The Generalizing of Bad

Posted July 9, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I used to have this thing about berries. Strawberries excluded since strawberry jam and preserves were as frequent as biscuits in my Kentucky growing up days, I cringed at the thought of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries, and anything else that was berry-related. There was even a guy in school with me named Barry, who I viewed with suspicion.

No one could convince me that berries weren’t all bad. When blue raspberry came out as a 7-11 Slurpee flavor I almost gagged. Raspberry popsicles were of the devil, and I viewed a salad garnished with blueberries as infested.

We have a tendency to categorize as bad something that is slightly related to something else we dislike. I had an American History teacher who succeeded in making the history of our country so bland and boring that I developed the mindset that viewed all of American History as dull and irrelevant. Thankfully, I had a professor for one course in my second year of college that brought it alive. Truth be told, I needed another class and the American History 101 course fit neatfully into a time slot, plus it was close to my dorm. My labeling of all American History being thrown onto the junk pile was completely transformed by that class and I switched my college major to history. Go figure!

Our culture’s tendency to generalize in these recent troubling times has led us down a dark path of suspicions, accusations, and guilt by association. Like associating blueberries with the demonic is a real reach toward the unreasonable, associating all law enforcement officers with the actions of a few makes about as much sense as wearing underwear populated with holes. And sometimes our generalizing of the bad keeps gaining unjustified momentum, like a crazed mob, and there seems to be no end to the pushback. Politicians get on board, athletes go viral with their views, people who have checkered pasts becomes lead spokespersons, and businesses that have no connection to anything that has conspired get looted and/or torched.

Like a teacher having the bad kid in his class before any of the siblings advance

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to that grade level, he has a hard time seeing the others as different than the oldest one who had a membership card for the principal’s office.

Our culture rushes like charging bulls toward ludicrous solutions without any vision of the long-term consequences. Grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation are a few banners that get torn and trampled in the rush.

There are signs of hope. Community prayer gatherings attended by people of different colors and pastors of various faiths have happened. People are dialoguing with one another about how peace might be welcomed back into our cities and neighborhoods. The area of the city we reside in has had gatherings called “Coffee With a Cop”. Neighbors are helping one another and checking to make sure people are okay. Proactive and peace-loving is always better than reactive and revengeful. And things that we never thought could change…change!

Like me and the berries! I’ve come to like raspberries and blueberries. I have them as a part of my breakfast most days of the week. Now I even coach with a guy named Barry! As Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Micah 6:8 and Maya Moore

Posted July 4, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve never met Maya Moore, but I’d like to someday. Not because she has been one of the top five women basketball players, although we could talk hoops, but because of her calling and passion.

Her calling for the past couple of years has revolved around an inmate in the Missouri State Penitentiary named Jonathan Irons, now 40 years old. Jonathan was convicted of burglary and assault at the age of 16 and sentenced to 50 years.

But Maya, who has known him since she was 18, saw an absence of justice in his situation and she couldn’t ignore it. In 2019 she announced that she would not play the WNBA basketball season and would focus on gaining freedom for Irons. Recently she said she wouldn’t play the 2020 season either because of her driving passion to aging his release.

Recently, that calling was realized as a judge vacated the ruling in the case and Jonathan Irons became a free man. His conviction was wiped off his record. When he stood next to Maya outside the prison walls, his advocate wore a t-shirt with the words of Micah 6:8 printed on the front: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Words that she has lived by as a result of her strong Christian convictions. How seldom do we see a person’s beliefs be so encompassing of their life that whatever isn’t necessary to their Christ-following slides to the side? So often the Christ gets attached to some other kind of life anchor, like career paths and the striving for significance, and tries to hold on to us.

There is a sense of satisfied exhaling when I read Maya’s grip of Micah 6:8. That she gets it! She might lose financial riches, but she gets it. She may come back and play basketball again, losing two years of her prime, but she gets it. Her anchor holds and the ripple effect of that is that one man is no longer being held.

And, of what I’ve seen of Maya Moore, the last part of that verse…walk humbly with your God…is who she is.

Wow…and praise the Lord!

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Rubbing Elbows With the Almighty

Posted July 1, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Touch is a huge quality of a meaningful community of faith. Not that I’ve ever practiced greeting others with a “holy kiss”, although there were a couple of girls in my high school youth group at Ironton (Ohio) First Baptist Church I was open to experiencing that deeper spiritual possibility with,

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we always had handshakes and hugs. Touch was part of the healing of the hurting, a sign of empathy for another saint in the dark moments of the journey.

Now on Sunday morning, I touch elbows with the other members of the faith community I frequent. Maybe it’s not as giving as a handshake, but it’s a simple recognition of the bond between us.

In the Apostle Paul’s communication with the church of Philippi, known to us as the letter of joy, he writes “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5, NIV)

The Lord is near! In this time of social distancing, it’s God’s way of whispering to me that he’s so close to me that we’re rubbing elbows. He’s so near that, like with my own dad growing up, I can lean on Him.

Some of the most meaningful biblical truths come in the simplest words. Just think about the elbow of the Almighty nudging you slightly, reminding you that the couch of worry you’re planted upon is being shared with the God who provides peace, the One who understands.

His elbow nudge is His reminder that when others wither away and circumstances pile up, He is near. When we lean into Him He will firmly stay with us.

The Problem of Monuments

Posted June 26, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

One of my favorite writers of history is Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m rounding the home stretch of her 2018 book Leadership In Turbulent Times, a fascinating comparison of four former presidents- Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and LBJ.

In an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln led, Goodwin writes this, “Guided by the principle of forgiveness, Lincoln insisted he did not care if someone HAS done wrong in the past, ‘It is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.'” (Page 224)

In a time when some seem committed to the erasing of the footsteps of where the American journey has been, we’re discovering that there seems to be no grace period for monuments. What takes lifetimes to create is crashing down in a few minutes of pulling. No statue, it seems, is exempt. If it’s a statue the worst is thought about it. An abolitionist from Philadelphia toppled. Mahatma Gandhi, the promoter of peace, and who Martin Luther King drew inspiration from, was desecrated in Washington, D.C. George Washington was pummeled in Portland, Oregon.

People, like me, are confused by the illogic. It seems as if any statue with the dust of time on it must be prime for removal. There is a longing for past perfection and deafness to the fact that we are all imperfect. Some people were rooted in the idealogy of warped, imperfect systems. Some people were drafted into the purposes of suspect principalities and powers. And some were simply reflective of the opinions and perspectives of their day. But make no mistake about it, perfection was, and is an extinct condition.

So we seem to prefer tearing down instead of building up, defacing instead of forgiving, pulling apart instead of coming together.

Do we rewrite history and rename streets, parks, and institutions that commemorate it? If we “bland-ize” our surroundings we may solve the unrest in our spirits for a moment, but lose sight of where we’ve come from.

Back to Lincoln, the sixteenth president sought a cabinet that brought a mixture of political preferences. Instead of gathering only those who thought like he did, he appointed people who would bring different perspectives, and he valued each one of them. He saw the need for justice and the threats to unity.

However, a statue in Washington, D.C. called The Emancipation Monument has protestors threatening to tear it down because a black man is kneeling beside Lincoln.

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Granddad’s Butt Chin

Posted June 23, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

She has no filter yet. Our five-year-old granddaughter, Corin, verbalizes the raw truth. She just puts it out there for you to chew on.

Yesterday she informed me that I have a butt chin. In her view of the world, my chin resembles two hams squeezed together under one skin covering. The little upswing in the middle assists in the painting of the picture for her. If we were playing Pictionary the question would be is she drawing my chin or someone’s backside?

In her mind, the comment was not meant to be disparaging. She didn’t mean for me to rush off for a shot of chin botox, or to always wear a face mask. She was simply making an observation as if she was seeing a cow in the shape of a cloud or a bunny in a hand shadow.

Sometimes the raw truth saves a lot of time. I have a habit of sauteeing my conversation with words like kinda’, sorta’, and maybe. Corin has never once used those words. Granted, sometimes she gives displays of whining, pouting, and crying to express her dissatisfaction, and dancing, hugging, and jabbering to let us know of her excitement and happiness. But, she never sorta’ says the truth.

Her acknowledgment of my butt chin was followed by her touching it just to make sure it fit her specifications for what a butt chin should look like. And then she leaned into me to let me know I was still her granddad. She does not worry about invading my personal space.

So now I think I’m going to eat salad for the next month and see if I might slim down to a lean cut of meat!

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Dad’s Birthday

Posted June 18, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Today, June 18th would have been my dad’s 92nd birthday. He passed away on February 15th, 2018, just four months shy of ninety.

Lawrence Hubert Wolfe was named after two Baptist deacons who brought his father back into sobriety. Lawrence and Hubert were difference-makers, and my dad carried their names for the next nine decades.

Interesting that my dad was honored as being “Deacon Emeritus” of Beulah Baptist Church in Proctorville, Ohio. Lawrence and Hubert would have been honored to know how valued he was to his congregation.

I carry many of my dad’s mannerisms. Just as he did, I begin many of my sentences with the word “well”. It’s like the prologue for the verbal contribution I’m about to make. Maybe it also was a Kentucky front-porch form of meandering through the path of a conversational subject matter. Well…that’s just what I think about that!

One trait/style I have not carried forward is my dad’s tendency to wear brown socks with his grass-cutting shoes. It’s the only way I can think of that I have tried to steer away from our likenesses. I’m sure my own kids have a whole list of my “doings” that they will seek to close off in a drawer of their memories.

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I also learned and imitated my dad’s habit of listening before responding. My mom did most of the talking in our family, often entrenched in her opinion just her as father, Dewey Helton, was. When my dad’s tongue voiced a perspective, however, it was usually wisdom-laced and worthy of contemplation. Not that we didn’t listen to our mom, it’s just…well…

Dad served Mom in her deteriorating health, modeling devotion and sacrifice for his kids and grandkids. When Mom’s Parkinson’s minimized her physical functions and her ability to speak, Dad stayed beside her. “For better or worse, in sickness and in health…”, his vow was to remain faithful to his vows.

I miss him but am blessed to have known him and call him “Dad”.


Deeply Disturbed By Dense Readers

Posted June 18, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m evolving, it seems, at an increasingly rapid pace into a crotchety old man. My patience is wearing out faster than my underwear. I’m even looking with suspicion at my own mug in the mirror in the morning. If Carol weren’t still asleep in bed I’d say to myself, “What are you looking at?”

And in the midst of my scowl (Think Carol from the movie Up), I receive responses to one of my Words from WW posts. Don’t get me wrong! I love people to read and react to what I’ve written, but sometimes the responses are strongly indicative of the fact that the reader didn’t really read the whole thing or he is so dense he just doesn’t understand the point of the column.

Recently I wrote a post that began by using an illustration of a childhood game we played called Smear the Goat. The rest of the post was making the point that the person who had the football and got gang-tackled by everyone else was comparable to someone today who expresses an opinion and gets gang-tackled by those who salivate at the opportunity to inflict verbal damage. While many understand the point I was making about the vulnerability someone takes to express a view, so many responses to the post were focused on the memories of the game. I even had to delete a couple of responses that were inappropriate.

And then last week I posted a writing about the postal office drive-thru box that requires me to slide in my rearview mirror in order to pull close enough to reach the slot. I went on to make the point that the postal service and I both give and take to make it work…and that most of the difficult situations of life require both sides of an issue to seek that point of compromises. A response to the post, however, focused on the shortcomings of the postal service. It was an avenue for someone to gripe about something, and the person hadn’t read the whole post.

Listen! I’m not the brightest bulb in the light fixture, but I know not to make a judgment on the wattage while the switch is still in the Off position. I can’t stand there and spout off my opinions and perspectives if the light switch hasn’t been flipped yet.

Go back to the first word of that last paragraph. Maybe that’s the root of the problem. People don’t know how to listen because the only sweet music to their ears if what they’ve decided they’re going to say.

We’re an earbud-afflicted generation infatuated with the sound of our own voice. We’ve invented a new breed of deafness that has nothing to do with our physical senses.

There! Didn’t you envision Carl as you read that? Assuming you got all the way to the end!

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The Give and Take of Mailing A Letter

Posted June 12, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

For the past three years or so I go to the post office whenever I have a letter or a bill to mail. I began doing that when there were concerns raised in our neighborhood about items being taken from mailboxes when the flag was pointed up. That had been the sign for the postal carrier to pick up a letter to be mailed, but, evidently, it had also become an indication for thieves to take a bill that had personal checks enclosed.

So I started going to the post office and dropping the envelopes into the big mailbox in the drive-thru lane. We didn’t have to worry about personal info getting stolen and it gave us peace of mind.

And then the post office put in new mailboxes! The first time I pulled up to mail a letter I realized I could no longer reach the mail slot from my vehicle. Maybe if I measured in at 6 foot 9 inches or had arms so long on my 5’6″ frame that I could be a carnival side show…maybe then I could have reached, but neither of those scenarios was the reality. The new mailbox almost qualified for a different zip code, it was so far away.

So I’d unfasten my seatbelt, put the car in park, get out, and insert the envelope through the slot. The new mailbox no longer had that door that you opened and placed the letter in. To make it more of a challenge, the new mailbox has a hard, unyielding metal slot that puts it a couple more inches out of reach. Ugh!

I’d made adjustments in the last year or so. Now when I pull in the lane to mail something I roll down my window, fold my rearview mirror in, and inch up so close to the box that I have to be careful not to scratch the paint on my vehicle. With a grunt that indicates the stretching of my stomach muscles, I’m able to get a business-size envelope into the slot just enough to tilt it over the edge and into the abyss. Slowly then I pull a few feet forward and push my mirror back in its proper place.

I’ve thought about the effort to mail an item in an industry that has been struggling for the past who-knows-how-many years. A parallel, or parable, of life, crept into my mind as I pondered.

So often I take the attitude that the world revolves around me, my wants, my whims, and my demands. When I have to stretch myself in such a way that it necessitates my leaning a little bit more I become annoyed and almost offended.

But what I have needed to learn– and I’m not just talking about the post office now– is that there needs to be give-and-take in our actions and expectations, a little bit of leaning toward the receiver and a little bit of peace of mind that it has been securely received. When life is filled with a crowd of receivers who aren’t willing to give there becomes a mounting suspicion in our midst. It starts small and builds to the point that it becomes a sticking point for separation.

And it simply began with a short arm and an envelope!

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Spellchecking Theology

Posted June 6, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Carol and I returned from vacationing in Utah today. It was a trip filled with memorable moments, beautiful scenery, and one spelling error.

It came as we made a turn in the road, a rural two-laner that kept us away from the interstate, as well as, consequentially, all restrooms. The face of a large rock had been painted with three words: Jesus is Comming! Maybe it had been there a while and had stood the test of time. After all, “Comming” is an obsolete form of the word coming.

But I thinketh not! I think someone gooffed!

Scripture does tell us that Jesus is coming again, but misspelling the point of the proclamation kinda’ lessens the effect. On the other hand, we did notice it. In fact, we would have turned around, returned to the site, and taken a picture, but the next place for a turn wasn’t for another two miles down the road.

Perhaps it was a two-person job and each person thought they had the “m”; or the painter proclaims the word with the inflection of a revival evangelist, long and over-drawn.

Hey! Everyone makes spelling mistakes. Just don’t do it on an enormous rock about the Rock!

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The Heat of Response

Posted June 4, 2020 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

We used to play this strange kid’s game called Smear The Goat. One kid would grab the football and try to avoid being tackled by the 6, 7, or 8 other kids chasing him. The outcome was never in doubt, and when tackled the football-carrying kid would go down with everyone else piled on top. The ball would squirt out and somebody else would pick it up and pretend he was Jim Brown for a few moments.

Whoever the goat was always got annihilated. We’d go to our different homes after that, all of us bruised a bit by being the target one or times.

That memory seemed a sorta’ picture of our battlefield these days. Anyone who opinions themself seems to, so to speak, have picked up the football and the others take aim at him/her. The radicalness or sensibility, impassioned plea or philosophical ponderings, age, race, or gender doesn’t seem to matter. You’ve uttered an idea or expressed a belief and whoever doesn’t agree with you is ready to initiate a gang tackle.

It’s confusing. Some folk have been condemned because of their silence and others have been tackled because of what they have said. There’s not a safety net of listening, but rather a flaming underneath us.

In the Book of James, known as the wisdom of the New Testament, this advice seems relevant for all of us in this day of quick tempers and tongues, and bad decisions. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

We get those confused in the chaos of our culture, becoming slow to listen and quick to speak and become angry.

In our Smear the Goat days we’d sometimes put the football down and go to Tommy’s house to eat ice cream bars together. In those moments away from our youthful battlefield, we’d listen, and we’d learn to love each other in unconditional ways.

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