Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Playing In the Lion Tigers’ Den

May 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 14, 2019

                                   

When our basketball team from Judson College (Elgin, Illinois) played Olivet Nazarene College the result was usually painful! We had a small college All-American named Tom Randall and… eleven other guys who wore the same uniform! We weren’t very good! 

For example, our center was short (six foot two inches), but he complimented his lack of size by not being able to jump or shoot! He did, however, make good use of his five fouls each game, and was usually sipping on a water bottle as he sat on the bench to watch the last eight to ten minutes.

We tried! Tried really hard before we were deep fried! Olivet Nazarene had already beaten us on our home court in January by about thirty…okay, 36! Now it was February, we had lost ten in a row, and had to go to their gym and play them again on a Saturday night. 

“The Lion’s Den” as we called it was always jam-packed. A balcony with an iron railing ran around the entire gym and spectators hung on it as they yelled at the players of the visiting team. We cranked up the myth by talking about they would spit on us if we strayed to close to the edge of the court. We weren’t “moisturized”, mind you, but somehow it gave us an excuse for having our butts kicked up and down the court.

My senior year someone came up with an idea to help calm the nervous anxiety that made us play tentative. We would all get our hair done in Afros. Somehow it seemed like a good idea, like a dimwit getting a tattoo on his arm saying “I Love Betty”, but then having Betty dump him like a bad habit. 

Afros! Most of us were whiter than angel food cake. Afros were not our identity or calling, but for one game, one night, we’d provide the Nazarene faithful with a sight that would cause mouths to drop open in amazement and horror

That morning several female classmates prepped our hair. The school yearbook has a picture of several of our teammates sitting at a lunch table, eating with hair adorned with bobby pins and curlers. 

And so we hopped on the team bus and traveled south to Kankakee. I was a five foot eight inch shooting guard, but my Afro made me a sweet-looking 6’2” that game. I had it flowing as I ran up and down the court.

We played loose and carefree, like champions! It was the days before three point baskets, but we still were shooting long range jumpers. I hit three jumpers for six point that game and could feel the wind of the Tiger fans blowing through my hair as I sprinted from one end  of the court to the other.

It was a sight and an adventure!

And another lop-sided loss! The final score caused cringing when it was relayed to our campus and the local newspaper, but, to us, it didn’t matter. We had risen to the occasion, played without fear, and, most of all, enjoyed having young ladies play with our hair for several hours that day.

Olivet Nazarene went on to winning our conference championship and playing in the small college national tournament while we went back to being students who also happened to play basketball.

And we knew…we knew…the Tiger players could only wish that a few college co-ed’s would play with their hair! They were too good to be able to look different! We, however, were bad enough to be allowed to do the unthinkable! 

Three Countries- One Day

May 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 10, 2019

                                 

I’ve progressed. As a long gone Kentucky uncle would have said to me, “You did done good, son!”

Two days ago my feet touched three different countries in the same day. That’s “COUNTRIES”, mind you! Not counties! Put the “r” in there to turn me from a local yocal to an international traveler!

France, Luxembourg, and Germany with the same two feet! I wasn’t sure what language I should have been speaking, things were changing so fast…so I resorted to middle school dialogue, throwing in a few “Dudes!” and other hip phrases that made people keep their distance from me. 

“That was crisp, dude!” I said to a white-haired gentleman, carrying his wife’s two suitcases and a backpack while smoking a cigar. He looked at me like I was trying to con him. Must have been from the East Coast, all suspicious and skeptical about life.

Three countries! I’ve come a long way, baby! 

You see, until I was 18 years old and a high school graduate I had never been outside of three states (Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio) and my family had lived in all three. Do the math! That means 3 states visited…over 3 states lived in…that equates to…0% as being the percent of states I visited that I had not been a resident of! 

As we used to say, I didn’t get out much! 

It’s amazing how our “world”, or understanding of it, changes as our boundaries change. In southern Ohio, where our town laid out nicely beside the Ohio River, my “world” was uncomplicated and “Mayberry-ish”! 

If my hair was about to land on the top of my ear Dad took men to see Mr. Morris at Morris’s Barber Shop. Back in those days a young guy’s hair touching his ears was a sign that he had jumped off the deep end from the safety of reason and was about to land in the chasm of radicalism. First…hair touching a kid’s ears and the next thing would probably be doing drugs and embracing the hippie movement, free love and then driving around in a VW wagon with a peace sign on the back window. In other words, a haircut seemed to make you more American and keep you grounded…so they told us!

Morris’s was right across the street from where my mom worked at the J.C. Penney’s. Penney’s was where I got outfitted…socks, tighty-whities, shoes, shirt, jeans. If Penney’s didn’t sell it I didn’t wear it. More accurately stated, if Penny’s didn’t sell it then it wasn’t essential to my existence. A young guy could always depend on Towncraft underwear and socks.

Our church, Ironton First Baptist Church, was a block and a half away. My youth group, Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF), provided me with some of my closest friendships…and, as time would reveal, a few of my former girlfriends. Today, as we sail down the Moselle River in Germany, Carol and I are traveling with Dave and Robyn Hughes. Dave was a part of that BYF group, filled the role of Best Man for our wedding, and allowed me to conduct the wedding ceremony for his walk down the aisle.

There it was! My world could be described in those three simple places: a haircut for normalcy, Penney’s dress attire for uncomplicated reason, and our church for lifelong relationships.

47 years after I finally traveled, at the age of 18, into my fourth state (Tennessee), I journeyed into three different countries in less than 12 hours. My “world” has changed over the decades. I no longer think of Taco Bell as fine Mexican cuisine, or Maxwell House as a fine cup of coffee. My world is broader and more diversified, but the roots of my upbringing always cause me to long for what was home.

Teacher Love and Life

May 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 6, 2019

                                     

The PTO at Timberview Middle School sponsored a pretty cool project this weekend. They had students and parents “chalk up” the front sidewalk entry to the school with words of affirmation and thanks for the teachers and staff. I’m sure when the school staff arrived this morning their faces broke into smiles. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, a welcome event for weary educators as they crawl towards the finish line of another marathon school year. 

Yes, they are underpaid and sometimes under appreciated, taken advantage of by self-centered parents who assume that educators have nothing else to do but watch their children, and discounted by other obnoxious parents who think their children’s poop doesn’t stink!

But let me tell you about some of the things I see teachers do that aren’t stipulations in their contracts.

I see several Timberview teachers eating lunch in their classrooms…along with anywhere from 15 to 30 students. Thirty minutes of quiet between classes is sacrificed so kids can chatter around them.

I see a couple of teachers giving up lunch time to play football or some other game outside with students, who want nothing else but to impress their instructors!

I see teachers staying after school to help students who are having a hard time understanding the subject material. The teachers are “off the clock”, but willing to give whatever time is needed to have things finally click for the student.

I see frustrated teachers sending emails to parents about their children’s academic struggles or unwise decision making…and getting no response. They see it as a partnership with the parents, but some parents seem to be more interested in whatever sports team is playing.

I see teachers giving hours and hours of their time for events like Science Olympiad, Chess Club, Student Council, and food drives.

I see teachers taking heat for the state mandates on testing, like they’re the driving force behind it!

I see teachers giving words of encouragement to crying kids, hope-filled hugs, and listening ears to student stories that seem to have no end or purpose.

I see teachers giving high-fives and inquiring how the past weekend’s hockey game went. I see them showing interest in their student’s lives, not just how well they understand the latest unit of linear algebra.

I see teachers giving their students nicknames that become marks of distinction. In my time as a guest teacher I’ve nicknamed kids “Mary Poppins”, “Braino”, “Beano”, “GOAT”, ‘Steak and Shake”, “Princess”, “Fruit Loopz”, “The Blonde Bomb”, “Dictionary Boy”, and “Kermit the Frog”. 

I see teachers trying to give their all for their students and then experiencing guilt about short-changing their own families.

I see teachers trying to expand their own knowledge and understanding of their subject matter, while staying current on what they are expected to teach in the present.

I see teachers coming to the aide of students who don’t have the necessary supplies, teachers who do things like bring a pair of gloves for a kid who doesn’t have any, shoe laces for a student whose tongues are flapping uncontrollably, and handing a granola bar to a hungry kid who has no lunch to eat. 

I see teachers as being on the frontlines of our society’s efforts to go forward, to prepare the next generation of difference-makers. No one can make more of a difference in a student’s life than a teacher who is passionate about his/her opportunity to teach!

Hopefully, this week you’ll also see teachers for who they really are and what they do!

Doing The Woah

April 30, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 30, 2019

 

They ask me to do it!

And do it again…and again!

There is something amusing to middle school students about convincing a senior citizen to do “The Woah. It’s a new thing, kinda’ like the fidget spinner was a new thing two years ago, and dabbing was a new thing a little bit before that. In regards to dance moves there’s been the Harlem Shake, the Mannequin, and “the floss”.

“The Woah” is about a quick moving of a dancer’s fists and then freezing the movement. It derived in Texas for some reason! Evidently, safer than cow-tipping!

Everyday I have middle school students asking me to do the Woah. Their favorite has become the “Woah” where I’m thrown an imaginary ball and make an imaginary catch. The “act” causes uncontrollable laughter from the adolescents, reminiscent of adults chuckling over the cute things one year olds do. Yes, sad isn’t it? I’m back to being ridiculously cute like a one year old!

There’s kids doing adult things and then there’s adults doing kids things! I’ve always been a kid at heart, but am now elderly in my ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

So I do a little woahing! It’s cheap! No accessories or batteries to buy, or brand name to fashion. Just a simple movement of the hands!

Kids like my Moondance, also, although that is getting a little more difficult for my hips and knees to execute.

Yesterday an 8th Grade girl said to me, “Mr. Wolfe, you’re cool!” I thanked her and then retrieved my lunch from the refrigerator for the day, a plastic container of cottage cheese and cucumbers. The illusion of coolness quickly disappeared as she began gagging over my choice of cuisine. Cottage cheese to 8th Grade girls is cool in temperature only, and to be avoided like facial blemishes and bad hair days.

Perhaps the Woah will disappear as quickly as my residency in the land of “being with it!’ I’ll probably never know…and I’m okay with that!

Returning to the Old Pulpit

April 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 28, 2019

           

I did not do a General MacArthur when I retired from pastoring at the end of 2015. I did not say “I shall return!”

I had no thoughts of returning! After 36 and a 1/2 years of pastoring I was fried, fricasseed, roasted, and toasted! I knew it was time to move to the side. So I did! Just about anyone in any profession prefers to go out on their own terms, as opposed to being told it was time to depart. Not that I had anyone who wanted me to take a quick exit and leave them alone, it’s just that there were some days I wanted to be left alone! That’s when I knew it was time!

This morning I return to the old pulpit. Back in August the church asked me to come back and speak at their 60th anniversary celebration. Six months later Pastor Reggie, who also happens to be a friend of mine, asked me to come and speak again, and now, three months later I’m speaking again. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the time between speaking engagements keeps being reduced by 50% each time.

It’s with mixed emotions that I speak in the place where I delivered about 750 sermons over the years. I loved the people, and still love the people. I remember the baptisms, like when the baptistry had a leak and Jacob Lundquist gave a shivered moan as he was dunked into about 8 inches of ice cold water; or Barbara Shepherd getting baptized at the age of 80. 

I remember the Sunday we served donut holes for communion, and the Sunday I made the unwise decision to give two children’s stories during the service. By the second story it was like herding cats to keep the kids all together!

I remember our seniors group, called The Ageless Wonders, who kept me encouraged; the young guys group who took me camping; and the Saturday Morning Men’s Bible Study group that encouraged each other in the journey as men of faith.

I remember the tears of heartache and the hugs of healing. I remember the losses of life, the funeral services for the departed; and I remember some Sundays where there seemed to be a loss of congregational life. 

I remember the folk who caught my vision for ministering to the community around us and others who wouldn’t be caught dead in any ministry that reached outside the walls of the building.

There were people who loved Jesus and others who loved the church…and still others who loved Jesus and the church. A fourth group simply loved the free coffee and donuts!

By the end of 2015 my level of cynicism had risen to an unhealthy level even for a Baptist! It took a few months into retirement for a healthy perspective to re-emerge. 

Pastoring is like a marathon race. It needs a nice steady pace, not an opening sprint that results in a long exhausted walk! 

So today I return with a different perspective, an old guy who has been humored by the past two years of substitute teaching with middle schoolers. The challenge of teaching 7th graders what is really important in life is similar to getting church folk to believe that the gospel is more important than the Denver Broncos.

Oops! Here comes that cynicism again!

Middle School Cool

April 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 23, 2019

                                   

I was never one of the cool kids in school. It’s hard being cool when you’re a 4 foot 8 inch eighth grader with nerdy looking glasses. I was a cute kid, but eighth grade girls had moved past cute and had started looking for handsome, manly, and hints of voices that had suddenly started getting lower. I was a high-pitched, miniature, buzzcut boy who always wore clothes from the J.C. Penney’s store my mom worked at. Randy McDaniels was cool! He was 6 foot one inch, a great athlete, and the dream of most of the females in our class. Of course, when Randy entered his senior year he was still six foot one! He had just received an advance on his masculinity that the rest of his classmates wouldn’t catch up on for a couple of years.

As I walk down the hallways of Timberview Middle School nowadays I notice cool and uncool. That is, what students perceive as cool! 

For instance, having a cell phone in your hand is a prerequisite to even being considered cool. To be talking to Joey and without hesitation look at your cell phone and text Charley that you’ll see him at lunch…that’s in the preface of the book on cool. 

In fact, up-to-date technology is the first chapter in the book How to Be Cool In Middle School In Ten Easy Diagrammed With Pictures Steps. Cool students walk down the hallways with Apple AirPods in their ears. They are an indication that overpriced merchandise is not an obstacle for them…or their parents’ credit card. Having an Apple Watch is an even greater advance in the Kingdom of Coolness! In saying those things I have to admit that I pull out my gold MacBook at Starbucks with an air of prideful arrogance!

Middle school cool kids stand in the middle of the hallway at the height of student traffic moments and expect everyone else to detour around them. It’s their position of royalty with the feel of their subjects keeping their distance from them. If uncool students did that they would be trampled by the stampeding herd!

Uncool kids wear things like hair headbands with cat ears attached. Cool kids wear hair apparel with a Nike swoosh prominently displayed!

Cool kids have their parents deliver Chick-Fil-A to them for lunch. Uncool kids bring Lunchables or sandwiches made with white bread. 

Cool kids go to school athletic contests and sit in the upper corner of the bleachers with their cell phones and make inappropriate remarks about uncool classmates. Actually watching the game that is being played is not cool, unless someone they are infatuated with is playing.

Cool kids moan and groan about going to Language Arts and Math. Depending on whether the teacher is considered cool or not, it may be acceptable to seem interested in the Science and Social Studies classes. 

Cool kids ask to go to the restroom at least twice a day and take their time in the venture. Cool kids have cool looking water bottles, also. 

Cool kids run for student council and get elected even though they have no interest in making any decisions or planning any initiatives. Uncool kids, who would be awesome in getting some things done, never get elected! 

Cool kids show up in the morning with their Starbucks Frappuccinos. Uncool kids have juice boxes.

Middle school coolness is the predecessor to high school cockiness. It’s like the incubator for developing distorted perspectives on what’s important in life. Into the mash of that heated setting teachers try to lead students to deeper life understandings and principles. 

And, you know something? Bottom line, middle school teachers are the ones who are really the cool ones! 

Being Redemptive Synonyms

April 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 21, 2019

    “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

I was writing a chapter in the book I’m currently working on and came to a pondering point. I had just used a certain word to describe the mood of one of the characters and I needed to say something similar about him again. To use the same word would have been repetitive at that point, like reading the First Grade Primer with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff. 

“Sally ran. Sally ran up the hill. Sally ran fast. Sally ran and ran!”

Didn’t want that! So I searched for another word that would describe the same situation, a synonym of the already used to communicate the same picture. 

This past week the scenes from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have elicited a torrent of tears. Parisians who have seen five months of protests (Yellow Vests protesters) were united in their sorrow as flames shoot up from the 850 year old church. They sang together in a candlelight vigil, a mass community of people dealing with loss.

It’s interesting that the protesters have now returned, angry that billions of dollars have been promised by tycoons around the world to rebuild the structure!

Notre Dame is a symbol for the redemptive story of the gospel. It’s holy space that was, ironic as it sounds, in the midst of a restoration project. The preliminary reports are that something connected to the restoration- an electrical short or similar- was the cause of the blaze. Now, despite protests by French citizens, there will be efforts to save and rebuild.

In our own country the past couple of weeks have been stained with the burning of several African-American churches in the south, the threat of an 18 year old girl infatuated with school shootings, especially Columbine, and other assorted acts of evil that let us know the Deceiver is still active and productive.

In the midst of the darkness, however, there are the stories of redemption and the power of the gospel. Redemption comes in many forms, actions, and stories. It takes the form of a Notre Dame security guard rushing to save two priceless relics from the burning building. It  surfaces in the two million dollars of contributions that have been received to rebuild the three Louisiana churches. It appears in the gathering of Columbine families yesterday to remember those who died and those whose impactful stories continue on even in the midst of those deaths. People like Dave Saunders, the teacher who died in the midst of saving some of his students.

A synonym of “redemptive”, in fact, is “saving.” Many of us have been saved from harm, sometimes even from the harm we self-inflict, by someone else who has come alongside us and taken our hand, pulling us from what would be a bad ending. 

Being redemptive synonyms is our opportunity to make a difference, to compensate for the tragedies that surround us, to be new revelations of the Christ story in the present. 

Living out the gospel is a continuous synonym of the redemptive story of Christ. Oh, that there would be more stories of transformative redemption, as opposed to antonyms to the good news!