Archive for August 2017

Desiring Quiet In A Noisy Culture

August 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 30, 2017

 

It has been a week of noise. There has been the noise of storms and floods, of roads crumbling and lives blasted. There has also been the usual political noise that seems to drown out the calm voice of reason. In my neighborhood, this morning was invaded by the noise of sirens, never a good sign in the forty-five minutes leading up to the beginning of a new school day. A noisy motorcycle sped by me this morning. Judging by the speed it was evidently on its way to a very important appointment.

In an hour I will be leading several classes of kindergarteners in physical education classes for the day. What do you think the noise level will be in those educational opportunities?

It’s ironic that we get frustrated with noise and yet many of us are uncomfortable without it. As I sit at Starbucks right now sipping my Pike Place brew while writing this I have my earbuds in listening to my song playlist from Spotify. I use noise to drown out noise! I desire quiet, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it!

My thoughts on a quiet place may have pushed their way to the front of my mind due to the fact that Carol and I hosted the three “energetic and talkative” grandkids this past weekend.

9, 6, and 2

And always needing something to do!

Noise is the subtle voice of a contemporary evil. In Mark 1:25 Jesus tells the demon that is speaking to be quiet and come out of the man he is residing in. A little while later he tells nature itself to be quiet.

Perhaps Jesus needs to speak to the noise in our lives that shouts over top of the calmness! I look at my day and I realize that quiet moments may only come in bathroom breaks, and I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing!

The Relevancy of Libraries

August 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 28, 2017

                                  

I remember the library in Ironton, Ohio. Its familiarity was due to the fact that it was right next door to the First Baptist Church of Ironton, the church that ordained me! That was about as close as I got to discovering the library back in those days. It was a place of books, shelves, and cranky librarians.

Sad as it is, I can not even remember where the library was located in my old high school. Yes, I realize that was forty-five years ago, but you would think I could recall its approximate location. It was not crucial, however, to the attainment of my 2.5 grade point average! Conversely, at the school where I substitute teach and coach now the LMC (Library Media Center) is the activity hub of the school.

In recent times I’ve actually discovered the INSIDE of the library that is about two miles from our house. It is wonderful! It’s a place of books, computers, DVD’s, magazines, lectures, displays, and…librarians who smile!

There is growing debate about the relevancy of the public library. Its naysayers promote the value of the internet as now being the ultimate source of knowledge, immediate access to information, and available anywhere. As is often the case their viewpoint is as one-sided as a political party position. There is merit in what they say, without a doubt, and yet there is also a naiveness bundled with it.

I’ll go to our public library tonight to spend a couple of hours in quiet and contemplation. I recently finished the first draft of a book I had been writing. Most of the book was written from a quiet area on the first floor of the library. Being surrounded by books and other people’s creativity prompted the igniting of words in my own mind.

Last Saturday I picked up a DVD from the library that we watched with our three grandkids that night.

Last week I gazed upon the display shelves of about a hundred different magazines. To see them side by side, and to read the titles of articles, was an intriguing experience.

Libraries are depositories of ideas, thoughts, and stories. They are my refuge from the noise of life. I am a lover of history, biographies, and mysteries. I’m currently reading a book about presidential campaigns by John Dickerson entitled Whistlestops; and a Greg Iles mystery Blood Memory. Before these books I read Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions, John Sanford’s Golden Prey, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, and Glen Jeansonne’s Herbert Hoover: A Life. All of them I could have ordered from Amazon, but all of them I checked out from the public library.

The demise of the public library will come, not so much because of the internet, but because less people see the value in reading. We have been “Tweeterized” in our reading focus. Although reading is stressed and emphasized so much in school, adults seem to have evolved into 140 character beings. They have slumped into the non-commitment of being couch potatoes. Let’s pray that downward trend in reading  shifts back the other way because there is enough ignorance being shown in opinions right now even with the presence of libraries. To have them become a thing of the past will open the floodgates for people to say even more stupid things…and even more people to take the stupid things as being truth!

Middle School Picture Day

August 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 27, 2017

                                     

This past Thursday was “Picture Day” at Timberview Middle School. The Seventh Grade Science teacher, a legend named Richard Dean Williams, had decided it was more important to take his daughter back to college in Maryland rather than be at school for picture day…so he called me!

Middle School Picture Day is a collage of fashion and non-fashion styles. In my first class- the class I escorted down to the small gym for the grin session- a young man was dressed in a nice white shirt, bow ties, suspenders, and well-groomed hair. I referred to him for the rest of the day and the next as “Steak and Shake”, because he looked like he could have been working at the restaurant making me a Cookies and Cream milk shake.

A young lady came floating down the hall in a dress that aired out at the bottom like Cinderella at the royal ball. Several students had made a recent trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy a new Denver Bronco’s jersey. One young lady planted a fake flower in the temple piece of her glasses for some reason. She liked it so well, however, that she also wore it the next day.

Then there were the non-fashion statements. One young guy, with mustard from the previous night’s hot dog being displayed on his tee shirt, said “I forgot it was picture day!” An eighth grade boy wore a shirt with no sleeves, obviously infatuated with and proud of his own biceps! Some students knew it was picture day and couldn’t care less. They wore tee shirts that had been on the bottom of the laundry heap, and forgot to comb their hair that morning…and maybe a few mornings before that!

In a few years almost all of these students will have their parents spend several hundred dollars to have their senior pictures taken. There will be no mustard-stained tee shirts in that photo shoot, believe me!

The teaching staff and administration had their pictures taken on picture day, also. There was a bit more primping and preparation for each of their camera clicks. I saw a few more ties than are normally present at school, and a few of the women who must have gotten up a lot earlier that day to get themselves all put together. Teacher pictures go up on the school wall for the whole world to be seen. Plus, years from now former students in the midst of reunions and reminiscing will pull out the school yearbook and point to their pictures and say “Remember Mr. ________!” Any teacher wants himself or herself to be looking good in the midst of that recollection!

When I go back and look at my school pictures they convey to me several things. My second grade picture shows the loss of a couple of my front teeth. However, it gave me a “cute” look…like I was a fun kid to be around! By seventh grade that look had disappeared, dorky-looking glasses were attached to my face, and a sense of adolescent uncomfortableness had appeared in my mug shot. By my high school junior year I was trying to look self-assured and cool. My senior year portrait makes me look like I’m ready to face the world…which I wasn’t!

Pictures convey phases and temperaments, hoped-for futures and uncertainties about the present. You can pick up goofiness, elevated attitude, snobbish females, and obnoxious boys. Students excited about life can be seen in a simple picture, while you can become concerned about the gloominess in others.

The day after picture day I was subbing in the same class. “Steak and Shake” guy had thrown his shirt and bow tie to the side…and showed up in a shirt with no sleeves! He had retreated back to reality!

Nicknaming Middle Schoolers

August 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 24, 2017

                                 

This week marks the beginning of my second full year of substitute teaching. I have settled into enjoying my role as a mostly middle school substitute teacher, although I do have two days of kindergarten physical education coming up soon! When I mention to some people about subbing for middle school they look at me like I have a flu virus or a tattoo on my face…diseased and disturbed!

Last week I stood in the middle school entry way waiting for football practice to begin and in the few minutes I was there I was asked by three different teachers to be their subs for a total of 14 days in the coming two months. One teacher called me in July to schedule me for late August (today and tomorrow) and September.

Call me a “strange-o!”

One of the ways I connect with middle school kids is by gradually giving them nicknames that sometimes make sense, but often don’t! The nicknames, however, stick to them like flies on honey! This morning one young lady reminded me that I had nicknamed her “Georgia” last year, because her name is Savannah. One of her classmates then asked me to call her “California” for no apparent reason.

Last year Bryson became “Bison”. Another young man whose initials are “A.B.” became “Arby’s.” A young lady who requested that I give her a nickname became “The Professor”.

Nicknames make kids feel special in a funny kind of way. My nickname in high school was a takeoff on my name…Bill Wolfe. We were studying Beowulf in English and someone picked up on the similarity in pronunciations. To this day I can go back to Ironton, Ohio, see an old classmate from forty-five years ago, and be called Beowulf, or “Beo” for short!

To be honest, a lot of first names these days are hard for me to pronounce. I look at the class roster and don’t see many students named Bob, Jane, Susan, or John. Instead I look down the class list of young boys and girls who have more syllables than Mississippi. Pronouncing the names are like running obstacle pronunciation courses, each syllable ready to trip my tongue up.

Last year some seventh graders that I subbed for quite a bit even gave me a nickname. Instead of “Wolfe”…one syllable, they named me “Wolfe-a”, like I’m French. The “a” is sounded  like it’s flying into the ozone! It made me feel good, that a bunch of seventh graders felt me worthy enough for a nickname. I remember a few nicknames we had for some of my teachers back in school and they were not French, but definitely not very flattering!

Between Brews and Baptists

August 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 22, 2017

                                

Carol and I joined a group of American Baptist pastors and spouses at a Colorado Rockies baseball game last Friday night. They were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, and brew was a prominent part of the evening.

Not for the Baptists, but rather for the group of young guys who were sitting in front of Carol and me. Since we didn’t get there until the second inning we were on the fringe of our group, so we were between the Brews and the Baptists.

It was interesting, and somewhat amusing, to see the different ways the two groups enjoyed watching the game. The Baptists would exit and come back with nachos, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and hot dogs. The Brews would exit and come back with…brew! No food, just brew! Or they would summon the beer guy walking up and down the steps and buy it from him. “Give me three!”

The Baptists were polite in their cheering, like religious high society folk. The Brews were raucous and amusing. One of their group wore his Brewers shirt, which meant any Rockies success (They won 8-4!) resulted in the rest of his group mocking him, while they gave high fives to one another. A Milwaukee home run resulted in the Brewers fan finding another Brewers fan ten seats and four rows away and giving him a high five. Success was followed by celebrated fandom, while failure was accompanied by “F” bombs.

The Baptist pastors talked about church work, the approaching Sunday sermon, how summer church camp and VBS had gone. The Brews talked about where the baseball was going to end up at the end of the inning…because they made bets about its placement. Someone would take the location of the pitcher’s mound, someone else that a player would carry it into the dugout, someone else that it would be tossed by a player to a fan in the crowd, and someone else that it would be given to one of the umpires. Dollar bets were made each time, followed by discovery and disappointment. There were also bets on whether a home run would be hit by the Rockies in an inning, and any other unusual way that bets could be made. Would a pitcher take off his cap and wipe his head? Would a batter spit on the ground? Would there be a double play? Would someone with a last name that starts with a letter between A and M hit a single? Would there be more batters with beards than batters who had shaved, or more batters with beards than batters who had shaved heads? Anything that prompted a bet, but also bleacher victory dances was fair game!

I enjoyed both groups! It was Friday night fun, or, for the Baptists, fellowship! Both groups were accepting. Carol asked one of the Brews to explain their betting games, and he went into great detail with her even though she was drinking Sprite. I talked to Mary Beth about their new pastor and the exciting things happening in her church. We enjoyed our conversation, although the cheering around us made it difficult to hear from time to time.

In essence, Carol and I were part of the Baptists touching the Brew Crew. There’s something in there for followers of Jesus to learn! We follow Jesus and we converse with the world. Some church folk believe in Jesus and turn their back on the world, but the more I think about it I believe if Jesus happened to show up for the baseball game that night he would have been sitting in, or close to, our seats. If he changed water into wine he may have even turned lemonade into beer!

Putting Football Pads on 60 pound Boys

August 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 19, 2017

                                

I began my thirteenth year of coaching middle school football this past Monday. Over the years the school where I coach has had a few good sized boys…and many, many other boys who could be blown away by the wind. As coaches we don’t know if it’s the water or what, but we are surrounded by lightweights.

In our equipment shed we have different container bins that are filled with practice pants and girdles that contain the football pads in them. Some bins contain adult sizes and other bins contain youth sizes. After handing out equipment the first day the youth-sized bins are depleted…and the adult-sized bins are now just barely below the top of the bin!

Boy after boy with high-pitched voices checked out their equipment with me. Not once did I need to say, “Your voice is too low. Can you speak up so I can hear you better?”

As player after player tried on equipment I was reminded of the biblical story of David trying on Saul’s armor! I tried to envision a slingshot in each of their hands, but as three of them put their practice jersey on backwards my hope in pint-sized conquerors was waning!

Our participation numbers took a dip this year, as concerns about the long-term and immediate effects of concussions have intensified. BUT the dip was not in sixty pounders, but rather in those double that weight. One of the biggest boys in the school, who can also chew gum and walk at the same time, decided not to play because he was worried about getting hurt. The “Little Freddie’s”, who can barely reach the urinal in the restroom, are out in mass though!

Hey! I was one of those Freddie’s back in the day! I needed “Youth Extra Small” as my size when I was in middle school. There was not another student smaller than me in my class no matter what gender you’re talking about! I know what it feels like to be the smallest. Our team however is like landing in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz! Our school nickname is the Timberwolves, but we’re thinking of renaming ourselves the “Tiny-Wolves!”

BUT…yes, there is a BUT…most of these sixty pound packages play with heart. Just like when David stepped forward and volunteered to go one-on-one against a giant, while the men twice his size were trying to become small, these mini-mites have heart, hustle and fearlessness. In football, which is a sport that is uncomfortable to play, those attributes make up for a lot of pounds. Over the years I’ve had massive boys who didn’t want their pants to get dirty; boys who were huge, but had no heart, hustle, and even ran from their own shadow.

So maybe our team story this year, our motivation, will be the David and Goliath story of a shepherd boy taking a nine foot giant to the ground!

That reminds me! I need to order a few more pairs of “Youth Small” practice pants!

Contemporary Simla

August 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 17, 2017

                                

Bill Hale, my co-conspirator….err, partner in ministry, bought me lunch yesterday and then told me about his previous Sunday’s experience at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. Bill, another great guy named Ed Stucky, and I have been filling the pulpit at the Simla church for the past year and a half.

Now, a couple of things about Bill! He is a retired school teacher who happens to be nine days younger than me, loves country music, and has a keen wit. He and his wife Sylvia have directed our regional denomination’s camp week at Quaker Ridge (Even though we’re American Baptists!) Camp for the past several years. The past two summers I’ve come alongside them, kind of like Larry came alongside Moe and Curly! On the last night of camp this past July Bill dressed up as the Tooth Fairy. I have pictures!

Simla First Baptist is a small congregation of 25…maybe! That’s if everyone, plus their pets, come to church! They have done the best they can, not having the financial resources to pay a pastor or make many improvements. One of the things they haven’t had is an organist, pianist, or even guitar player. So they make do with what we simply call “a music machine.” The music machine plays the background organ music for whatever hymn the congregation is struggling to sing. More times than not it plays the wrong music, or plays the music too slow or softly. Every hymn we sing is a potential Saturday Night Live skit. When you don’t have what you’ve never had you don’t know any difference!

Rev. Hale (as of his ordination service this past May 7) is a bit bolder than me. (We have coffee at Starbucks, but he brings his McDonald’s Diet Coke cup! Radical!) Last Sunday he brought a projector, a laptop, and a screen to Simla. The last projector Simla First Baptist had was the type that you connect a reel of film to and thread it through to connect to the back reel. He set up the screen and the projector and his laptop and, using DVD’s, had the congregation sing praise songs with music and words. For the Sunday message he used a power point to illustrate his sermon, plus a video clip! It was like a tsunami washed over the congregation…and they loved it!

This Sunday I’ll be joining Bill and Sylvia in Simla. They’ve got me doing the children’s story! He’s bringing the projector and screen again and we’ll see if they can bear two Sundays in a row of “the new stuff.”

The Simla church is like many small town churches (SImla’s population has shrunk down to around 500). The possibility of closure is greater than the hope of continuing. They remember in days and decades gone by when the sanctuary was close to capacity. Those days have long since disappeared, and yet in recent months this small congregation has done some amazing things. They paid for and sent four kids to the Quaker Ridge camp week, and  gave a gift of almost $2,000 to help a young couple raise the needed financial support they needed to begin their new venture as missionaries in Chiapas, Mexico. the church also committed to supporting the young family of four with a monthly financial gift. Those have all been great things, but…the music machine needed to have a “come to Jesus moment!” In other words, go on to the sweet by and by!

Bill Hale said something at lunch yesterday that resonated with me. He said, “They deserve better!” Churches like Simla have often been content to settle for less. They’ve settled for less for so long they may not even realize they deserve better.

Don’t get me wrong! Bringing a projector, a laptop, and a screen are not going to transform this little church. I think they’re already in the midst of transformation, ever so slowly, but still they are changing.

I’ve told them several times that they have allowed me to fall in love with the church again…even though on most Sundays we wouldn’t need a whole pot of chili to feed the entire congregation. But you don’t need a huge number of people to love the church. You simply need a group of people who are committed to one another for the journey. The Saints of Simla, as I call them, are great people…who deserve more!

Now it’s getting them to believe it! All things are possible with God! He can even use a 63 year old man who likes to dress up as the Tooth Fairy!