Archive for the ‘Freedom’ category

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.

The Right To Be An Ass

April 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 22, 2018

                                     

We live in an amazing country. People have freedoms in the United States that would be laughed at in other parts of the world. Freedom is a tricky thing. It can cause people to loosen up and do certain things that they might not attempt if their common sense took control.

Living in a free society also blurs the lines of what is acceptable and what is the person’s right to do. Lord knows, there’s enough middle school students who have blurred vision when figuring out things like that.

And so, one of the rights we have in our country is the right to be an ass, to say things that are disrespectful, insensitive, and extra-strongly opinionated.

Randa Jarrar, an Fresno State English professor with a strong affection for using the “f” word, put it out there on social media! She trumpeted how much she was glad that the former first lady, Barbara Bush, had died. She added a number of inflammatory comments and seemed to enjoy the firestorm she created.

And she has the right to make those comments, not because they are true, but because of the freedom of speech that countless people have fought for in the history of our nation.

Barbara Bush was someone I admired. Like Jarrar, she said what she thought, but she blended in a large amount of grace, and she answered questions at the appropriate times they should be answered. I still remember an interview when her son, Jeb, was considering a run for the presidency. When asked about it, she candidly answered, “There’s been enough Bush’s in the White House!”

What enrages people is the impact of insensitive words at a time of great loss. It’s like saying to someone who recently lost their home in one of the Colorado fires, “Should have had better insurance!”

But in our country people have the right to be asses! It isn’t a crime! It’s a slap against the face of decency and a step backwards for humanity, but it’s not a crime! In fact, some people become such renowned asses that they get to teach others!

Bias Training

April 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 19, 2018

                                   

What are we to make of the Philadelphia Starbucks’ racial bias situation? Unfortunately, it is a played-out story that mirrors the racial distrust and, dare I say, hatred in our nation.

Next week the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens in Montgomery, Alabama. A recent 60 minutes edition highlighted this new memorial. The new memorial remembers the thousands and thousands of African-Americans who were tortured and lynched. Some of the pictures from the past elicit tears of sorrow for the brutality and tears of shame for the callous hatred in our past. Some of the lynchings show crowds of people gathered in their Sunday best as if they were going to a community picnic. In the background, however, you see a hanged black man still dangling from the gallows. Lynchings, or the threat of lynchings, were one of the ways that African-Americans “were kept in line.” It didn’t take anything but an accusation to have someone strung up. At the memorial are the stories of so many, and what brought about their being lynched: One man who failed to address a police officer as “Mister; another who had knocked on the door of a house where a white woman lived…the stories bring anger to us about what was

But that is also a part of who we are! The reality of our checkered past still stains our hands in the present.

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s banks would “redline” certain neighborhoods that were where mostly non-whites lived. “Redlining” meant that financial institutions would either avoid offering financial services, like home mortgage loans, or charge higher rates to those who lived in those areas. Often middle-class African-Americans were charged higher rates than lower-class whites.

We could also go back to the 19th century and talk about sinophobia, the broad hostility towards Chinese immigrants. Corporations towards the end of the 19th century had policies prohibiting the employment of anyone Chinese. Newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst started using the phrase “yellow peril” to indicate the threat of Chinese immigrants to the white laborers.

Bias is a part of who we are. It’s stitched into the fabric of our history! There’s a bit of resemblance in each one of us of Archie Bunker!

When 175,000 Starbucks employees take racial bias training on May 29th perhaps the rest of us could be invited to it as well. Bias is in each one of us just as much as the blood that runs through our veins. I recognize that I have my biases. They may or may not be towards a certain race of people and my perception of that person that I’m looking at. I may also have biases towards people from certain organizations, churches, high schools, hair color and/or style, clothing attire, accent, or age group.

The stain of our fallen creation continues with us in our confusion and blurring of what is wise judgment and what is unjust bias. Unfortunately, none of us get it right all the time. That’s not an excuse, it’s a challenge!

Would Jesus Be On The Teachers’ Side?

April 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         April 17, 2018

                          

Since West Virginia public school teachers rallied at their state capital and exited their classrooms for almost two weeks, there has been a stream of teachers in other states that have followed West Virginia’s lead.

Having served on the school board and as the president of that school board, plus having a sister, brother-in-law, niece, and daughter who are either retired teachers or currently teaching, plus married to a lady who got her degree in deaf education and still works with special needs students, plus being a coach and a substitute teacher myself (Did you follow all of those plusses?), I’ve had to look at public education from different perspectives.

Being a pastor I also have a habit of contemplating how Jesus might view an issue or converse with a certain individual? Would he care? Would he offer wisdom? Would be simply be present to listen? Would he be swayed by the majority opinion?

Scripture gives us stories of Jesus interacting with children. Matthew 19:13-15 tells the story of children being brought to him “…to place his hands on them and to pray for them.” The disciples had their priorities messed up and started rebuking those who were bringing the kids to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

That brief story communicates a few things about Jesus and those who impact and instruct our kids. Like foundational arithmetic the rest of the problems rely on the beginning beliefs.

Start with those of the present who would play the roles of the disciples! Jesus’ discomfort- perhaps too nice a term!- with the disciples was their interference in allowing the connection between the children and the Teacher. They minimized the importance of the little folk, taking on the attitude that Jesus’ time was better spent with the older generation.

Drawing the story into the present, it seems that those who make decisions about education that involve everything but the face-to-face contact between teacher and his/her students have a responsibility to not place obstacles in the way.

If you’re wondering who that might be the answer is ALL OF US! Government that sees the challenges of our schools but treats the situation as if you can treat a broken arm with a butterfly bandaid…state boards of education that are more enamored with state testing scores than classroom educational discoveries…school boards that have to make tough decisions…parents who send their kids to school each morning after a donut breakfast and a packed lunch of Cheeto’s and Oreo Cookies, and then blame their child’s poor performance on incompetent teachers…teachers who have lost the passion for leading young minds in the discovery of new learnings…and the communities that continually vote down school bond issues because they have bought into the myth that teachers are overpaid and the schools have all the funds they need.

In regards to the disciples, all of us have the DNA within us to be educational rebukers!

Would Jesus be on the teachers’ side? He would be on the side of those who are committed to their purpose, impassioned with the importance of their calling. Like the children who were brought to him he values those who “place their hands of influence on them”. He values the opportunities that are weaved into the relationships between the teacher and her students. When Jesus placed his hands on the children it was the indication of his blessing of them. He values teachers who are blessings on the lives of their students. Most of us can recall who some of those “blessings” were when we were in our school years. (We can also probably remember a few teachers whose classes we “persevered” through!

Would Jesus be on the teacher’s side? He would be on the side of those who understand that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I might interpret that in two ways: That messing with the raising up of our kids is upsetting to Jesus, the Teacher; and secondly, that the education of our children needs to have a long-term view. Teachers are shaping, not enabling, the minds of our future leaders and influencers.

There is a saying that we’re all familiar with…”you get what you pay for!” Perhaps there should be another saying that rises above that: You reap the blessings of what you’re willing to sow!”

The Laughter of Forgetfulness

April 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 11, 2018

                           

For most of my life I’ve been a laugher at the lighter moments and unusual occurrences. I take after my dad in that respect. My mom was the more serious parent. Laughing, from my perspective, was an ointment of survival in my thirty-six years as a pastor.

Like the Sunday we ran out of communion cups before everyone had been served. I remember pretending to drink the communion juice out of pretend cups, as did the others who were up front facing me after serving the congregation. Some may have stressed about the “pretending”, but I thought it was somewhat humorous. I guess who could call it “Communion Lite”!

Carol and I seem to be advancing in age and we’re encountering a few incidents of forgetfulness. No, I don’t believe we’re in the beginning stages of dementia or some other heart wrenching affliction that we see so often these days. I don’t believe I’m experiencing the effects of football-related concussions either. I tried to stay away from being tackled or tackling someone else. I was proficient in my avoidance of contact. My helmet was as clean as a well waxed Corvette at the end of the season.

This week we had planned on having dinner with Marie one night- Marie Calendar’s, that is! Pot pies to be exact! We prefer to bake them in the oven instead of the much shorter time in the microwave, so we preheated the oven to 400 degrees. They take about fifty minutes to bake, plus another five minutes to cool. I went upstairs to do some writing and Carol continued watching Dr. Phil, or some other show where someone is willing to let the whole world know that they are screwed up!

An hour later I came back downstairs. Carol was relaxing on the couch and as I walked into the kitchen I noticed two pot pies sitting on top of the stove. “Oh! They’re done!” was my first thought, and I walked over to help serve them.

But they weren’t done! They weren’t even started! We had forgotten to put them in the oven that had now been heating “nothing” at 400 degrees for the last hour.

“Ahhh, Carol!”
“Yes, dear!”

“We forgot to put the pot pies in the oven.”

“You’re kidding me!”

“Nope!”

And we both laughed! “Well, where would you like to go for dinner?” (Perhaps each of us subconsciously wanted to go out for dinner to begin with!)

We both laughed at our mental slip, and we had a great dinner out that night!

My dad was a great storyteller. What he didn’t realize, or the better word might be remember, is that he had told the same story to me several times, and even though I knew some of his stories so well I could have finished telling them for him, I still laughed at the end. The way he told them always caused me to laugh, and he also always laughed at the end of the retelling. He passed away not quite two months ago at the well-lived age of 89 and 2/3’s! His life was well-oiled with chuckles and laughter.

Twenty years from now I’m hoping my three kids will be sitting at the dinner table with me and willingly listen to my retelling of some stories that I had forgotten had already been told…several times. And I hope we laugh as much then as Carol and I laughed a couple of nights ago after staring at those two stone cold pot pies sitting there impatiently on top of the stove.

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

The Uncomfortableness of New Jeans

April 4, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                          April 4, 2018

               

It happens, usually about twice a year! The back left pocket of my jeans blows a hole in it and I have to break down and buy a new pair. Some of my friends who look for those opportunities to razz me tell me that it’s all because of the massive amounts of cash that stretch my wallet so much that it creates too much pressure on the pocket for it to remain intact…kind of like a volcano blowing!

I disagree, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I have to go to Penney’s, Old Navy, Target, and wherever in search of a new pair. I do not get all giddy over trying on new clothes. My wife can attest to that. I just retired a t-shirt that I’ve had since 1991. When the back of it began to resemble Swiss cheese I finally let go. Grief counseling was almost required!

New jeans are a bit difficult for me to find because my length, or shortness, is now a 29. Old Navy doesn’t stock that length size. Penney’s was void also. I finally found a pair at Kohl’s for some reason.

They felt okay when I tried them on at the store, so I bought them. Last night I wore them for the first time as I ran a couple of errands. After a couple of hours I gave them a rest! My legs needed room to breathe.

New jeans are like teaching your teenager how to drive. You can only handle so much at a time to begin with. Gradually you’ll feel a bit more at ease…and then at about that time you’ll find out how much your auto insurance is going up because of Junior! Well…okay, I guess the car insurance thing doesn’t apply to the jeans.

Life is filled with the uncomfortableness of new experiences, whether it’s wearing jeans, a new pair of shoes, or meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time…awkward!

On Monday I started a new position as a track coach at the middle coach where I’ve been coaching football and basketball for years and years. Even though I had volunteered the last two years to help with track, this year is different. I’m getting paid! And with the pay comes new responsibilities, new things to learn, new expectations. When it’s 25 degrees outside I won’t have a choice about whether I’ll go to practice that day or not.

In mid-May I’ll be attending the Estes Park Christian Writer’s Conference. It’s the first time I’ve done something like that. I’ll have appointments with a few literary agents, attend different seminars, get some critiques, and try to find some interest in publishing the two novels I’ve written that one of my friends says is actually about a four book series. It will be like trying on my new jeans and feeling like I’m a human smothered burrito.

With new experiences there’s always the fear of doing something stupid. I have a similar fear right now with these new jeans. Even though it probably won’t happen (I hope!), I worry about bending over and ripping the seat out of them. The tight fit gives me that unfounded anxiety. At the writer’s conference I’ll deal with the fears of saying something stupid or using the English language in a way that would embarrass my ancestors.

With my new jeans there is still the whispers as I pull them on that question my purchase decision: “What were you thinking? You got the wrong size! You aren’t this small any more!” At the writer’s conference there will be the whispers: “What are you thinking? You aren’t a writer! You can barely construct a grammatically correct sentence!”

And then in the midst of the uncomfortableness there will suddenly be an encouraging comment, an affirmation of the content. It will be like wearing those new jeans and suddenly finding a certain sitting position where they feel comfortable.

Life is a series of worn out jeans that need to be replaced with the new. I’m sure that some of those who are reading this are now asking the question: What about the jeans that now purposely have holes in them, the ones that are made that way?

I have no answer for what I don’t understand, but I’m considering taking my old pair and strategically putting a few additional holes in them and selling them on eBay!