Archive for August 2018

The Warts of Seventh Grade

August 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 28, 2018

                               

Today, Tuesday, is my day off this week. I substitute teach the other four days of the week. Last week I manned a classroom Wednesday through Friday. Most of my days so far have been spent being the sheep dog for seventh graders. You know, chasing behind them and barking loud enough that the ones threatening to become wayward from the flock correct their perilous destinations!

Seventh graders in August are like caterpillars who haven’t cocooned yet. They are still wobbling around trying to find their way. The incredible thing is that most of them will evolve by the following May into beautiful butterflies of various brightness. Resisting temptation, their teachers will abstain from squashing a select few! 

Last week most of the seventh grade flock headed towards the green acres of educational grazing, but there were a few who seemed drawn to the brier patch. I’ll call them “the warts of seventh grade”, the oddities who stand out like a bald man wearing a petticoat and drain teachers of energy and patience.

There are the warts that LIKE to be noticed. When the attention of a class gets too focused on knowledge and away from them an outburst deadens the pursuit of discovery. One wart’s stainless steel water bottle redirected the attention of her class half a dozen times as she dropped it, tipped it over, and kicked it. Each drop had the same effect of someone raking their fingernails across one of those old chalkboards we used to have…back in the old days! the student squealed in glee at her ability of distract.

One boy, resembling a bad rash in the midst of academia’s complexion, must not only be ADHD, but a few more letters added onto that. Like a bug headed for a zapper, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep himself from being sent to the principal’s office. 

And then there are the few who mistake their warts for being adorable freckles. Like a bad case of acne on the teenager’s face, their teachers will be applying steady applications of disciplinary Clearasil to help their classroom complexion. For an even more select few there is now Clearasil Ultra that applies even deeper forms of correction.

In August “the warts” stand out. By next spring the beauty marks will, thankfully, command more of the attention. It’s why teachers teach! They teach for what they believe will be the result towards the end of the nine month journey, the vividness of their students’ discoveries, and the hope that warts can even be transformed along the way.

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

Just Call Me ‘Mr. Zippy’!

August 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 25, 2018

                                  

I was standing in front of the classroom of thirty-five 7th Grade students. It was the second class period of my day, having already traversed through the treacherous path of Period 1!

I partially sat down on the table in front of the classroom to begin taking attendance. I looked down at my long attendance sheet of names and noticed something else.

I was unzipped! Not just a little bit, or with partial coverage, but as wide open as a Montana range! 

When the revelation of such a moment becomes known to a person several questions immediately follow: How long have I been this way? Who noticed? Who noticed, didn’t say anything to me, but is now saturating the school with the news? What do I do now?

The “what do I do now” question was easy to answer. I casually covered the front with the attendance sheet and tried to look like I was searching for someone as I made my way to the back of the classroom. Thankfully my classroom that day was located in one of the “portables” outside the school building. There are restrooms in the middle between the two classrooms. I headed for one of them and executed a quick zip!

I don’t know if anyone in that class had seen my underlying underwear, but I still turned a shade of sunburn red for a few moments. 

It’s funny! I can recall three times in my lifetime when I was inconveniently unzipped. Well, anytime would be inconvenient, but three times it has occurred at the most inconvenient moments possible!

Friday was the third!

The first time it happened was a number of years ago when I was pastoring the First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan. We hosted the annual meeting of the American Baptist Churches in our area. Representatives from about forty congregations gathered in our sanctuary. I walked to the front of the sanctuary to welcome all of the guests and to say the opening prayer. I stood on the front platform- with no pulpit to shield me, mind you- and gave words of greeting to those in the crowded sanctuary. When I finished I walked down the center aisle to the back. 

And when I reached the foyer I noticed that I had, evidently, been flashing the congregation the whole time! In front of our Executive Minister, my Area Minister, others who had smiles on their faces, and a few stone-faced folk who had starched their shirt collars too much!

That event happened almost thirty years ago and I can still replay it in the nightmares of my slumber. Most of the time I’m now able to chuckle as I think about it.

The other time when, so to speak, I “opened up” to people happened in the Colorado Springs airport. I had gone to pick up my friend, Artie Powers. It was back in the days when someone picking up a passenger could still meet him at the gate. I walked down the terminal to where Artie’s plane would arrive. I noticed several women smiling at me as I strolled at a leisurely pace down the corridor. 

“I must be looking pretty good today!” I thought to myself. I met Artie and as we walked back through the terminal together he said to me in his distinctive West Virginian accent, “All the cows are out to pasture!”

“Huh?”

“You’re unzipped!”

It was at that moment that I realized that the smiling women weren’t entranced by my good looks. They were humored by my cluelessness!

They say things come in threes. Well, I’m hoping that’s true! I’m considering the idea of simply wearing sweat pants with a draw string in front and no zipper…but then I’d probably have a rip in the back that would just end up revealing my Hanes from the rear! 

Parisian Relief

August 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 21, 2018

                                  

In another example of guys having a hard time keeping it in their pants, Paris has installed several public urinals along its streets. The “uritrottoir” (a combination of the French words for urinal and pavement) have been installed in various places to combat the problem of people urinating in public. (I’m not making this up!)

Now a man who can’t hold his beer can walk right up to…this thing!…that resembles a trash can, and take care of business. One of the “uritrottoirs” is located right along the Seine River. Tourists boats go up and down the river. Now they can add another “sight” to their tour.

The creator of the innovative urinal says that it offers an ecological solution to public peeing. One of the relief stations is 20 meters away from an elementary school. 

Growing up in Kentucky I was accustomed to relieving myself in non-public restroom places. When our family of five drove the curvy roads between Winchester and Paintsville to visit the relatives we’d often have to pull over to the side of the two lane highway in our 1958 Ford Fairlane so that one or more of the three kids could take the pressure off. Dad would watch for cars as we stood a few feet off the road. At our Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm there were a number of times where, in the midst of playing outside, I stood on the foot bridge over the creek and took care of business. The outhouse was just a few feet away, but the outhouse also…had spiders and cobwebs and dark corners that six year old boys, like me, tried to keep their distance from.

But that was in rural, agricultural Kentucky!

On the “uritrottoir” there’s a drawing to demonstrate to the urinators how to…pee! The drawing is a bit humorous because no normal action of relieving oneself would look like that. 

I’ll be in Paris next May, but I won’t be using the outdoor facility. I’m at an age where it’s difficult enough to just get started. Having people watching me has a negative effect on my speed. I’d be standing there for like…20 minutes and six passing tour boats! 

And you can’t be inconspicuous with the “uritrottoir” because they are bright red! If you’re standing in front of one it’s like you’re shouting “Hey! Look at me!”

They even have flowers on top of them. I guess that’s like organic potpourri!

I’m just a little unsure of this “advance” in civilization. Listen! If you can’t hold it long enough until you get to the next public restroom you’ve got some real issues! 

And talk about gender bias!

The Following of Fallen Leaders

August 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 20, 2018

                             

The allegations against Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, have caused a torrent of unrest and a flood of tears in the Christian community throughout our country. Hybels began Willow Creek back in the 1970’s and it has influenced the thinking and ministry of thousands of churches around the world. 

The allegations of inappropriate flirtations and embraces that lingered too long have come in the midst of the tidal wave of other “MeToo” movement outraged voices. The accusations against Hybels have traced acts of inappropriateness back to the 1980’s. 

It’s sad! It’s sad for everyone that has had to speak in this tragedy, from accusers to accused to church leaders to the two people who had already been named to succeed him as pastor, and who now have had to back out of their decisions. 

I’ve read several books that Bill wrote, attended a few Willow Creek services, been a Global Leadership Summit conferee, and referred back over the years to lectures from those Summits that Hybels gave. 

And now the church of Jesus Christ has its mouth open in disbelief! Questions thunder from the pews. Was it all a farce, a big show with no substance? When he was seeking to attract unchurched people to attend Willow Creek what were his true motives?

When leaders fall questions abound. We want our leaders to be above reproach. In fact, when a leader with a great personality has accusations hurled at him/her most of the followers initially react defensively in support of the accused. 

Side step! We all fail and fall. When a leader we follow fails, however, it’s similar to when we were kids and heard a rumor that Santa Claus isn’t real. We refused to believe it until some of our friends confirmed the suspicions. We don’t want our leaders to be fallible!

Back to the blog road! When people idolize certain personalities they tend to not see the impending avalanche until it’s too late. 

There are those people who are cynical and skeptical about everything…and there are those people who would believe the earth is flat if a certain person said it. 

So…in recent months big-time football coaches, famous actors, politicians, mega church pastors, priests, denominational leaders, film directors, civic leaders, other professional athletes, and CEO’s have been held responsible for past actions. Accusations have been made against our current president, but his supporters have been acting as shields in defense of him. We’re not sure yet how that one will play out.

When followers become disillusioned with those they’ve believed in, it leaves a mixture of apathy and outrage in its wake. Who is speaking the truth if the truth tellers are found to be suspect? 

A conflicted form of grief fogs in our understanding of how life is to be lived and how the world operates. And where there is grief there must be a chapter of healing- slow and painful, seeking to find that firm place to step onto. 

And, finally, where there is grief over what has been and what is there will be the ripple effects of loss and revision. Things will change. The people who journeyed in the caravan known as “church” will not be the same. The disillusioned will seek to find different kinds of oases and we can only look at them and say “We understand!” 

Grandparents Sleepover Weekend

August 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 19, 2018

                              

Our oldest daughter, Kecia, and her husband, Kevin, ran in “The Beast” this weekend in Breckenridge, Colorado. The Beast is about a half-marathon, but includes a multitude of obstacles and challenges throughout, like climbing walls, jumping through mud, and walking on hot coals! Okay, just kidding on the hot coals part!

Meanwhile Grammy and Granddad did another form of The Beast at home. We kept the three grandkids- ages 3, 7, and 10! Like our daughter and son-in-law we also had a multitude of challenges and obstacles. Our challenges included keeping the house from looking like a war zone, teeth brushing time, meltdown moments, and striving for most of the food on their plates to actually be eaten.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m “on break” at Starbucks at 7 AM before heading back to the fray and facing the next obstacle of getting everyone in the car to drive 45 minutes to Simla, Colorado for church. The ride home from there will be comparable to coming down the home stretch of our “marathon grandparenting” race! I’m doubting that there will be a water station and available Powerade at the finish line! That’s okay, we just need a bed!

Carol and I love our “grands”, even hoping for more! We also recognize that we’ve both been like “grandparenting sprinters”, not marathoners. We’re used to two hour stints, not 48 hour ultra events. Like an actual marathon it has been a weekend of exhilaration and exhaustion. 

Like the three year old singing with revised lyrics as she played with Play-Doh. 

“This old man, he had three; he had three on my knick-knack…and a knick-knack patio, give a dog a home, this old man comes running home.”

Or our ten year old grandson watching an international fencing competition on TV and figuring out the scoring system they use. 

And our seven year old helping her little sister, and playing “McDonald’s drive-thru lane” with her.

On the exhaustion side there was bedtime! But bedtime at the grandparent’s house is seen as being more like a sleepover, full of giggling and getting their second wind. There’s a lot of movement and talking..and movement…and “I want a drink of water”…and movement…and threat of being duct taped to the bed…and crying…and finally…finally sleep! During the night, however, like chess pieces, there’s a rearranging of where each of the slumberers ends up by Saturday morning.

Last night Carol looked at me and said “I don’t remember being this tired when we were raising our three kids.”

“We’re out of shape, dear! A bit flabby in the grandparent mid-section!”

On the positive, we took them to Noodles for Saturday night dinner and each one of them ate EVERYTHING on their plates…well, except for what the three year old dropped on the floor beside her chair! I ordered an extra plate of pot stickers because they were still hungry!

When I was growing up my parents would take my brother, my sister, and me to our Mamas and Papaw Helton’s for a week in the summertime. They had a farm in the eastern part of Kentucky. If nothing else this weekend has given me a new appreciation for their stamina, patience, and strength. 

And they had 12 grandkids! I feel a bit wimpy and weak being exhausted by three!

I’ll try to be in better shape for the next “Beast”. Kecia and Kevin are doing another race for insane people in a month. They’ll be gone a little longer next time, so for us it will be like doing the grandparenting “Ultra Beast”! 

One thing’s for certain for that next time! We’ll be at Noodles again!

Why I Substitute Teach

August 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 18, 2018

                                     

School began again this past Wednesday in our area! At Timberview Middle School four hundred or so sixth graders waited outside the doors that first day. Seventh and eighth graders came back on Thursday.

The school staff waited inside the doors and cheered them on as they entered the building for their first middle school experience.

And I was one of the cheering high five-ing staff members!

I’m a substitute teacher, but had been asked to teach the first three days of school by a teacher back in April because of a family wedding she would be attending out-of-state.

Other staff members asked the question: “Mr. Wolfe, subbing already?” Yes, in fact, out of 13 August school days I’m scheduled to sub 10 of them for 7 different teachers. 

I often have people ask me why I substitute teach? Am I a masochist? Is it the appropriate level for how mature I act? Will no one else hire me? Am I reliving my junior high days?

Truthfully, I substitute teach because I enjoy it! I’m serious! One of the best months of my life was when I was asked to do a long-term 7th Grade Social Studies teaching position. I had to work like crazy that month preparing for each day of instruction and interaction, but I was a bit sad when the new teacher was hired. She’s a great teacher (who I have subbed for several times since!), but I missed the kids who I was privileged enough to teach, challenge, and converse with each day. 

That experience has probably influenced my feelings on substitute teaching more than anything else. It imparted confidence in me and brought me to the point where each school day was seen as being an opportunity to influence and educate, as opposed to enduring and dreading.

I don’t substitute teach because we need the income. We’re okay regardless of whether I decide to take the month off or appear in a classroom every school day of that month. The pay, in my mind, is simply a side benefit for doing something I enjoy doing. 

I substitute teach because of the relationships with staff, parents, and students. A few of my best friends are now teachers, who are on staff at Timberview. One of them has been on two mission trips with me. I officiated at the funeral service for another teacher friend who succumbed to cancer two years ago. 

I substitute teach at middle school because it’s an impressionable time for the children who enter there and three years later exit as teenagers. It’s an uncertain and confusing part of their life journeys. I remember my junior high days. They were not that pleasant. I was the smallest kid in my whole class. Other boys in my eighth grade class were beginning to sport facial hair and armpit hair that was dense and long enough to take a weed whacker to. I didn’t even have peach fuzz! I was still like a facial hair desert, void of signs of adolescence!

As a sub I have the opportunity to give a word of encouragement, bring a class to laughter, and grace students with nicknames. I have the opportunity to make a school day more than just books and study sheets. I’m able to make it an experience.

It’s a bit flattering to hear good things being said about me. I’m scheduled to teach 8th Grade social studies for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. The teacher came up to me on Thursday and told me she had shared with her classes that I’d be subbing for her during that time. 

“They were so excited!”

Wow! Putting the pressure on me! But, you know something? I’m also excited! I am a blessed man!