Archive for November 2021

The Blurring of Wrong

November 28, 2021

By now most of us have seen the film footage of an organized mob storming a Nordstrom’s around closing time and making off with merchandise worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. An estimated 80 thieves hit the store fast, blocking off a city block, grabbed whatever they could get, and fled.

Now it’s happened in other cities as well, causing shoppers to think twice before heading to a place of business. Add to that neighborhood thefts of Amazon packages delivered to front porches. Packages, mind you, that the thief has no idea what is inside!

There has always been crime, and waves of crime, but it seems that we now have a new classification of crime. That is, unlawful acts that some folk don’t consider unlawful. Perhaps we could call it “entitled crime”! Some blame it on the pandemic. Others say it’s a ripple effect of our culture’s addiction to drugs. In other words, there are a lot of excuses for why it occurs. The Bible calls it what it is…Sin! Sin is an assorted deck of offenses and neglects. If it isn’t pleasing to God it’s probably sin. If it causes a sigh to sound in the heavens it’s probably sin. If I knowingly do something that I know is not right…it’s probably sin.

In our time, however, what is considered wrong has been blurred. It’s like my annual eye exam where my optometrist places a device in front of my eyes and asks me to say what I see. He intentionally makes my vision unclear to begin with. I can only guess as to what the right answers are. That’s how it is with our current view of right and wrong. It’s blurry and subject to a person’s opinion.

However, scripture makes something crystal clear. “As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one…All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10 and 23)

If, in this unsettling time, our culture does not accept that we’re all fallen creatures, then our starting point of what is wrong has no anchor. It’s subject to how a person feels in the moment, to circumstances, and even to individual interpretation.

We shake our heads when we see a band of hooded thieves stealing sledgehammers and power tools from Home Depot, but we’ve inched our society toward that action in the blurring of what once was clearly wrong.

Being The Answer…Or Not Being The Answer

November 27, 2021

Sometimes I kid some of my middle school students who demonstrate moments of entitlement. I point my finger at my imaginary dot and say “This is you.” I then draw an invisible circle around that dot and say, “And this is the world. What you’re telling me is that the world revolves around you.”

Usually that comment causes giggles from others and a smile on the face of the entitled one, followed by a few moments of sputtering and stammering.

Our culture has a high opinion of itself these days. It’s a grown-up version of that “the world revolves around you” image. As if what I do, or you do, will affect the rotation of the sun.

Stop! That last statement caused some nervous twitching amongst the Christ-followers…and it should! As a follower of Jesus I DO believe that what I do and say does have a ripple effect. My essence and my confidence is rooted in Jesus. I’m referring to the other side of confidence. The side that thinks I…me, myself, and I can do anything. Bottom line, that I am the answer to the problem and the one who can do it better than anyone else.

Case in point! Howard Stern its considering a run for the presidency. I’m sure a big part of his consideration is connected to receiving publicity and self-promotion, but it also follows the thread of thinking that our culture is filled with examples of people who believe they are the answers to situations. They are difference makers, not exasperaters of the problems.

It speaks to character, for lack thereof. Humbleness rarely causes someone to think they are well-qualified. I am acutely aware of situations in my life where humbleness was non-existent and I thought I was the answer for a particular position. When I receive a rejection letter from a publishing company or a literary agent I feel that twinge of indignation. How could they take a pass on an incredible book manuscript?

One thing about being a writer! If you aren’t a humble person, it will cause you to head in that direction!

Sometimes it takes a few head thumps for me to remember that I’m not the answer, but I follow the One who is the Answer. In fact, with no hint of arrogance Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Instead of being influenced by one of our culture’s influencers, I remind myself daily that He is the Light, the Bread, the Vine, the Living Water, and the Good Shepherd. In essence, He is the real Answer to our needs in the clattering of voices that proclaim their greatness.

Thinking About Thanking

November 23, 2021

In a couple of days most of our family will gather for Thanksgiving conversation, chaos, and casseroles. Part of that experience will include groans associated with the Detroit Lions and abdominal discomfort. It will also include moments of sharing what we’re thankful for. Our oldest grandson will say something absurd that will cause his mom to groan even more, like being thankful for the three hours of a certain video game that his parents are going to let him play. That would be a dream, not what will be the reality!

Our granddaughters will say something about being thankful for family and friends and turkey…and pie. The adults will mention similar things and there will be a collective sign as we consider how blessed we are.

Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to think about the different reasons we have thankful hearts. The list begins to be formulated, with each item resulting in a rippling effect of other things that come to our mind.

Relationships and relatives.

Homes and home cooking.

Freedom and free spirits.

The list keeps growing and it conjures up memories of Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, front porch conversations with MaMaw and PaPaw, childhood friends Terry Kopchak, Mike Bowman, Dave Hughes, and Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild.

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect and allow the depth of our thankfulness to rise within us. As we walk down the path of our ponderings we see how even the valleys and defeats can edge us toward gratitude. Without that disappointment after a job interview we wouldn’t have ended up in a better place and better position. Without that sudden loss of a friend we may never have reconnected with five other friends we had lost track of.

Gratitude is more than a moment or even an attitude. It is periodic debriefing of what has been and what we are in the midst of. It clears away any thoughts of being entitled to something and takes us to having gratefulness for everything.

And so my list is long and diverse from a dear friend being brought back from a close glimpse of death… to a family that is always available for hugs…to unplanned on encounters and conversations with people that cause my insides to chuckle.

Even in the Detroit Lions dismal football season there is a note of thankfulness. They are destined to receive the #1 pick in the next NFL Draft. Silver linings every where!

The Dissatisfaction of Excess

November 22, 2021

My wife and I just returned from a vacation road trip to Las Vegas and Phoenix. One of her sisters and brother-in-law live outside of Phoenix, as does one of our nephews, thus our trip culminating with a sliding further south.

We had other friends from Michigan who had moved to the Las Vegas area about a year ago that we wanted to reunite with, as well as their daughter who used to be one of our kids’ babysitters. The rest of our time in Las Vegas was spent walking, walking, and walking. We strolled through The Bellagio and stared at the ceiling, The Venetian and watched the gondolas, and the shopping area at Wynn’s where you had to make an appointment to be able to enter and look at the extremely overpriced merchandise. Everything in Las Vegas is about excess and unnecessary. It whispers the possibility of obtaining what is outside a person’s personality and lifestyle.

And there lies the dilemma and the deception! The Las Vegas sale that lures the crowds is an image, a dream, of people bathing in the riches of their winnings and the depravity of their fallen nature. The truth that gets detoured around is that what is excessive never satisfies. It’s simply the next rippled ring in the splash of the new experience.

There is something about us that leads us toward decisions that have not been thought all the way through. What looks dazzling seems to demand our attention. There is also something about the way God created us that longs for a holy fullness, an intimacy with the divine. The world (and the Deceiver), however, continues to lead us in a bypass around our hunger for God and caused us to settle for the thirst of the unnecessary.

In Las Vegas we saw people who were on a constant search for something that would satisfy and they never found it. And they won’t! The brightness of the lights and hopes written on marquees however will keep them searching, longing, and wondering why happiness is so elusive.

The Comedy of Seventh Grade Boy’s Basketball

November 13, 2021

My seventh grade boys’ basketball team finished its season this past week. Yes, I know it’s only mid-November, but our league fits five different sports seasons into a school year. Boys’ basketball begins the first week in October. Girls’ basketball gets rolling the week after Thanksgiving.

Seriously, the time of the year did not make any difference. Our team of 13 boys, several unknowingly wearing some of the girl’s uniforms because the boy’s uniforms were too large for them, struggled at times to understand offenses, defenses, press breakers, presses, inbounds plays, and how to rebound…Wait a minute! That’s pretty much the whole game of basketball!

But they also struggled to keep track of their uniforms, where their water bottle was, not jumping over the free throw line, keeping their shoes tied, and not just running onto the court when they were told to sub in for someone during a game.

After all, they are seventh-grade boys. They are just beginning to experience underarm deodorant sticks, considering the value of combing their hair, and trying to figure out why the Mary Janes are always staring at them and giggling.

Basketball is like a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for most of them. They can figure out what the border pieces are and gradually which of the four sides each piece belongs on, but the overwhelming bulk of the picture is a mystery that will take a long time to figure out.

Consider this confusing puzzle. With 17 seconds left in the game and trailing by double-digits, one of my players tried to shoot a three-pointer on the opponents pass. The inbounds pass came from underneath the other team’s basket. Thankfully, the shooter didn’t connect on a three-pointer the whole season– and maybe his whole life– and wasn’t close this time either. But after the final seconds clicked off the question occurred to me, why had our four other players on the court also been lining like it was an inbounds play? In other words, all five had been led like lambs to the slaughter into believing they were shooting at the basket 94 feet away from the one they should have been heading.

Consider this confusing, misplaced piece. An hour before our last game one of our smaller players came to me and, with fear in his eyes, said, “Coach, I can’t find my uniform!”

“You mean this uniform that was left on the floor of the locker room two days ago?” Since his assigned number was on the uniform, I knew it was his.

Sheepishly, “Yes.”

Consider this very clear corner piece of the puzzle that is self-explanatory. In our last game, a very close game, the other team had the boy out-of-bounds underneath their basket. Number 40 was killing us all game and our main player had four fouls. At a timeout the other coach and I said to one of our players, “You have #40. Play him man-to-man, Number 40! That’s a four followed by a zero! Number 4-0! That’s who you have!”

The game resumed and number 40 received the inbounds pass right by the basket and laid it to put the other team up by two points with less than a minute left. We called timeout and said to our player, “You were suppose to guard number 40.” He looked at us and with sincerity written all over his face replied, “I forgot!”

It’s a puzzle and it’s puzzling…but I’m chuckling as I think about it.

Our 40-Year-Old Oldest Child

November 8, 2021

Forty years ago plus one day ago, my wife said “It’s time!” I helped her down the steps to our Toyota Corona and we drove to St. Lawrence Hospital on the west side of Lansing, Michigan to begin a few tense and, for her, painful hours of labor and delivery. At 1:21 A.M. on November 8th, Kecia Corin Wolfe arrived and immediately gave us a scare as she struggled to breathe.

Forty years later we struggle to contain our emotions of thankfulness for her and pride we feel because of her. It is a bit strange to realize that you have a child who now has a four in front of her age, even stranger than that moment Carol and I realized we could order off the Senior Menu at the restaurant.

Kecia followed the trend of her mom and also gave birth to three kids. Besides that, she “mothers” and instructs a classroom of third-graders each year, sees their potential, applauds their efforts, and deals with the nonconformists. She has always been a self-motivator, striving to reach that challenging bar that seems ominous.

But more than her grit and punk, Kecia’s character is what brings tears to our eyes and smiles to our hearts. She is a woman of integrity, deeply-committed to her family, dependable for her friends. She has a soft spot for the struggling, shows an urgency in her praying for the afflicted, and strives to be available to listen to the hurting.

In my opinion, her patience is numbing. She goes to great lengths to help her students grow in their learning and also their maturity. Sometimes, however, she has to contend with parents who stepped out of line when common sense was being handed out. She sees down the road and what is best for the student, striving to hold her ground when she can see the ripple effects of bad student decisions on the distant horizon.

She is a person of faith, understanding that there is a strength that is not her own but available to her, an Encourager that walks closely beside her while, at the same time, dwelling within her. She knows Jesus in a very personal way and models Christlikeness for her kids.

As Carol and I look back over the years, we can see how God has shaped her into who she is. We can remember heartaches that wounded her and yet caused her to be sensitive to the stumbles of others. We remember the few times her friends failed her and can see how it has caused her to latch on to the principle of authentic friendship. We remember her successes and see how they instilled in her the excitement of applauding the successes of others.

She has lived a life well for the past forty years and, we pray, as she celebrates this milestone that she will see the coming years as being a continuation of the impact she is having on those around us. Happy birthday, Oldest Child!

A Different P.E. Time

November 6, 2021

Yesterday I was the guest teacher for our middle school’s physical education teacher. It was…different!

It’s not that I had never been the substitute for physical education. About three years ago I filled in for the teacher so many times I left him a welcome letter with instructions one day. Since I was teaching a language arts class the whole time last year, this was my first P.E. class in two years. All that being said, it was still different. There is a different vibe going on with many of the students.

For clarification, I had two classes each of each middle school grade level, 6th, 7th, and 8th. In each class there seem to be more outliers, students whose main objective was to be noticed in some way. For a number of them, outward appearance is how they distinguish themselves: hair color(s), clothing, facial indifference, voice volume, a style of shoe that would only look in-place at an army boot camp, jewelry from the beyond, and…one Apple AirPod.

When I announced to each class that we were going outside to play a variation of the game of Kickball, there were whines and groans from a number of them. It had been a cold week until yesterday, temperatures mostly in the 30s and 40s, but yesterday the sun was shining and most of the classes enjoyed 60’s and low 70s. The groans were an indication that many of them have become sedentary creatures, more comfortable playing video games and doing social media than physical exercise. Of course, I also have to attribute some of the groans to middle school students’ reactions to a direction given by the teacher. It’s on the same level of reaction as Americans who are told that there’s a new tax in town that they will be “participating in.”

So there were appearance outliers, allergic to outdoor physical exercise…and then there was the dumbfounding realization that a number of them had never played kickball, or even knew how to play. Seriously! I’m not exaggerating! They had no clue. I’m sure they could tell me how to be categorized as awesome and amazing on Minecraft, but what to do as a rolling ball comes toward them…confusion! Obviously, none of them live in the Colorado Springs neighborhood close to the center of town that has a weekly kickball game where whole families gather to kick and run and laugh and bond. You know, the one that was shutdown by law enforcement for a while out of concern for someone getting hurt, since they played in the middle of the street. (The middle of the street used to be where most of our games of football and whiffleball happened in my growing up years!)

Finally, every class had several students who had no interest in learning. It wasn’t a lack of interest in learning a new game, but rather a lack of interest in learning. Since they didn’t have a laptop in front of them to do classroom assignments and sneak in a few minutes of playing a video game, their attention was on their class friends and perfecting their ability to stand around and do nothing. The idea of being a part of a team in a game for a few moments was something they had no desire to commit to. Kinda like those students in the classroom who contribute nothing to a group project that involves two or three others. There was no sense of responsibility and desire to be a part of a team effort.

All that being said, there were plenty of students who WERE with the program, who did contribute and enjoy it, and were engaged, but that category of student seems to be a diminishing part of the student population. My opinion only, I think it’s another ripple effect of the pandemic and a mostly-lost year of school socialization and in-class instruction. Many students are still searching for their place, fearful of becoming so engaged and then suddenly relegated to remote learning. They are only showing half of their faces, so how can they be identified?

Back to my first statement. I taught P.E… and it was different. It makes you long for the way things used to be, as opposed to the new norm!