Archive for May 2018

Getting My Gospel Jet (or Wolfe Wings!)

May 31, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 31, 2018

                                  

I don’t have a jet, not a single one!

“Lord, what did I do to deserve this lack of air travel, even a propjet!”

My bitterness stems from the report this week that Louisiana evangelist Jesse Duplantis is raising funds to add a fourth jet to his fleet, a three engine Dassault Falcon 7X to be exact. A new one right  from the showroom goes for just 54 million, although used ones can be had for the bargain basement price of 20 million. 

Jesse, with his snow white hair, heard the voice of God tell him to aim high! He needs this fourth jet that can fly 700 miles an hour to preach the gospel around the world. I’m not sure what the other three jets he already owns are to do. Having a backup is always a good thing, I guess! But a backup to the backup to the backup…seems kind of overkill!

Jesse is committed to the prosperity gospel, a twist on the words of Jesus that says God desires to bless his people with wealth…and jets (my paraphrase!). 

He rationalizes his need for Jesse Jet IV with the statement that if Jesus was on earth today he wouldn’t be riding a donkey any more. Sound theology!

One young man I pastored a while back DID refer to my Honda Civic Hybrid as “the spaceship!” Other than that, however, I’ve ministered with all four wheels on the ground and two feet on the cracked sidewalks. 

Perhaps I should aim higher! Maybe I’ll take the idea of “Wings for Wolfe” to the little congregation in the small Colorado town on the eastern plains I travel to speak at. It takes me 45 minutes to drive there. Perhaps I should tell them to have faith and give funds. 

Tele-evangelist Creflo Dollar asked his congregation and listeners to give $300 a piece so he could buy a $65 million dollar luxury jet. Unlike Duplantis, however, Dollar needs a new jet to replace his old one that he says no longer works. (I know where he can get a Dassault Falcon 7X for 20 million!)

Here’s how my pitch to the congregation in Simla, Colorado, will sound and their obedient response!

“God has called me to fly! He wants me to spread my wings and spread His Word! And he has told me that y’all are going to have faith enough to raise the funds for me. Would you help me fly today? Can you believe in miracles?”

And they would shout “Yes! Yes, we believe!”

And then the next Sunday with tears of joy running down their faces they’d present me with a package. “We believed, pastor! We believed! We raised the money to make “Wings for Wolfe”…Wolfe Wings, if you will, possible.”

Tears would begin to stream down my face as I opened the package, expecting to see a pair of keys. Instead, however, the opened box top would reveal a red cape inside, and then they would look at me and say, “Okay, Pastor! We believed! Now…how much faith do you have that God has called you to fly?”

The Roseannes At Starbucks

May 30, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 30, 2018

                          

Yes, I frequent Starbucks…like, right now! I can’t say enough about the baristas at the coffee cafe I visit six days a week. I know them by name- Steph, Rhea, Sarah, Chase, Cody, Viv, Kallie, Katherine, and Katie. 

Rhea began taking online classes with Arizona State in January and I edited a couple of English Composition papers for her. Sarah and I share family pictures together. Katie always greets me with a smile, like I’m someone she’s happy to see. Cody would be friendly to a rock. His break times are spent sitting with customers and talking about life.

They are great people who frequently are called upon to serve others who are demanding, obnoxious, judgmental, and entitled. 

The pace is furious. I was trying to share a story with Rhea one day about something that had happened at school and it took me another three days of visits to be able to finish it! 

Starbucks closed 8,000 stores on Tuesday for a four hour employees’ training session on anti-bias. The company’s decision to conduct the training grew out of a situation in a Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men, who were waiting at the store to meet a friend, ended up being arrested. An employee had called the police about the men hanging around the store. The incident quickly gained nationwide attention. 

Racial stereotyping is not something I’m comfortable with. However, I am acutely aware of how I stereotype elderly people who are behind the steering wheel of a car, how I stereotype anyone who drives a BMW, anyone who plays basketball at a certain high school close to us, any guy who is “sagging”, anyone wearing a Michigan Wolverines tee shirt, or anyone who drops “F” bombs as easily as exhaling.

This post is to come alongside my baristas and say that they have to deal the Roseanne Barrs of the world on a daily basis. My barista, Chase, who has several tattoos, told me of a woman who ordered coffee one morning and told him his tattoos were an abomination to God. She was on her way to church. I apologized to Chase for having to be subjected to someone who felt she had to be God’s mouthpiece.

Were we surprised by Roseanne Barr’s tweets? Twenty-five years ago this week she made a mockery of the national anthem that she “kinda’-sung” before a San Diego Padres baseball game. She thought it was funny! Do we think she spent the past twenty-five years getting proper and well-mannered?

Everyday my baristas deal with the Roseannes of our area with patience and hospitable spirits. Perhaps Starbucks should consider another training session, but this time offer it for all those folk on this side of the counter who feel they have a license to kill-verbally, treat the employees like dirt, and don’t think their poop stinks!

The 200 Mile Club

May 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 29, 2018

                                      

It was an idea that sounded good, like toilet-papering the principal’s car on the last day of school or eating Captain Crunch cereal every meal for an entire summer, as did a college classmate of mine!

An idea that sounded like a challenge!

Coach Schneiderman, 6th Grade Math teacher, offered it up before he did the math. 

“What if we challenged the cross-country kids to run 200 miles during the summer? We could give some kind of prize or shirt to those who do it?”

“That’s a great idea, Coach! Maybe get shirts that say Timberview Cross-Country 200 Mile Club!”

A few minutes later Coach Schneiderman offered a scaled down figure. “Maybe 150 miles!”

I, however, had already penciled in the number 200! There are about eleven weeks in vacation summer. Two hundred split amongst seventy-seven days is about two and a half miles a day…if a person runs every day!

Sold! I presented the idea to the students who came to a brief cross-country meeting the last week of school. Some looked at me like I was a crazed coach and others were inspired by the challenge.

And then I decided to take up the challenge myself! What??????

Perhaps it came from memories of long distance runs that I used to take: running along the top of the flood walls of Ironton, Ohio; running the roads of Oxford, Ohio; running, along with 3 other Judson College teammates, 25 miles for charity once time; and running up Barr Trail in Colorado Springs as I trained for the Pike’s Peak Ascent.

But that’s been a few years, and I haven’t been getting any younger! In fact, Carol says I should have my cell phone with me when I run in case something happens. I inferred from that remark that the “something” was a heart attack, not that I stumbled and twisted my ankle. Sixty-four year olds may be one three mile run away from eternity!

So I’ve started. Six days in and I’m at 18 miles. My knees seem more like 180 miles. My body screams at me in unkind ways. 

Perseverance and determination, that’s what keeps me going. So far I’ve only been running laps around the Timberview track. It brings back memories of running around the Ironton Junior High School track I lived about a half mile from. In those days I’d run 24 laps, six miles, around the cinder oval. This summer I’ll begin to widen my circle and run some trails and streets close by. 

18 miles in, only 182 to go! After today I’ll be more than 10% towards the goal…barely!

In August I look forward to celebrating with the other runners who took up and met the challenge.

I’m also hoping to be about twenty pounds lighter by then, a pound for every ten miles! When I graduated from Ironton High School in 1972 I weighed 110 pounds. Now my right leg weighs about that much!

And when an eighth grader whines to me that 200 miles was too hard I’ll show him/her my running chart and say, “Your 64 year old coach did it!” 

“Oh!”

Expected Grace

May 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May, 27, 2018

                                       

It’s only a logo!

A local high school swim team lost the state championship because of a logo that was too big!

The logo was about twice the size of what a legally-sized logo is to be. The coach of the team filed a protest, not about the logo size, but because a swim referee had inadvertently placed the relay team that the swimmer was on in the finals of the event. The disqualification had come in a preliminary heat. The relay team’s time in the preliminary heat was the best qualifying time of all the teams competing. If they had competed in the relay final (legally) they would have won the state championship by placing eighth or higher.

A Colorado High School Activities Association official said that the swimsuit guidelines were stated at the coach’s meeting before any of the competition began. The guidelines were not new. They had been in effect all season. Swimmers who had suits that might be illegal were invited to bring them to the meet officials for determining their status. Four swimmers did, but not the swimmer from the relay team that was disqualified.

When I officiated high school basketball we were charged with not allowing players to “roll their shorts.” The players knew the rule and the coaches knew the rule, but there always seemed to be a few who tried to roll their shorts anyway. As a basketball coach I’m charged with making sure my players are in compliance of the same uniform rule, although a couple of 7th Grade players on one of my teams this past year were rolling their shorts because their height made the shorts look like pants. 

Rules are important in sports. Although not always understood, their purpose is to help provide a level playing field and keep the focus on the game, not the things that detract from it.

Rules are meant to make clear what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Grace is not a part of a sport’s laws. It does not come into play when a violation in an athletic contest takes place.

And there lies the problem! Not with the rules or the sport, but with people’s expectation of there being grace. There’s a certain attitude that gets conveyed many times by parents, athletes, and coaches that errors are to be overlooked. That grace is expected, not hoped for! Such an understanding of what grace is pollutes its specialness, its uniqueness. For grace to be grace it must come unexpectedly. It must be surprising. 

In sports the absence of rules promotes chaos, and the expectation of grace results in a widening ring of indifference towards what those rules are meant to enforce. 

It’s only a logo!

Yes, it is! It is only a logo that could have easily been changed out for another swim suit that was legal. 

A Personal Update

May 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                             May 26, 2018

                                   

Permit me to devote my blog post today to my experience at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference I attended last week in Estes Park, Colorado. A number of people have asked me what came out of it so I’ll summarize as best I can.

At the conference each attendee is given the opportunity to meet with several literary agents and editors. Those very quick 15 minute appointments are designed to give the writer a chance to pitch his/her book or idea for a book. If there is interest the agent has the option to tell the person that he can send his first few chapters or the whole manuscript for further inspection…or not! 

I had six appointments and was invited to submit my manuscript by five of the people I met with. That was good news on the bottom line. On the other hand, I didn’t feel comfortable with the perspective of a couple of them about what young adult fiction is. 

The best part of the conference for me was the Fiction Intensive Clinic. Those who applied had to submit the first 12-14 pages of their manuscript and a book synopsis. From the submitted materials six people were accepted to be a part of the clinic. The group met for six hours together, plus a 30 minute one-on-one appointment with our instructor, Tim Shoemaker. He has written about a dozen books. Several of them are young adult fiction. Before the conference he had spent about 4 hours of critiquing of each of our group participants’ submissions. He pointed out little details that occurred in our writing that can be easily corrected, made the point that our writing is already good, but it can be made better. Tim is awesome and I bought his three book series that begins with the novel Code of Silence. 

When I told him a few of the other remarks that had been shared with me about youth and young adult fiction that seemed a little bizarre he told me to discount their importance. He encouraged me to press on, which I am!

Because of Tim I’m doing a book rewrite before I send it to any of the literary agents. Although I believe it’s already good I want it to be great. I want it to be the best it can be. It is a very competitive and tough market, especially if you are an unknown. If I’m going to be turned down I don’t want the refusal to be because it’s not good enough, but rather that it doesn’t fit with what the literary agents and publishers are looking for. 

Writing is risky. Words have the power to stir emotions, but they also have the potential to be written in certain ways that cause the reader to become disinterested, to see them as just words that lie lifeless on a page. I think about that each time I sit down to write. Will I write words that can make a difference? 

I can tell a story, but can I write it even better? Yes!

A 3 Year Old and 8th Grade Girls

May 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 25, 2018

                              

She met me in the driveway. Her mom (our daughter) was heading to her next to last day of school, teaching fourth graders, and her brother and sister were heading to the same school for their education. 

But she was staying!

“Hi, Granddad!” 

Corin, our three year old granddaughter, was ready. We blew and chased bubbles for thirty minutes and then pursued an imaginary creature she referred to as the beast. I made the mistake of calling the beast “her”, and was quickly corrected on the gender! A few minutes later I had to share an imaginary Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets with the beast. 

We took a walk…a long walk!

Not once did she have to look at her cell phone. Her imagination and grandfather were enough to occupy her time and keep her attention.

The day before I had substitute taught 8th Grade Science for a third straight day. Thus, 8th Grade girls! The differences between the three year old and the girls in my Wednesday classroom are more than just eleven years of life and size. They are also worlds apart.

A three year old’s life is uncomplicated. 8th Grade girls are complicated! Corin’s decisions included what kind of juice she wanted to drink and whether we should play inside or outside. 8th Grade girls make decisions on which path to go down. Many of them choose the path of wisdom and common sense. Some choose the narrow path of uncertainty, where a wind or a sudden stumble can send them falling in one direction or the other. But there are others who have chosen the path that leads to destruction. It is a way that often features defiance and drama, a deafness to reason and a blindness to consequences. 

Before cell phones and social media it seems that deciding which path an adolescent would take came a couple of years later, but life has sped up to a scary pace of change. 

The girls in my science classes this week, that I had also taught last year in an awesome long-term substitute teaching experience of 7th Grade Social Studies, listened to me, talked to me, and remembered the January journey we had walked together. Many of the ones that didn’t know me blew me off as irrelevant and, since I’m “old”, uncool!

The paths are as different as east is from west. The distance between them results in a lack of hearing or, more accurately, an unwillingness to hear someone who is going in the other direction. 

And I had a growing yearning for my three year old “play buddy” to stay that age! I longed for her to stay at that point of deciding on what kind of juice she was going to drink and what imaginary creature Granddad was going to share a Happy meal with.

The Back Story

May 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 20, 2018

                                       

Why am I the way I am?

Why do I always drink my coffee with cream and sugar?

Why do I always put my left leg into my pants first?

Why do I hate beer?

Questions that may intrigue no one else but myself! They are questions that hint at something from my past that caused me to think, act, or feel in a certain way in the present. 

It’s my back story reemerging. For example, I drink my coffee with cream and sugar because that’s how both my mom and dad drank it. It’s a family practice. Once in a great while I’ll drink a cup of coffee black, or with only one of the additions, but it feels strange…it feels off, like I’m putting my pants on backwards and wondering where that zipper went!

“Back Story” is a term writers use to illuminate a character’s past, like telling the story of how the main character received the scar that ran down the side of his face. It’s a glimpse into why someone is the way he is. 

Everyone has Back Story! It’s what we’re rooted in, for good and for bad. 

When tragedy happens, something unexpectedly evil, we ask questions about the perpetrator. We search for some kind of explanation for the unexplainable. Why would Dimitrios Pagourtzis kill students that he went to school with each day? I’ve noticed that there have been several rumored reasons set forward already. What’s his Back Story? What pushed him to do something so evil that it would break the heart of a community and send more shudders throughout the nation?

That question will trouble Santa Fe High School for generations to come. “Why” will continue to rumble through the minds of the students and faculty each time they look at the building or walk down the hallways. A mass shooting will become their Back Story.

If I was pastoring a church in Santa Fe, Texas, what would I say this morning to a sanctuary of confused and troubled faces? What would I tell them on this Sunday that is also Pentecost Sunday?

It is the “Back Story” in our faith journey that I would bring forth. Pentecost is that holy moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus. In a world that is exhausted by its unrest, Pentecost is part of our Back Story of hope. It is why we believe that good can overcome evil. It’s the reason each follower of Jesus believes that lives can be redeemed, that light can shine into darkness. 

Pentecost is the Greek name for “Shavuot”, the spring harvest festival of the Israelites, which was happening at the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you could find more than a couple of Christians out of a hundred who would know the spring harvest festival part of Pentecost you’d be doing good. Our Back Story is now connected to the promise of the Spirit. 

We may never know, and probably, never understand why Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire on people he knew and had been educated with? Whatever was going on in his past may never make any kind of sense to us. Our culture minimizes the idea of “The Evil One”, until the Bible tells us he comes to deceive and destroy. It’s his M.O., his Back Story that continues in the present and on into the days ahead.

But followers of Christ know their Back Story, too, and that it leads us on to be agents of change, and lovers of all people. It’s my Back Story that causes me to fear no evil, and have the assurance of future hope!