Personal Notes from Mike

  • Jie has been in Champaign for a couple days this weekend, spending some time with Chinese friends.  Instead of using the extra time to read, I decided to check out The Newsroom (a TV series on Amazon.) It's hard to keep from binge watching it.
  • We are excited for daughter Mindy, who has a part (Jackie Kennedy) in Parkland College's next play, "First Ladies Suite," performed on weekends between October 6 and 23.
  • Travels for the Labor Day weekend:  off to see my parents in Springfield as soon as I get this letter sent off, while there will play the part of "Grandfather" since Scarlette and Tristin are also visiting there with Sean.  Tomorrow Jie and I will go to Chicago to catch a musical at Ravenia, the outdoor music venue.  I'll be home Monday evening, late.  And Jie will spend the day with Scarlette and Sean and take the train back Tuesday night.  
  • Alison and Nelson celebrate their first wedding anniversary tomorrow, bringing back happy memories.
  • On this Labor Day weekend, salutes to all those who perform jobs that help others, strength to all those who are treated unfairly at work, a kick or two for all those who take their jobs for granted...or do them carelessly, and mercy for all those who need a job, who need a full time job, or who need a job that brings them fulfillment.

September 4, 2016
A Penny For Your Thoughts
 My favorite sculptor is Auguste Rodin.  He's the fellow who did the statue called, "The Thinker."  You know:  the guy sitting on a rock, chin resting on his balled up fist, thinking it all over.  There was a Rodin statue in the middle of my college library: "The Walking Man."  This is a headless guy, forging ahead in life...perhaps the opposite of a thinker?  Poor choice for a college, but maybe that says something about why I've spent the rest of my life trying to show people I have a good head on my shoulders.
I started "thinking about thinking" after thinking about the presidential campaign this past week.  I won't say which statue our two candidates remind me of, but it ain't the thinker.  Ms. Clinton seems constantly befuddled.  In an FBI interview, she seemed clueless that "C" meant an email was classified.  She is unnerved by the thought of appearing before more than two reporters at once.  And she can't seem to recall the quarter million-dollar speech she gave behind closed doors to Goldman-Sachs.  

And Mr. Trump...well...let's just say this:  remember how when the Lord wanted to convert the apostle Paul...he first struck him blind?  If the Lord does have plans for The Donald, it might be best to start by striking him mute.  Paul was blind for three days. I'd recommend something in the vicinity of three years in for Mr. Trump...if the Lord really intends to convert him for use as a divine instrument.
While our 2016 presidential campaign continues to belittle the enterprise of thoughtfulness and intellect, the English language comes to our rescue.  English is full of phrases and idioms encouraging us toward brilliant thinking: think outside the box, think fast, think on your feet, think twice, think ahead, think straight, think positive, think it through, think under fire, think long and hard.  

Of course we also have phrases designed to slow our thinking:  think nothing of it, you think you're so smart, I dread to think, and who do you think you are?
As I grew older I was amazed to learn that the human body has a thought process all its own.  Sometimes my body knows things before my mind does.  It's not just that my body is the first to realize if I need food or sleep.  It also is the first to "get it" if someone is being a pain in the neck to me, if I am trying to shoulder too much responsibility for something, if I am heartbroken over something that has happened, or if I am in a situation I cannot stomach.  

Then there is this about the body having a mind of its own:  thinking with the wrong body part might cause others to wish you'd go and get said body part fixed.
But back to the brain.  Some folks think you can think too much.  After all, it's no fun if we can't sleep at night because we keep thinking about what happened yesterday.  I know the problem.  But it isn't thinking that's the problem: we do more vital thinking while sleeping and dreaming than we do lying awake in bed and mulling a problem over and over.  The problem is not that we think too much, it's that we lack discipline in our thinking.
I bought a little book years ago, Pier Forni's The Thinking Life.  The author was frustrated with how people think.  He indicated that we have too little awareness of what is happening, too little discipline in staying focused, and too few ideas on how to engage and influence the world around us.  He thought we often lack moral imagination, invest too much thinking in judging others, and shy away from curiosity.  "Good thinking requires time, and we think we don't have it; it requires energy, and we are fatigued; it requires conviction that it is good for us, and we have become indifferent to it; it requires concentration, and we have embraced distraction."  (p. 20)
All this is of interest to me because religion, basically, is a way of thinking.  I believe that a good pastor coaches people in how to that individual lives can be lived more abundantly and so that our world can be more just and joyful.  It all comes down to how we think.  Bible stories revitalize and discipline and strengthen moral imagination.  The lyrics of a great hymn increases our perception of things seen and unseen.  Prayers of thanksgiving enrich and renew the memory.  Grace tempers judgment, miracles upend assumption, and being 'born again' demands that we downgrade all our defeats. 
We are human miracles trekking through this genius world.  So may the Jesus' community be where one's mind is repaired, galvanized, and enhanced.  So...think well my friends!    --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