Personal Notes from Mike

  • Jie has been away this week in Springfield, Illinois where she is in License to Preach School, helping to prepare her for her Chinese ministry.
  • I will be headed over there mid-week for three days to teach the class on the Book of Discipline.
  • While she is away I have been able to unpack the garage.  All that is left to unpack are some boxes (about 20?) tucked away in various closets.
  • The garden here in Mattoon is growing, doing better since up put up some fencing to keep the rabbits from eating the beets and swiss chard.
  • I have been doing a large amount of reading on the theme "Strategy," particularly for my work with the conference board of ministry.  We are asking all our candidates for ministry to demonstrate the ability to think strategically as they plan projects for us.  The book I worked on this past week is Alan Lewis and Dan McKone's Edge Strategy:  A New Mindset for Profitable Growth.  It advocates using resources and strengths already developed by an organization in creative ways. 
  • Have now watched segments of both the Republican and Democratic conventions.  The floor is now open for dialogue.  

July 31, 2016
There's a WHAT in Your Parsonage?
Jordan (our minister of youth and children) heard a noise in his parsonage kitchen the other morning and walked in just in time to see a large rat crawling out of his waste basket.  (Already many of you are queasy and want to stop reading!)  Fortunately, there was a meeting of important church leaders that morning, the very movers and shakers that get things done around here.  The group responded (at first) to his problem with great sympathy.  But when the elders began to fantasize different ways they might kill the rat, the room became awash in eruptions of testosterone.  The meeting soon derailed and no action was taken, despite the enthusiasm.
After the meeting adjourned, I made an executive decision to have Jordan call the Terminix guys.  Meanwhile Jordan accepted my invitation to use the guest room in my parsonage.  

And since he would be hanging around me a bit more than normal, I thought perhaps I should make use of our time to offer him some teaching...since I am his senior pastor.  You know:  guide him through some biblical insight regarding his problem.  

Unfortunately, the Bible is silent on the subject of rats.  Had Jordan's parsonage been infested with frogs, gnats, flies, or locusts, we could have followed Moses' lead in ridding Egypt of these plagues.  Had Jordan walked into the kitchen and seen a herd of swine, we could have re-enacted the time Jesus sent a whole slew of pigs tumbling into a lake.  If the parsonage had become a habitat of lions, we could have prayed like Daniel.  There is even some New Testament advice on exterminating demons.  But rats?  Nothing!  Rats!
So after exhausting my Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, I thought I would consult the internet.  

This was not a good idea.  (Do you remember that last headache you had...and you decided to go on the internet to find out what might be causing it...and were convinced for the next six days that you were surely dying...)  By the time I finished looking up rats on the internet I was convinced that we should just let the youth group use Jordan's parsonage for their next bonfire.
I never know whether what I read on the internet is accurate.  Are rats actually eight to fourteen inches long?  Do they really clean themselves like a cat?  How did they figure out that most rats are right-handed?  (What does that actually mean?)  Are rats sociable and cuddly with each other?  What sadist figured out that a rat survive being tossed off the top of a 5 story building?  What proof is there that a rat can go longer without water than a camel...or swim half a mile without stopping?  According to the internet it seems that the youth group should get Jordan a snake or a weasel for Christmas this year.  Either one will evidently eat his rat problem.
When I was a minister of youth and children, the congregation at Olney rented a parsonage for me.  It was smack dab between the chicken processing plant and the vinegar processing plant.  When the wind blew from the west I always got a snout full of wet chicken feathers.  When the wind blew from the south, the vinegar cleaned out my nostrils.  Nevertheless, it was a sweet little three-room house, furnished with tables, couches, and a bed.  Which was good since I was still a freshman in college and didn't own any furniture of my own. 
About a month into my stay there I felt something crawling on me in the middle of the night.  When I turned on the lights, my sheets were covered with swarming fleas.  I ended up staying several days with Art and Lorraine Lawley until the exterminator finished fumigating the house.  The youth group renamed the church softball team the "Immanuel Fleas" in my honor.  That might have been a bit blasphemous, (since "Immanuel" means, "God with us") but I felt that it was at least some sort of acknowledgement of my suffering.
So with neither the Bible nor the internet to equip me (regarding rats in a waste basket) I have to fall back on my final answer when life is disturbing:  keep your humor...and someday you'll have a good story to tell.  

In the meantime I find myself humming the tune, "Abide With Me" and mouthing the words, (while thinking of Jordan's rat,) "swift to its close ebbs out life's little day."  And when I think of the Terminix guys in Jordan's house battling the intruder, I find myself humming "Onward Christian Soldiers."  I'm rooting for Jordan.  So may the Lord have mercy.  And may that rat rest in peace...soon.  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 | #3 Western Avenue Heights | Mattoon | IL | 61938