Archive for January 2018

Acquired Taste

January 31, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 31, 2018

                                              

There are certain things in life that we partake of because…

Because of family tradition. Because we’ve always done it that way. Because it’s all we have. Because someone does it. Because we were told to.

For a few years at Thanksgiving I’d make oyster dressing. No one else in my household- spouse or any of the three kids- would even get close to the oyster dressing. I made it because…my mom always made it for Thanksgiving! I didn’t even realize that dressing/stuffing could be eaten without oysters! Christmas featured fruitcake. I don’t even like fruitcake, but we always had one for Christmas, so I’d munch away, pretending it was a natural act of mankind.

I acquired a taste for coffee during my last year of seminary when I decided to take a  Hebrew class. Late at night Steve Wamberg, Steve Shaffer, and I would drive over to The Golden Bear restaurant, drink coffee and study Hebrew flash cards. The Hebrew never stayed with me, but the taste for coffee did. Forty years later I’ve acquired a taste for Starbucks coffee, a brew that grew on me!

In recent years I’ve acquired tastes for Brussel sprouts, yogurt, and grits. Such notions would have made me break out in fits of laughter a few years ago.

There also seems to be “acquired tastes” of cultural ideas and trends. Last year the middle school where I coach was saturated with “fidget spinners.” Spinners were those handheld devices that were held by two fingers and spun. They became a “thing” that became classroom distractions. Teachers had nightmares because of fidget spinners. When they thought of the word “annoying” a picture of a fidget spinner would pop up in their minds.

What I noticed about “acquired cultural tastes” is that people sometimes follow along and partake simply because of others. It’s simply peer pressure shaped differently. There are issues or situations where following along is a good thing, a wise thing; and there are issues and situations where following along is ludicrous.

For example, towards the end of the 1800’s the overwhelming opinion in the United States was that Chinese immigrants were to be despised and discriminated against. Many businesses and corporations had policies that prohibited the hiring of Chinese. In fact, a person would be hard pressed to find someone who was sympathetic. The government sure wasn’t! People followed along in that “acquired taste” of hate and racism.

In the turbulence of our present culture recent “acquired tastes” have included national anthem protests, reefer gladness, consuming laundry detergent pods, and openly hoping that certain elected officials meet untimely deaths. They are like opinionated tsunamis that years from now will be looked upon, like the discrimination of Chinese immigrants, as making no sense whatsoever. For now, however, like flags blowing in the wind, people wave in the direction of the spouted opinion.

If a Hollywood starlet or recording artist makes a statement in the midst of one of the many award shows on TV you can be sure that numerous people will acquire the taste of that stance soon after. I guess that sounded somewhat opinionated, didn’t it?

Well, here’s another opinion! Most acquired tastes, with the exception of Starbucks coffee, should be un-acquired!

Wrestling with Spartan Loyalty

January 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             January 28, 2018

                                 

It’s been a tough week in Spartan Land! The Larry Nassar horror had been going on for a while. I wanted to believe that he was more connected to USA Gymnastics than Michigan State University.

You see, that’s a big part of my problem, and struggle. I don’t want to believe that anything can go wrong in Spartan Country.

Sports Information Director at the Air Force Academy, Troy Garnhart, told me of the Academy’s football game at Michigan State a couple of years ago. He was impressed by everything- the people, the facilities, but, most of all, the hospitality and genuineness of the coaches and players. That’s what I want to hear! It’s difficult to hear that the coin actually has another side to it.

I want to believe that about the other university about an hour southeast down the road. Anything that makes Jim Harbaugh want to puke…like a blocked punt on the final play of a football game…brings a smile to my face!

But this is Spartan Land, and I wouldn’t even want such a debacle to happen in Ann Arbor. One of sexual assault victims of Larry Nassar is the daughter of a man who was a part of the youth group I led back in the early eighties in Lansing. Her testimony personalized a story that became so immense that there was a danger of seeing so many victims- more than one hundred and fifty, but forgetting that each one of them endured pain and suffering.

As happens in our culture, the indiscretions of one becomes the fault of the many. We’re teetering on the edge of a moral ledge where things that have been kept hidden are raising their ugly heads. In recent months, more than usual, an incision into the heart of our society has revealed the darkness of how we live. In our talent for avoidance we usually shrug off the rumors, but, in this situation, the reality has tsunami’ed us. The Nassar crimes are like when you look at a wall and see a crack in the paint, but when you more closely investigate it you notice that the crack extends in all directions.

I want to still live in Spartan Land but the “Green and White” has become grey-ish! I want my heroes to stay standing on pedestals, but I’m afraid that the possibility of falling off is increasing daily.

And how far does the failure of responsibility ripple out? A university president and the athletic director have already retired/resigned. The entire board of USA Gymnastics joined the list of resignations. How many more will be found to have ignored the elephant in the room?

I’ll always root for the Spartans, but when I wear my Michigan State hoodie nowadays I’m reminded more of the damage that has been done to a multitude of lives than I am of Spartan victories.

A school that has been known for “Magic” has entered a new chapter that is entitled  “Tragic”!

Creating Poets Without Beards…or Rhyme!

January 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 27, 2018

                             

I was given the opportunity yesterday to teach seventh grade Language Arts class. One hundred adolescents more excited about a weekend of doing nothing as opposed to fifty-seven minutes of literary creating and discovery!

The assignment for each period was to create a poem, based on an ancient form of Chinese poetry called “Shi” poetry. I explained the creative process to them, showed them a few examples and set them off on the road of pondering, erasing bad lines of gibberish, and creative expression.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this? “I have a flying dog who flies in the air like a pigeon.”

“Needs a bit of work!”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with this, but if you have a flying dog do you really need to repeat two words later that he flies? And, isn’t it enough to say it’s a flying dog, as opposed to comparing him to a pigeon?” He ponders, returns to his seat, and I notice he immediately flips his pencil to use the eraser.

A masterpiece just destroyed by a substitute teacher who doesn’t understand about flying dogs.

“Mr. Wolfe, what do you think about this?” He hands me his creation, which I carefully read.

“The season of winter has begin

The light will be dim…”

“Shouldn’t that word be ‘begun’?

“Well, I wanted it to rhyme with dim.”

“(Thinking the words but not saying them: Listen, Longfellow!) Begin doesn’t rhyme with dim.”

“Yes, it does…begin…dim…” He is trying to convince me that I’m in error.

“No, it doesn’t! And, anyway, you don’t need to rhyme!”

“I know, but I thought it sounded good!”

(Thinking the words again: “Well, it doesn’t!”)

There were other inspired students yesterday who impressed me with the depth of their thoughts and flow of meaning. Poems about the afterlife, death, and personal value were mixed in with other poems about chicken wings, watermelon, and having a rat for a pet.

The drudgery I sensed about the assignment was soon replaced with an excitement about personal expression. Even if the poem was about macaroni and cheese there was still a sense of pride about what had been transmitted from the pencil to the paper.

When students shared their creations they read them with smiles on their faces and the hope of recognition. When each student finished reciting we snapped our fingers together like we were beatniks from the 60’s.

A few poets may have been created in those moments yesterday, as well as visions of flying dogs who look like pigeons.

Did Anybody See That?

January 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 23, 2018

                                     

Life is filled with those moments!

On Saturday morning I was leading a skills session for the Buddy Basketball program at my old church. The first session was for kindergarten through second graders. As I was monitoring the shooting grunts and groans before we began, one girl kept shouting at me, “Watch this! Watch this!” I watched a couple of her shots sail towards a different zip code than where the basket was located and then began looking around the gym at other small people, including my six year old granddaughter.

A minute or so later the same little girl who had been shouting at me to watch shouted, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” She had made a basket and wanted someone to recognize the impossible made possible.

The night before my wife and I had been watching the Michigan State men’s basketball team take out their frustrations on Indiana. In the midst of the game Miles Bridges had an incredible dunk over a defender, and I exclaimed to her “Did you see that?” We wore out the batteries in our remote control replaying the play so many times. It was a moment in time, for Spartan fans at least, that you want to share with others.

Yesterday morning I was substitute teaching at The Classical Academy. We had a two hour delay because of the snow and icy roads. I arrived ahead of schedule in order to make sure I understood the plan for the day. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot when I started strolling across and then…whoops! My feet launched towards the sky and my backside met the icy pavement and snow. My coffee (Kona from Buddha’s Cup in Hawaii, no less!) splattered onto the snow, creating a creamy dotted pattern. I felt my salad lunch jump around in its container, and my right hip was reminded that it’s no longer young.

And then I got to my feet and looked around asking myself, “Did anybody see that?” One of the other basketball coaches I work with did. He smiled at me, and I swore him to secrecy. “Don’t tell the freshmen basketball players!” He smiled at me again.

Sometimes we ask the question “Did anybody see that?” in hopes that our viewing audience is at least one, and wishing for more. At other times, however, we ask the same question and hope that no one but God viewed the embarrassment of the event.

Murphy’s Law says “No one will see the hole-in-one you hit because your partner is searching for his ball in the weeds!” Murphy’s Law also says “A crowd will notice when you want no one to see!”

Deep sigh!

The Last Stool On the Right

January 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 21, 2018

                               

I sit on my stool this morning drinking my Pike Place medium roast and staring out at the snow flying past the window. The storm obscures my usual view of Pike’s Peak, but there is still a sense of peace in the scene in front of me. My earbuds bring soft music to my ears and I sip my morning brew with an attitude of gratitude about God’s hand of grace and abundant blessings.

The last stool on the right at the Starbucks on the corner of Union and Briargate Parkway is my sacred place, or perhaps better phrased, my sacred seat! Some spiritual pessimists may question my choice for where I sense the closeness of God, but I’m okay with that…as long as they stay off my stool! Strange as it may sound, it is from this perch that I have my deepest spiritual ponderings and quiet (with music in my ears) moments with God. Perhaps I should call it “Coffee With Jesus”!

Each one of us needs our space, but we too often neglect to look for some sacred space. We minimize the urgency of holy whisperings in the midst of the culture’s noise. As I sit here this morning God brings people to my mind even as I’m pecking out the words of my blog post.

Ray Stromenger, having a heart procedure tomorrow…my dad passing blood in his urine…one of the young ladies I used to coach in basketball, Autumn Boyles, who torn her ACL in her game last Thursday night…Diana Stucky, who I know will be dealing with a health condition she has in the midst of the change in weather we’re dealing with…my niece, Jennifer Graham, recovering from surgery…Henry McIntosh, in his journey of loss as he grieves his wife’s passing…our neighbor’s, the Nash’s, who lost their eighteen year old grandson back in late October…Nate and Alyssa Price, celebrating the birth of their son. The longer I sit here the more names and faces keep passing through my mind, many because of the down moments of life, but some because of the mountain top events they are shouting about.

Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…”

 

That Psalm is referred to as a “miktam”, a term that many believe is unclear or untranslatable, but some believe it meant that the Psalm attached to it was of such importance that it needed to be engraved in the hearts and minds of the ones saying it.

I sit in his presence experiencing the quiet joy of the morning, and reciting those words once again…”You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

My sacred spot usually runs through three cups of coffee, one blog post, about fifteen recorded songs, and then it’s time to journey back to the rest of my day. It’s an intimate time, oddly enough, in the midst of a gathering crowd of coffee drinkers.

I’ve warmed the stool for the next journeyer as God has warmed my soul. Amen.

Substitute Teaching Sarcasm

January 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 19, 2018

                                 

I love being a substitute teacher amongst middle school students. Each class is a new experience in “classroom culture.” It takes me about ten minutes to figure out personalities… or lack of!

Students who have me for the first time soon discover that I use sarcastic humor like sunscreen at the beach. I slap it on all over the place!

It begins with the student’s question: “Are you our sub today?”

“No. They discovered that I had never properly completed 7th Grade so I had to re-enroll for the rest of the year!”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! Yes, I’m your sub today.”

Or “When is Ms. So-and-So coming back?”

“She’s not!”

“What?”

“Her cover was blown. She was in the Witness Protection Program and they found her. She had to be relocated to another school in another state dealing with second graders.”

“Seriously?”

Or, a conversation that happens multiple times each day.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go to the restroom?”

“You should be able to. You’re in seventh grade.”

Confused look. “So, can I?”
“If you can’t you’ve got some real issues.”

Starts to leave.

“Where are you going?”
“You said I could go to the restroom.” (Another student behind the student whispers: “Say ‘may I go’.”) “Oh, may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

“Coach Wolfe, I can’t wait for basketball to start.”

“Me either! And they finally replaced those backboards that you put cracks in last year.”

“Mr. Wolfe, why can’t we start school later, like about 10:00?

“Because you’re slow learners. It takes you longer to understand things? And wait until you get in high school and have to take calculus! You’ll have to start at 6 A.M. that semester.”

“Seriously?”

“Mr. Wolfe, I have a girlfriend.”

“Does she know it?”

“What…yes, she knows!”

“Mr. Wolfe, why do we have to go to school five days a week?”

“Because the teachers voted down going to school six days a week.”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Yes!”

“Okay! You nailed me! I have no clue!”

Yesterday’s subbing in a seventh grade classroom ended with a gratifying comment from a student.

“Mr. Wolfe, you’re the best substitute teacher ever!”

The question is…was she serious or being sarcastic?

Half-Free

January 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 17, 2018

                                             

We are drawn to the word free! After all, we live in the land of the free and the brave. Free sells!

Last week’s mail brought a couple of “FREE” offers. I intentionally wrote the word in capital letters there because that’s how it was displayed in the advertisement. “FREE” draws a person’s attention like the smell of your next door neighbor’s barbecuing. I looked closer at the ad for the restaurant. I could go there and get a free breakfast, lunch, or dinner…here it comes…with the purchase of another meal and two drinks.

Wouldn’t that make the free meal half-free? Or, wouldn’t it mean that I’d be getting two meals for a little bit more than half-price ( knowing what they charge for a soda!)?

We love free! Half-off still dips into our wallet. It still costs us something! If we approached a marriage proposal by saying “I’m half in love with you” or “I want to be married to you half the time” the results, hopefully, would be an end to the relationship before the wedding vows were half-said in front of a crowded church sanctuary.

Free is a word that must be untangled from the grasp of an addendum.

Some might say that being a follower of Jesus is like that; that the person who is witnessing for Jesus talks about being freed from sin, but then talks about what it means to be a follower of Christ. It’s that tension between the understanding that Jesus died on the cross to set me free, and then being told that accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior means that I’ll do this and that.

In the days of the New Testament there was the division between those who were free and those who were enslaved. Paul refers to that cultural condition quite often in his epistle writings. Those who read his letters understood the separation, and even though they were slaves to masters they were drawn to the principle that freedom could be experienced in a spiritual sense.

What if the gospel only set us half-free? What if it unchained us in some ways, but failed to unburden us in others?

And from another perspective, are there those who see themselves as followers of Christ but have allowed his sacrifice to only set them half-free?

Half-free is half-hearted.