Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

The Back Story

May 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 20, 2018

                                       

Why am I the way I am?

Why do I always drink my coffee with cream and sugar?

Why do I always put my left leg into my pants first?

Why do I hate beer?

Questions that may intrigue no one else but myself! They are questions that hint at something from my past that caused me to think, act, or feel in a certain way in the present. 

It’s my back story reemerging. For example, I drink my coffee with cream and sugar because that’s how both my mom and dad drank it. It’s a family practice. Once in a great while I’ll drink a cup of coffee black, or with only one of the additions, but it feels strange…it feels off, like I’m putting my pants on backwards and wondering where that zipper went!

“Back Story” is a term writers use to illuminate a character’s past, like telling the story of how the main character received the scar that ran down the side of his face. It’s a glimpse into why someone is the way he is. 

Everyone has Back Story! It’s what we’re rooted in, for good and for bad. 

When tragedy happens, something unexpectedly evil, we ask questions about the perpetrator. We search for some kind of explanation for the unexplainable. Why would Dimitrios Pagourtzis kill students that he went to school with each day? I’ve noticed that there have been several rumored reasons set forward already. What’s his Back Story? What pushed him to do something so evil that it would break the heart of a community and send more shudders throughout the nation?

That question will trouble Santa Fe High School for generations to come. “Why” will continue to rumble through the minds of the students and faculty each time they look at the building or walk down the hallways. A mass shooting will become their Back Story.

If I was pastoring a church in Santa Fe, Texas, what would I say this morning to a sanctuary of confused and troubled faces? What would I tell them on this Sunday that is also Pentecost Sunday?

It is the “Back Story” in our faith journey that I would bring forth. Pentecost is that holy moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus. In a world that is exhausted by its unrest, Pentecost is part of our Back Story of hope. It is why we believe that good can overcome evil. It’s the reason each follower of Jesus believes that lives can be redeemed, that light can shine into darkness. 

Pentecost is the Greek name for “Shavuot”, the spring harvest festival of the Israelites, which was happening at the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you could find more than a couple of Christians out of a hundred who would know the spring harvest festival part of Pentecost you’d be doing good. Our Back Story is now connected to the promise of the Spirit. 

We may never know, and probably, never understand why Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire on people he knew and had been educated with? Whatever was going on in his past may never make any kind of sense to us. Our culture minimizes the idea of “The Evil One”, until the Bible tells us he comes to deceive and destroy. It’s his M.O., his Back Story that continues in the present and on into the days ahead.

But followers of Christ know their Back Story, too, and that it leads us on to be agents of change, and lovers of all people. It’s my Back Story that causes me to fear no evil, and have the assurance of future hope!

Report From A Rookie Writer

May 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 18, 2018

                               

Day 3 of the Christian Writer’s Conference is upon me. There are a lot of people here just like me, hoping and praying that some editor or agent likes their manuscript or idea for a book so much that they hand them a business card and say, “Send it to me!”

That happened in my first appointment yesterday, and I could sense the rising up of tears. Not all of my 15 minute appointments ended up like that, but a couple did. I have two more today and one tomorrow.

It was encouraging to hear the leader of our Fiction Intensive Clinic say that there were many more who applied to be in that group who were sent letters saying “Sorry!” He told the six of us that were accepted that although each of us had things to work on there was potential in each of our writings to be taken to the next level. 

The group spends an hour on each of the admissions, which are usually about the first 10-14 pages of the manuscript. My turn comes Saturday morning and then I will have a half hour Saturday afternoon with the instructor.

This conference is about learning- learning to write more effectively, learning that there are other aspects to getting a book published besides pecking out 100,000 words on my AirBook, learning new terminology, and learning many of the little things that raise a writer’s readability level. 

I’m also learning that it’s necessary to risk. Coming here is risky, because you may get trampled on. Years ago, my fiction clinic instructor was ready to walk out of the same conference because he was so discouraged, but the conference coordinator got a hold of him and gave him a word of encouragement. Years later he’s now the fiction class leader, and author of a number of books. 

There are other conference first-timers here, just like me, but the bulk of the attendees have been coming to this conference for years. They know what to do and where to go. There’s been a few times where I’ve looked like a new freshman standing in the hallway of his new highs chool trying to figure out where the Band Room is.

We all come with stories that we think are the best thing since sliced bread. They are our babies that we want to protect. Having someone suggest that a writer might change the story or the wording sometimes feels like another person telling you to change the way you parent your baby.

Through it all, I’ve become more thankful for the God who leads and guides us and the people he brings along the path to walk with us. 

Writer’s Conference Anxiety

May 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 15, 2018

                              

The Estes Park Christian Writer’s Conference is one day away and I’m feeling like a jittery five year old about to hug his mom and walk with shaking knees into his kindergarten class for the first day of school. What will happen? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if I fall on the playground and skin my knee, or tip over the building blocks accidentally? What if my teacher doesn’t like me and makes me stand in the corner?

Kindergarten questions simply get redressed into grownup worries. As I head to the conference the questions cloud my mind like the halo on top of Pike’s Peak this morning. 

What if my clinic teacher tells me that my writing really sucks? What if they use literary terms that I have no clue about? What is the people there are about half a bubble off center…you know, the elevator doesn’t go to the top floor? What if I have to go to the bathroom really bad? (As you can tell, I’m a bit concerned about taking care of “my business!”) What if I get asked a question and my mind goes as blank as a stare? What if I get Gordon Ramsay for an instructor, complete with English accent and expletives? 

When you have never experienced something you begin to let your mind wander to dark places. 

I WAS accepted as one of six people in the Fiction Intensive Clinic. I had to send my book synopsis and first chapter to the clinic teacher about two months ago and the six of us that were accepted were notified at the end of April. Each of us now has the first chapter and synopsis of the others in the group. There will be some major critiquing and, hopefully, encouragement as we learn about writing tendencies and bad habits. 

I will have appointments with a few literary agents, with hopes that someone will be interested in my book enough to express desire in getting it in front of some publishers. In the midst of this is some personal pride about the story I’ve created, the characters I’ve come to love, and the value of the message that the book brings. My stomach becomes a bit queasy thinking that I’ve written four hundred pages that might get trashed. Actually, I’ve written eight hundred plus pages, because the sequel to the first book has already had its first draft finished. The third book has already been started. Through the pages of type I’ve come to love the characters like the ninth grader, Randy Bowman, and his seventh grade neighbor and friend, Ethan Thomas. It hit me a while ago that I WAS Ethan Thomas in seventh grade and I wanted to be Randy Bowman when I was a freshman. In the course of the first two books Randy helps Ethan become more than he ever thought he could be, a kid easily unseen in the midst of his school who is mentored and befriended towards the discovery of potential and value. 

And, that is also why there is anxiety about this new experience. I’m all in with the story! Like a fourteen year old who discovers his name is not on the list of players who made the basketball team, I’m trying to brace myself for the possibility of disappointment, but also hold out hope that…something just might happen!

Regardless, I believe that God has orchestrated this moment. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t sound like a harmonica in the midst of a wind ensemble!

Baristas and The Bible

May 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      May, 12, 2018

                                

It feels a little bit like “Baptist Mom Guilt” (BMG) is being laid upon me, and yet there is sad truth to it!

In The American Bible Society’s 2018 State of the Bible, Barna Research announced that 37% of Americans say that coffee is a daily necessity for them. The Bible was viewed by 16% as a daily necessity. Between java and Jesus were “something sweet” (28%) and social media (19%).

I’m feeling an altar call for repentance! I’m sitting on my usual last stool on the right at my local Starbucks as I write these words! I know the names of my baristas better (Cody, Rhea, Sara, Katie, Steph, Chase, Viv, and Kallie) than the order of the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, ehhh…)! My Keurig gets more use than First and Second Kings!

I too often fall into the category of those who say, “I’ve heard it all before!” I admit that there are times I look at my Bible like it’s a replaying of It’s A Wonderful Life. Nice, heartwarming, great story, and…flip it over to the Kentucky basketball game and see what the score is?

Surprisingly, my generation and the generation older than me are the two generations more likely to say coffee is needed. Baby boomers (47%) and those 75 years of age and older (46%) put the dark roast as the best part of waking up. Millennials and Generation X are both in the low 30%’s. 

What is even sadder (Hear the BMG again!) is the plethora of Bibles of different versions and reading levels that are available. Go to a Mardel’s and there is a long, floor-to-ceiling, wall of the Word! There’s Bibles for seniors, youth, single people, divorced folk, people in need of healing, military, moms and dads, young couples, and pentecostals. There has been market saturation of scripture, and yet for more and more folk it’s lost it’s appeal, kind of like Rocky 7. 

And I guess if there’s going to be change it needs to start with me! Am I willing to pray for the centrality of the Word of God in my life? Will I allow my spirit to sip through a couple of Psalms today just as much as my Pike Place medium roast? Will my Bible speak to me today as much as this morning’s barista, the warm and friendly, Cody? Will I be as concerned about what God would reveal to me in Philippians today as I am about getting the right mixture of cream and sugar in my brew? 

As the patronage of Starbucks increases the interest in scripture decreases. Barna found that the percentage of people who said they wished they would use the Bible more is lower than it has been in seven years. 

The interesting thing that I’ve noticed at Starbucks is the number of people who read their Bibles here while sipping on a latte. I’ve noticed groups of three or four engaged in bible study. Maybe in some weird way a coffee shop can be a “brewing ground” for increased use of those leather-bound books of God’s story!

I’m pulling out my iPad right now to take a couple of gulps!

(Statistics from Lifeway Facts and Trends, May 11, 2018)

Praying From the Past To the Future

May 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 1, 2018

                        

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!” (Matthew 6:13, The Message)

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One!” (Matthew 6:13, NIV)

When I pray I have a habit of praying about the “not yet” right away!

“Lord, give me strength to get through a day of teaching sixth grade language arts!”

“Lord, help me to deal with that person when I have to see him next week!”

My prayer life has been dominated by situations and events that are in my future path. I noticed, however, when Jesus taught his followers how to pray and gave them a modeling prayer to help them understand he talked about the past and the present before he got to the future.

He suggests that we pray about our present needs and our past failures. The present is about the simple and uncomplicated…”bread!”…the essential for now!

The past is about the moments that haunt us, the ill spoken words, and the inaction in those situations where a response was needed. As a Baptist I don’t enter a confessional booth and reveal my transgressions to a priest, and yet that may be a missing element of my faith journey. It becomes too easy to race blindly into the future! When we don’t deal with our past it clouds the clarity of the future.

There are wounds in our memories that haven’t received the treatment of grace and forgiveness. The peripheral vision of our faith walk is lacking because of the blurring of our past. I think Jesus is leading us to get a grip on our past in preparation for our future. Many of us “avoid” the past as if it never happened. My understanding of how God will lead me from here, however, is influenced by the trail of my steps behind me.

This is true for churches, also! If a congregation hasn’t dealt with its past- how it mistreated a staff member, how judgmental it was towards a family dealing with a relational failure, or demeaning it he’d been towards women- it will most assuredly mis-step into its future.

And so Jesus advises us to deal with our history as we pave the path in front of us.

The Perseverance of Integrity

April 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 24, 2018

                           

“…because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Yesterday I was talking to a man who I’ve known for a number of years, coached with, and felt honored that he refers to me as his friend. He recently had resigned his head coaching position, and it is still a painful time for him. His wins-losses record had not been stellar, and the decision to resign came after his administration had voiced their disgruntlement.

After we had talked for some time I looked at him and I said, “Coach, I have the greatest respect for you, always have! In the midst of adversity your integrity has persevered. You could have done things outside of the rules and perhaps, because of that, won a few more games, but you chose the way of integrity.”

He thanked me. My heart went out to him, because the coaching ranks has lost one of the people you want your kids to be influenced by. Sometimes, however, integrity must persevere through rough waters. It’s in the midst of the rolling waves that many people lose their way and become uprooted from the positive values and morals that get preached, but then forgotten.

We all make judgment errors and fall short. The difference is that many people choose the way that is suspect as their main life route instead of a momentary mistaken by-pass.

Its interesting that I have even more respect now for my hurting friend. He took the hits but stayed the course. He is one of the good guys in the sports world that we know is heavily populated with people who sacrifice integrity in order to worship the god of winning.

Dad…Two Months Gone

April 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 15, 2018

                               

Two months ago today Dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, passed away after a well-lived life of almost ninety years. He really wanted to break the finish-line tape of the ninety mark, but didn’t quite make it. And that was okay!

There are very few people who come to the end of their lives and are able to say “It was good! It was very good!” Dad was one of those! What made it good was the value he placed on things that are irreplaceable. He treasured his friends. When his friend Bill Ball passed away last summer it pained his soul. Bill was the last of Dad’s long-time friends, had passed the ninety mark a few years earlier, and the two of them conversed every week. Each had lost his wife around the same time and each had been married in excess of sixty years.

When Bill passed I think it hurt Dad, but it also eased the way for him. Seeing your friends, who are irreplaceable, travel on to Glory is like being afraid of entering an unfamiliar place, but then you see your friends go there and it makes it okay.

Dad had strong beliefs and convictions that he didn’t compromise. When the days remaining are few, I think that also brings a person to be able to say life was good. Remaining true to your promises and your commitments are signs of a life that is deeply-rooted, not tossed this way and that by what sounds good at the time. Steadfast and persevering, that’s how I would describe him! Gentle and fair would also be listed in the description of who he was and is.

A person never really gets used to the absence of the one who has always been there. The impact has been too deep and significant. I’m blessed in that the impact my dad left on me causes me to smile and feel blessed, as opposed to feeling oppressed and wounded.

And now two months since that Thursday afternoon when he breathed his last I still am able to experience his breath upon my life.

And it is good!