Archive for November 2012

The Loss of Tradition…Cat, That Is!

November 28, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 November 28, 2012


We lost our cat on Sunday night, but lest you think this is going to be one of those articles that get all weepy, it’s not! Perhaps it is a bit therapeutic for me to write it, but it is also about some things I’ve been pondering.

Permit me a moment to recap. Carol and I came home Sunday afternoon only to be greeted by a cat in obvious pain. A trip to the emergency veterinarian clinic revealed it wasn’t a good situation, and the vet advised us to put Princess Malibu- Boo for short- to sleep.

Don’t be too amused by her name. She follows in a long line of head-shaking names that our daughters have christened our cats with, including “Tickles”, “Prince Charming Kisses”, “Duke”, and “Katie Katie Cocoa Puffs.” Some of our cats have had more names than I have.

On Monday I found myself looking for Boo around the house. Passing by the front door my habit returned of looking out the window of the door to see if she was waiting on the front step to get back in the house. Opening the door into the garage later that day I instinctively looked at the hood of my car to see if she was laying on it. (I seldom get bird droppings, but paw prints are like a hood design for me.) As I sat in my home study I looked at the ledge by the window where she quite often laid when the sun was shining through.

I realized that I had not only lost a cat, but also some of my daily traditions. I no longer have my hide-and-seek playmate for the evening. I can’t convince Carol to fill that role. If I went out to out hot tub for an evening soak the tradition has been that Boo would sit on top of the tub cover and peer into the night.

A part of my life was lost on Sunday, because things I’ve always done for the past eight years suddenly were finished.

I thought about that in regards to the church. Not cats dying, mind you, but rather traditions being lost.

There are many traditions that should never be lost, but there are a lot of traditions that just become lost. It is neither a good thing nor a bad, it just is. Like a cat that is not destined to live forever, but rather one day to just no longer be.

That is a hard thing for people of the church to hear. We make sacred cows out of a lot of baloney. We look for a world that is filled with things that suit us, while prickly points are vacuumed away.

I remember the first time Carol and I put up a Christmas tree, and she decorated it all wrong, because I was raised to think that there was only one way to decorate a Christmas tree…and she was brought up in a family that had found a different way. My tradition died, but in its place was born a new tradition that has suited our family of five well. Letting go of my understanding, however, was hard!

All of us have our areas of inflexibility. All congregations battle a desire for attracting new people with an addiction to keeping things the way we like it.

Will we ever get another cat? I don’t know. I’m still looking for the one we just lost.

The Pain of Momentum

November 21, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                November 21, 2012


The knees are going!

Well, actually, the right knee! I’m reminded of it each morning when I come downstairs. Stiff, inflexible, uncomfortable, like a broken bike that you’ve always had, and can’t decide whether or not to junk it or restore it.

As I start coming down the stairs my momentum increases, but the pain in my knee doesn’t decrease. “Ouch…ouch…ouch” accompanies each step down.

The knees of a 58 year old former marathon runner when running shoes weren’t so cushy and former basketball player who still likes to drain the eighteen-footer are knees that announce their presence every morning when I wake up.

We probably don’t think about the challenge of getting from the top of the stairs to the bottom. I’m thinking of following my granddaughter’s example- laying down and sliding down on the stomach. I’m sure she would enjoy seeing me do that.

We talk a lot in churches these days about momentum; that when we get momentum in our ministry there is a snowball effect. There is truth in that statement. Churches become “Christianized iPhones.” People flock to the one, or ones, that are deemed “with it” and “hot.”

Blackberries used to be hot. Now they are in recovery mode.

Momentum is good if those moving are clear on where they are heading. It seems like there was a story in the Bible where a herd of pigs rushed over the side of a cliff. Sometimes momentum is following the crowd in a rush to someplace that we’re not sure of.

Back to my knees! Momentum is sometimes partnered with pain. Moving forward is not always a total satisfaction experience. Aching knees is the rider on that horse coming down the steps. Movement unsettles parts of the body.

But momentum is necessary, and to be strived for. I can’t get from upstairs to downstairs without some pain…even on my tummy! A church can’t move forward without experiencing some pain in the process.

It gets visualized and verbalized in various ways. The 70’s style of the sanctuary needs changing, and it will cause some pain in people who have become accustomed to it. After all, it takes at least three Baptists to change a light bulb- one to change it, and at least two others to stand there and comment on how nice the old one was.

Starting an AA group in the church will cause pain, because there who still equate alcoholism as something that happens out there in the world, and the church needs to have that separation from it.

I don’t have to say anything about how different types of music in church cause knees to throb.

A new ministry initiative to a population of immigrants who have settled in the area around the church will cause pain. It is pain experienced as a result of an obedient congregation. The momentum created in becoming a welcoming community will also have it’s sparks, like a sagging muffler hitting the pavement as the car moves down the street.

The question is how much pain is too much pain? Does the tail wag the dog? Does the knee guide the body? What is the tipping point between “Spirit-led momentum” and “holy hesitation?”

It’s interesting that as I progress through the day my knee pain lessens. In fact, mid-afternoon trips down staircases are often pain-free and quicker. No ouchs, no moans and groans. I’m a man on a motivated mission. Put a trip to YoYogurt for ice cream at the bottom of the steps and just see how I can pick up the pace!

Momentum for the church is sometimes like that.

But that’s the exception!

Thanksgiving, Move Over!

November 16, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      November 16, 2012


Thanksgiving is less than a week away and a lot of people can’t wait!

Correction! Can’t wait to get it over with!

A number of business chains have upped the opening to Black Friday to being Black Thursday.      “Hurry up with the blessing! We’ve got a line at Walmart to go get our place in!”

The gathering to give thanks has been shortened in order to get that cheap game system sooner. Seeing the grandparents will not be shortened in order to get to Target ahead of the crowd.

I’m not against financial profits, mind you, it’s just that I think they could have waited for a few more hours. Kind of like a truce in the midst of war to observe Christmas.

What it signals to me is our tendency to give lip service to giving thanks while our heart is really focused on the ads that will arrive in next Wednesday and Thursday’s newspaper.

However, no one asked my opinion. J.C. Penney’s didn’t leave me a voice mail asking for a call back. Target didn’t target me. Walmart didn’t inquire about my feelings, perhaps because they know I have a hard time going there on ANY day.

But millions of Americans will face a decision about when the family will gather on Thanksgiving, and a vast number of them will plan dinner on the basis of the time a store is opening.

Church Partnerships

November 7, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    November 6, 2012


I’ve always believed…well, at least since I had Tom Finger as a professor in seminary…that the church should be involved in helping make the community a better place. Involved may be too limiting a word. Perhaps “essential assisting” is closer to the truth.

The church should constantly seek that delicate balance between prophetic and peacemaking. Peacemaking includes that community involvement that searches for health and unity. The recent election visibly shows the polarization in our nation. People don’t agree, and sad as it is, it seems that there is not a desire to find agreement. Compromise is seen as a weak alternative.

What if each church sought to bring together communities? What if a church extended it’s serving hands to everyone around it? What if a community was networked by a church that intentionally saw the importance of “essential assisting.”

Last Saturday about forty people from three of our neighborhood churches spent the morning serving our neighbors- raking leaves and bagging them, cleaning out gutters, weeding gardens, repairing ripped screens. It was a good day!

The morning began with Baptists, Mennonites, and Presbyterians sharing a meal together before heading out “interdenominationally” in eight work teams. Neighbors were appreciative and delighted. It’s about the seventh “Community Hands” work day that we’ve worked together on. Some of our neighbors have become “regulars.” They include a 90 year old widow, a mother with health problems and her 30 year old mentally challenged son, and some other elderly folks who just can’t do yardwork anymore. They see us as three churches that care about them. There is a connection there.

Yesterday I met with the principal and school social worker at the grade school down the street from our church to talk about…partnership! This will be the fourth year that we have partnered with the school’s student council in providing Thanksgiving baskets for families in need who include children enrolled at the school. The students do a canned goods drive, and our congregation collects frozen turkeys and bags of potatoes. Together we assemble the baskets for the families who will receive them.

Essential assisting. The school has a wonderful faculty that does some amazing things for students in need. And now, they eagerly join with us in the ministry of serving.

The hang-up with many congregations is that they want to see community involvement translate into “butts in the seats.” They envision a dividend of more people coming through the doors on Sunday morning. When that doesn’t happen there is often the closing of the drawbridge and the church retreats to a “fortress mentality.”

That mentality is a short-sighted view of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps it is also a cultural view, that I’ll go along with it as long as there is a tangible reward soon enough. Bringing peace into the midst of a troubled life isn’t seen as being enough. Meanwhile our communities struggle…and churches struggle!

Communities struggle because of the chaos in people’s lives, and churches struggle because they choose to be blind to the chaos.

Last Saturday’s day of service won’t suddenly make our neighborhood a new utopia, but it is a step towards healing and establishing that sense of community.

Political Cynicism

November 5, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        November 4, 2012


Election Day is day after tomorrow. Don’t answer the phone! My caller ID tells me that in the last two weeks I’ve gotten calls from Virginia, Washington, California, Florida, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Unless I have long lost relatives that live there, only Virginia is recognizable as a “Wolfe possibility; and that only because the Wolfe Family Reunion is held each year the first Sunday in August at Twin Valley High School in Nickelsville, Virginia.

Out of state callers this time of year are about as welcome as my cholesterol count.

In today’s newspaper in our city there was a front page article that shared the opinions of local voters about the election. What stood out was the cynicism of most of the ten people who were asked about their voting preferences. A couple of them said that they are voting for a certain candidate because “he is the lesser of two evils.” Another man called one of the candidates “…a kook. Just look at his eyes. He’s a liar.” Another man said that he wouldn’t vote for a certain candidate “if you put a gun to my head!”One person who is enrolled at a local Bible college said he doesn’t plan on vote, and is not even registered. He made the comment “God is going to take care of what he’ll take care of.”

Another man was more concerned about getting Amendment 64 (legalizing marijuana) passed than about who the next president will be.

What are we to do with this? It seems that a diminishing number of voters are voting according to their convictions. Cynicism may very well elect the next president, not what their campaign platform entails.

Please understand that I am not endorsing a certain candidate. What I am saying is that our political preferences should point us towards the betterment of the present and progress in the future. How each person understands that is different and just as diverse as our population.

Voting for someone because he is the lesser of two evils takes us backwards and results in more dysfunction.

It is evident that our country has become more and more polarized in our thinking. Even the newspaper article could have had a few words changed and ended up resembling the banter before a prize fight.

But cynicism about politics is just a smaller picture of a growing cynicism about life. Say the word “optimism” to a child and he very well think you have mispronounced the name of a Transformer.

People are cynical. The next stop after that is the station for bitterness.

Pastor For Dinner

November 1, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         November 1, 2012


“The mashed potatoes are ready”, came the voice from the kitchen.

“Is the table set?”

“I think we still need steak knives.”

“Dinner rolls are hot out of the oven.”

“Pitchers of iced tea and water are on the table.”

“Okay! Let’s gather everyone at the table and say grace.”

The six people of various ages converged on the dining room and took their assigned seats. It was their Sunday afternoon custom- dinner after church. It wasn’t called lunch because it took the place of two meals for the day and was served promptly at two o’clock…if church didn’t run long! “Long” was defined as anything exceeding one hour and ten minutes. The pastor was expected to do on-the-spot sermon revisions if the singing, announcements about everything that was happening that week, prayer requests and actual praying time, story time for the children, scripture reading, mission moment, and offering ran long. If Aunt Bessie needed to share about her sister Mildred’s gall bladder untrasound, and Deacon Herman was led by the Spirit to present the prayer request of people using excessive speed driving into the church parking lot, then sometimes the pastor’s message became more of a summary meditation thought.

Pot roasts were in the crock pots, and the Methodists needed to be beaten to the restaurants. Three points and a poem were often “Cliffs Noted” into one point and a quote. When it came down to expository preaching and pot roasts the perceptive pastor knew when to yield.

Dear Lord! We thank you for your many blessings, and this meal that we are about to partake of. May it be used to give us strength! Amen!”

Five other amens echoed through the room, and then the food started it’s rotation around the table.

“Beautiful solo this morning by Margaret!”

“Yes, it was! She has such an incredible voice.”

“I didn’t realize that Henry Smith was having prostate problems.”

“Nor I! And how about Lorraine having to put her dog down. So sad!”

“Did you see little Angela during the story time? She kept making faces at the pastor. I couldn’t help but laugh.”

“So precious!”

“My insides were making faces at the pastor during the message. What was his point anyway?”

“Don’t ask me! He lost me even before he finished reading the scripture.”

“I timed him today. Twenty-six minutes and thirty-four seconds.”

“He needs to cut it down to twenty.”

“Fifteen, if he would just speak faster!”

“I hate it when he brings in world hunger and poverty during his sermon. It makes me feel guilty having dinner.”

“And, Lord knows, we deserve a nice dinner after having to endure another Sunday lecture.”

“And when he uses one of those more contemporary versions of the Bible it just turns me off.”

“The King James is such beautiful language. It’s almost like listening to a Shakespeare play.”

“I don’t like bringing current events into the pulpit. Stick with what Jesus said and we’ll be fine, but you start talking about what’s going on in the world and you just lose people.”

“Would anyone care for another roll?”


“I tell you…Sunday dinner is the most peaceful time of the week for me.”

“Me too!”


The Disappearance of Happiness

November 1, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         October 31, 2012

Someone once asked me “If being a Christians is such a good thing why do so many Christians look unhappy?”

Great question! Open mouth with no answer coming out.

In fact, I won’t simplify it by saying there is an answer. It is more like having a lot of fragments that gradually accumulate to give some kind of foggy image of an answer. Fragments include the economy, acne, obesity, gas prices, too much homework, realty TV, professional football, professional football ticket prices, texting, aging parents, marijuana dispensaries, air travel, baggage fees, rush hour traffic, and club volleyball…to name a few!

In essence, there are a lot of unhappy people because they seem to have more reasons to be unhappy than reasons to be happy.

A few days ago I was talking to a man who does some service work for me at our house. In the midst of our conversation he made the comment “I don’t know anyone who is happy. Everyone I know is anything but happy!”

I suggested he find some new people to hang around with.

His comment, however, stayed with me. That’s when I started thinking about happiness. Why are so few people happy? Is it connected to our personalities? Is it because life is lived at such a frantic, rushed pace? Do we think happy people are weird?

It is true that happiness is not one of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy is, but happiness…no. Joy seems to be a Spirit-developed element. Happiness, however, seems to come as a result of things happening around someone that affects their life.

Happiness is blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Joy is knowing that the depth and specialness of the relationships the person has with those who brought the cake and are standing around in a circle singing.

Still…joy-filled people aren’t always happy; and happy people aren’t always joyous. In fact, someone can be happy about someone else having to face adversity.

There’s a song we sing in church and church camp entitled “Happiness is the Lord”. It begins with these words: “Happiness is to know the Savior; living a life within his favor, having a change in my behavior, happiness is the Lord.”

The “change in behavior” is the line I struggle with. It goes back to the question I referenced at the beginning that was asked of me. Why aren’t more followers of Jesus happy? And my last answer is “I don’t know!”