Personal Notes from Mike

  • This week was my birthday.  We would have sung "And Are We Yet Alive" at church, except we just did it two weeks ago.
  • The church had a potluck today to welcome Jie and me and our new Youth Pastor, Jordan Thomas. 
  • Tonight a group of Chinese scholars will venture down here from U of I to visit us in our new home and enjoy a picnic.
  • Reading Herbert Hoover in the White House:  The Ordeal of the Presidency by Charles Rappleye.  This is a long overdue book and a fair historical analysis about one of our more controversial and maligned chief executives.
  • The new bishop for our area was announced yesterday.  He is Frank Beard and he will start in September.  Our prayers are with him and our conference as he will soon assume leadership.  The Reverend Beard is from Indiana and is a newly elected bishop (just this past week.)  You can click here to read more about him.  This website is his campaign website.  (Yes...people campaign to become "bishop" in the United Methodist Church.)
  • You can CLICK HERE and listen to sermons at Mattoon First UMC.  I'm not sure how long it takes Mark to get them posted, but he is pretty efficient.  The first few minutes of today's sermon involves the congregation telling me what pets they have.  After that, the sermon gets rolling.

July 17, 2016
You Learn A Lot About a Guy From His Stuff
I have spent the past week trying to unpack my stuff in my new house.  It is a lovely home, made especially welcoming by a group of a dozen or so church members who spent hours cleaning and painting in order to please us.  And we ARE pleased!  Thank you so much.  The parsonage is large, well equipped, beautiful, and full of resources to help us enjoy life and share with others.
I just have two questions.  1) Where is the light switch for the first two overhead lights in the downstairs family room?  I texted Ken (the previous pastor who lived here) and he texted back that I should loo in the garage.  I think he misunderstood my text...or else he wasn't fully awake when he answered me. 
And my second question:  Why is my street called "Western Avenue Heights?"  An outsider (that would be me) would suppose that Western Avenue Heights consisted of a street winding up a hill, perhaps giving one a panoramic view of the city below.  But as far as I can tell, my street is the same elevation as the rest of the town, which doesn't seem to vary more than 4 inches from one end to the other.  Did my street used to be high up...and maybe I live in a sinkhole...and am now no better than anyone else?  Or am I sitting atop a future volcano and can soon expect some sort of elevation?  Please advise.
As you might expect, our first week in the new house is a constant stress:  trying to find where we packed the can opener...trying to find the house when we've been out after dark...trying to keep thoughts under control while wife tells husband where to hang the paintings...etc. 
Last Sunday I couldn't find my Sunday shoes or my neckties.  When some folks in the congregation heard this, they were a bit disappointed I didn't show up in beach attire, or some such casual garb.  But I went out and bought a cheap pair of black shoes...and found a 45 year-old tie my grandmother made (in a box marked "do not wear in public")...and ended up looking like a preacher after all, sort of. 
The unpacking of books has taken up parts of four days. I have books at the church and books at the house.  Nearly all the books at the house will fit in my study there (a pleasant room off the kitchen.)  So as I write this, (from my house study) I am surrounded by biographies of all 44 presidents, the Harry Potter series, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and my "how to write a novel" manuals. The house is also where I keeps books on literature, history, baseball, writing, and hobbies.  This is where I can find a biography of George Wallace, a handbook on how to cook a meal at a primitive camp site, a picture book of all the major league baseball parks, tour guides of China, and a shelf-full of Shakespeare's plays. 
If you visit me in my house study, you will find two ceramic statues:  one of a laughing old man, the other of a laughing old woman.  I bought them at a Santa Fe art gallery the year I turned 50.  For some reason, I feared back then that I was getting old.  It was a somber birthday.  So I bought these two statues to remind me that even old people can have a laugh now and then.  The statues are true:  I've laughed many times while going downhill these past 12 years.
Looking about, I can see my mantle clock sitting atop my roll-top desk.  But I can't yet find the key to wind it up.  It stopped at five minutes till six.  I need to stop looking at it because I keep thinking it is almost time to eat...or almost time to get up.
Oh...I also am able to keep my map collection in the study.  I have been collecting maps since I was a kid.  If you travel anywhere with me, you will have to agree to stop at every state line so I can check the visitor's center for new maps.  I still don't entirely trust a GPS.

If you make it up my way (and I use the term "up" figuratively) stop in and see my study.  I could use the break from picture hanging.     

 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 | #3 Western Avenue Heights | Mattoon | IL | 61938