Archive for May 2016

Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings

May 17, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 17, 2016

                            “Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings”

Last week my cell phone rang at 5:55 A.M. It was Amy, the lady who assigns substitute teaching positions. Usually the automated call comes at 5:45, so I had drifted back to sleep, thinking that there would not be an assignment for the day.

When the phone rang I answered and, with a hint of desperation, Amy’s voice greeted me with a “Good morning!”, and asked me if I was available to teach a third grade class that day. I had just been through a two-day first grade gauntlet, so I said that I would pass. Her voice carried subdued disappointment in it as she said good-bye.

I laid back down and then I felt led to call her back and say I would do it. She was overjoyed, as well as relieved, and I prepared for a day of corralling third graders.

Later on that day it hit me! It wasn’t a leading from the Lord that had caused me to call her back. It was “Baptist Mom Guilt!” BMG!

If you’ve been raised Baptist, especially independent or Southern Baptist, or Catholic, or one of a few other church backgrounds, it is very likely you know what I’m talking about. Baptist Mom Guilt is that loud inner voice that tells you to do something that you have no intention of doing.

Christians speak quite often about being led by the Lord or led by the Holy Spirit. For me, it is often difficult to differentiate the voice of God from the voice of my mom in decisions that are made.

For instance, even though it has been several years, this was a meal-time dialogue with my mom:

“Bill, do you want more squash casserole?”

“No, I think I’ve had enough, Mom.”

“There is just a little bit left.”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Just enough to dirty the dishwater!”

“No, thank you.”

“There are children around the world who are hungry, but you want me to just throw this last bite of casserole away?”

“I’m just full, Mom.”

“So you didn’t like the squash casserole?”

“It was great, Mom.”

“If it was great then have this last bite.”

“Okay! Okay! I’ll take it.”

I loved my mom. She was an awesome woman, who is now whispering in the ear of God, seeing if he would like that last bite of the heavenly squash casserole. (Not really, but I can envision her standing in Glory with a serving spoon in her hand.) She knew how to get my siblings and me to do things…Baptist Mom Guilt!

And the thing is…there are a number of times each day when I hear her voice as I’m making a decision. Since I’m not substitute teaching this morning I’ll probably go home and “be led” to vacuum the family room, and do a load of laundry. I’ll hear the inner voice saying, “Why are you relaxing? Don’t just sit there. Do something!”

There are some Sundays where Baptist Mom Guilt drives me to church. Some mornings BMG causes me to withstand the temptation to wear the same pair of underwear for two days in a row. It also makes me clean my dinner plate, brush my teeth, and pick up my socks.

So how do I know that I’m being led by the Holy Spirit, as the Book of Acts so often describes what happened in events of the lives of the apostles, and how do I know it’s Baptist Mom Guilt?

I think I’ve figured out a few things…maybe! If what I’m being lead to do alleviates feeling bad about myself it is probably a moment of BMG. If what I’m being led to do helps someone draw closer to God, or experience the unconditional love of God it has a great possibility of being a God-leading. If the leading begins with the words “I ought to…” it is probably Baptist Mom Guilt raising its parental head. If it is a leading that is framed in a thought that says, “I don’t quite understand this, but…”, it could very well be the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If it is a leading that results from a Sunday morning plea that says, “If we don’t get more volunteers, we can’t…”, beware! If it is a leading from someone’s heart cry that says, “I’m looking for a few people to join me on a new ministry journey of…”, listen closely!

I’m still figuring out this whole discernment thing! The good thing is that I’ve come to grips with how Mom still speaks to me. I remember the conversations of love being expressed, the two-layered coconut birthday cakes made, sitting between her and Dad in church, and I weigh those pictures and memories against the bite of squash casserole left in the dish…and it’s all good! It’s all good!

The Need For Magical (Spiritual) Experiences

May 15, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 May 15, 2016

                            

I recently wrote a blog post on “The New Sanctuaries: Fields, Courts, and Rinks”, in which I referred to the sites of athletic events as being now the primary focus of people’s worship on Sunday mornings- worshiping the games their kids are playing, that is!

As I thought about the craziness of kid’s sports now it made me go to the next question: Is there something that people are looking for at Sunday soccer fields and volleyball courts that they don’t think a church worship experience can give them?

What is missing in our worship sanctuaries that adults think they are finding at a soccer game between eight year old boys?

Let me begin to answer that by saying that there are a lot of questions inside the questions. It’s like the water hose in my backyard, which, although only one hose, seems to have the ability to inherit multiple tangles and knots.

The chaos of the situation is knotted into our sin nature. What is meant for good, for our enjoyment and delight, is quite often distorted by our natural ability to get our priorities screwed up. I say that to allow us to get our red flags out of storage and ready to be raised into the air. When anything or anyone becomes the dominant element of our lives besides God the likelihood of getting things messed up becomes assured.

There is something else going on here! There is the need for magical experiences, the reliving in more personal ways the NCAA Basketball tournament’s song “One Shining Moment.” Magical is the cultural term that masks the spiritual. What people are looking for is a spiritual experience, but we think we can some how receive it by watching our son win a race, or our daughter stroking a double down the line. It allows us to receive a short-lived sense of delight, a sigh of satisfaction. For many of us, our lives are simply a series of satisfied sighs jumbled together with tangled turmoil.

I’m a substitute teacher, but I’m not the real thing. I fill in, but the amount of learning that students receive on days I’m subbing does not come close to when the real teacher is there. The real teacher sees the whole school year, knows the direction, the needs and journey. In the same way the “God-need” that each one of us has gets substituted with other things. Short spurts of happiness become worshiped and craved instead of seeking the joy of the Lord. And we come to a point where we begin to believe that is what life is about!

Here’s the last thing to ponder! Wherever the elements of “privilege” and “pressure” are evident approach with caution. Wherever the elements of “grace” and “forgiveness” are present travel towards.

In another year or two my grandson will be old enough to tryout for a “traveling soccer team.” It will be communicated as a privilege…and there will be more demands attached to it. More expense, more time, and his family will be told that it needs to be a higher priority for their whole family. The flattery of being asked to be on the team will be anchored to more expectations. There will be the pressure to conform. Statements will begin with words like “If you expect…” and “If you want…”, and will end with the phrase “…your son must do these things.” Many parents will fall for the trap, not to emerge again for several years.

The elements of grace and forgiveness never pressure and never trumpet their privilege. They accept and are grounded in the love of God. As a result, they are often minimized in their importance. No goals get scored with grace, and forgiveness is lousy on defense. And yet, the path to the deeper “God-need” that each of us has travels directly through them.

This morning I’ll be in worship, connecting with my Lord who forgives and shows me grace. This afternoon I’ll referee two youth basketball games where forgiveness and grace will get stuffed into a ball bag and hidden behind a bench.

Give Them More Recess!

May 14, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 13, 2016

                                 

In recent weeks I’ve been substitute teaching in several elementary classrooms. I’ve observed tendencies and oddities that make me ponder the methods of educating kids. Last week I had a kindergarten class where multiple boys fell out of their seats numerous times during the day, but not a single girl took a spill. Why would that be?

One of my former college classmates, Cyndi Faur, had given me an idea that I had put into practice that hit upon the epidemic of chair-clumsy boys. It concerned recess. She suggested that I write the word “R-E-C-E-S-S” on the board and tell them that if their actions and focus were excellent that each of the letters would mean an extra two minutes of recess. Inappropriate behavior took letters off the board.

I tried that a couple of times, and then I switched to writing a letter on the board every fifteen minutes when there was good behavior and focused work.

If you want to help elementary kids stay focused give them the possibility of more recess. This past week I was back in the same building where I had subbed for first grade a couple of weeks ago. A few of the students saw me and ran up to give me hugs. “Mr. Wolfe!” they shouted as they saw me on the playground. They remembered me, not for my math prowess, but rather for the fact that I gave them a few extra minutes of recess.

“Recess” means “retreat” or “withdraw”. Growing up, youth retreats were the ultimate. Going away for a weekend with our youth group, retreating from the busyness of Ironton, Ohio for two days…those experiences were the mountaintops of my high school years! Retreats readied us for the weeks of school, the struggles of being teenagers in the midst of a world that was sending us all kinds of mixed messages.

Kids need retreats! They need breaks from the classroom. They need five extra minutes of getting that energy out. Five extra minutes of being let loose from the bridle of the daily phonogram lesson.

And here’s the thing! It doesn’t stop with elementary school students. All of us need more recesses…a few more minutes to retreat…even to let loose.

God created us that way. All work and no play makes Billy a very somber boy! All work and no retreat gives us a grayness that hangs over us like a Charlie Brown rain cloud.

I saw a picture of a church that has a kid’s play area in the sanctuary. I’ve got to think a little more about that one…like will we have to keep the adult kids out of there?… but perhaps churches should think about adult play areas, places of recess. Those youth retreats I referenced…some of the best times during those weekends revolved around just being together for a few moments of laughter and conversation. We draw close to God as faith journeyers as we walk through crises together, but also as we laugh, talk, learn, and play together. Shallow relationships focus on one aspect, instead of all the parts of the journey.

The small church in the small rural community that I travel to two Sundays a month to speak concludes each service with about 30 minutes of cake and coffee. Since there’s only about 20 people it is informal, punctuated with laughter, and blessed with awesome cakes from a lady named Betty (Crocker). In many ways it is the recess from the week for the farmers and hard-working people of that congregation. No one leaves right the benediction. Everyone stays. Everyone recesses.

There’s something sacred about that.

Back to school! I was the sub for a third grade class this week. They earned extra time at both recesses, but what may have stuck in the minds of several of the boys was the fact that I joined in with them each recess with the games of “Four Square.” Some of them looked at me differently after recess…like “Wow! Even teachers like recess!”

Yes, most of us do! And not just because I knew we had to do science when we got back to class!

The New Sanctuaries: Gyms, Fields, and Rinks

May 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 May 10, 2016

                      

The Colorado spring weather has been as predictable as a confused moose wandering in a downtown business district. Sunny…cold…snow…hot…sleet…sunny, and that’s just one day!

The weather has played havoc on spring sports schedules. Between them, my two soccer-playing grandkids had five games this past weekend. Snow-outs got rescheduled for Sunday. Whereas, my daughter and son-in-law keep a pretty good perspective on the priority of Sunday church worship over other things, it’s getting harder…especially when it comes to a team sport. It is a challenge that will only get more difficult as their children get older. Sports organizations have minimal, if any, concern about disrupting Sunday worship services. That’s because the families and participants in their sports contests have made the venues of soccer, baseball, softball, and basketball games the new sanctuaries.

The Methodists and Lutherans are no longer the competition to the Baptists. They are in the same boat together…and losing the race! The Christians are in a rowboat. Youth sports organizations are in a speedboat!

Parents are more excited about little Johnny’s base hit than they are with the moving of the Spirit. Try to find a parking spot at the soccer complex at 11:00 this Sunday morning! Chances are, if there is a church nearby there will be plenty of open spaces to use. Families will find a church with a Saturday evening service, rather than disrupt a all-day Sunday baseball tournament for ten year olds.

One of the reasons sports venues are the new sanctuaries are because of the lure of future rewards. Whereas followers of Jesus are promised the future rewards of walking the heavenly streets of gold, parents are willing to give up a lot of gold for the possibility of future college scholarships. It is amazing the size of the “offerings” that parents will hand over in anticipation of future awards. Jenny could get a full ride to Big U for volleyball in a few years, but she will need to play about 55 weekends a year for that to happen. In other words, Jenny will need to be really dedicated. Parents are willing to take that chance. The thing is…there is a greater chance that Jenny will never want to touch another volleyball by the time she’s sixteen then there is that she will be playing after high school. Kids burn out…even when their parents want the flame to keep flickering.

“The new sanctuaries” are places where Mom and Dad get to replay their childhood dreams through their kids. In essence, their sons and daughters become the new focal points of their worship. The contest is packaged in a neat one hour time slot where the young participants can be applauded, be praised, and watched in admiration. Relationships with other worshiping parents offer the fellowship factor. Starbucks’ cups tell of the pre-game family visit on the way to the worship center.

God should get such attention!

Watch parental reactions at youth contests. When Johnny gets whistled for a foul because he clobbers another player there is often righteous indignation. When was the last time that people rose up in righteous indignation because children in various places can’t get a piece of bread today?

What to do? Here’s the hard decision. Families need to decide what their boundaries will be. I draw back from making it a hard and firm line in the sand, but perhaps a realistic perspective on what is important and what they will talk through before making a decision. At the beginning of a sports season a conversation with the coach, letting her know of your family’s priorities, would be helpful. Is the spiritual health of your family, and your children, more important than Tim’s batting average? In a few years will these parents you’re standing on the sidelines with be walking with you as you deal with a serious illness, or will it be those you are in community with as a part of a church fellowship?

And what will be your son or daughter’s perspective about your spiritual relationship when they get some distance from their childhood? Will they see depth and clear priorities, or will they be confused about how they should parent the next generation?

Three Moms

May 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 8, 2016

                                         

It’s Mother’s Day, a day where we gloat over our moms and tell them how wonderful they are. Let’s be honest! Moms don’t get the credit or appreciation they deserve. We load up the applaud one day a year for them even though they took care of loaded-up diapers many, many days for many, many years.

I’ve had many unofficial moms through the years who have encouraged me, fed me, and hugged on me, but I’d like to pay tribute to three moms for different reasons.

The first mom would be my own…Virginia Wolfe! Yes, that was my mom’s name! She was possessed by stubbornness and gifted with compassion. Stubborn compassion, quite a mix. If there was someone in need that she could take care of she would do what needed to be done in spite of protests. With Mom there were no questions to be asked. If she decided to take a pot of chicken soup to Mrs. Swallow, our eighty-something next door neighbor widow in Williamstown, West Virginia, she did it. Our neighbors through the years were cared for. Growing up on a farm in Eastern Kentucky, my mom was used to having neighbors who took care of one another, no questions asked.

She was loyal. Her patronage of businesses was not based on who had the lowest price, but rather on friendship, being treated with respect, and loyalty. For years, she traveled forty-five minutes to have the same man do her hair, because that’s what you did.

She raised three children, all with vey different personalities, and, although we frequently didn’t agree with her, we respected and loved her deeply. She’s been gone now for two and a half years. I’ll visit her grave site next month and cherish the memories once again.

The second mom is my wife, Carol. What an incredible woman! In many ways she is like her own mom, Barbara Faletti. Fairly conservative, not prone to extravagance when it involved herself, but very giving when it involves others. The Mother’s Day card I give her today will cause her to scold me a little bit for spending the four dollars. The attached chocolate to it will simmer the scold a bit.

Even harder than being a pastor is being a pastor’s spouse. For thirty-six years, until this past December 31, that’s who she was. The number of evenings where she shared a meal with three kids but no husband can not be calculated. In the valleys and mountains of ministry she walked beside me.

Carol is a champion for those who are afflicted with diminished capacities of various kinds. She works with special needs middle school students. She hung out with a six year old autistic boy at Awana Club this year. She walks alongside a few of her friends who have suffered serious health crises. Although she enjoys watching some of the reality TV shows that I gag on, we’re on the same page in most of our preferences and likes. She loves her grandkids deeply. If you checked her cell phone you would find a video library of “grandkid clips” that include one year old Corin walking across the room, Jesse playing soccer or hurling himself at the player he’s defending in basketball, and Reagan singing, dancing, or just looking gosh darn cute!

Our three children love and respect her deeply. They know that the greatest gifts they can give her are the relationships they already have with her. She is a special woman who gets me to “wise up” in various ways. She’s the “clue” in my “cluelessness.”

The third mom is my oldest daughter, Kecia. Just as my mom had three children, and Carol has three children, Kecia is now the mom to a trio. She is the steady influence to the three. I see my mom in her in terms of keeping her kids on task, and I see Carol in her in regards to her compassionate side. I stopped by her fourth grade classroom for a few moments this past week and it was evident how much her students admire and love her. She’s like their “teacher-mom”, concerned for each one of them, thrilled with their progress, saddened by their heartaches.

Just as my mom and Carol have been steady influences and engaged parents, Kecia is that steady influence in a culture that often teeters on the the edge of chaos.

I am blessed to have lived, and now live in a home where laughter is as frequent as dancing granddaughters, and dressed-up super hero grandsons. “The Moms” are as essential to that as Miracle Whip on my hamburger!

Thank you, Lord, for the mom who has gone before me, the mom who walks with me, and the mom who is delighting me.

You’re As Old As You…Act!

May 6, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  MAY 6, 2016

                        

    I received a birthday card yesterday. It was awesome, sent to me by a 93 year old woman that I just love. It was fueled with “old sayings.” One of them was “You know you are old when your back goes out more often than you do.” 

I’ll admit that there are certain parts of my body that I know are there every morning…and evening! In the afternoons I think they are taking a siesta. I’ll also admit that in my evening slumber…or in and out and in and out of slumber…I often has dreams of soaring to the rim and dunking the basketball over my twenty year old defender. I also dream of that awesome crossover dribble and blowing by him, and I also dream of draining three’s from the deep corner. But, as I say, even though they are frequent dreams they are now just dreams.

I’m writing a book right now that is “sort of” living out my dreams about a young boy who plays basketball, is fundamentally sound in the sport and also in life. It’s, hopefully, a feel good story that we all wish to be reality, and, I admit, was part of my hope growing up.

As I’m growing older I recognize that a lot of my actions are not usually associated with people who are Social Security eligibles. Today, for instance, I’ll go to middle school track practice. This evening I’ll let my grandkids crawl all over me, chase them around the house, play hide-and-seek, read books, chill with them, and perhaps play dress-up. Tomorrow I’ll be at a middle school track meet in the morning and afternoon, and then officiate three basketball games that evening. Next week I’ll substitute teach three to four days with students from first grade through high school. I’ll admit that the hot tub usually feels pretty darn good at the end of a long day.

But the other thing about getting almost a quarter of the way through my sixties is that I know I still have much to offer, and offer it willingly. I’m a retired pastor who still pastors. I just don’t get paid for it! Tomorrow morning, before the track meet, I’ll meet for breakfast with a young lady that I coached in basketball several years ago, and now Carol and I financially support through her ministry with Navigators at the University of North Florida. I’ll seek to be an encourager to her as she disciples young college women. Just as I encouraged her when she was zero for ten shooting in a basketball game, I’ll encourage her to stay focused, and on course, as she engages in spiritual conversations with college students.

You’re as old as your actions, and as old as your attitudes. Is my attitude about life laced with cynicism or optimism? I’ll admit I may be more of a hybrid…a cynical optimist.The throb in my knees as I’m climbing steps brings out the cynicism, but I’m optimistic that I’ll reach the top…or bottom…without falling on my face.

Next month I’ll be back in Ohio to visit my dad as he celebrates his 88th birthday. Physically he has slowed, but mentally and relationally he is an inspiration. The widow ladies at the senior complex he resides at love him…all of the ladies! Their love for him is based on how he treats people, how he acts, the optimism he faces each day with…even though it might include a skin radiation treatment. The nurses and technicians at the radiation department at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia know him on a first name basis even though he might not have been there for a few months. He’s an inspiration to me about keeping a healthy life perspective.

You’re as old as you…act!

I Taught Kindergarten Today!

May 2, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 2, 2016

                           

(To be read as if you are a kindergartener.)

I went to Kindergarten class today!

I am now writing this blog with short sent..en..ces.

The boys and girls were very loud. My head is now hurting.

The seats were very slippery. Boys kept falling out of their seats.

We went outside for recess. It was very short. I did not want to go back inside. I learned how to play a new game. No one told me the rules. I played anyway. It was fun. The boys and girls were happy I played with them.

The boys and girls had a snack time. I helped open many snack wrap..pers. I did not have a snack. No one shared with me. I was sad. No one cared.

The boys and girls read to me. Each of them read the same story. The story was about leopards. I now do not want to hear about leopards ever again!

One boy thought he was cute. He was not.

One boy thought he was smart. He was, but I pretended not to notice. I will notice when he goes to Harvard.

We had math class. The boys and girls count on their fingers. It was cute. They were quiet during math. I think math should be for the whole day.

I said the day of the week. They laughed. I say “Monday” like “Mondee.” They asked me to say it again. I did. They laughed again. I will not be back on Tuesdee!

They went to art class. Art class is great. It is 45 minutes long. I did not have to go. I got to stay in the classroom and practice saying “Monday.”

It was time to go home. Home is a good word. They put their coats on. Some of them were very slow. I could tell they did not want to leave. I wanted them to leave. Some of them hugged me. The boy who thought he was cute called me a wolf. I was happy he was going home.

I went home. I was happy that Mondee morning was over. I am going to eat yogurt now and watch Kindergarten Cop. I will laugh at Arnold and how he says “tumor!”