August 28, 2011 Sunday Letter

28 08 2011

            It is that time of the morning when it isn’t dark anymore—but not quite light.  My first thought of the day is that summer is slipping away.  It is no surprise.  Lately, goose honks in the sky are becoming frequent, nature’s prelude to autumn in these parts. 

             But the laziness of the sunrise isn’t the only sensation I’m experiencing this morning.  I’m also struck by how quiet this particular Sunday morning is.  Perhaps it’s the contrast to last night—when I could hear the rock bands from Lincoln Square, 2 ½ miles away.  They were entertaining crowds at Urbana’s annual Sweet Corn Festival.  But just as we could experience sounds from all over town last night, this morning we are experiencing the cumulative silence.

             Daughters Mindy and Alison both started writing blogs this week.  (My wife Jie writes a blog too, but it’s in Chinese, and I cope with that mystery by reminding myself that ‘ignorance is bliss.’)  Alison, recently moved to Chicago, temporarily unemployed, needed something to do.  So she wrote a blog, posted it, and notified friends and family that we could read it and submit comments.  When Mindy tried to comment on Alison’s blog, something in the cyber netherworld blocked her.  And so she blamed her sister and retaliated by starting her own blog—and writing her first essay about Alison. 

             And then, as in days of yore, they managed to pull me into the middle of it.  Both of them ‘texted’ me to read their blogs and asked me to submit a comment.  So I did.  I got online, read both blogs, then got on Facebook, and complimented both of them. 

             Alison was the first to protest.  She wrote back, “Dad! you have to become a follower and make comments on the actual blog so I look cooler and more popular. All the other bloggers will laugh at me otherwise.  A few minutes later, Mindy wrote, “Yeah yeah, Dad! Same for me. I only got one follower and it’s Alison. I do not look cool in the world of bloggers right now. In fact, having only one follower is almost more sad than having none. It looks like it’s a pity follower.” 

             Well…at least my daughters aren’t quarreling with each other anymore.  They have once again found fellowship in their mutual amazement at my antiquity.  I wasn’t reared on blogs and twitters.  (Even the way those words sound would have made Grandma Haworth blush.)  There are so many new ways to communicate and get information, that I’m not sure where I should start.  And I’ve been burned—going to great lengths to learn some technologies—only to have all my expertise become outdated before I could show off.  Aaron Higley sent me a link the other day with the comment, “Mike, thought you might like this.”  When I opened the link, I couldn’t figure out how to work it.  So, “No, Aaron, I didn’t like it (yet.)  In fact, it made me feel stupid.”  But let this be my main message to Alison, Mindy, and Aaron:  In the end, thank you for including this old man in your adventures and creativity.  Keep tutoring me.  Laugh—but be kind.  You too will one day likely require the mercies of your children.                                 –Mike

 Alison’s blog:

Mindy’s blog:


August 21, 2011 Sunday Letter

21 08 2011

            It continues to be a dry and hot month in these parts—so much so that the marigolds all shriveled up and died while we were on vacation, the purple cone flowers are now mostly black, and we haven’t had to mow grass in nearly a month.  A sky full of clouds teased us all day yesterday—but in the end, they passed on over and elected to soak somewhere else.

             Our big news yesterday was that Bob Sostheim got married.  Bob is my dad’s age.  He married Virginia—the woman who lives across the hall from him.  I didn’t ask how old she is—but they look to be from the same generation.  I don’t get many wedding requests from octogenarians.  And this is only the second time (in 39 years of ministry) that I have gone to a nursing home to perform a wedding for residents who met there.  The groom gets around in his wheel chair.  And the bride can hear most of what is said with her powerful hearing aid.  He is a retired physician—she a retired social worker.  They have grown to relish their companionship and conversation so much—that they decided to bypass the hallway which separates their rooms.  So Bickford Cottages (where they live) busted out a wall, expanded his suite, and made arrangements to move Virginia and her cat in—as soon as the ceremony was over.

             Virginia is Roman Catholic—and Bob United Methodist, and so the couple decided to have both her priest and me perform the ceremony.  It was my role to give the homily (sermon.)  And I can never resist—every time an old couple stands before me to take marriage vows—mentioning Abraham and Sarah from the Bible, Book of Genesis.  Abraham and Sarah were probably married when they were young—but they didn’t start to live it up as a couple until they were both old enough for Medicare.  When he was 75 and she was 65, they decided to become immigrants…somewhere…wherever God led them.  And so they packed up all their belongings (which were substantial) and headed southwest.  Childless, they were still hoping to have kids. 

             God did lead them to a great land—in the vicinity of modern day Israel.  But Abraham and Sarah didn’t take “ownership” of it in ways capitalism defines ownership.  Instead, they had a “relationship” with that land, kind of like many Native American tribes used to have a “relationship” with various lands in North America. 

             And they also had a child.  When he was 100 and she was 90—it happened!  Their son was named “Isaac.”  With God all things are possible.  And so when an old couple poses before me in order leap into wedded bliss, I always take the risk of mentioning Abraham and Sarah’s love child.  (One old bride, years ago, actually hauled off and whacked me in the chest when I brought this up—right there in the wedding ceremony.)  But it is a risk worth taking.  Love:  who knows what love can actually bear?  Who knows what rules love will burst?  Who knows what dazzling beauties love will birth? Who knows what impediments love can bound?  Who knows what dark recesses of the mind and soul love will indeed brighten? Who knows what gushes of creative joy love will bare?  Who knows?  LOVE.  Thanks be to God.                          –Mike

August 14, 2011 Sunday Letter

14 08 2011

 Today is the day of my reappearance.  When the congregation gathered last Sunday for worship, I was nowhere to be seen.  When the softball team took the field last Monday night for the “D League” championship game, second base was empty—and a substitute had to be sent in. When the minister’s gathered for their monthly breakfast last Tuesday at the Original Pancake House, there was no one to order the cherry crepes.  Our house phone went unanswered for ten days.  Mail and newspaper had been stopped at our address.  My bed went unattended. 

 I was last seen in these parts August 4, heading west, crossing state lines, in the company of six Chinese women —rented van loaded with tents and sleeping bags and digital cameras.  There are reports that police officers were involved—in four different states.  In Wyoming, we were pulled over for taking too many pictures of elk—causing a traffic jam in the town square of Mammoth Springs.  In Montana, the van was driving too fast.  In North Dakota, a deputy Sheriff got called out to investigate damage to the rental van when it collided with a raccoon.  (No pictures were taken.)  And in Minnesota, an officer was just curious when the van pulled off the entrance ramp to change drivers.  But in spite of these regular brushes with the law, ten days passed, and no one was jailed or repatriated.     

 My personal goal was to see Yellowstone Park for the first time.  In spite of having traveled in 48 states and nine foreign countries, I had never been to Yellowstone.  I also had hoped to see my first wild moose.  Fortunately, I made it to Yellowstone.  Unfortunately, I saw no moose—including the animal I saw (briefly) 50 miles west of Fargo in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, since the car hit that animal, it was not a moose. 

 My professional goal was to launch our second year of Grace International.  The demographic group most receptive to the ministries of Urbana’s Caucasian churches—so far—has been the Chinese.  And ministry to the Chinese involves English classes, travel, hospitality, and dialogue about Christian faith and American culture.  The Yellowstone trip was an excellent laboratory for my learning and growing in international ministry—and for sharing our faith and our culture with international visitors.

 In order to make the trip affordable—and up close—we decided to camp.  This was a good decision.  Camping turns spectators into actors.  Instead of munching on American food at a restaurant, you do it yourself—on a gas stove or charcoal grill.  Instead of staying in a cheap motel—where a room in South Dakota looks the same as a room in Urbana—you pitch your domicile next to a running creek in Custer State Park and hear its music all night.  Instead of gazing up into a street light in a Motel 8 parking lot, you look upward and see the milky way—and all your frustrations and worries temporarily give way to the awe you feel in God’s great creation.  We didn’t take our “go to church” clothes with us on this trip, but we did worship last Sunday alongside that little creek in South Dakota—singing our songs, telling Bible stories, and having a short Sunday School conversation about the meaning of those stories in our lives.  It was good to be there.  And good to come home.  Thanks be to God.                                  Mike