With my grandson Sean, earlier this afternoon.
Personal Notes from Mike

  • We enjoyed a visit from Tristin, Scarlette, and Sean this weekend. They came down to visit the state fair and my parents in Springfield, and then join us here for church today.
  • Jie starts the school year today with the University of Illinois "Quad Day," where she will recruit new students to participate in the Chinese ministry out of the Wesley Foundation.  It looks like that will be her only job this fall, as enrollment at Parkland (where she teaches computer science part time) is way down and no part-timers will be employed in her department.
  • Our Church Council voted this week to embark on a $600,000 project to replace the heating and air conditioning system (which are a mess and in violation of all Mattoon's safety codes) and to tuck point the building before anymore of the sanctuary ceiling falls in.  I really like this new appointment, but the district superintendent doesn't tell you everything before sending you into a new church.  
  • Reading James Traub's biography, John Quincy Adams:  Militant Spirit.  

August 21, 2016
What I Did Instead of Becoming an Olympian
Jie loves to watch the Olympics.  So in order to yield the TV to her, I've given up baseball for a couple weeks.  (Though I still secretly check on the Cubs with my smart phone.)  With the Olympics, we get to see gold medal champions nearly night.  These athletes have spent nearly all their lives pursuing a dream, sacrificing other opportunities, and growing in excellence.  

Without exception, a champion's quest begins with a dream.  A dream is something you have to catch.  Early in life, a moment of glory is witnessed.  A seed is planted.  A child's propensity for imitation is sparked.  And it is the power of the dream that drives the individual toward the goal.

But when you are a five-year-old growing up in rural Pierce township, (near DeKalb, Illinois,) you have a limited and peculiar set of components available for catching dreams.  We lived in a parsonage next to the country church where my dad was the preacher.  Although couldn't see any of our neighbors' houses, we could make out their barns and silos.  

Our TV was a small black and white set that got four channels, sometimes.  We never watched the Olympics while I was growing up.  The radio in our house was my mom's and she used it to listen to news and weather, which I ignored.  We almost never went to the movies.  And as for music, the only song I can remember liking was "Onward Christian Soldiers," recorded on a yellow vinyl record. My brothers and I would set the disc on the record player, slide the needle over, crank the volume up to 'high,' and march rowdily around the living room while we sang along.  My mother made us turn it off.  I guess she didn't relish that kind of Christianity. 

All this is to say that I never caught any dreams from oogling Olympic athletes, movie stars, or famous singers.  
To top off my deprivation, I hated reading.  So I didn't.  How then is such a boy to grow dreams in such a scrawny environment?  There were inspirations, but some "dream seeds" just didn't germinate.  There was Les Miller, who farmed the field next to our house.  I used to hang out in the corner of the field and hitch short rides on his tractor while he plowed ground or planted corn. But I never felt the pull to become a farmer.

Then there were my teachers in school.  Watching them, the thought occurred to me that it sure would be nice if I could command a classroom of students.  So I tried it out at home on my younger siblings.  But every time I tried to organize and instruct them, they got bratty.  So I lost the fire in my belly for teaching.  

Then there was the cemetery on the other side of our country church.  I spent hours meandering among the tombstones, reading the names phonetically, doing the arithmetic with the engraved dates to reckon how long each corpse had once lived.  I often wondered if all the folks below my feet were really dead, or if some of them were trying to send me messages to get them out.  Sad to say, the only ambition I ever developed in the cemetery was a determination to make sure I was really dead before I got myself buried.
But do not feel sorry for me.  Dreams of glory sprouted in my spirit, nonetheless. On that pathetic black and white television, I got to watch the Chicago Cubs play afternoon baseball for 82 days every summer.  And about twice a year, I got to hear my grandpa preach his dramatic sermons.  Through these years my parents encouraged me to start a road map collection, an assortment of maps that featured such gems as the Texaco road maps...of exotic places I'd never been...like Alabama and Pennsylvania.  In the second grade, I got hold of a little paperback giving statistics on the Presidents of the United States.  I read that book over and over, memorized it.  It was the only book I ever actually read as a child. 
So even though I never dreamed of winning an Olympic gold, I did desire to play alongside Ernie Banks and someday and help turn the Cubs into a winning team.  And I wanted to WOW congregations...just like my grandpa.  And I was eager to travel to all the places on all the maps I had collected.  And I wanted to live in the White House.  So even in Pierce Township, dreams were not malnourished.  I had four of them by the time I was six.  

But it's hard to win the gold in four such dissimilar fields.  One easily becomes a jack of all trades and a master of none.  In retrospect, I guess I went for balance.  Is there at least a ribbon for "balance" in life? 

Instead of playing for the Cubs, I've played into my sixties (so far) on church softball teams.  Instead of being the world's hottest preacher, a few dozen people still sit down and listen to my modest sermons each week.  Instead of getting elected President of the United States, I can instead tell you stories about each individual who did get elected (or inherited the office.)  And instead of traveling all the roads in my state maps, I've settled for visiting all the states (save one at this writing.)  

And with the time I've saved, I now have the leisure to just sit on my porch once in a while and watch the weather...AND thank God each day that no kid is wandering some cemetery learning arithmetic by calculating my age off a cemetery tombstone.  Thanks be to God for a life where we who don't deserve the gold can gloriously earn the ribbons from multiple life endeavors.  --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