Archive for June 2020

The Problem of Monuments

June 26, 2020

One of my favorite writers of history is Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m rounding the home stretch of her 2018 book Leadership In Turbulent Times, a fascinating comparison of four former presidents- Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and LBJ.

In an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln led, Goodwin writes this, “Guided by the principle of forgiveness, Lincoln insisted he did not care if someone HAS done wrong in the past, ‘It is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.'” (Page 224)

In a time when some seem committed to the erasing of the footsteps of where the American journey has been, we’re discovering that there seems to be no grace period for monuments. What takes lifetimes to create is crashing down in a few minutes of pulling. No statue, it seems, is exempt. If it’s a statue the worst is thought about it. An abolitionist from Philadelphia toppled. Mahatma Gandhi, the promoter of peace, and who Martin Luther King drew inspiration from, was desecrated in Washington, D.C. George Washington was pummeled in Portland, Oregon.

People, like me, are confused by the illogic. It seems as if any statue with the dust of time on it must be prime for removal. There is a longing for past perfection and deafness to the fact that we are all imperfect. Some people were rooted in the idealogy of warped, imperfect systems. Some people were drafted into the purposes of suspect principalities and powers. And some were simply reflective of the opinions and perspectives of their day. But make no mistake about it, perfection was, and is an extinct condition.

So we seem to prefer tearing down instead of building up, defacing instead of forgiving, pulling apart instead of coming together.

Do we rewrite history and rename streets, parks, and institutions that commemorate it? If we “bland-ize” our surroundings we may solve the unrest in our spirits for a moment, but lose sight of where we’ve come from.

Back to Lincoln, the sixteenth president sought a cabinet that brought a mixture of political preferences. Instead of gathering only those who thought like he did, he appointed people who would bring different perspectives, and he valued each one of them. He saw the need for justice and the threats to unity.

However, a statue in Washington, D.C. called The Emancipation Monument has protestors threatening to tear it down because a black man is kneeling beside Lincoln.

architecture usa statue face

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Granddad’s Butt Chin

June 23, 2020

She has no filter yet. Our five-year-old granddaughter, Corin, verbalizes the raw truth. She just puts it out there for you to chew on.

Yesterday she informed me that I have a butt chin. In her view of the world, my chin resembles two hams squeezed together under one skin covering. The little upswing in the middle assists in the painting of the picture for her. If we were playing Pictionary the question would be is she drawing my chin or someone’s backside?

In her mind, the comment was not meant to be disparaging. She didn’t mean for me to rush off for a shot of chin botox, or to always wear a face mask. She was simply making an observation as if she was seeing a cow in the shape of a cloud or a bunny in a hand shadow.

Sometimes the raw truth saves a lot of time. I have a habit of sauteeing my conversation with words like kinda’, sorta’, and maybe. Corin has never once used those words. Granted, sometimes she gives displays of whining, pouting, and crying to express her dissatisfaction, and dancing, hugging, and jabbering to let us know of her excitement and happiness. But, she never sorta’ says the truth.

Her acknowledgment of my butt chin was followed by her touching it just to make sure it fit her specifications for what a butt chin should look like. And then she leaned into me to let me know I was still her granddad. She does not worry about invading my personal space.

So now I think I’m going to eat salad for the next month and see if I might slim down to a lean cut of meat!

black pig on green grass field

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Dad’s Birthday

June 18, 2020

Today, June 18th would have been my dad’s 92nd birthday. He passed away on February 15th, 2018, just four months shy of ninety.

Lawrence Hubert Wolfe was named after two Baptist deacons who brought his father back into sobriety. Lawrence and Hubert were difference-makers, and my dad carried their names for the next nine decades.

Interesting that my dad was honored as being “Deacon Emeritus” of Beulah Baptist Church in Proctorville, Ohio. Lawrence and Hubert would have been honored to know how valued he was to his congregation.

I carry many of my dad’s mannerisms. Just as he did, I begin many of my sentences with the word “well”. It’s like the prologue for the verbal contribution I’m about to make. Maybe it also was a Kentucky front-porch form of meandering through the path of a conversational subject matter. Well…that’s just what I think about that!

One trait/style I have not carried forward is my dad’s tendency to wear brown socks with his grass-cutting shoes. It’s the only way I can think of that I have tried to steer away from our likenesses. I’m sure my own kids have a whole list of my “doings” that they will seek to close off in a drawer of their memories.

man hands waiting senior

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I also learned and imitated my dad’s habit of listening before responding. My mom did most of the talking in our family, often entrenched in her opinion just her as father, Dewey Helton, was. When my dad’s tongue voiced a perspective, however, it was usually wisdom-laced and worthy of contemplation. Not that we didn’t listen to our mom, it’s just…well…

Dad served Mom in her deteriorating health, modeling devotion and sacrifice for his kids and grandkids. When Mom’s Parkinson’s minimized her physical functions and her ability to speak, Dad stayed beside her. “For better or worse, in sickness and in health…”, his vow was to remain faithful to his vows.

I miss him but am blessed to have known him and call him “Dad”.


Deeply Disturbed By Dense Readers

June 18, 2020

I’m evolving, it seems, at an increasingly rapid pace into a crotchety old man. My patience is wearing out faster than my underwear. I’m even looking with suspicion at my own mug in the mirror in the morning. If Carol weren’t still asleep in bed I’d say to myself, “What are you looking at?”

And in the midst of my scowl (Think Carol from the movie Up), I receive responses to one of my Words from WW posts. Don’t get me wrong! I love people to read and react to what I’ve written, but sometimes the responses are strongly indicative of the fact that the reader didn’t really read the whole thing or he is so dense he just doesn’t understand the point of the column.

Recently I wrote a post that began by using an illustration of a childhood game we played called Smear the Goat. The rest of the post was making the point that the person who had the football and got gang-tackled by everyone else was comparable to someone today who expresses an opinion and gets gang-tackled by those who salivate at the opportunity to inflict verbal damage. While many understand the point I was making about the vulnerability someone takes to express a view, so many responses to the post were focused on the memories of the game. I even had to delete a couple of responses that were inappropriate.

And then last week I posted a writing about the postal office drive-thru box that requires me to slide in my rearview mirror in order to pull close enough to reach the slot. I went on to make the point that the postal service and I both give and take to make it work…and that most of the difficult situations of life require both sides of an issue to seek that point of compromises. A response to the post, however, focused on the shortcomings of the postal service. It was an avenue for someone to gripe about something, and the person hadn’t read the whole post.

Listen! I’m not the brightest bulb in the light fixture, but I know not to make a judgment on the wattage while the switch is still in the Off position. I can’t stand there and spout off my opinions and perspectives if the light switch hasn’t been flipped yet.

Go back to the first word of that last paragraph. Maybe that’s the root of the problem. People don’t know how to listen because the only sweet music to their ears if what they’ve decided they’re going to say.

We’re an earbud-afflicted generation infatuated with the sound of our own voice. We’ve invented a new breed of deafness that has nothing to do with our physical senses.

There! Didn’t you envision Carl as you read that? Assuming you got all the way to the end!

person s right ear

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The Give and Take of Mailing A Letter

June 12, 2020

For the past three years or so I go to the post office whenever I have a letter or a bill to mail. I began doing that when there were concerns raised in our neighborhood about items being taken from mailboxes when the flag was pointed up. That had been the sign for the postal carrier to pick up a letter to be mailed, but, evidently, it had also become an indication for thieves to take a bill that had personal checks enclosed.

So I started going to the post office and dropping the envelopes into the big mailbox in the drive-thru lane. We didn’t have to worry about personal info getting stolen and it gave us peace of mind.

And then the post office put in new mailboxes! The first time I pulled up to mail a letter I realized I could no longer reach the mail slot from my vehicle. Maybe if I measured in at 6 foot 9 inches or had arms so long on my 5’6″ frame that I could be a carnival side show…maybe then I could have reached, but neither of those scenarios was the reality. The new mailbox almost qualified for a different zip code, it was so far away.

So I’d unfasten my seatbelt, put the car in park, get out, and insert the envelope through the slot. The new mailbox no longer had that door that you opened and placed the letter in. To make it more of a challenge, the new mailbox has a hard, unyielding metal slot that puts it a couple more inches out of reach. Ugh!

I’d made adjustments in the last year or so. Now when I pull in the lane to mail something I roll down my window, fold my rearview mirror in, and inch up so close to the box that I have to be careful not to scratch the paint on my vehicle. With a grunt that indicates the stretching of my stomach muscles, I’m able to get a business-size envelope into the slot just enough to tilt it over the edge and into the abyss. Slowly then I pull a few feet forward and push my mirror back in its proper place.

I’ve thought about the effort to mail an item in an industry that has been struggling for the past who-knows-how-many years. A parallel, or parable, of life, crept into my mind as I pondered.

So often I take the attitude that the world revolves around me, my wants, my whims, and my demands. When I have to stretch myself in such a way that it necessitates my leaning a little bit more I become annoyed and almost offended.

But what I have needed to learn– and I’m not just talking about the post office now– is that there needs to be give-and-take in our actions and expectations, a little bit of leaning toward the receiver and a little bit of peace of mind that it has been securely received. When life is filled with a crowd of receivers who aren’t willing to give there becomes a mounting suspicion in our midst. It starts small and builds to the point that it becomes a sticking point for separation.

And it simply began with a short arm and an envelope!

letter mail mailbox postbox

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Spellchecking Theology

June 6, 2020

Carol and I returned from vacationing in Utah today. It was a trip filled with memorable moments, beautiful scenery, and one spelling error.

It came as we made a turn in the road, a rural two-laner that kept us away from the interstate, as well as, consequentially, all restrooms. The face of a large rock had been painted with three words: Jesus is Comming! Maybe it had been there a while and had stood the test of time. After all, “Comming” is an obsolete form of the word coming.

But I thinketh not! I think someone gooffed!

Scripture does tell us that Jesus is coming again, but misspelling the point of the proclamation kinda’ lessens the effect. On the other hand, we did notice it. In fact, we would have turned around, returned to the site, and taken a picture, but the next place for a turn wasn’t for another two miles down the road.

Perhaps it was a two-person job and each person thought they had the “m”; or the painter proclaims the word with the inflection of a revival evangelist, long and over-drawn.

Hey! Everyone makes spelling mistakes. Just don’t do it on an enormous rock about the Rock!

asphalt countryside crossing daylight

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The Heat of Response

June 4, 2020

We used to play this strange kid’s game called Smear The Goat. One kid would grab the football and try to avoid being tackled by the 6, 7, or 8 other kids chasing him. The outcome was never in doubt, and when tackled the football-carrying kid would go down with everyone else piled on top. The ball would squirt out and somebody else would pick it up and pretend he was Jim Brown for a few moments.

Whoever the goat was always got annihilated. We’d go to our different homes after that, all of us bruised a bit by being the target one or times.

That memory seemed a sorta’ picture of our battlefield these days. Anyone who opinions themself seems to, so to speak, have picked up the football and the others take aim at him/her. The radicalness or sensibility, impassioned plea or philosophical ponderings, age, race, or gender doesn’t seem to matter. You’ve uttered an idea or expressed a belief and whoever doesn’t agree with you is ready to initiate a gang tackle.

It’s confusing. Some folk have been condemned because of their silence and others have been tackled because of what they have said. There’s not a safety net of listening, but rather a flaming underneath us.

In the Book of James, known as the wisdom of the New Testament, this advice seems relevant for all of us in this day of quick tempers and tongues, and bad decisions. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

We get those confused in the chaos of our culture, becoming slow to listen and quick to speak and become angry.

In our Smear the Goat days we’d sometimes put the football down and go to Tommy’s house to eat ice cream bars together. In those moments away from our youthful battlefield, we’d listen, and we’d learn to love each other in unconditional ways.

selective focus close up photo of brown wilson pigskin football on green grass

Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on