Archive for August 2022

Safety Week

August 27, 2022

This past week the middle school where I hang out went through its various safety drills. Each day, except Wednesday, we went through one of the four drills for the various situations that schools prepare for these days.

On one day we sheltered in place in case our area ever had a tornado alert. About 20 years ago, a school less than 30 miles away from us was hit and destroyed, so the possibility of it happening, although remote, is still something that many are familiar with. My class took refuge in the girls’ restroom, an eye-opening experience for the boys. It was as if they had been allowed to enter forbidden territory without the threat of consequences. One boy commented on a startling revelation he had been given, that the girls’ restroom smelled a lot better than the boys’ restroom.

Another day we had a fire drill, and on a different day there was a lockout where no one is allowed to enter the building because either something is happening in the area around the school, or, as happened once last year, a wild animal (bobcat) has been sighted.

And then there is the lockdown, where classrooms and students are secured as a result of the increasing number of school invasions that have happened in recent years.

Although the four drills took time away from instruction, they were very beneficial for the staff and students to practice just in case!

It’s different from when I was in school back in the 70s. We practiced getting under our desks in case there was ever a nuclear attack. We always wondered how a wooden desk that had 25 years of initials carved into it and about a hundred gobs of gum stuck underneath the top could keep us from being incinerated by an atomic bomb being dropped within a few miles of us. We obediently, however, like unsuspecting lambs being led to the slaughter, crawled under our desks and waited until the “All Clear” signal was given.

If I remember correctly, we had fire drills, but very, very infrequently. Like once a year, but never when I wanted one. Being spared from a few minutes of math class never seemed to be my good fortune.

We did have two bomb threats one year. On the first one, school was dismissed for the day and everyone cheered as we exited the building, more excited about a day that had suddenly been freed up from academics instead of the possibility of being blown to pieces. It ended up that a student hadn’t studied for a math test and had placed a call on the school pay phone (Remember those?) to report a bomb had been planted in the building. He was found out and, I guess you could say, his number was up!

Someone else thought it was such a great idea, that he called in a threat a couple of days after that. However, the school administration and local law enforcement had wised up in the time since the first one. We were all evacuated to the football stadium until the school was searched, and then classes resumed about 20 minutes later. There were no other bomb threats after that. Twenty minutes sitting with a thousand students on bleachers in the midst of a cold February morning took care of the thrill.

It’s a different day we live in compared to the early 70s. Back then, Vietnam was winding down. It was the hot topic of conflict. Nowadays, conflict seems to have various places to call home. School shootings are more frequent than congressional agreement on anything. Nowadays, we talk about bullying on social media. It can happen suddenly and numerous times out of the blue. At any moment, a kid can go from feeling happy to being scared or depressed. Back in my younger days, bullying was mostly restricted to Johnny telling you he was going to find you after school and put a hurting on you.

Schools are a different world than they were back in the day, complicated, complex, and yet sophisticated. Kids, however, have the same bizarre combination of emotions that they have always had. Fear, anger, frustration, joy, tears and laughter, confusion and uncertainty, friendly and isolated, extroverts and introverts. The environment has changed, but the basic ingredients of kids are still the same.

And not a single student had to crawl under a desk this week!

Senor Wolfe, Middle School Spanish Teacher

August 21, 2022

52 years ago I sat in an Ironton High School classroom trying to stay interested in the learning of Spanish. I had taken Spanish 1 the year before at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. Unfortunately, Mr. Gerling, our teacher had a soothing voice and my class was immediately after my lunch period. On a full stomach of whatever heavy cafeteria food was being served that day, I often snoozed my way through the introductory course.

Our family moved to Ironton that summer and I was placed in Spanish 2 with such a “pequeno” retention of Spanish 1. At least Spanish 2 was my second class of the morning and I was awake enough to realize how much I didn’t know. I slid through, posting a mediocre “C” average that probably had been raised by bringing salsa and tortilla chips to the class.

And now I have been asked to teach Spanish to middle school students for the first few weeks of the school year, until the new teacher is able to arrive. When I confessed to them this past week that it had been four times their age since I had learned some of the language, I was met with eyes wide-opened as if I had stolen a candy bar from 7-11. Others, realizing I had pre-dated social media, Instagram, and Snapchat were wondering how I was even able to learn back in those dark ages, how I was even able to exist!

Quite frankly, however, teaching Spanish for a few weeks is like a re-do. It’s like a second chance, a new opportunity to do something that I screwed up the first time. Sometimes learning something later on in life, even the final third of one’s life, makes a person realize how blessed he or she is. Since, after preparing, I’m teaching five classes each day I’m learning what I neglected to learn back around the same time Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Each day is scary and also an adventure. Some of my eighth-graders, who have already had a year of Spanish, have encouraged me. I’m like the turtle, tortuga, that they are urging to get to the finish line. Perhaps by the end of my brief stint in the classroom, la aula, I’ll be able to understand the announcers of a Mexican League soccer game as the action flows from one side of the field to the other.


Getting Past The Didn’ts

August 13, 2022

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)

Some of the students I’ve taught or coached have razzed me about arriving at a point in my life they classify as “ancient status.” In fact, one young buck who just hit 20 gets a big smile on his face anytime he sees me and calls me “Old Man.”

Those of us who have achieved ancient status also are beginning to have regrets about all the things we “didn’t” do that he hoped to do. “The Didn’ts” have the potential to minimize us and let shadows fall over our lives. We see that the cups of our lives are half-filled. We see the empty space instead of what is still in it or remember what has been poured out of it into the lives of others.

For instance, I was fortunate to coach on 4 different high school basketball coaching staffs, but never was able to sit on the team bench at a state tournament game. It was on my bucket list, but didn’t happen. Or I have a multitude of books in my study that I haven’t gotten around to read. My tendency to add to my library is at a greater speed than my available time to read them. Now, just to clarify, those events don’t haunt. They are two of those insignificant “didn’t” events that just are.

Larger, more troubling didn’ts occur in relationships where the intentions are to reconcile, but it never happens. Or, desiring to see old friends that we’ve lost connection with, but it never comes about. Those are examples of the didn’ts that keep a person from being away to sleep at night.

As the scripture in Romans indicates, we all have failures that remind us of our imperfect condition. We fall short in achieving what God desires for us. The grace of God covers over a ton of didn’ts. Jesus lifts my spirits out of the mud, brushes me off, and points me toward the possibilities of a better tomorrow.

Even though I’m ancient in status, I’m a new creation…daily…because of Him. even though the footsteps behind me are now much more numerous than the amount yet to take, I am blessed to know Who walks closely with me and assures me that there are a number of “did’s” in the journey ahead.

The Worth of It All

August 10, 2022

Philippians 3:8 “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

At the end of 2015 I kinda retired after 36 and 1/2 years pastoring American Baptist churches in Michigan and Colorado. To say the least, it was an interesting time. Suddenly, I switched out of a role that a congregation of people had become accustomed for me to be in. No longer did I have the challenge of crafting a message for that coming Sunday morning, or assembling bible studies for the groups I led, or visiting the hospital rooms of those who were afflicted or healing from some surgery.

On the other side of things, I was still coaching high school basketball and middle school basketball and track. At that time I was still officiating high school basketball and a few small college games each season. I started putting more time into writing my first novel and constructing more Words From WW blogposts.

In this weird period of my life, the question that I ponder more and more is where do I find my worth? Let me rephrase it a different way: Are there certain responsibilities or tasks I hunger for simply because they give me a sense of value, a degree of worth?

I think we all have this hunger to be needed, whether that means the accolades given to a parent who has cooked dinner for the family, or my Starbucks barista who brings a smile to my face as she fixes me a perfect cup of Pike Place coffee, or the person who is delighted by the squeals of the six-year-old soccer team when they see what she has brought for the post-game snack.

We all are addicted in some way to being needed. It’s where we so often find our worth attached. At about this time the past two school years I’ve received a call from the middle school where I’ve coached and substitute taught asking if I would begin the year teaching a language arts class? I’ve really enjoyed the experiences, building relationships with kids, and coming to the point where they depend on you. This year, however, the middle school is more adequately staffed, so the phone call has not come.

And it has occurred to me that my need to teach may be an ingredient in the recipe of my self-worth. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, just as I’ve enjoyed coaching kids, but is its value determined by how it fulfills my need for worth?

The Apostle Paul wrote that knowing Jesus gives us worth. Knowing how unworthy I am to receive a sense of worth in Christ is hard to explain, and even to comprehend. So often my eyes are on something or someone else, instead of the Lamb of God who is worthy to be praised. Hard as it to believe, God found me worthy enough to give His Son up as a sacrifice for me.

That thought brings me back to my foundation and Who it is that my life is an anchored to. I remind myself of that as the school’s need for me to teach drifts into the past. God never sees me as a once-was or a has-been. He never sees me as someone who was worth something at one time, but is no longer of the same value.

Knowing Jesus gives my life all the worth it needs.

$1.60 An Hour

August 7, 2022

The past few years have brought the issues of wage disparity and unequal pay to the surface. Teachers, who have more and more demands put upon their time while seeing their salary inch up like a one-legged worm walking uphill, have gathered at state capitals to voice their frustrations. Of course, the problem isn’t as much with stingy local school boards as it is with state governments who really hold the combination for the money vault.

And then there’s been the revelations of unequal pay that have shown the gap between women and men, and even different pay structures according to race.

Those fairness issues are justified. They are steps toward treating people with respect and showing that they are valued.

And then there’s the other side of pay philosophy that has raised its ugly head. On one side there’s the rising number of exorbitant salaries being paid to professional athletes. I acknowledge that most athletes, minor league baseball players and such, don’t get paid much at all (probably about what a seasoned teacher makes). We don’t hear about those minor league salaries. The ones we do hear about, however, are now extending to nine figures to the left of the decimal point. One baseball player, Juan Soto is reported to be on the verge of being the first player to sign a $500,000,000 contract. Can you imagine? Hey, I don’t disparage him for being blessed with such high wages. I’d just like to see a professional sports team decide to lower ticket prices as a way of saying their fans are also valued.

My first summer job after I graduated from high school was working in the Rollyson Aluminum Products factory in South Point, Ohio. The owner, Jim Rollyson, was a good friend of my dad’s. That was the only reason I got the job, because I had no resume to impress anyone with. I worked in the summer heat and humidity, being paid $1.60 an hour. After taxes, my paycheck for the week said $55.32! I was rich! Actually, the money went to help pay for the upcoming college expenses…slightly!

The thing is it was my first work experience. I didn’t deserve anything more than $1.60 an hour (Well, maybe a couple of dimes more!). Simply put, I needed to learn how to work, how to function as a part of a team and how my responsibilities were important for the completion of the product. That summer I learned that whining doesn’t get things done, that showing up for work on time was the expected not the exception, and that no matter what the pay is the work needs to be done well.

In essence, I learned what a good work ethic involves, and I showed up Monday-Friday from 7:30-4:00 and helped assemble insulated aluminum window frames. The next summer I was moved to a different department that worked the second shift, and usually 12-hour days, received a bump in pay to $2.00 an hour ($3.00/overtime) and worked harder than I ever had. I needed the extra hours. College tuition was going up faster than my dad’s blood pressure.

I think about those days and sometimes even smile. They taught me lessons that have affected me for the rest of my lifetime. As I think about them I also think of a generation of first-job workers who are receiving starting pay wages that are elevated. When I adjust my $1.60 an hour pay in 1972 to what it would equal today it comes to $10.85 an hour. However, fast-food restaurants are advertising $15-$17 dollars an hour…and they’re having a hard time finding workers!

And I think back to that first job I had, the lessons I learned, the importance of being responsible, and I ask myself, “How are a new generation of workers learning work ethic, team responsibility, and the importance of showing up every day?”

The ripple effect of the entitlement mentality has made its way into the workplace.

Crowd Following

August 4, 2022

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Everyday there is some kind of poll I hear or read about that tells me who prefers what, who, where, why, or how. For example, during the pandemic when schools were doing eLearning, there would be frequent inquiries of the general public about what the preference was: In-person, hybrid, remote, online academy, or other?

Or, it might interest you to know that 74% of Americans prefer cheese on their hamburger.

Of course, businesses and institutions use information about what people want and don’t want to dictate how best to deliver their information, or predicting profitable product lines, determining sales strategy, and even what items should be more prominently displayed in their stores. That makes sense. No one stays in business by offering something that nobody is interested in using or buying. Think 8-track tapes and transistor radioes. They once were the cat’s meow, but now they aren’t even rummage sale fodder.

Sometimes, however, a trend begins that doesn’t make sense, yet it gains momentum and becomes a preference. Think bell bottom jeans from the 70s that, unbelievably, are making a sorta comeback. Bell bottom jeans became the thing that in the day, even though they were uglier than sin. They were a fashion trend that teens and young adults developed a craving for. The flair at the bottom was cool! Looking back at it, I can’t figure out why bell bottom jeans didn’t catch on with the older crowd to help with the discomfort of and hide swelled ankles.

My discomfort, dare I say my uneasiness, grows out of the lack of rootedness that an increasing number of people have in this day and age about what makes sense versus a herd-of-pigs’ mentality that goes with the flow, even though the edge of the cliff looms ahead. Simply because the pig in front has the loudest voice, doesn’t mean that everyone should fall in line behind.

Our culture seems to be more driven by extremes than wisdom, more dictated to about what is politically correct than what is humane and compassionate. The lack of rootedness creates an openness to all kinds of ill-guided weeds. My backyard is a good analogy of crabgrass gone wild. It’s to the point that I’m having a hard time deciphering what’s the bluegrass that I seeded in the ground a couple of months ago and the crabgrass that has butted into the natural. The less attention I give, the more the crabgrass muscles its way into the lawn.

Jesus has become a planter instead of the plot, a mention instead of the Messiah. And, quite frankly, a decreasing percentage of our population know Him, or even know what He taught or how He changed things. His teachings about treating everyone with respect, loving the unloveable, and identifying the faults each of us has before focusing on the failures of others are jaw-dropping to more and more people who think of Him as the baby we sing Christmas carols about and put on our new Easter dresses and suits because of.

People are more influenced these days by social influencers and YouTube videos about Minecraft tricks than they are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

If my generation fell for bell bottom jeans, how gullible are we to accepting the next off-the-wall nonsense of the lead pig on the edge of the cliff?