Archive for the ‘Community’ category

The Large Changed To Small

July 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 24, 2018

                       

It’s happened numerous times it seems! I’ve revisited towns and places of my childhood and someone has found a way to shrink therm in size in the 55 years or so since I last was there.

I noticed it first back in Williamstown, West Virginia. The streets had been narrowed since I was a kid in fifth grade living there. I remember the main street that ran through town being like a four lane highway. It ran between the community park and the grocery. I’d find a couple of pop bottles to turn into the store. The store would give me three cents a bottle, which I would use to buy a PayDay or similar sugared-up product. I’d sprint across that street, heart racing, since I knew it was against my parent’s rules. 

In my revisit, however, the highway (in my mind) had been narrowed to where now it is barely wide enough for two compact cars to pass one another going in opposite directions.

And then my brother and I visited Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky- the church my family attended from the time I was an infant to the age of eight. We were in that sanctuary three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening- but someone had shrunk it. A new sanctuary has been built that must seat a thousand or so. We navigated our way through the building that has been added onto a few times until we found the old sanctuary. It’s been repurposed and abused into a youth gathering room. (There’s something weird about that, by the way! Maybe because what once was has long since been changed into what now is!) I remember the old sanctuary being huge, but when we entered it what was once a large gathering place of God’s place on Sunday morning now seems more like a worship closet. 

After church we journeyed around town and stopped at the first two houses I remember living in. Back in the day they were mansions, huge homes where a good game of hide and seek could be played involving small people. BUT once again someone had zapped each one of them with a reducer gun and turned them into Polly Pockets residences!

The perspective of our youth often gets a vision test in our adult years. Our view has been changed. The far-sighted imagination of our childhood gets replaced by the near-sighted skepticism of our aged eyes. What was larger than life becomes the small reality.

There’s a sadness in this change. Perhaps it’s the discovery that what was our “world” as kids, and the specialness of those times, now looks insignificant in the present. When we take our kids and grandkids back to those sacred places there’s yawns and indifference. The mansion we remember now simply looks like a small two bedroom house on a street populated with other small two bedroom homes. 

In another generation they will experience the same thing with their kids!

However, whatever the reality now is the imprint of those times will remain massive upon us. Who I am today is a direct result of how large those days will always be!

Surrounded By Aunts, Uncles, and Parents

July 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 23, 2018

                               

Yesterday was a bit sobering. After attending my nephew’s wedding on Saturday in Frankfort, Kentucky I altered my route back to my sister’s house in southern Ohio to visit the cemetery where many of my relatives lie in slumbered peace.

This was my first visit to the well-maintained grounds a few miles outside of Paintsville, Kentucky since my dad was laid to rest there last February. It was the first time I had seen the grave marker with both of my parents’ names on it. 

I stood there in silence taking in the depth of their deaths. It reached down and caused an aching in my soul. I let it hurt for a few minutes, tearing up in the reality of what lay before me.

And then I spent some time in the midst of my aunts and uncles who reside, so to speak, in the same area. 

-My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Cynthia at the feet of my parents. My mom and Aunt Cynthia were always trying to outdo one another. It was sisterly competition that took in pie-baking, casserole-making, house decorating, hairstyling, child raising, and opinion-giving. They were like competitors in a game of “life checkers”. To have my mom laying with Aunt Cynthia under her feet would be considered, by my mom, as the final word on the situation. Uncle Bernie and my dad lay beside their wives once again not able to get a word in edgewise! When I think of cigars and pipes I think of my Uncle Bernie. As I stood there looking at his resting place I could hear his laugh which was unique and delightful. And I could almost taste my Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, the best there ever was…no matter what my mom said!

-Uncle Junior (Dewey, Jr.) and Aunt Grethel are just a bit to my mom’s left. Aunt Grethel has been there for a while now, succumbing to illness before any of the other aunts and uncles. Uncle Junior didn’t join her until he had pinched my leg a few hundred more times, usually as I sat on my Papaw Helton’s front porch with the men of the family. Uncle Junior made me squirm. My leg even twitched as I now viewed his permanent residence! Now when I see his daughter Annette she intentionally tries to pinch my leg. I’m not sure if it’s to honor her dad’s memory or she just likes to see me squirm again…maybe both!

-Uncle Millard and Aunt Irene (“Rene”) are just a bit to my dad’s right. Millard was a barber. In fact, he kind of resembled Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”. I remember he chewed tobacco for a while and kept a spittoon beside his recliner to the chagrin of Aunt Rene. They never had any children, but were guardian parents for my cousin Johnny Carroll for a couple of years or so when he was a toddler. Uncle Doc’s first wife had died and he needed help raising his young son. He couldn’t be a physician and a single parent at the same time. Aunt Rene became Johnny Carroll’s mom. I’ll always remember all the pictures she had throughout the house of the little boy who she mothered. Compassion defined her. Before she passed in 1996 to cancer she gave a check to each of her nieces and nephews and asked us to use the money to do something that we would enjoy. She wanted to be able to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. My family planned a trip to Disney World- air fare, park tickets, staying at The Beach and Yacht Club on the property- with the funds. Aunt Rene was as happy as we were. To this day my kids still remember how awesome that vacation was!

Overseeing this horizontal family gathering are my Papaw and Mamaw Helton. Mamaw was the first to find her place in this cemetery, passing away forty years ago in 1978. She’d be 119 if she was still alive! She could cook up a storm and fry up a chicken fresh, mainly because she had just killed it and plucked the feathers out by their barn. Papaw governed the gathered wisdom and opinions of the front porch uncles. Without a doubt he was the family patriarch in every since of the term. 

And now all of their daughters and one of their three sons are gathered around them. It is a family reunion of a different kind, and yet I can still hear their voices, complete with accents and emotions. 

Emotions define this moment for me, also. It’s okay though, because I’m standing in the midst of lives that were well lived, well thought of, and now eternally well.

Weddings and Funerals

July 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 22, 2018

                                     

 

I traveled back to Frankfort, Kentucky for our nephew’s wedding this weekend. Other than his crazed belief that God created Ohio State football, and all others are poor attempted copies of God’s perfect gift, Thomas Wolfe is a great young man. Thank God he married a woman who is a University of Kentucky follower. It had to be true love! Jessica was even able to get him to go to a Kentucky football game!

Gathering for their wedding celebration also allowed me to see a couple of my cousins. John, a retired surgeon, who I’ve always known as John Jerry, taught me how to play chess. His mom, my Aunt Cynthia, was the aunt who would always try to sugar me up with candy, pie, ice cream, and then inconspicuously place a folded up dollar bill in my hand before I left. My first understanding of the concept of inflation was related to Aunt Cynthia when the dollar bill suddenly changed to a folded up five dollar bill. Years later she was putting “Jackson’s” in my kids hands. 

Seeing John Jerry and his wife Debbie is a step back to a time in my life when the roots of family were going deeper into a soil rich in stories and traditions. How I view life now has the imprint of those days upon it. 

Matthew Helton was one of the few cousins I had who were younger than me. Since I was the tail end of our family there weren’t many afterthoughts following along behind me. Now a high school teacher, he’s a guy I wish I could be a student of. With a great voice and a depth of information, he is fascinating to be around, much like his father, my Uncle George. I missed his sister, Kelly (always Michelle to me!), who could not be at the wedding. She, also, is a fascinating person!

Weddings and funerals. The last time I saw John and Matthew (and Kelly and Annette!) was at my dad’s funeral back in February. The time before that may have been my mom’s funeral a few years before that. Living in Colorado, I didn’t make it back for the funerals of Uncle George, Aunt Cynthia, Uncle Bernie, Uncle Doc, or Uncle Junior. I know, however, that my brother and sister were there, often filling the role as chauffeur for my mom and dad. 

We come to a point in life when our own family way- our spouse, kids, and grandkids-  trails off from the old highway of our roots. It’s like what I’ll do this afternoon after I leave Frankfort. I’ll be traveling back to Paintsville, Kentucky to visit the cemetery where my parents have been laid to rest, as well as most of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. BUT I won’t take the road that we would travel back in the 50’s and early 60’s from my birthplace city, Winchester, to Paintsville. That road would require an afternoon and Dramamine. There’s a new way that does not resemble my three-year old granddaughter’s attempt at drawing a camel. 

OR maybe I will go the old way! Why not? It will give me a lot of time to remember the old days! Although there is now a faster way to get there, it isn’t necessarily a BETTER way! 

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!

Being An Idiot Requires Idiocy

July 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 18, 2018

                             

I’ve done a few things in my life that required me to be a citizen of the land of Stupid! They were words uttered “dumbly!” Or actions that were void of all intelligence! 

I remember telling one young lady, who I was enjoying a first date with, that she was nice…that she was small in certain areas of her body and nicely shaped in others. She took it that I meant she was small breasted and then okay in other body proportion. It was our last date together! I still slap myself as I think of how my words of flattery floated like a lead balloon!

We all have memories of our journeys to Stupid! Most of the time no one gets harmed in the episode, but sometimes stupidity leaves its mark on us. Like a few years ago when John Smoltz, who was pitching for the Atlanta Braves at the time, tried to iron his team jersey…while he was still wearing it! Can you hear the sizzle? 

Or the young girl who thought Nair was a kind of hair shampoo! Oops! Can you say “Nice shine”?

There are some people in this world, however, who seem to enjoy living in Stupid. One gets the impression that they stay up late at night pondering how they can look like idiots the next day. 

Every time you think LaVar Ball has moved to a room without a Stupid view he reemerges with something to confirm he’s still a resident. Last week he said that he could have beat LeBron James one-on-one back in his hey day. He said LeBron was too weak! Ball played one season of college basketball back in 1987-88 at Washington State, where he averaged just over two points a game. 

LaVar Ball, however, has a way of convincing people to join his trek to idiocy. His Big Baller Brand sneakers were priced at $495. The Better Business Bureau, however, has given him an “F” rating on how he has handled the selling of those shoes. His Junior Basketball League for young men who seem to have been convinced to bypass college has been an expedition based on ambitious dumb ideas. 

LaVar runs for re-election to be Mayor of Stupid about once a month!

What’s funny about idiots is that they often try to convince people that everyone else is an idiot except them! A friend of mine recently was offered temporary lodging by a family. He needed a place to stay, and a free place was even better, but the people who gave him a bed were “flat earth people!” They were staunch believers in the idea that the world is flat. All evidence to the contrary, including astronauts circling the globe, was seen simply as a government conspiracy to cover up the truth. My friend weighed the options: finding a place and pay rent or being provided a free bed tagged with the obligation to listen to the flat earth people. He could stand listening to it for a month and then he had to get out of there to save his sanity.

Idiots have their own version of what is true and what is reality. Don’t bother them with the facts and film footage!

There’s a difference between a dumb idea and a dumb belief. Years ago I had a carton of Coca-Cola stolen out of the backseat of my car. I hadn’t locked the car, so it was stupid of me to forget to do so. A former neighbor of ours, on the other hand, never locked his car or rolled up the windows. His reasoning? If someone was going to steal it he didn’t want them to break the glass and get it all over the inside of the vehicle! I stood there with my mouth wide open as I heard the reasoning!

I’m sure I’ll visit “Never Never Intelligent Land” a few more times before people stare at me in my casket, but I try to have my visits remain brief. Kind of like the Cedar Point Amusement Park ride, Top Thrill Dragster! Always reconsider getting on an amusement park ride that has bleachers alongside it for people to be able to sit and watch. It was stupid to ride it, but at least it was only 13 seconds long!

Church Camp Journal

July 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 15, 2018

                              

SATURDAY

Dear Journal,

I arrived at church camp safely this afternoon. Things looked normal. 

SUNDAY

Dear Journal,

Normalcy disappeared about 2:00. Kids of different sizes and ages arrived, most with their parents. Some parents were tearing up at the idea of missing Little Missy and Mini-Mike for a week. Others teared up at the temporary freedom they would be experiencing. One set of parents were taking a week’s vacation since the kids were gone. They would go back to work once the kids returned to the roost!

Young campers stared into the uncertainty of a whole week of following the instructions and schedule of adults who were strangers to them. What bizarre things would they be forced to do…eat roasted bugs, eat all of their vegetables, take a shower and brush their teeth every day?

Anxiety seemed to spread over the registration area like peanut butter on sliced bread! 

MONDAY

Dear Journal

It’s amazing how easily it is to figure out which of the middle school boy campers has reached puberty and which haven’t! A couple of the boys have been following a group of girls around like flies on honey. Other boys are more interested in figuring out mathematical equations and different Rubik’s Cubes.

One boy, who has spent the first day salivating over the girls, wears tee shirts around that announce the fact that he’s a wrestler…a Samson in the midst of the group of Delilah’s, muscle mass more important than mental capacity.

I grabbed the attention of the middle school campers in my first talk to them by microwaving an egg that was still in the shell. A couple of other things done for shock value communicated to them that this was going to be a different week. I even got Salivating Samson to sit there with his mouth wide open out of disbelief.

TUESDAY

Dear Journal,

  A couple of the boys are starting to smell like…middle school boys! They have not familiarized themselves with the showers in their dorm. The buzzing of flies around them is a clue that they aren’t picking up on. Thankfully we have a swimming time this afternoon. We just need to make sure they get in the pool and go all the way under the water…for a while!

I used shock value again this morning by throwing a full glass of milk on one of the counselors as I began a talk on serving others. She knew it was coming, but didn’t realize how cold it was! Oh well!

WEDNESDAY

Dear Journal,

Today we go rock climbing. For several of the campers who have never rock climbed before they’re wondering if it is going to be like climbing the monkey bars at their old grade school playground. 

And then they saw the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods that they would be climbing up and there was a lot of gulping and eyes wide opened! Samson saw it as an opportunity to impress the Delilah’s who pretended to be interested. 

A good number of campers who didn’t think they could do it were completely pumped when they DID do it. 

THURSDAY

Dear Journal,

Today we climbed Soldier’s Peak…all of us! No one was left behind! One boy’s nickname is now “Crockpot” because that’s about how fast he gets things done. He would be the kid at the mall whose parent has one of those “kid leashes” attached to him so he doesn’t get lost. 

But even he made it and delighted in the view from the top. I talked to all of them about mountain and valleys, and the fact that if there weren’t valleys we wouldn’t appreciate the mountain top experiences, and that God is closely beside us as we travel through the valley experiences of our lives.

Crockpot made it back down in time for lunch!

FRIDAY

Dear Journal,

The week is coming towards the finish line. A moose wandered through camp this afternoon and cooled off for a few minutes in the pond smack dab in the middle of camp. 

At certain times during this week it seems like we’ve also wandered into a strange place, but then the cool waters of God’s grace have saturated our uncertainties. 

In our last evening together the tears begin again. This time, however, they are tears because of departure, tears of sweet sorrow. They’ve become a “group of kids on a journey together.” Now they’re being asked to say goodbye. 

Samson gets hugs from the Delilah’s he’s been hoping for all week. Crockpot gets bombarded with hugs so fast he can’t keep up. The Rubik’s Cube boys seek me out. They’ve always been seen as being weird and nerdy, but this week they were loved and valued. The middle school boys who had not frequented the showers smelled of Old Spice and Axe as they gave me high fives. 

SATURDAY

Dear Journal,

And then it was over! The dust trails of the vans and wagons marked the departure of the campers. It was a week of memories, of laughter and tears, of hopes and the squelching of fears. The hopes were that everyone would be back together a year from now. Amen!

A 64 Year Old Church Camper

July 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 7, 2018

                                  

This afternoon I leave for church camp, a 64 year old hanging out for a week with a bunch of kids bordering either side of the age of thirteen or smack dab on it. During this week, which will occur at an altitude of 8,500, I’ll probably be a target for shaving cream, dumped buckets of ice water, and the “ice cream” in the human sundae, complete with all the applicable toppings.

My role is to pastor this mass of hyperactivity, talk to them about Jesus, and listen for the hidden pain just as much as the easily heard laughter. 

The first day will be about breaking the ice…without getting hurt in the process! Having coached middle school sports since I was in my forties (WHAT!!) I know there will be the energetic campers, the quiet campers, campers who were there last year and looking forward to seeing kids they haven’t seen since last July, and campers who have never been to a camp and are terrified of their own shadows. 

And the old guy will attempt to lead them alongside Jesus! Camp can be an emotional experience, but emotions can sometimes can be their own god. They can be like the air that is blubbering out of a balloon that takes you in one direction and suddenly the other way.

I love middle school kids. You can laugh with them, discover their individual talents and how each kid is unique. You can use their gullibility and their boldness to forge lasting friendships. The painful memories and the hilarious happenings can both strengthen the sense of care and concern.

This week a life could be changed, redirected, or even saved. This week a kid who doesn’t believe in himself can have someone tell him he’s awesome, he’s loved, and his life will make a difference. 

And if that means I get smeared with shaving cream everyday, so be it!