Mike's Sunday Letter

Sean's first trip away from Chicago, to visit us this Easter weekend.

--with personal notes
  • Wishing each of you a joyful Easter.  Take your celebration to the limit:  don't just rejoice today, spend the entire EASTER SEASON (50 Days) taking in the story of life.
  • We have a house full today:  grandson (Sean) with his parents (Scarlette and Tristin,) Tristin's mother, Mindy, Jie, and my parents.  
  • Our traditional Easter lunch is crepes.
  • This was my last Easter at Urbana Grace.  For the last 15 years, I have gathered with the folks here for the Saturday night Easter Vigil and celebrated the glory of Easter morning worship.  Along with the overwhelming joy and hope of the Easter Story, there was also a sweet sorrow that this time in our lives is coming to a close.

March 27, 2016
Did You Hear the Latest News?
Death invades everywhere.  But there is hope nonetheless.  Christ is risen!  It turns out that death cannot hold its prey. And the Easter story must be told ...again. May each of you know the miracle of new life...the miracle you need...this very moment. Greetings and joy to you on this Easter Sunday.
I've been sleeping around this past 10 days:  Branson (Missouri,) Nashville (Tennessee,) Atlanta (Georgia,) St. Louis (Missouri,) my own bed (Urbana,) and last night at my daughter's apartment (Champaign.)  I'm at Mindy's house for one night so my three-month-old grandson can have my bedroom for his first visit to us.
Jie and I took off a few days (during her spring break at Parkland) so she could visit Branson for the first time. We enjoyed a couple shows on the trip.  She enjoyed the shopping.  Neither of us enjoyed the cold weather.  

After that trip, I took a group of Grace's Chinese scholars to Nashville and Atlanta.  We experienced four wonderfully packed days of history, music, hiking, springtime, and intense conversation about life, faith, and the future of our countries.  The experience included tours of the CNN and Coca-Cola museums in Atlanta.  Each place is an extensive experiential commercial promoting their products.  If it all works for them, you will go back to your motel room and sip Coke while watching CNN.  
As I toured CNN (for the first time) I began to think about how I have gotten the news through the years.  My childhood afforded me several sources.  There was the radio my mom listened to during breakfast.  The Wally Phillips show on WGN (out of Chicago) would have the news of traffic reports, weather, and highlights from around the country and world.  (I always remember that the sponsor for that show was Northwest Airlines, inviting us each morning to fly to Japan.)
The TV set (when it worked) gave us news of local disasters (I remember when I was four that a tragic fire killed many children in a Catholic School in Chicago) and presidential elections.  

At school, the Weekly Reader informed us that the arch had been completed in St. Louis and that there was a cultural revolution going on in China.  

When I was in high school, I discovered news magazines (Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report) and became a news nerd.  I read the Chicago Daily News and bought the Almanac every year so I could keep up on the latest.  I watched Walter Cronkite every night on CBS.  I memorized the names of all 100 U.S. Senators.  I could tell you trivia about every U.S. president.  

My obsessions helped me win the Illinois state championship in extemporaneous speaking (in the high school speech contests.)  It is the type of championship where nobody really likes to be in the audience...not like basketball or wrestling.

High School was when I got serious about reading news.  I took my citizenship in the country and my place in the world seriously.  I learned about civil rights, war, poverty, and politics.  I began to think critically about how the current president was handling matters. 
As an adult, I loved to go out and buy multiple Sunday newspapers, four of five on a Sunday, so I could feast on all the information. When cable television came around, I thought I would be in paradise with the 24 hour news networks, but they actually disappointed...something felt wrong...distorted...irrelevant...missing...un-journalistic.  

These days I check out the Internet, where I now get most of my news.  I subscribe to multiple online newspapers, read the digital edition of the Economist, feast on organizations that put their research online, and enjoy the political cartoons.  I check out conservative and liberal websites, I read and watch the whole speeches given by political candidates (of both parties,) and wade my way through the online news of multiple foreign countries.
But ultimately, my favorite news source is this:  the Bible.  Within each incident of "Breaking News," there is a core story that is as old as the human race.  It is a story of goodness and temptation, oppression, struggle, defeat, change, renewal, and resurrection.  It is a story of finding and losing love and finding it again.  The core story is found in my Bible.  And so I read and recall it daily to keep me oriented in all my other exploring.  

Thanks be to God.  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