Archive for April 2016

Lessons I’ve Learned From a Week of Substitute Teaching

April 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             APRIL 30, 2016

             

It is April 30! That means there are a lot of school teachers who have reached the teaching equivalent of the Boston Marathon’s “Heartbreak Hill”, a torturous climb at of about a half-mile between miles 20 and 21 of the race. A lot of teachers are “looking at the hill” right now and wondering if they can make it.

Thus, the number of calls to substitute teach have increased substantially! This week I spent two days with first graders, one day in junior high physical education, and one day in a high school strength and conditioning class. I could write a book…or at least a blog…on what I’ve learned, good and bad. Here’s a few:

1) First grade girls think having man for a substitute is like having one of the Disney characters visit the class. Although I resembled Goofy, they thought it was awesome!

2) When you play dodgeball with a class of 7th and 8th graders you become the target! I visited my optometrist after school to get my glasses readjusted as a result of getting hit…several times!

3) Being the substitute teacher in a strength and conditioning class is the equivalent of being a lame-duck elected official. They know your time is short so they just wait you out. (Personal note: Never ever ever sub for this class again! Lame!)

4) In junior high physical education the boy who says he can’t participate because of an injury…is the student to keep your eye on! Who brings suckers to PE class to pass out to those playing dodgeball?

5) In first grade there are “helpers” who will always willingly come to your rescue. You just have to keep an eye on two helpers who are both pushing on one another in order to be the first one to come to your rescue.

6) Being educated in the 60’s and 70’s means that there will always be concepts and terms used in today’s classroom that you will be totally clueless about!

7) First grade PE is the classroom teacher’s best friend!

8) Strength and conditioning class is a microcosm of today’s work force. There are those who will do as much as they can…and there are those who will do as little as possible…and those who will look busy when the boss looks their way.

9) First grade girls already have their eyes on who “the boys” are! They are already in pre-relationship mode! On the other hand, the boys are totally clueless. They are willing to show interest in the girls, but only after the soccer ball has become totally deflated and there is nothing else to do.

10) Dismissal at the end of a first grade day begins with a high five from the teacher as each student is leaving the classroom.

11) Each junior high PE class has at least one student who took a double dose of “obnoxious medicine” that morning.

12) I eat healthier when I substitute teach. Instead of being coerced by my granddaughter to go out to lunch at Chick-fil-a, I sit in my classroom eating raw vegetables.

13) At the end of the day first grade students are almost sad to leave you, junior high students will willingly trample over you if you don’t move, and high school students are focused on their cell phones as they walk obliviously towards the chaotic parking lot.

14) BUT when the substitute teacher leaves at the end of the day…he has no papers to take home to grade! Awesome!

 

Getting Taught By First Graders

April 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 28, 2016

                                   

First Graders are simply adults in little bodies. They can also teach a substitute teacher a few things! And they did!

I arrived at their classroom in the late morning to fill in for their wonderful teacher for the next day and a half. As I talked through a few things with their teacher before she left, a couple of the girls entered the classroom…and seemed a little startled to see me there.

“Are you going to be our teacher?”

“No way!” I said in jest before then saying, “Yes, I am.”

They looked at one another and I heard one of them whisper to the other, “We usually have girls for subs, but he’s a boy!” That uniqueness, all because of my gender, gave me an “in!”

A couple of minutes later the rest of the class entered their domain and gazed upon the new face in front. I wrote my name on the white board. “I’m Mr. Wolfe…with an “e”…not the Big Bad Wolf,  but the good Wolfe!”

They told me their names one by one. They were ready to teach me. One boy in the back row raised three fingers in the air on his right hand. “Yes, Andy!”

“No, that means I need to go to the restroom.”

“If you raise your hand up?”

“No, if I raise three fingers on my hand.”

“Okay! Is there a restroom pass that you take?”

“No, we sign our name by “restroom” on the backboard.”

Another three-fingered hand shot up!”

“Yes, Gabriel, you can go to the restroom.”

“No, I can’t until Andy comes back.”
“Oh, okay!” My first lesson was being taught to me about restroom usage.

“Mr. Wolfe!” said the voice of a little girl named Jill.

“Yes, Jill.”

“If you have an emergency and you need to go to the restroom you raise your hand and make this kind of sign.” She cupped her hand in a “C” shape.

“Oh, okay! That’s good to know. Well, boys and girls, I’m going to be your substitute teacher for the next day and half while Ms. Brown gets some needed rest with the cold she has. So is there anything else I need to know before we begin math?”

There was TONS I needed to know, and they were very gentle with me. The math lesson was on an overhead transparency. One boy sitting in the front row informed me that it was his job, not mine, to turn the projector on. Another student pulled the screen down, and I began the lesson…on the fringe of cluelessness!

Several times the class reigned me back in to how things are done. Like a horse about to gallop, I was slowed down by a classroom full of riders. “Whoa, Mr. Wolfe!”

I fumbled through math, but they was gracious. Without saying so they let me know that it was okay. “Good try! You’ll do better next time!”

Time for Science! I read to them from a book about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo space shuttle launch to the moon. When I informed them that I remember watching the moon walk when it happened on July 20, 1969 they looked at me with puzzled faces. One of them raised his hand and asked the question that the whole class was thinking.

“How old are you?”

“Older than when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.”

They looked at me with sympathetic faces that said “We’re sorry that you’re so old!” And yet, they were also fascinated that I had actually watched first-hand what they were now studying about. In their eyes it gave me a sense of worth and value.

“Mr. Wolfe, what is the surface of the moon like?”

“Well, Marcus, it is kind of like a mixture of sand and dirt.” I was guessing, but they thought it sounded plausible.

Recess thankfully arrived! They taught me how to play a game that is somehow a mixture of Jurrasic Park and Star Wars. I was to choose a kind of dinosaur and also a character from Star Wars and run around the playground making “character sounds.” I was a playground rookie, ignorant of rules and procedures, but none of the students scolded me about my lack of recess experience. In fact, I gave them four extra minutes and suddenly I was the cat’s meow! I would have won a popularity contest against Hans Solo!

After recess we read. I started to read a book about a girl named Felicity, but was halted before beginning. “Mr. Wolfe, we sit on the carpet square over there and you sit in the rocking chair.”

“Oh, thank you!” The carpet got populated and Felicity made her appearance. They were drawn into the story…and then it was time to go home.

“Mr. Wolfe, can we do some dancing with the lights off?”

“Excuse me!”

“Can we turn the lights off and dance?”

“Is that okay?” (I went to a Baptist college where the “D word” was prohibited on campus. Everyone knew that the “D word” would lead to the “S word!”)

“Yes, it’s okay!” The lights got turned off and for two minutes a class of first graders did “creative dancing” between desks, down rows, with beaming faces and giggling voices. I halted it after a couple of minutes and they lined up.

“Okay! I will see you all tomorrow!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

“Yes, Susie!”

“This has been the best day ever!”

I smiled at the compliment and realized that I could probably say something close to that myself.

T-Shirt History

April 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 25, 2016

                                       

My wife Carol had a “Come to Jesus” moment with me on Saturday. She took on the task of cleaning out my clothes cabinet and then had me come up to our bedroom with “The News!”

“Bill, you have 110 t-shirts!”

“Awesome!”

That was not the response she was looking for!

“You need to figure out which ones you want to keep and which ones you are going to get rid of.”

“But-“

“No buts!”

I scanned the stacks of reds, blues, greens, blacks, and whites. The shirt on top of the red stack was from July 4, 1989. It was one that I wore for our church, First Baptist Church of Mason, in the Fourth of July parade. I was looking at history!

Another stack had the white t-shirt that I wore in the Judson College Alumni basketball game in 1991. I scored two points! Memories of the shot came back to me as I gazed at the shirt that only had a couple of holes in it after all these years.

There was the long sleeve shirt I bought at Monterey during our Spring Break vacation to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009. Only been worn once! Mint condition! Plus, from the same trip I had the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs shirt! How many people have one of those?

Further down the stack I found my “Vote for Pedro” black t-shirt from Napoleon Dynamite days. Several camp t-shirts were clumped together, as were YMCA shirts.

So much of my life history was tied up in these bundles of garment. How could I sort through my history and discard “years?”

Carol left me alone to deal with my grief. I stayed in the room, like the surviving spouse of the deceased, spending time with the dearly garment departed.

By the end of the afternoon a group of my shirts had been moved into hospice care for their last days before heading to Goodwill. The shirts that survived the cut cheered as they were restocked into my cabinet. The doors were able to be closed…all the way!

I love history. It’s very difficult for me to let it go, but all things are possible through Christ!

I’ve noticed, however, that Carol is now looking at my stacks of books. Books…with minimal pictures and a wealth of information and stories to tell! She has forewarned me that “a summer purge” will be happening.

I’m hiding my Doris Kearns Goodwin books and seminary theology volumes. How could I cast off Jurgen Moltmann? Like Corrie Ten Boom, I’m finding hiding places for them.

They will be able to share space with the t-shirts that are already hiding there.

The Fifth Grade Congregation (Part 2)

April 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 23, 2016

                            

I recently substitute taught in a fifth grade classroom. What an awesome experience! It gave me several revelations about the fifth grade and a typical church congregation. I wrote in Part one about “the system”, and how foundational it is in both groups. In Part 2 I’ll ponder another discovery- personalities.

It only took a few minutes of being present in the classroom to discover the personalities of this fifth grade class. Most of them were delightful in their uniqueness and yet predictable in their reactions and responses. It was very similar to a congregation, where uniqueness is applauded in terms of callings and giftings as long as they don’t upset the system.

There were the two or three students who saw their role as being the “irritators.” They were the ones who seemed to always drop their books at the quietest times, the ones who made farting sounds, and comments that brought laughter and attention for a moment. The typical church has a few people like this as well. Sometimes it is “the sacred child”, who has grown up in the church and can do no wrong…and offer nothing positive, as well! Sometimes the irritator is the one who wants the pastor’s attention and time. He/she is usually spiritually immature and wants to be needed. In the classroom the irritator is the one who slows down the completion of the day’s objectives and learning. In the church the irritator is the one who could care less about movement and progress. The church is their playground.

There were also the class leaders. When I started straying outside “the system” the class leaders steered me back onto the road. Class leaders can lead to achievement or lead the herd to run off a cliff. Thankfully the two class leaders I had were more like Moses and less like Aaron.

In the church the leaders are not necessarily the elected officers. They are the ones who guide officially or unofficially. There are leaders who lead the congregation to their kingdom and leaders who understand that they are servant leaders for the kingdom of God. I remember Bill Hybels giving a talk about getting the right people on the bus. That is, the right people to lead the church need to be on the bus. Too often the wrong people are the ones who fight to get on the bus. The right leaders will rarely push to be in a seat of power.

The fifth grade class had a couple of “helpers.” They were the students who picked up paper off the floor or straightened the desks at the end of the school day without being asked. It was part of who they were. They were self-motivated to help. If we had been in a rowboat they were the ones who would have manned the oars without being directed to do so. They saw their role as helping the class get to the finish line of the school day.

In the church the helpers are God’s blessings upon the pastor and leadership. Sometimes they serve in recognized positions, but “the helpers” stand out on a Sunday when the pastor is gone, or people are absent because of sickness. They fill in the gaps. They pick up trash off the floor…naturally…without thinking “That’s the custodian’s job!”

Helpers need leaders, but, in the loneliness of leadership, leaders are extremely indebted to helpers.

The fourth group of the class were “the silent.” They were the few students who never raised their hands to answer questions or offer opinions, the ones who needed encouragement and to be valued. The silent can easily get run over by the irritators and leaders. Like scared kittens they need to be coaxed to come out of their hiding places.

The congregation has the silent group as well. The interesting thing about the silent is that they will often come out of their hiding place in the pew if the leaders personally encourage them, or if one person invites them to come alongside him/her in some simple ministry. The silent can be there every week and yet be invisible.

Finally, in that fifth grade classroom there were “the outliers”, the couple of students who stood outside the expected, and surprised the teacher. They didn’t fit into any one category, and could not easily be described. They were the ones who didn’t fit in the grading curve, like the one student who was in our seminary Hebrew class and had studied Hebrew for years in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah! What!!!!

Outliers are simply surprisers! They hadn’t read the manual on what a fifth grader is suppose to be like. They were the special secret spice in the class recipe.

A congregation has outliers as well. They are the ones who surprise the pastor with a theological insight dealing with social justice, and yet are also card-carrying members of the NRA. They vote Republican and watch CNN, play the saxophone and run marathons. Congregational outliers are the few people who the pastor has a hard time getting a handle on how to describe. They often are the few who have a completely unique perspective on the church that is a revelation to the ears who are willing to hear it.

A fifth grade classroom….and a church congregation- different, and yet so similar!

The Fifth Grade Congregation

April 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 22, 2016

                            

I substitute taught in a fifth grade class this week. It was really an awesome experience, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! I found myself liking these kids! They didn’t try to tell me that their teacher gives them an hour for recess, or lead me down the wrong stairway, or shoot spit wads at me with their luncheon drinking straws…as some of us did a few decades ago to our substitute! (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!)

I also found myself connecting dots! A fifth grade class is a lot like a typical congregation.

First of all, there was “the system”. Every church has a system, sometimes written down in documents, but most of the time unwritten but known by the members. When someone veers away from “the system” there is much consternation. Special meetings get called. Phone calls get made. Side conversations become more frequent. In many churches “the system” is sacred!

In the midst of the fifth grade math class that was dealing with something called “line plots” I foolishly veered away from “the system.” It was as if a dark family secret just got revealed on Jerry Springer. There were a couple of gasps, several confused looks, but then one “rescuer” brought me back under control before I drifted too far into math curriculum heresy.

Close call!

Systems are important to help the congregation know there will be order in the midst of the journey. It’s kind of like serving the salad and main dish before you can get to the dessert. There’s an accepted order, a process for getting things done, and…processes that “we don’t do around here!” As a pastor there were a few times I didn’t follow the system, didn’t follow the order, and those were the most gut-wrenching, stressful times of ministry.

Clarification! There are times to go outside the system, but the “trailblazer” better have a well thought out plan before that path gets taken. If the congregational road has become a rut it is a sign that the system has become a detriment to movement.

The school system I was a part of this week included “parts” of math, science, and literature. Since it was a state testing day I didn’t get to have a part on “social studies.” Each part had its advocates and opponents. That is, there were those who were excited and focused, and those who just wanted to get through it. The purpose behind all the parts was for them to work together to provide a well-rounded education.

In any congregation there are also a number of parts in the system. There is worship, education/discipleship, fellowship, missions, serving ministries, and a number of other parts. People get excited in and invested in different parts, and, just as in the fifth grade classroom, there are other parts that they just want to get through. The passion comes out as the focus comes to the part they are excited about. The disinterest surfaces when the other parts are emphasized. I remember a man from a congregation I pastored who would get up and walk out when praise music was being sung, but sing with passion when a hymn was happening. Interestingly enough, in my experience there were very few people who loved praise music but had a disdain towards hymns. They were the much more flexible group when it came to the “music sub-parts” of the worship part.

In part two of “The Fifth Grade Classroom” I’ll focus on “personalities and pecking orders”.

Driving the Car With A Back Seat Full of Grandkids

April 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 20, 2016

                      

Strapped in, buckled up, and securely fastened.

Carol and I drove the “Wolfe Bus”, disguised as a Honda Accord, down the road. The back seat was at capacity with three grandchildren. They looked like three kids locked into their roller coaster seats waiting for the ride to start.

A thirteen month old named Corin (Rennie for short); a five year old CEO named Reagan; and the eldest child straight from soccer practice, seven year old Jessie. “Grammy” and I didn’t have to worry about conversation. The back seat competed for it!

“Jessie, you can’t have any Cheetos, because I ate them all!”

“Reagan!”

“You can have Cheerios.”

“Da…Da!”

“Great!” he replied with seven year old sarcasm. “Grammy, did Reagan eat all the Cheetos?”

“Yes, but, Jessie, there weren’t very many left in the bag.”

“But I ate them all and you can have Cheerios.”

I contributed to the conversation: “Reagan!” (said with a semi-stern parental tone to it)

“Da…Ba..Ba!”

“Corin said she saw me eat all the Cheetos.”

“That’s not what she said.”

“Then what did she say? I’m sitting beside her and that’s what I heard her say.”

“She said, “Da…Ba…Ba!”

“Da…Da…Ba…Ca…Da!”

“I told you she said Cheetos.”

“Whatever!”

“Grammy, where are we going for dinner?”

“Home!”

“Da…Ba…Ca…Ca!”

“Corin says we should go to Cracker Barrel.”

Grammy looked at me with eyes that were rolling. “Reagan, are you Corin’s interpreter today?”

“Yes, when she has something to say she tells me and I let everyone else know.”

“Wow! Does she tell you to change her diaper?”

“No, she tells me to tell you to change her diaper, but she’s okay right now.”

“Ca…Ca…Blah!”

“Granddad, I finished reading those books you got for me.”

“Encyclopedia Brown?”

“Yes!”

“That’s awesome, Jessie! You read them really fast.”

Not to be moved out of the spotlight: “We learned the letter “Z” at Lil’ Sprouts yesterday. Do you want to hear it?”

“Sure, Reagan!” Grammy replied.

“Zebra, zoo, zookeeper, zoom, zig-zag.”

“That’s awesome, Reagan!”

“Z is the last letter in the alphabet.”

“Za…Ba…Za!”

Jessie giggled. “Corin is saying Z!”

Granddad humor: “I guess you could say that is the end of things.”

Confused silence!

“Ba…DaDa…Blah!”

The Grace of The IRS

April 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 19, 2016

                                  

One restaurant chain offered a special deal last Friday, April 15, where a customer could receive a free entree with the purchase of an entree. They just assumed that April 15 was Tax Day, like it usually is!

But, lo and behold, the Internal Revenue Service had delayed the income tax return filing date until Monday, April 18. The three extra days allowed millions of people to procrastinate even longer in paying up!

The extra days came as a result of Emancipation Day, a holiday that is celebrated in the District of Columbia to recognize when slaves were freed there. Since Emancipation Day is April 16, a Saturday, the day before (April 15) became a holiday for government workers in D.C.

Thus the three day stay of execution!

Consider the three days as the grace of the IRS. What is rightfully due to them was backed off for seventy-two hours. Across the country there was a collective sigh of relief, like when a snow day postponed that Algebra test we were scheduled to take at school. Our initial thought was “Thank God! Another day to study and prepare!”, and that thought soon melted away from our minds as we went sledding with the neighbor’s kids. That evening we prayed to God for a blizzard to descend upon us, or, if not that, that he might eliminate Algebra as a school subject entirely!

The IRS planned this three day grace period long before it arrived, but, you see, grace is not high on the IRS’s priority list. Monday came…tax returns were filed…and the money was due.

And let’s be honest! The grace of the IRS, limited and distorted as it is, mirrors our own extended grace. We’re prone to back off from throwing the hammer down…for a while, and then we become stone-faced and legalistic.

One reason for that is that people take advantage of a grace-filled person. When someone hears that there is a grace period he often looks to see how he can personally gain from it. A person of grace is seen as being a soft touch.

And so, like the IRS, we offer limited grace, because…that’s just how it should be!

The more I comprehend the grace of God the more I am overwhelmed by it. It filters into my life and I know I’m not deserving. It confounds the minds of those who live by right-and-wrong boundaries.

In makes no sense to most of us, and yet, as followers of Christ, we trumpet its virtues.

This year we wrote a check to the United States Treasury that lowered the national debt a wee bit. What do you think the IRS would have said to me if I would have pleaded for mercy? Would compassion have been the response? If you believe that, I have some excellent shares of Krispy Kreme stock I’d like to sell you!