Mike's Sunday Letter

--with personal notes
  • I'm on a countdown now, only 25 days until I begin duties as pastor in Mattoon.  I'm spending these "sort-of-Sabbatical" days reading, writing, wrapping up the Urbana work, and dipping my toe into the Mattoon work.  
  • Today I attended worship at St. John's Episcopal Church (on the campus) appreciating hearing others preach and participating in worship from the pew.
  • Alison and Nelson moved to Madison on Tuesday, a day that was thankfully uneventful. But their dog (Fitz) was still being dog-sat by friends in Chicago, when on Wednesday he escaped.  He was found 30 blocks away (in Hyde Park) at an intersection.  A woman got out of her car, rescued him, and took him to the pet shelter.  
  • Annual Conference begins in Peoria on Wednesday and runs until Saturday.
  • Daughter Scarlette becomes a citizen this week in Chicago, on Thursday.
  • I'll be in Chicago next week hearing my daughter Alison preach.
  • Jie is traveling this week with her family on a trip to the Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province.

June 5, 2016
Tribute to My Car
While I am traveling (or packing) I will rerun some of my old letters.  The following was written twenty years ago.  The occasion then was rolling over of 100,000 miles on my car at that time, a Crown Victoria.  Last month my Impreza rolled over 100,000 miles, and I didn't even notice until the odometer was already at 100,039.  So in honor of my cars turning over that magic number (I've had 8 of them now,) I rerun this article from July 1996.

My odometer rolled over 100,000 miles this past week.  When I told my wife, she just rolled her eyes and mumbled something about how much the repair bills were going to start costing.

When I told my daughters, they sarcastically said "congratulations" and begged me to finally get rid of the piece of junk and buy a cool car.

When I told Judy Lee in the church, (her husband owns the shop where I take my car for repairs) she just gave me a sympathetic look and said she wished the church could afford to pay me more so I could get something better.

So I finally decided I needed to get me some MEN to share this news with.  All the females in my life didn't understand the triumph of the moment.  When I say that I just put 100,000 miles on the car, give me a high five!  It's a high moment in a man's life; an accomplishment highly brag-worthy.  Compliment me.  Admire me.  Offer me a cigar!  It ranks right up there with things like a 40th birthday party, a 25th wedding anniversary, another college degree.

After all, its no mean feat to drive that many miles without totally wrecking the thing.  Such longevity in a relationship between a guy and his car reflects positively on a man's character, ability, and loyalty.  

Did I ditch my car when the battery went dead and it wouldn't start?  No!  Did I lust in my heart every time I drove by a car dealership for something younger, sassier, faster?  NO!  Did I start to lose my love for the car when the fuel pump failed, the electronic panels burned out, and the muffler fell off?  NO, I DID NOT.  

Even when the right front door would not shut anymore, and I had to make sure the passengers were buckled in so they would not fall out during a left turn...through better and worse...I have been loyal to my car.

When my car was in the shop getting fixed, and people started to insult her, did I stand by silently and let her reputation be besmirched?  No.  I insulted their cars right back.

How many afternoons did I forego my nap so could take my car down to the shop to get the oil changed?  How often did I stay up past midnight, practicing the noises my car made...so when I took it to the repair shop, I could reliably let the mechanic know the problem?  It takes hours of a man's life to imitate the noises, shakes, and smell his car makes when it is ailing.

This is my fourth car to make the 100,000 mark.  But of course, nothing is quite to special to a man's heart as the first one.  That would be my Ford Maverick.  

I kept that Maverick for 10 years.  It actually worked for 6 of those years.  It made it 133,000 miles, then it quit when I got engaged.  Jealousy I imagine.  I was driving to Pennsylvania from West Virginia, in early 1970, to visit my fianc´┐Ż, when I got within a mile of her house...and the loud clanging started.  It sounded like a kitchen full of pots and pans all falling out of the cupboard during an earthquake.  Then a squirt of smoke came from under the hood, then all was silent.  I pushed the car off the road and walked the rest of the way.  I am convinced it was jealousy.

Perhaps it was my guilt that caused me to keep the car for four more years, even though it would not run anymore.  I always thought perhaps I would be rich someday and afford to get it fixed.  When I moved back to Illinois (from seminary) I got a tow bar and pulled it behind the U-Haul.  Then when I moved from Carmi to Carbondale, I towed it again.  Finally I used it on a trade in for a station wagon after Mindy was born.  I figured the car could barely stand the competition of a wife.  I did not want it to suffer the indignity of seeing my time and affection further diluted by having a daughter around the house too.

So what's my point?

Give old stuff a break.  Give old people a break.  Whatever.  The old stuff has stories your new stuff won't possess for decades to come.  And give me a break!  Someone out there...who wants to pat me on the back and celebrate?

 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