Archive for the ‘Freedom’ category

Really…Airlines!

February 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 21, 2018

                                                  

The first time I was on an airplane was in 1974 when I flew from Chicago O’Hare to Rock Island, Illinois. It was a short trip, but no one told me that the conveyor belt that I put my suitcase on DIDN’T go all the way to the plane. I didn’t know! No one told me…and I wore the same clothes the whole weekend in Rock Island.

That’s a symbolic picture of my relationship with various airlines. Confusing and not on the same page communication-wise!

We flew back from West Virginia Tuesday night…and Wednesday morning!

There are more people flying these days than ever before, creating competition between the airlines and heightened anxiety and new levels of stress for the passengers. Last night I asked my wife where she would like to go for spring break. Her answer, dripping with frustration from the recent trip to West Virginia and back, was “Anywhere that does not involve an airplane!” It is a comment that signals a trend. Kind of like when you see a picture of a delicious looking entree in the restaurant’s menu, order it, but when the plate comes it does not come close to resembling the menu pic! Airline commercials are filled with smiling passengers, courteous flight attendants, and scenes of joy-filled peace, and then there is the reality!

One of the things that every airlines seem to do these days is push their credit cards. Sign up and receive so many flying miles that usually equals a “free ticket.” Free is a skewed term. It usually means an annual fee of just under $100.

It seems that on every flight I’m a passenger these days there is “the smoozing moment” of welcoming the elite, premier, gold, platinum, platinum plus, platinum pro, and other upper crust people who have paid the extra money to be recognized on every flight. Listen! Do we really need to give them a special welcome and have the flight attendants slobber all over themselves? I wonder if they did that on the Mayflower ship…gave a special welcome to those of the Puritan Premier club? If the plane goes down will the elite have a softer landing?

I know, I know, I’m cynical! It comes fairly natural after being squeezed up to the window of Seat 14A for three and a half hours. This is my rant!

I also know that every airlines has to contend with some people who are so obnoxious and demanding that even the Baptists wouldn’t take them. They are the entitled who could possibly be a part of the elite.

What’s the answer? In regards to obnoxious passengers, I have no clue, but in regards to how the airlines treats its customers…ask Chick-fil-A to come in and do some training for you!

Icing My Shooter

February 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              February 6, 2018

                                        

The freshmen boy’s basketball team I coach at The Classical Academy (TCA) In Colorado Springs has been abysmal in their free throw shooting this basketball season. Three of our five losses came in games where we shot under 50% from the foul line.

Before we had played any games way back in November I had challenged one of my players (I’ll just refer to him as “Verle”!) to improve his shooting. Each day in practice we’d do two or three rounds where each player shoots ten free throws and reports their results.

Verle would tell me, “Coach, I made 2 out of 10.”

“Coach, I was 3 for 10!”

Once in a great while it would be, “Coach, I was 5 for 10!”

Finally, one day I said to him, “Verle, if you shoot 90% for the season I’ll shave my head!”

His eyes lit up!

“Really!”

“Really!”

His eyes squinted together, his way of telling me that he was up to the challenge. In my opinion, his look of determination did not change the fact that he was a master bricklayer as a free throw shooter. Quickly he informed all of his teammates of the coach-player bet. They whooped and hollered about it.

Last night we played our 15th game of the season. Verle had not yet shot a free throw all season. In the fourth quarter of a game where we had a comfortable lead it happened. He got hacked!

The one stat that each of my players were aware of was that Verle had not shot a free throw all season. He was zero for zero! There was instant excitement on the bench of what might happen. The junior varsity players waiting behind our bench knew also and they were intently watching.

He stepped to the line, received the basketball, bounced it twice, and then launched. With minimum rotation the ball headed towards the rim. It hit the front of the rim, bounced and hit the back of the rim, and then fell through the basket. My bench erupted. The JV players joined them in the celebration. Verle looked over at me on the bench with the same squinted eyes look.

I called time out!

In basketball a coaching ploy that is often used is called “icing the shooter.” It’s the idea of making the free throw shooter have to think about the difficulty of the shot he/she is about to attempt. If someone makes the first of two shots it’s the idea of getting him away from the spot that feels comfortable for a few moments before he attempts the second shot.

This, however, might be the first time a coach has called time out to “ice” his own shooter. The players gathered around me, and someone told Verle why I had called time out.

“Coach, are you trying to ice me? Coach, I’ve got ice in my veins!”

“Great! Maybe you’ll freeze up on your shot!”

The bench was excited. The JV players were yelling. Verle walked over to the free throw line, cast one more look of determination at me, and readied himself. Behind me on the bench a couple of players were making buzzing sounds to mimic an electric razor.

He shot! Time stood still! The ball hit nothing but net! I put my head in my hands!

The whole bench, plus the JV team all launched into a symphony of electric razor buzzing. Verle gave me the squinted eye look one more time.

Now I must try to get him into another free throw shooting situation in the final four games, but considering it took fifteen games before he attempted his first one that is going to be a tough task. He may come down with a two week flu, or fake a sprained ankle.

I walked into the locker room to the sound of the whole team “buzzing!”

My hair is toast!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

Channeling Dr. Ryder

February 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2018

                                    

Dr. Stuart Ryder was an institution at Judson College (now Judson University). A professor in the English Department for “centuries”, in his later years he also assumed the role of Athletic Trainer for the school’s sports teams.

Dr. Ryder was also a master of puns. His sharp wit would rise to the surface suddenly with a humorous line that caused occasional laughter and, more frequently, groans.

For example, before a cross-country meet one of the runners was walking around barefoot, and Doc Ryder voiced, “I guess we must be smelling ‘da’ feet!”

Now, decades later I find myself using puns in the middle school classrooms where I’m teaching to the groans of the seventh grade students. It is as if I’m channeling Doc in my attempts at witty humor. It emerged again this morning at Starbucks when one of the baristas was fixing a cup of tea as I walked up to the counter. “Just a minute, Bill! I’ve got to fix the tea before the customer gets here.”

I quickly channeled Stuart Ryder. “I guess it wouldn’t be good for the cup to be ‘emp-ty!’”

She chuckled and said “Good one!” Seven A.M. humor at Starbucks is greatly appreciated in the midst of bleary-eyed customers who are waiting  with heightened irritation for their first cup of java.

In the classroom “pun humor” keeps the middle school students alert. Some of it is too deep for them, but that’s okay! I don’t understand the math they’re doing either!

Dr. Ryder used to say a pun and then give a personal chuckle that involved some rapid and short inhaling and exhaling. When I utter a pun I just smile and look for understanding.

“Mr. Wolfe, see my baggie! I think someone stepped on my cookie that’s in it!”

“Well, I guess you could say that’s how the cookie crumbled!”

“Mr. Wolfe!”

Another situation while we were outside.

“Mr. Wolfe, I had my bag of chips sitting here on the rock and the wind came and blew the bag off. The chips went everywhere!”

“Gee, that’s too bad! I guess you might call that an example of ‘being chips off the old rock!’” (Loud groan in the midst of chip grieving!)

It’s Doc Ryder’s seeds from the past rising again in new life.

Our lives are cultivated by different people in a multitude of ways. Dr. Stuart Ryder planted, watered, and helped students grow.

Every time I find myself beginning a sentence with the words “I guess you could say…” I can hear the rumble of his laughter within me!

Acquired Taste

January 31, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 31, 2018

                                              

There are certain things in life that we partake of because…

Because of family tradition. Because we’ve always done it that way. Because it’s all we have. Because someone does it. Because we were told to.

For a few years at Thanksgiving I’d make oyster dressing. No one else in my household- spouse or any of the three kids- would even get close to the oyster dressing. I made it because…my mom always made it for Thanksgiving! I didn’t even realize that dressing/stuffing could be eaten without oysters! Christmas featured fruitcake. I don’t even like fruitcake, but we always had one for Christmas, so I’d munch away, pretending it was a natural act of mankind.

I acquired a taste for coffee during my last year of seminary when I decided to take a  Hebrew class. Late at night Steve Wamberg, Steve Shaffer, and I would drive over to The Golden Bear restaurant, drink coffee and study Hebrew flash cards. The Hebrew never stayed with me, but the taste for coffee did. Forty years later I’ve acquired a taste for Starbucks coffee, a brew that grew on me!

In recent years I’ve acquired tastes for Brussel sprouts, yogurt, and grits. Such notions would have made me break out in fits of laughter a few years ago.

There also seems to be “acquired tastes” of cultural ideas and trends. Last year the middle school where I coach was saturated with “fidget spinners.” Spinners were those handheld devices that were held by two fingers and spun. They became a “thing” that became classroom distractions. Teachers had nightmares because of fidget spinners. When they thought of the word “annoying” a picture of a fidget spinner would pop up in their minds.

What I noticed about “acquired cultural tastes” is that people sometimes follow along and partake simply because of others. It’s simply peer pressure shaped differently. There are issues or situations where following along is a good thing, a wise thing; and there are issues and situations where following along is ludicrous.

For example, towards the end of the 1800’s the overwhelming opinion in the United States was that Chinese immigrants were to be despised and discriminated against. Many businesses and corporations had policies that prohibited the hiring of Chinese. In fact, a person would be hard pressed to find someone who was sympathetic. The government sure wasn’t! People followed along in that “acquired taste” of hate and racism.

In the turbulence of our present culture recent “acquired tastes” have included national anthem protests, reefer gladness, consuming laundry detergent pods, and openly hoping that certain elected officials meet untimely deaths. They are like opinionated tsunamis that years from now will be looked upon, like the discrimination of Chinese immigrants, as making no sense whatsoever. For now, however, like flags blowing in the wind, people wave in the direction of the spouted opinion.

If a Hollywood starlet or recording artist makes a statement in the midst of one of the many award shows on TV you can be sure that numerous people will acquire the taste of that stance soon after. I guess that sounded somewhat opinionated, didn’t it?

Well, here’s another opinion! Most acquired tastes, with the exception of Starbucks coffee, should be un-acquired!

Wrestling with Spartan Loyalty

January 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             January 28, 2018

                                 

It’s been a tough week in Spartan Land! The Larry Nassar horror had been going on for a while. I wanted to believe that he was more connected to USA Gymnastics than Michigan State University.

You see, that’s a big part of my problem, and struggle. I don’t want to believe that anything can go wrong in Spartan Country.

Sports Information Director at the Air Force Academy, Troy Garnhart, told me of the Academy’s football game at Michigan State a couple of years ago. He was impressed by everything- the people, the facilities, but, most of all, the hospitality and genuineness of the coaches and players. That’s what I want to hear! It’s difficult to hear that the coin actually has another side to it.

I want to believe that about the other university about an hour southeast down the road. Anything that makes Jim Harbaugh want to puke…like a blocked punt on the final play of a football game…brings a smile to my face!

But this is Spartan Land, and I wouldn’t even want such a debacle to happen in Ann Arbor. One of sexual assault victims of Larry Nassar is the daughter of a man who was a part of the youth group I led back in the early eighties in Lansing. Her testimony personalized a story that became so immense that there was a danger of seeing so many victims- more than one hundred and fifty, but forgetting that each one of them endured pain and suffering.

As happens in our culture, the indiscretions of one becomes the fault of the many. We’re teetering on the edge of a moral ledge where things that have been kept hidden are raising their ugly heads. In recent months, more than usual, an incision into the heart of our society has revealed the darkness of how we live. In our talent for avoidance we usually shrug off the rumors, but, in this situation, the reality has tsunami’ed us. The Nassar crimes are like when you look at a wall and see a crack in the paint, but when you more closely investigate it you notice that the crack extends in all directions.

I want to still live in Spartan Land but the “Green and White” has become grey-ish! I want my heroes to stay standing on pedestals, but I’m afraid that the possibility of falling off is increasing daily.

And how far does the failure of responsibility ripple out? A university president and the athletic director have already retired/resigned. The entire board of USA Gymnastics joined the list of resignations. How many more will be found to have ignored the elephant in the room?

I’ll always root for the Spartans, but when I wear my Michigan State hoodie nowadays I’m reminded more of the damage that has been done to a multitude of lives than I am of Spartan victories.

A school that has been known for “Magic” has entered a new chapter that is entitled  “Tragic”!

Did Anybody See That?

January 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 23, 2018

                                     

Life is filled with those moments!

On Saturday morning I was leading a skills session for the Buddy Basketball program at my old church. The first session was for kindergarten through second graders. As I was monitoring the shooting grunts and groans before we began, one girl kept shouting at me, “Watch this! Watch this!” I watched a couple of her shots sail towards a different zip code than where the basket was located and then began looking around the gym at other small people, including my six year old granddaughter.

A minute or so later the same little girl who had been shouting at me to watch shouted, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” She had made a basket and wanted someone to recognize the impossible made possible.

The night before my wife and I had been watching the Michigan State men’s basketball team take out their frustrations on Indiana. In the midst of the game Miles Bridges had an incredible dunk over a defender, and I exclaimed to her “Did you see that?” We wore out the batteries in our remote control replaying the play so many times. It was a moment in time, for Spartan fans at least, that you want to share with others.

Yesterday morning I was substitute teaching at The Classical Academy. We had a two hour delay because of the snow and icy roads. I arrived ahead of schedule in order to make sure I understood the plan for the day. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot when I started strolling across and then…whoops! My feet launched towards the sky and my backside met the icy pavement and snow. My coffee (Kona from Buddha’s Cup in Hawaii, no less!) splattered onto the snow, creating a creamy dotted pattern. I felt my salad lunch jump around in its container, and my right hip was reminded that it’s no longer young.

And then I got to my feet and looked around asking myself, “Did anybody see that?” One of the other basketball coaches I work with did. He smiled at me, and I swore him to secrecy. “Don’t tell the freshmen basketball players!” He smiled at me again.

Sometimes we ask the question “Did anybody see that?” in hopes that our viewing audience is at least one, and wishing for more. At other times, however, we ask the same question and hope that no one but God viewed the embarrassment of the event.

Murphy’s Law says “No one will see the hole-in-one you hit because your partner is searching for his ball in the weeds!” Murphy’s Law also says “A crowd will notice when you want no one to see!”

Deep sigh!