Archive for June 2016

Blue Ribbon Bill

June 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              June 30, 2016

                                      

I was an energetic eight, like a wind-up toy that takes off in unpredictable directions. That was me! Our family was living in Williamstown, West Virginia, home of the Fenton Art Glass Company. My mom and dad worked across the Ohio River in Marietta, Ohio. We were a family of five in a small town that was devoted to kids. One of those devotions was a summer program at the community park. Each morning, Monday through Friday, kids would come to the park for crafts, games, and Kool-Aid.

At the end of the summer was the annual gathering up the river in Vienna of kids from all the park districts in the county for various swimming races and track and field competitions. I had completed a week of decent behavior at home, not setting anything on fire or getting caught in a lie, so Mom and Dad said I could go on the bus to Vienna. I scurried off that morning, brown lunch bag in tow, headed for a day of adventure.

The community park in Vienna had a huge outdoor pool, even a terrifying high dive, which I kept my distance from. Buses filled the parking lot unloading children, most of whom had high-pitched voices like me.

Everyone got settled and the swimming competitions began. I was entered in the 25 yard freestyle for eight year olds, plus the 100 yard freestyle relay. I had my J.C. Penney’s swim trunks on, characterized by their lack of fashion and dullness. I, however, didn’t know that they weren’t in style. My mom worked at Penney’s! Everything I wore was from Penney’s, all the way from my “Chuck Taylor high tops” to my Towncraft “whitie-tighties” to the bow tie I wore on Sundays to church.

The announcement came for all eight year old boys to report to the deep end of the pool. I scooted along the concrete in that direction. Twenty five yards doesn’t seem like very much, but from the deep end of the pool it looked like the whole length of West Virginia. I stood there waiting and in another few moments one other boy arrived. He looked scared. Someone must have told him that he was swimming against an Olympic champion. He looked over the side of the pool into the water, and his eyes got bigger.

A man who looked all official approached us. We stared at him. We knew he was older than eight, plus he had clothes on, so he must not be in the race with us.

“Are you boys here for the eight year old 25 yard freestyle?” We both looked up at him and nodded yes.

And then my competition, while looking once again over the side of the pool, asked him a question. “Is this water over my head?”

“Yes, it is! It’s twelve feet deep.”

His eyebrows rose up to the top of his head, and then in a quivering voice he said to the man, “Well, I can’t swim!”

The man looked at me and said, “Well, I guess that means you win, son!”

I won! I hadn’t even gotten wet! I was the Wood County, West Virginia eight year old 25 yard freestyle swimming champion!

It did not seem like the right time to inform the man that I couldn’t swim either! I figured I could dog paddle at least until I got to the shallow end of the pool. However, I was okay with not having to find out whether to not that was the reality or not.

Honesty and openness had not arrived in my life yet. Those Sunday School lessons probably wouldn’t be taught until I was nine! He pointed me towards a table to the side where I was to go to pick up my blue ribbon.

A little later on our relay team was lined up to swim. Conveniently, we were the only team entered so we were awarded first place. I had won my second blue winner in the swimming competition that I didn’t have to get wet for…and even more bizarre, in the swimming competition that I couldn’t swim in!

In the afternoon, however, I outran about twenty other boys in the 50 yard dash. I moved like a young gazelle in my Chuck Taylor’s. Call me Speedy!

Three blue ribbons! Blue Ribbon Bill! One of them won legally with full disclosure, and two with tight lips, unable to spill the beans.

 

Living For Sameness

June 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 28, 2016

                                   

I have my routines. I take a shower when I get up in the morning…every morning. A shower-less morning throws me for a loop. I function like a zombie in blue jeans. I can hardly even remember to put underwear on. (TMI!)

My life is sectioned into routines. Some of them are good and could even be classified as disciplines. Some are compulsive behaviors that make me think I’m just another Adrian Monk (from the TV series on USA Network Monk). Still other routines are simply things and actions that help me feel comfortable and in control.

In effect, I do a lot of living in sameness. My hamburger has to have tomato and onion on it. I drink a glass of soda whenever I have popcorn. I sleep with my personal blanket…otherwise known as my “blankie.” I sit in the same place whenever I watch television in our family room. I live in sameness. It reduces my stress level.

Sameness is okay…to a point!

A pastor friend of mine made a statement recently in describing a church. He said that the church was committed to living for sameness. I loved that statement because it describes a lot of congregations. On the other end of the spectrum are churches who are committed to constant change. They are hyperactive organizations that jump around like balloons that are released full of air but not tied shut. Both types of churches are committed to living for sameness- one to no change and the other to constant change.

Sameness, in some cases, becomes what we worship. I grew up believing that the Doxology was always sung after the offering was received. It was the cue for the ushers to bring the offering plates back to the front of the sanctuary. When I heard it sung one Sunday in a different point in the worship service I was caught off-guard. Did I sleep through the offering?

In my seminary days I worked for a year in a Presbyterian Church. The senior pastor, Dr. James P. Martin, was a great pastor and mentor. He taught me a multitude of things about ministry. But I had been raised Baptist all my life! I could see things only through a Baptist lens. When I questioned why the Presbyterians didn’t have a Sunday night service…”like we Baptists did!”…he gave me a great response that I’ll always remember. He said, “Well, Bill, what it takes Baptists two worship services to do we can do in one!”

Classic!

It helped me understand that things do not always have to be the same. Change can be a good thing. After all, the Christian faith is about transformation. A person, and a congregation, can’t be transformed and remain the same.

I’m not proficient in being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. I’ve missed a ton of stop signs and Spirit whispers, but I also sense that if given a choice many congregations would choose to stay rooted to sameness instead of being led by the Spirit. Like my “blankie”, there is comfort and safeness in sameness.

What amazes me about the first church is that although they were rooted in Judaism they were transformed by the Gospel and led by the Spirit. They were changed, but anchored to the Change Agent.

The ‘I Thought About’s!’

June 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 27, 2016

                               

I thought about being a high school physical education teacher, otherwise known as a gym teacher. That was when I was a junior in high school.

I thought about skydiving once, and then came to my senses.

I thought about buying an old ice cream truck and strolling through neighborhoods with that bell-sounding music selling fudgesicles to delighted children.

I thought about growing my hair out and looking like a hippie from the sixties just stepping out of a time machine.

I’ve thought about a lot of things, and I think about a lot of things. Some wise coach once told me that “Thinking about it and doing it are two different things.” It was a slap of reality as I procrastinated on some important decision. We all have our list of “I thought about’s.” It’s the jump into the unknown.

I thought about studying for a master’s degree in Athletic Administration.

I thought about planting cucumbers.

I thought about running a marathon this September. The last marathon I ran was the Chicago Marathon in 1978, or, in other words, when Moby Dick when a minnow!

I thought about hiking the Grand Canyon.

Our thoughts make it on to our bucket list of things we’d like to do before we lay down for our eternal rest. Some “think about’s” come to us for one insane, irrational moment and then pass on like a puff of flatulence that we leave behind.

Some folk share their “thought about’s” openly and endlessly. From my experience, people who share their “think about’s” frequently are people who seldom do anything. Perhaps they want the listener to be impressed or encouraging. Encouragement, however, has run its course and the thoughts still keep coming. The listener gets tired of encouraging “think about’s” with no substance.

There are some “think about’s” that should be tossed as quickly as whole hominy on a dinner plate. Years ago I mentioned to Carol that we should think about having a fourth child. She gave me the look that spoke volumes using no words. I didn’t think about it much after that…at least while she was in the room.

Some people have a habit of thinking one bad idea after another and, unfortunately, proceeding with one bad idea after another. Like someone in extreme debt who decides to go and buy a new car because there won’t be any payments for the first six months!

Other people need to be coached in a few of their “think about’s”. They need to be told that the idea or new life direction has merit, be asked some clarifying questions, and be aided in giving what they are thinking about some substance and legs.

I thought about retiring from pastoral ministry for several years. My friend, Tom Bayes, helped me process my thoughts, separating frustration with the job from feelings of conclusion for the occupation. After thirty-six years I was used up, and felt like that half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator with the expiration date from a week ago. In the same way Tom helped me clarify some of my “think about’s” for the future. He was a voice of experience, since he had retired from pastoral ministry a few years before me. He helped me figure out whether or not the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Ultimately, each one of us needs to sort out our “thought about’s” and determine which ones will get tossed with the trash and which ones will make the cut. Like that coach who told me that thinking and doing are two separate things, sometimes we need to risk proceeding with the idea.

And sometimes we just need to admit to ourselves “That is stupid!” It doesn’t hurt as much when we can admit to ourselves the idiocy of what our brain concocted.

I still, however, think about buying that ice cream truck and playing the song “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice over and over again!

The BMW’s

June 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 26, 2016

                                               

We all need others. I recognize that there are those who approach life with a mindset that says no one can do anything as well as they can, but even those people, swimming in arrogance and perfectionism, need others.

There are those who join us in our journey who are pivotal in keeping us on the path. Being a pastor is a highly stressful calling, because pastors lead churches that almost always have some people that no one else would put up with. Pastors have people who would complain about Jesus’ beard if they were given a chance. Pastors also have people who are on the other end of the spectrum- people who are the salt of the earth, wonderful and encouraging.

In my years of ministry in Michigan I had two other pastors who came alongside me, and I alongside them. We called ourselves “The BMW Group!” Since we were pastoring churches in the Lansing, Michigan area where Oldsmobile was located, the BMW letters did not indicate the cars we drove. Instead it stood for Bayes, Moore, and Wolfe. Tom Bayes was pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing; Chuck Moore was pastor of Charlotte First Baptist, just a few miles outside of the city; and I was pastor of Mason First Baptist, also located just a few miles outside of town.

Bayes, Moore, Wolfe…BMW!

For about seven years we would meet every other Wednesday for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of the city. We’d laugh, share, moan, talk about people who made our lives miserable, seek advice from one another, and chew on lunch. In those years we became best friends amongst all the pastors we knew. Almost twenty years later I still see Tom and Chuck as my best pastor buds!

And the interesting thing is that each of us was so different theologically. Tom was fairly liberal in his views, Chuck leaned to the right, and I was the moderate. That’s pretty much where each of us still is, but our friendship provides a solid base for dialogue. When you are committed to the journey, and you know that the other two are also committed to the journey, you can disagree on what are the important things to pack in the suitcase, and how to pack them.

Today Chuck pastors a church in the Dayton, Ohio area, I’m in Colorado Springs, and Tom is finishing up an intentional interim pastorate in Gastonia, North Carolina. We’re figuring out when and where the three of us can meet up for a couple of days of fellowship, laughter, and just being together.

Our closest friends are not always the ones who live closest to us. Our closest friends are the ones we can place a call to at a moment’s notice and know that they will be there to converse with, or just to listen.

We all need others. Even Jesus needed others. He had the twelve, and even in the midst of the twelve he had the three…his closest confidants!

I miss my buds. There are plenty of people on the bus headed to “Good Riddance!”, but there are just a few who bless us with their presence, with their conversations, and lift us up and keep us going.

I’ll climb in my Honda Accord in a few minutes to drive to the little church east of the city to speak, but I’ll be thinking about my BMW!

Who is a part of your BMW?

The Need To Be Served

June 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 24, 2016

                                  

As I was driving along yesterday and listening to the radio an interesting statistic was shared by the radio host. He said that a recent study revealed that the typical American family now spends more money in restaurants than it does at the grocery store. In other words, we eat out a lot and spend more of our food budget on a bacon cheeseburger at Applebee’s than packages of ground beef and buns at Safeway.

It also indicates that we are accustomed to being served by others. My driving destination was the car wash to have the layers of Midwest bugs cleaned off my car. It occurred to me that I was served by the man who welcomed me and took the order of what I wanted done; I was then served by the hospitable lady at the register who took my payment and chatted me up for a moment, and then I was served by the man who did the finishing wipe down. In the simple task of getting my car washed three people had directly served me.

After that I went to Sam’s Club to buy some items that I didn’t really need. I almost always use the “self-checkout” lane at Sam’s Club, but even in that lane an employee came up to me and asked if I had found everything I was looking for.

Earlier that morning I had been at Starbucks. No surprise to those who know me! The employees there served and engaged me in conversation. Once in a while I get an email from Starbucks asking me how my recent visit was. There is a short survey that pointedly focuses its questions on how the service was in my visit.

In other words, my morning was punctuated with various people in different locations whose mission was to serve me.

Yes, they were being compensated for their service, but the point is that “being served” is now a major part of the fabric of our lives. When we receive poor service we usually react in negative ways. During our recent cross-country road trip from Colorado to Ohio and back, Carol and I were on the receiving end of great service and really, really…I mean, really bad service. We stopped at several McDonald’s along the way. Most of them had adequate or good service, but one of them stood out with the lack of service. I don’t usually do customer reviews, except when Starbucks offers me a reward for feedback, but I felt compelled to evaluate the experience at this McDonald’s. It was an on-line evaluation, and at the end of it there was a question asking if it was okay if a McDonald’s management person called me on the phone. Surprisingly, a few days later a lady named Nancy called me and asked me about the poor service I had received. She was extremely apologetic and promised me that she would be addressing the issue.

When bad service is given people are concerned. Bad service is an indication that the customer isn’t that important, and customers expect to be served.

I think there’s a lesson for the church in all of that. Our roots are firmly planted in servanthood. Jesus is known as “the servant king.” The early church was about serving. The first restructuring of the first church was because certain people weren’t being served (Acts 6). Deacons came about because of the need for people to be served. The Christians in Rome around AD 250 took charge of people who were infected with smallpox. Families would turn their backs on the sick, but the Christ-followers cared for them in their last days, even to the point of laying down their own lives. Serving was part of their DNA.

We live in a time when many people come to church to be served, which is okay…but they’ve missed part of the message. As followers of Christ we serve and are served. The church is not a gathering of consumers. We’ve been consumed by the love of Christ. That realization changes us!

Carol and I are fixing dinner tonight for two of our children and one son-in-law. It would be easier to go out to a restaurant and be waited upon, but that “food budget stat” has stuck in my gut. I’ll grill, Carol will make a squash casserole and another side dish, and, I guess, we will serve!

I think it will be a good evening!

Cake For Seniors

June 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 22, 2016

                                         

They were ready to pounce. The ladies and man (as in solo!) at Dad’s birthday party were ready for the cake. If my dear Aunt Lizzie, who always stared at her wrapped Christmas present like it was a Rembrandt, had been there she would have said “It’s too pretty to cut into!” But Aunt Lizzie arrived in Glory a couple of decades ago so she wasn’t there to hold back the cake lovers.

Dad’s cake, with two eights rising out of it, was a tribute to his University of Kentucky roots. The white icing was outlined in Kentucky blue, which is much easier on the eyes than “Tarheel Blue!” He stood behind it and gave one forced puff to extinguish the small flames on the two eights. Blowing out two candles is not seen as being much of an accomplishment, unless you are surrounded by a crowd of seniors who are all crowding ninety!

There was applause for the disappearance of the candle flames, and Robin, the lady who my dad loves and trusts with a knife, commenced to cutting. I passed out the plates. No one passed on the cake. Tongues were licking the outside of lips even before the cake arrived in front of the partygoers. Seniors like cake. It is seen as a valid. almost mandatory, reason for disregarding their dietary restrictions.

Conversation eased a bit as the mature audience focused on their next bites. There’s a time to talk and there’s a time to be quiet. If white icing is involved hold on to that story that was in the midst of being told. We’ll get back to it… if we remember!

My dad looked out at the people gathered in the dining room and he smiled. These were people who were a part of his journey. One of them he had taught how to give insulin shots to. She was scared to death and he had coached her to the point where she could do it herself. Another lady, Valerie, who works at his senior apartment complex, had come back from her Myrtle Beach vacation a day early to be in attendance…and to show the envious women that her skin tone had undergone a noticeable change. The senior women, who had talked about getting bikinis, now recognized that the cake they were enjoying was not going to help them look “bikinish!” Some of them were thinking that they would just ease off the carrots at dinner to compensate!

Dad appreciated each one of them. He had a stack of cards, some beautifully written and others filled with jokes about being as old as Methuselah! He laughed and thanked and paused to enjoy. The only hurry in the occasion was getting the cake cut. After that, people had nowhere to go but to finish reading the Saturday Herald-Dispatch, check the mail, and sink into afternoon slumber in their recliners.

The rest of the cake was moved to the kitchen, and would be served at dinnertime. The ladies  smiled at the future sweet offering. It would make the dinner spaghetti seem tolerable.

Dad was filled with joy and gratitude. After he had blown out the candles someone had asked him what he wished for, and with his quick wit he had replied, “Eighty-nine!”

The ladies “amen-ed” that. It would mean another cake!

Eighty-Eight!

June 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 18, 2016

                                           

My dad is celebrating his eighty-eighth birthday today! Unreal!

He is the last of the generation immediately above Carol and me on the age pyramid, a gentle gentleman who never seems to be rushed in the sharing of wisdom. Wisdom and advice needs to be dished out and savored like smooth Kentucky bourbon whiskey…slowly and with great contemplation. I wouldn’t know, but my older brother, a tour guide at the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, has told me so.

It is remarkable that my dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, has made it this far. He has overcome a boatload of challenges through his nine decades…if you round it off to the nearest whole number. Named after two Baptist ministers, Laurence and Hubert, who helped his dad get out of the bottom of the drinking problem barrel, Dad brought us up Baptist. My brother, sister, and I frequented services and events at church three times a week…Wednesday night, Sunday morning and evening. I equated the trusted firmness of Dad’s arm with the unwavering love of God, as I leaned up against him about the time Pastor Zachary launched into his sermon. I will never know how heavy my head felt to him by the time the sermon was rounding thirty minutes and heading for an hour, I just knew that my “lean-to” never wilted.

That memory, that picture, is a telling illustration of who my father has been and still is. Consistent, solid, dependable, tender, strongly compassionate.

Dependability seems to be in short supply these days, as fathers do their own thing and seek to romance whatever or whoever pleasures them. Dads who stay the course, who keep their promises, are a rare breed.

Dad has been that rare breed. Interestingly enough, my siblings and I didn’t know that was unusual. We thought our dad was like all the other dads. We thought all dads embraced their wives in the midst of the kitchen, like my dad did, and then obediently would give my mom a kiss after she had said to him “Kiss me slobber lips, I can swim!” We thought that was normal! We thought we were normal! We thought all dads were patient, and all dads were home on Sunday nights after church eating popcorn and watching Ed Sullivan on TV. We thought all dads listened to their wives vent about what Myrtle had said to Thelma about Betty’s potato salad that had been brought to the Penney’s employees’ potluck that day. In those days there were no baseball games on TV to divide a husband’s attention, so Mom had both of Dad’s ears…and she used them with no consideration of moderation. Like Dad’s arm in the Central Baptist Church sanctuary pew, he was my mom’s “lean-to” for listening. He stayed with her in the midst of her rational and irrational moments.

Moving ahead a few decades he also stayed with her as she dealt with ill health, and then became bedridden, and then as her illnesses took away her ability to verbalize her thoughts and feelings. In their sixty-five years of marriage he had heard her say enough to know what she was thinking even when she could no longer say it. Even in the midst of Mom’s confusion towards the end of her life when she thought that Rachel Ray was Dad’s new girlfriend because her picture was on the front of a magazine laying by her bed, Dad stayed the course.

Now that he has his own apartment in a senior adult living complex that is heavily populated by widows, and lean on widowers, he gets to listen to a swarm of women every day. And they love him! He’s now the lean-to for a bunch. Valerie, Bonnie, and Bernice bring him his morning newspaper. Bernice is 93! She looks at his dinner plate as he passes by to see if he is eating healthy, even though she isn’t! Bonnie’s door is right across the hall from Dad’s staring at it, in his son’s opinion, too uncomfortably close! Robin, the building’s manager, is wonderful as she converses with him, always seeming to cause a chuckle to rise to the surface.

A lovely ninety-six year old was talking to Dad this week about the women all buying bikinis, and she was considering going topless! Dad listened and laughed. I blushed!

Tomorrow Carol and I begin our road journey home. We will worship together with my sister, brother-in-law, and Dad, and then say our tearful goodbyes. It will be hard to release the embrace, but we have our own family…that is, two generations below us on the age pyramid…to go home and hug. Three children, two son-in-laws, and three grandchildren to be the “lean-to” for. Tomorrow I’ll sit in church with Dad, just like I did fifty-five years ago. His physical strength has waned since then, but I know that his strength of character is abundant.

In new kinds of ways he’s still my “lean-to!”