosity.  
And then to top it all off, we can gorge on healthy brain food for a week.   How about we hold a church potluck for "Brain Awareness Week," only serving dishes made of walnuts, spinach, eggs, beets, and sardines?
And of course, while we're celebrating our brains, we can also remember what happens when we heed the Bible's advice:  Be ye transformed by the renewal of your brains. 

Ah!  There's abundant life awaiting in that gray matter.  It only needs coaxing out:  with some beauty, laughter, compassion, curiosity, and hope...AND belonging to 3 or 4 organizations, max.  

But take care to note that the biblical text calls on our brains to transform, not conform. It reminds me that it's okay to join the AARP, my fellow donut crunching pastors, and the National Geographic Society...as long as I keep my radical edge with them. Happy brain week.  --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




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