Archive for October 2021

Life Has Gotten In The Way

October 31, 2021

Yesterday Carol and I were in attendance at the funeral of a dear elderly gentleman who passed away at the well-lived-life of 90. During the service a lady, who like the deceased, had been a mentor for me spoke about her departed friend. Since I had retired from my career as a pastor at the end of 2015, our paths had only crossed a couple of times.

As she spoke I felt a sense of sadness and loss at how we hadn’t connected, the opportunities that we had missed. She being in her late-80s now, it really had fallen to me to initiate our chats and I had let it gradually drift away. After the service we were talking and I apologized to her. I said, “Vera, I’m sorry that we haven’t gotten together with you, taken you to dinner, and talked for about three hours. I have no excuse. Quite honestly, life has gotten in the way.”

She understood, but it didn’t erase the disappointment I had in myself. Life had been thrown into a container, shaken, and rolled out like Yahtzee dice to reveal a new configuration. Last year I unexpectedly had ended up teaching 7th Grade language arts from August through May. My teaching has been heavy on the assignments so far this year also. COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into the plans for most of us. There have been other things that have come up as well, but the bottom line is that I so often allow responsibilities to get in the way of relationships.

It seems like the responsible thing to do, right? Taking care of responsibilities is the grown up thing to do, right? In saying that I’m feeling my “Martha” coming out. Jesus had been at her house and Martha had been scurrying around taking care of “responsibilities”. After all, the bread doesn’t get ready for baking on its own…and this is Jesus that is being waited on…and, and someone needs to take charge and get the dishes, drinks, napkins, food, dessert, and wash basin ready. The words of Luke put it into context. He says that Martha was distracted by the preparations.” Meanwhile, her sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, which irked Martha to the nth degree.

And Jesus replies to her whining with these words,  “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about many things, but only a few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Well, my Martha had been in the dominant spot for a while. Life has gotten in the way. I’ve tended to be richly responsible and relationally-restricted.

There’s been glimpses of relational richness, like when I flew to St. Louis about month ago and drove up to Springfield, Illinois for a reunion of my Judson College cross country team 45 years later. What an awesome couple of days that was! I thank God for Jim and Lynn Fay who brought up the idea last March when Carol and I drove over to Aspen and had dinner with them during their days in Colorado skiing.

Life just has a way of getting in the way and blurring our vision. My two best friends in ministry, Chuck Moore and Tom Bayes, and I have talked about getting together for the past two years. Tom lives outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Chuck just began an interim pastor position at First Baptist Church of Foxboro, Massachusetts. He also had a heart episode almost two years ago that put the fragileness of life squarely in front of us. Tom’s son, Brandon, has pressed us…all right, scolded us… about the need to get it scheduled.

I miss people. I miss my friend, Dave Volitis, who lives in San Antonio now. And I miss my best friends from high school, Dave Hughes and Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild, one in Bradenton, Florida and the other in Rochester, New York. I miss Harold and Carol Anderson, now living outside of Las Vegas; and David Leonard and Dave Golder in Mason, Michigan, who I served on the Mason School Board with; and Dave and Pam Shaffer in Davison, Michigan; and Wendell and Heather Garrison, now serving in

The Marthas in us have distracted us with all the other “stuff” of our lives. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe there’s someone you need to call up and invite him/her to join you at Village Inn for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. Maybe it’s simply someone that NEEDS YOU to call him/her!

The Thirst For Something From Nothing

October 24, 2021

I don’t watch that much TV. At least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. What I do watch, besides The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV, is the local news at 6:00 in the evening. I’ve noticed that most of the commercials are either tooting the horns of personal injury attorneys or sports betting businesses. Both give the impression to the viewer that big money is coming their way, that only a fool would pass up the opportunity to get what they deserve.

Whereas sports betting businesses mostly feature a well-known celebrity actor or athlete, the personal injury firms put someone on camera who seeks to gain the sympathy of the viewer with his story before he breaks into a smile with the sum that his attorney gained for him.

Gosh! I’ve never wanted to see that old commercial so much as now. You know, the one where the elderly lady says “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Bring on some of those commercials from the past that made us chuckle, but were a lot closer to reality than the present.

Personal injury attorneys and sports betting firms are two present-day examples of our culture’s obsession for “getting something for nothing.” Yes, the personal injury situations have involved someone being in a car accident or other unfortunate occurrence, but the commercials quickly change the focus to the gigantic sum of money that was won.

Last week I was out for a walk and I came upon a broken jar. I noticed that in the midst of the glass there were coins…pennies, a few nickels, and a couple of dimes. I picked them all up out of the brokenness, only pricking myself on a glass shard once, and smiled all the way home with the discovered and unearned fifty-three cents. I only lost a little bit of blood in the transaction but you know the old saying…”you can’t get something for nothing!”

Such a saying, however, shows a person’s age and ineptness. Even our government, past and present, has lent their support that we can get something for nothing. Of course, the future kids of our grandkids will be paying for it, but that won’t take any skin off of our backs. My cynicism is beginning to ooze out!

Jesus said that “No one can serve two masters“, but we’ve evolved into unbelievers of that principle. Our culture has become firm believers in being self-serving and self-advancing. Consequences be damned!

But there are consequences that try to be hidden behind the curtains. For example, at the bottom of the TV screen in very small print for about three seconds at the end of each sports betting commercial is a warning about gambling. If you can pause your screen for a few moments you’ll see that it mentions a gambling hotline phone number for anyone who has a gambling addiction. Not even a speed reader can read the miniature-sized words in the time they are projected.

In other words, the consequences are in the fine print that warn of future devastation. We don’t want to talk about that though!

Taking The Air Out Of The Ball

October 22, 2021

After winning the first basketball game off the season, my seventh grade boys team received a dose of reality in Game #2 this week. It wasn’t that we were manhandled. In fact, with a minute left in the game the score was tied. Our opponents, however, hit an improbable three-pointer and then added two free throws in the closing seconds to take the game 32-27.

The reality medicine began before they even began warming up. It was our first game as the visiting team and one boy with a “deer-in-headlights” look said to me, “I’ve never played an away game before.” I looked at him and used Gene Hackman’s line from the movie Hoosiers.

“Guess what? The rim is ten feet high…just like it is in our gym!” He looked at me as if I was putting him on.

And then the game started…and the dribbling started. We dribbled like there was no tomorrow. If the basketball had been a set of tires on my CRV I would have had to replace it because of wear. We dribbled to the right corner. We dribbled into two defenders. We dribbled with our head down. We dribbled to the restroom…and the concession stand…and to the parking lot. Dribbling seemed to be like that college Psychology 101 class that you’d have to take before you could take Psychology 102. It seemed to be viewed as mandatory.

The next day in practice, my friend and co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I sought to correct a few things. One of the corrections was the dribbling with their head down. For several minutes each of the players put on a pair of special eyeglasses hat intentionally are made to keep the ball handler from seeing the basketball when he dribbles it. It’s always a hoot to see a kid trying his hardest to see the basketball when the eyeglasses are made to keep him from seeing it.

And the second thing we did toward the end of the practice was to take the air out of the basketball. We didn’t tell the boys we were doing that, we just did it. Suddenly, in the midst of their scrimmaging Coach McKinney snuck the other basketball in. The first boy immediately tried to dribble it and the ball only bounced back up about four inches. It confused him, but he knew he couldn’t dribble it again after he picked it up. He passed it to a teammate who followed the same pattern: Dribble, confusion, pick the ball up, and pass it.

It went on like that for a while. A few of the boys were trying their hardest to get that ball to bounce. Gradually, almost all of them understood what was going on and what we were trying to get through their heads. One player, however, five minutes after we had started this lesson on “dribbling addiction” shouted, “Hey! There’s no air in the ball!”

The interesting thing about basketball is that when James Naismith invented the game, players weren’t allowed to dribble. They could roll the ball, but otherwise they had to pass it. The NBA’s obsession with one-on-one matchups has created dribbling fanatics. We want our players to be able to handle the basketball, but, most of all, we want them to understand how to function as a team that experiences success because the sum of all the parts is more important than any one person.

At this level, at least for us as coaches, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about teaching them the game of basketball. What brings a smile to my face is seeing a young player figuring out what the right decision is and the fundamental skills of the game being executed correctly. Sometimes you’ve got to have kids put on dorky looking glasses and take the air out of the ball for them to get to that point.

Addicted to Multi-Tasking

October 21, 2021

One evening I was driving down the six lane road close to our subdivision when another SUV buzzed by me going about sixty in the 45-mile-an-hour speed zone. I glanced over to see the speeding vehicle and I noticed the light of the driver’s cell phone held by him at the top of the steering wheel and he was texting…as he turned right!

We’ve been told about the perils of texting and driving, but, in my opinion, it was just another example of a culture that is addicted to multi-tasking. Many of us are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on one thing at a time. I put myself in that camp. As I watch The Andy Griffith Show on TV I’m playing the game Words With Friends on my iPhone and shelling peanuts.

I notice high school students at sporting events can’t simply cheer on their team and talk to their friends. They have to check their cell phones every thirty seconds for an incoming text, a just posted social media post, or to communicate to the person sitting beside him/her.

I’ve had a student this year in middle school that needs constant supervision in regards to his laptop, because he will jump from class assignment to playing a video game as easily as turning on a light switch. The temptation of the video game just a right click away is too much for him, and he can click back to the assignment at the speed of light.

There are many possible reasons for our multi-tasking addiction, or at least excuses. We’re busier people than we’ve ever been, right? My grandparents would disagree with that, rising at 4:30 in the morning to take care of the cows, and doing whatever needed to be done for as long as it took to do it! A more accurate defining of our fascination with multi-tasking is that we are a distracted culture. We chase squirrels in our thread of thoughts and ideas and find it challenging to finish assignments and projects.

I admit that there are many more opportunities and options today to give our divided attention to. In my growing up days our TV received three channels and one of them was fuzzy at best. Today we receive we so many channels and stream so many programs that we’d need to be cloned to view them all. Channel-surfing is just another variation of multi-tasking. It just means we can watch four different shows in the same block of time as we flip back and forth.

I see ramifications of this multi-tasking in relationships. People find it increasingly difficult to focus on a conversation for very long. I see it in my spiritual relationship. Prayer becomes a challenge because of the other thoughts crowding into my conversation. Staying focused on the words of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah without a sudden detour to something that catches my eye a few feet away is a dilemma.

Doing one thing at a time is antithetical to our culture. Doing many things mediocre is more common than doing one thing well.

Getting The Older Brother Ready For The New Baby

October 16, 2021

Carol and I have been busy the past three days taking care of our two-year-old grandson. Our youngest daughter gave birth to a new baby brother for the two-year-old and we’re preparing him for when he’s not the center of attention in another day or so.

A doll baby with no hair has been frequenting the living room of their house. The doll baby has a nap bassinet and a rocker that he can lay in. The two-year-old has been dragging the pretend b baby from one to the other and feeding him with a baby bottle. Most of the time he tips the bottle and inserts it in the baby’s mouth, but sometimes he puts it in one of the eyes…or the ear. Kinda like watering all of Mommy’s flowers, not just one of them.

He also brings the doll baby over to me so I can hold him. I do the sound effects of a baby slurping on a bottle that seems to add to the two-year-old’s experience.

He doesn’t quite understand the proper way to carry a newborn. He dragged the pretend child by one of his ankles across the room like a hunter dragging his fresh kill. However, I haven’t seen a chokehold yet, so that’s a positive.

The two-year-old has a play basketball hoop that’s about two feet high. It rings when one of the play balls goes through it. i was sitting on the couch when the ring filled the air. I turned around to see that the doll baby had been slam-dunked headfirst into the hoop. I need to move that hoop outside for a while.

Let’s be honest! It’s got to be strange to be the only child for so long and suddenly some new kid comes into your residence to take away most of your attention. Sibling rivalry has its roots right there in the midst of it.

On the other hand, we all survived. I was the youngest of three, so I can’t really say how my older brother reacted to my sister being brought home to join him. I’m sure they had gotten over their levels of jealousy by the time I showed up and bailed each other for who got to hold me. I’m pretty sure I was never slam-dunked or had a bottle stuck in my eye.

The two-year-old will adjust and graduate from pre-school indignation to mentoring and guiding older brother. He will even show his younger brother how to slam-dunk a ball instead of a baby.

First Game Jitters

October 14, 2021

My seventh-grade boys’ basketball team had its first game yesterday. I don’t know if you can remember playing the first game, wrestling a first match, or running a first race in a sports season, but for a bunch of seventh-graders it’s resembling of the release of a balloon before a knot can be tied in it. There’s a lot of energy, excitement, and total ignorance to what has been worked on and practiced.

It’s what my co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I had expected. After all, these boys had never played a middle school basketball game. Most of them had never played a game where two people wearing black- and-white striped shirts were on the court with them.

Honestly, I did not expect much. My pessimism had taken root in the four days of practice we had before our first game. When we scored our first basket ten seconds into the game I thought “Well, we won’t get shut out.”

And then we scored again, and again, and again. The guilt about my lack of faith began to ooze out of me.

But first game jitters took a firm hold of our bench. When I told one of my guards sitting on the bench to go in for a certain player he was off the bench and six feet onto the court before I could blink. I yelled, “No!” and pointed for him to go to the scorer’s table. His excited look took on a moment of confusion, as if I had just spoken Russian to him. Others in the crowd were beckoning him to the scorer’s table and it sunk in.

A minute later another sub started to go from the bench to the court when I told him to replace someone. For this boy I was ready. I grabbed the back of his jersey and reeled him back to me. A minute later my third catch of the day was one of my bench players who was replacing one of my Bigs. Unfortunately, I could only get a hold of the elastic band around his shorts. Laughter emerged from the bleachers behind me as I halted his progress.

First game jitters cause players to react in different ways. I’m sure a few of my players didn’t know what a scorer’s table was.

And then there were my runaway locomotives who hustled like crazy, but don’t yet understand that the train slows down coming into the station. One boy made three or four steals and missed all of his layups. In fact, I’m not sure if any of his layups actually hit the rim. The good news is that none of them hit the wall behind the basket. Another boy looked like a deer standing in front of an approaching semi, his eyes as big as saucers and scared silly. A third boy’s knees were shaking so bad I thought he was going to fall out of his chair.

They were a dozen excited, nervous, forgetful twelve-year-olds, playing in front of a full gym of classmates, parents, grandparents, siblings, and make-believe girlfriends. It does things to a kid to see so many people watching him with smiles on their faces.

And it does something to a coach to have his team surprise him in a good way! Lord knows I’ve had plenty of games where the team I was coaching surprised me in disappointing ways!

And so today we practice all of those that they forgot to do yesterday. We’ll make sure we do layup drills and maybe, just maybe, practice getting off the bench and reporting in at the scorer’s table. It may take a few games for things to take root, but but for seventh-grade boys, they are as cute as can be, and life is good!

Middle School Basketball Uniforms

October 9, 2021

Yesterday, with the help of my team managers, I handed out basketball uniforms to the twelve seventh-graders who have been invited to be on the team. It’s an experience similar to seeing a kid in the toy section of a store. There are a lot of comments that begin with the words, “Can I have…?”

Going back in ancient history to when I was in tenth grade, I remember getting my uniform. In terms of my physical appearance, it was like I had bypassed the line where height gets handed out. As a sophomore, I was still only about 5’2″ and had not even come close to a weight that included three numbers in it. I was one of the last boys on the JV team, closer to the water fountain than I was to the coach, and the uniform I received looked like it had been in the rummage sale “free pile”. The JV team got the old varsity jerseys, but there weren’t enough of them, so two or three of us received uniforms that were tattered, unimpressive, and with different styled letters and numbers. We were, as my parents would say, “a sight for sore eyes!”

My seventh-grade players started requesting numbers. My friend and co-coach, Ron McKinney, who has the same sarcastic humor as me, asked if anyone wanted #8? One boy raised his hand, not realizing that in basketball (excluding the NBA) legal uniform numbers never have 6, 7, 8, or 9 in them. I explained to the boy that an official reporting a foul uses his fingers to communicate the number of the player and that there are only five fingers on each of our hands.

“Coach, could I have number 11?”

“Coach, could I get 32?”

“Is there a 23?”

“Hold it! Is there anyone here whose name is Isaiah Thomas?” Clueless faces that make me realize most of them don’t even know who Isaiah Thomas is. “How about Michael Jordan? Anyone whose name is Michael Jordan? Any Magic Johnson’s here?”

Twelve faces that convey the answer no look at me.

“So, boys, the uniform you are assigned is more about the size that fits you than it is the number on the front. We have five smalls, and a bunch of mediums. If you are smaller in size you need to understand that if the number you desire is a medium-size jersey, it’s going to fit you like a chicken wearing a bearskin. Coach McKinney and I don’t want anyone running down the court and leaving their shorts behind.”

Everyone gave me looks of understanding. Better to have a uniform that fits you like a glove than a jersey number that keeps falling down to your ankles. Our first game is this coming Wednesday. We may have difficulty making a left-handed layup, but at least we’ll look good.

Telling Kids No

October 8, 2021

Yesterday morning about 75 boys tip-toed into the middle school gym before the opening bell to see if their names were listed on the two sheets of paper posted in the gym office window. The lists contained the names of 7th and 8th graders who had been selected to be on the school interscholastic basketball teams. Seventy-five boys whittled down to twenty-five; and on the other side of the equation, fifty boys disappointed in not seeing their names were in the print.

For most of these boys it was the first time they had experienced, as we said in the old days, “being cut”. We try to tone down the harshness of those words, but kids know. You can hear them say it. They don’t say, “I did not receive an invitation”, but “I didn’t make the team” and “I got cut!”

Since our school, and most of the middle schools around us, didn’t have interscholastic sports last year they had never been subjected to the anxious moments of scanning a list for the heart-throbbing revelation. It will be the first of many occasions in their lives where the risk of a crushing defeat will be situated on one end of the see-saw opposite jubilation. College admission letters, job decisions, and medical school rejections will come in the next decade.

At intramural practice yesterday I had to soften the blow as much as I could. “Don’t give up!” “Keep working!” “If you really love the game of basketball, let us help you develop those skills you need to strengthen.” We said all the words that sought to inspire and motivate boys feeling rejection to not quit their pursuit.

We noticed the few boys who weren’t there. Perhaps they were sick and not in school that day, but there will be others who stop showing up for intramural because, in their minds, they weren’t one of the chosen.

And the thing about Timberview Middle School is that the intramural program gives everyone a chance to play. Interscholastic players are involved in intramurals like everybody else. Intramural runs from 2:50-4:15 and interscholastic practice goes from 4:20-5:45. Most schools do not have an intramural program that gives all kids a chance to play. They have yielded that opportunity to the YMCA or club basketball teams, both who charge substantially more than the slight registration fee that our school charges.

The thing is, a year lost has resulted in stunted athletic development in most of these seventy-five boys. As a long-time basketball coach (25 years), I can see the deficiencies, the fundamental skills that haven’t been practiced or even learned.

My evaluation of players, therefore, covered more than athleticism and skills. Other criteria included academics, coach ability, intensity and hustle, and sportsmanship. Character counted just as much, and probably more, as a kid’s ability to dribble the basketball.

And so yesterday morning there were moans and groans, smiles and high-fives, and everybody went to their first class. No one needed to go see the school nurse to help alleviate an Excedrin headache and, as far as I know, there were no “cut players” who acted out in school that day. The verdict was given and everyone went on with their school days.

Over the years, I’ve applied for five different positions as head varsity basketball coach and not been chosen all five times. Two of the five times I was a finalist, but felt the sting of not being the final pick. As I look back at it now, however, I see the value of having been turned down. Other opportunities I have encountered would not have come my way if I had been the pick in those earlier situations.

Fifty middle school boys probably aren’t ready to hear this, but rejection sometimes leads us to new opportunities.

Post-Pandemic Middle School Basketball Tryouts

October 5, 2021

Last year our middle school didn’t have sports. Oh, we had sports camps amongst our own students that were valiant efforts, but fell short of accomplishing what we hoped for. Quarantines were more common than practices, and since we were in a hybrid class system for a good part of the year, students could come to a practice only on the two days they were actually in-person at the school.

And yesterday we saw one of the effects of that loss! It was the first day of boys’ basketball tryouts. For a number of the boys, they had only been playing hoops on their game systems. The 360 degree slam-jammas, no look passes, and having a deadly three-point shot on their PlayStation did not translate into success when they put an actual leather basketball in their hands. There were shots that hit the wall behind the backboard. Above the backboard, by the way!

I tried not to yell and say sarcastic things like, “Use your left hand! No, your other left hand!” and “We’re going to check for cracks in the backboards after practice today!”, but it was difficult. The other coaches and I had to keep reminding ourselves that we had a gym full of rookies. The eighth graders had never played in middle school, and the seventh graders were also experiencing their first basketball practice.

I have to be a little crotchety. After three days of tryouts I have to post a 12 boy interscholastic roster. Four practices after that we have our first game!!! Forty-five seventh graders’s knees will be shaking as they come into the gym Thursday morning to see if their name is on the list. Yesterday I realized that almost half of them I don’t know by name. I need a pictorial directory to figure out who is who. Whether a kid can dribble with his left hand is one thing, but I can’t put “the boy with red hair and the I Love Basketball t-shirt” on the roster. I need to know little Jimmy’s name.

Some of the boys haven’t gained their coordination yet. Walking and chewing gum is still a challenge for them. Other boys haven’t grown. They are visible memories of my middle school days when I sat on the end of the front row in our South Zanesville 8th Grade basketball team picture. I looked about two feet shorter than the other guys. Actually, I was four feet ten inches, but you get the idea. Why I looked out of place even more by putting me on the end of the row I’ll never know. There are a few boys dribbling the basketball this week who are tugging on my heartstrings because I see myself in them. The last name of one of them begins with a “W” and he wears glasses, just like I did.

Yesterday, I told all of the prospects and the suspects that our objectives are to teach them the fundamentals of the game of basketball and to teach them the game of basketball. Part of the discovery for them will be to learn how we got to the game as it is today. How has the game evolved and why did it evolve? What was it like back at the beginning of its creation? Some of them may not believe me, but for them to understand the game of basketball will necessitate that they know its history.

Bottom line, I have the awesome privilege of teaching the great game of basketball to a bunch of boys who have been missing out. They don’t know what they’ve been missing, but they’re going to receive a new education…and discover their left hand in the process!

A New Appreciation for Old Teammates

October 4, 2021

I’m sitting in a St. Louis hotel room reflecting and chuckling about what once was and how it binds us in a sort of way. For most of the last two days I’ve sat in the living room of Jim and Lynn Fay, along with four other graying guys and their spouses, talking about our days as Judson College (now University) cross country teammates back in the mid-70’s.

I hadn’t seen most of the guys since college, or shortly after. Stan Brown was one of my groomsmen, but each other in a good three and a half decades. Jim Fay and I reconnected last March when he and Lynn were in Colorado for a few days of skiing. Our old coach, Don Kraus, is a Facebook friend but we hadn’t seen each other since 1976. Randy Moore was the grizzled veteran on our team, mostly because he was the only one married, worked maintenance and security for the college, and went to school full-time. he could kiss his wife without being written up for public display of affection. The rest of us could only dream about such a thing. Mike Neisler was the floppy-haired kid with the great laugh.

And so we came together and reminisced about team trips and retreats, our lack of funds that always had us camping out instead of staying in hotel rooms, the fun runs, and failed romances, the deaths of Marc Didier and Donna Shotwell that motivated us to look deep inside ourselves for more heart and effort as the way we could honor their memories.

We talked about, and had our own celebration of life service, for Dr. Stuart Ryder, who was our team training-in-training and also our coach. Most of all, though, we realized how much we appreciated one another and the impact of our team experiences had upon our lives. It wasn’t so much about running, but about relationships. We remembered the pains of our journey together, but even more, we treasured the personableness of being a part of a small college team.

As I sit here pondering I’m experiencing, if it’s possible, a strange mixture of joy and sadness. The joy sprays out of my soul in the realization of how blessed I am to have been a part of such a team, the camaraderie, the brotherhood. The sadness echoes within my spirit because of the reality of having to say farewell to one another. The richness of our experience this weekend made the last hugs on one another this afternoon even more difficult. Sometimes that’s how it is. The preciousness of our friendships has a way of causing the sorrow to be more intense.

But we wouldn’t change it for anything!