Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Am I Too Nice?

November 29, 2020

Carol and I went through the drive-thru lane of Culver’s recently for some pick-and-go-home dinner. I ordered at the brightly lit marquee and said thank you to the voice that repeated my order back to me. I pulled ahead, waiting for the two cars in front of me to pay before offering the next young lady my payment.

She thanked me for dining with them that night, took my cash, and I said a heartfelt thanks back to her. We moved to the next spot where we waited for another employee to bring our carry-out bag of food to the car. When a young man hustled to us carrying our dinner I thanked him before driving off. Then I turned to Carol and asked, “Am I too nice?”

“No, dear. You’re fine!”

“Carol, sometimes I wonder if I’m just too nice. I said thank you three different times, once to someone I couldn’t even see.”

“You’re polite, Bill.”

“It’s how my dad was. I can’t help it! If someone opens a door for me, I have to say thank you. Sometimes I think I should be…I don’t know…less nice. Nice-less, if you will!”

She let me voice my questions. Since it was dark inside our vehicle as we drove home, I couldn’t tell if she was rolling her eyes or not. After all, she’s very…nice to me!

I realize I probably get taken advantage of sometimes because I’m too nice, like when one of my students turns in an assignment two weeks late. I need to develop a crotchety attitude about that time. A teaching friend of mine made two of his students cry when he scolded them about how they had treated the substitute teacher for his class…me! I can’t remember the last time I made a student’s knees shake with repentant fear.

I was even too nice during parent-teacher conferences about six weeks ago. Instead of telling a parent that their perfect child made me grind my teeth and break out in a rash, I’d talk about their “unrealized potential” and my confidence that he/she was going to wow us in the coming weeks of school. Listen! If a teacher talks about your child’s unrealized potential it’s a hint that he’s driving them crazy, but they’re too nice to say so!

Like I said earlier, my dad was nice. He was polite and gentlemanly, treated everyone with respect, and sought to serve my mom for 65 years, even the last few years of her life when she wasn’t able to get around and then became bedridden. He modeled niceness for me. I’m cut from the prime!

I realize that most of my friends are also nice. Cranky people make me constipated. If someone can’t see the humor in life my niceness is not going to change them. So I hold the door open for little old ladies with canes heading into the doctor’s office, make my Starbucks baristas smile with comments about how awesome they are and a thank you as I leave with my Pike Place, and yield at the four-way stop for any car that is even remotely close to having arrived at the same time that I did.

Niceness. I guess it’s a curse and a blessing! Come to think of it, it may be the reason why Carol married me. All these years I’ve been thinking it was because of my nice looks and chiseled 120-pound frame (when we got married, mind you!), and now I’m wondering if maybe it was just because I was nice!

Redefining 7th Grade Deadlines

November 8, 2020

Since we’re living in a time when some seem comfortable in the rewriting of history, it makes sense that other parts of our culture are also being redefined.

Like at Starbucks this morning where my tall Pike Place coffee is really the small, or the email I’ve received for fifteen days that says “this is absolutely the last day for this mega-sale.”

Many of my seventh-grade language arts students have decided that the term “deadline” now has a new definition. In the middle school urban dictionary it is rendered like this:

Deadline: An estimate; a suggestion; in academia, the stated time when a student should begin thinking about working on the assignment; an approximation.

Last week- the third week of the new school quarter- I received five different assignments that were part of the first quarter. That is, they were part of the grade that had already been punched in…four weeks ago! Sorry, Charlie!

I’ll receive the glazed over looks again this coming week. “Answer the discussion question and submit it. I’ll give you the next five minutes to complete it.”

What some of the students hear: “Would you consider giving a response to this discussion question and, if it’s not too much of a bother, submit it in the next couple of weeks so that I might have the privilege of granting you a score?”

I must say this! There are plenty of students who are responsible, on-task, committed to the old definition of deadline, and in pursuit of excellence. They give me hope that my hair will not fall out in the midst of instructional agitation.

It’s interesting that the “deadline-redefines” become irritated if the school food service didn’t plan accurately and run out of chicken nuggets, or their video game doesn’t load quickly enough. So, they do show some reaction to slowness.

I’m wondering if in a few years when they become taxpayers if the IRS will understand that they might not get their tax returns completed by April 15? I’m envisioning their 2030 tax return being submitted in 2032…but only halfway done!

Agreeing to Love in the Midst of Purple

November 7, 2020

I remember the worship wars of the 1980’s. It was a time when church congregations did internal battles over praise music versus traditional hymns. Quite honestly, the “hymn camp” was nastier than the praise music lovers. One man in my congregation would leave the sanctuary until the praise music was done, and he made his protest known.

The worship wars, however, had been preceded by the “Holy Spirit fights.” A number of churches actually split over the third person of the Trinity. More precisely, the friction was focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, to narrow it down even more, the differences were over the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested in the “speaking in tongues.” For those unfamiliar with those terms it might sound foolish, and in many ways it was. Congregations would divide over their views on a spiritual issue. Go figure!

And now, in recent years churches have taken political sides and fractured over voting preferences. A recent article in Christianity Today magazine focused on the division in churches that are “purple”, a mix of red and blue, Republicans and Democrats. More times than not, pastors have felt the pressure to lean one direction or another, instead of creating a oneness that is rooted in Christ. The dislike for one another is the current issue that seeks to take the church’s mission and purpose away from Jesus. It’s the worship wars and Holy Spirit fights transferred to political preferences. In a nation that is polarized, the church has allowed itself to float down the stream along with the rest of the venomous vessels. It’s anchor to “The Rock” (Jesus Christ) has begun to be torn away. Instead of being a community of transformation and renewal, for the most part, it is simply a reflection of a divided nation.

Jesus prayed a prayer as He faced his impending death. In it he prayed this:

” I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

Oneness…unity, words that were right in rhythm with other descriptions of the church…community, Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers. It seems that most churches these days resemble the dysfunctional New Testament church in Corinth rather than the One that Jesus prayed for.

The pandemic has caused enough chaos in the ministry of faith communities. Now, our distaste for those who vote differently than we do has fractured the church even more. We have gone from a bandage for the cut to needing a hard cast to heal the fracture.

I think I’m going to go back and re-read The Politics of Jesus by Yoder published in 1972. I need to hear from a voice that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

The Blessing of Moments

November 1, 2020

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16-17, The Message) 

A student in the special needs class at school sees me in the hallway and calls my name. I call back to him and we come together and touch elbows. I give him a “You look awesome, baby!” compliment and he grins so wide I can see all his of teeth.

I play peek-a-boo with our 1-year-old grandson, each peek punctuated with his smile and a dancing, wobbling, walking combo away from me.

I catch the last few moments of the Michigan State victory over Michigan and chuckle. One Green-and-White man’s blessing is another maize-and-blue’s curse!

I walk by Ralph’s house, our 84-year-old neighbor up the street on the corner. We talk about what is and what was, and bring laughter to each other.

They are the moments of life that too often never get considered as the blessings, special seconds that fill in the gaps as we move from one obligation to another. We have this habit of equating blessings with significance in size…promotions, prizes, and prestige. The blessing of a greeting or a peek-a-boo moment gets skipped over as we focus on the headline events of our lives.

The uncertainty of our times makes our sightings of the blessed moments even more important. They are the scattered glitter in a fabric of shadows. See them as you travel through each day…the missing front tooth in the grandkid’s smile, the Far Side cartoon that you’ve chuckled at a dozen times already, the young child who stops in front of your house and salutes the flag that flies from your front porch. Look for the moments that bring melody to your life. 

Here’s the thing! When I realize how numerous my blessings in the moments are I’m overwhelmed by…by…I guess I could simply say, my blessedness!

Do I Need to do “The Shoulds”?

October 31, 2020

My mailbox and email “box” seems to get filled each day with opinionated positions and stresses telling me I should do this, think in this way, vote in that way, support something or someone in some way.

Although the election season has magnified the clutter, “the shoulds” follow me around like my shadow, always lurking with another appeal to think the way I should think.

The shoulds try to convince me that I should be interested in what they are selling. There’s the guilt pinch that seeks to pain me into believing there is something wrong with my moral character or ethics of life.

In recent times there’s the subtle jab at a few of my spiritual foundational beliefs. Whereas, I’m not one to force someone else to believe the way I do, I am very unease at the chipping away of the bark of my roots. Since I hold the Scriptures as being truth, it’s as if I’m being told my Guide is no longer knows the way.

I should realize that I’m a relic, a “Not-with-it” old fuddy-duddy. But, you see, when you have come to experience peace in your journey that is punctuated with certain routines and firm decisions you see no reason to alter how you understand the living of life.

How I live my life and how our family functions may not work for some others, but neither do the shoulds work for us.

I Survived Parent-Teacher Conferences

October 23, 2020

Call me weird, but I was kinda looking forward to them. “Them” would be my first parent-teacher conferences…as one of the teachers. I had always been on the other side of the table, hearing how one of our kids was killing it…or getting killed by it: multiplication tables, biology labs, and Spanish tests.

And now I was on the other side of the virtual table, staring at thirtysomethings and a few in their forties. Would they attack my other three teaching teammates (science, social studies, and math) and me (language arts)? Would they be searching for hope in the midst of the lostness? Would it seem like they were our teammates in arriving at some solutions to their son/daughter’s academic struggles? I went into the day and a half of 20-minute get-togethers wondering. Comparing the events to an amusement park, would some of the conferences seem like a ride on the park train, chugging along at a relaxed pace and enjoying the moment, or would it like the merry-go-round going around in circles and never getting there, or the out-of-control roller coaster that caused screaming and the nauseation?

Twenty-six virtual conferences that we didn’t have to pay admission to ride! Truth be told, the worst thing about the experience was the amount of time we spent staring at our computer screens. This morning I’ve got a bit of a headache from the strain, but I’m sitting on my stool in Starbucks sipping my second cup of Pike Place and pondering the possibilities of a three-day weekend.

For the vast majority of conference attenders, there was an openness to hearing what we had to offer and suggest. They quickly perceived that our role was not to unload a torrent of complaints about their almost-teenagers. In fact, some of them were surprised that we were more interested in how they, the parents, and their children were doing in the midst of our hybrid learning structure than we were in talking about the letter grades of the students.

The pandemic has created struggles dressed in different outfits. Some students who have achieved straight A’s have struggled with the absence of school friends who they are socially separated from. Other kids who are not doing well academically have seemed more comfortable in the smaller class sizes and three days online. Students with family drama have sought words of encouragement from the teachers, and those who have always struggled to grasp concepts and ideas are looking to their instructors for a hand to keep them from drowning in the lack of in-person assistance.

I was proud of my three teaching teammates. We were all on the same page, shepherds herding our students toward safer pastures of understanding and conveying demeanors of calmness and our confidence in the abilities of our students.

We’re looking forward to Monday and the continuation of our journey on this new educational frontier.

Dear Mr. Wolfe

October 18, 2020

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

I hope you are having a very good day. I am not. I no I haven’t turned n mini of my laguage arts a sign mints, but there are mini raisins four that.

First of all, I have you’re class in the afternoon and my lap top is tired by then. My friend told me that I jest need to have my lap top take a nap. It’s kinda a “lap nap”! Ha, ha!

My freind is really smart and whys so I have been pudding my new lap top on the couch for arrest. Sad to say, but lap nap comes during laguage arts class. So lotta a sign mints don’t get done. My freind says you have to do that with new lap tops cause they are like babies that need to rest.

That is why my 16 a sign mints are missing.

You’ve probbly note ussed that I only am missing 5 of the a sign mints that I’ve done when I am there in purson. That’s not mini and is proof that I am tailing you the truth.

I wood do these a sign mints at night, but I have mini odder things to do, like math problimbs and scince xpair a mints.

You are a great teacher and sense my lap top will be older in the next quater I’m sure that I will be able to do badder!

Since surly,

Billy Bob Bricker

Dear Billy Bob,

Thanks for sending me the note to explain your mini a sign mints. I understand your dilemma with “lap naps”. Let me suggest you put your lap top to bed earlier the night before, just as parents with a newborn would do.

And for the coming quarter I have an easy remedy for your situation. When you are in my classroom next Tuesday I will have a package of notebook paper and a box of pencils especially for you. Your name will be on it. This way you can do the a sign mints while your lap top is resting and turn them in to me “hard copy” the next time you are in class. It will also give you a chance to practice your penmanship! An added bonus! It may take a little longer than actually doing the work on your lap top, but I know how necessary naps are!

That is the solution to your dilemma. I’ll be happy and you’ll be “full” of Language Arts. Have a great day! I know I will!

Sincerely,

Mr. Wolfe

The Joyride of Faith

October 10, 2020

I was watching a story yesterday about the Howdy Ice Cream Shop in Dallas, Texas. It was inspirational in so many ways, especially how the owner, Tom Landis, has employed people with special needs to staff his stores.

During his TV interview with Hoda and Jenna on NBC’s Today Show, he made this statement: “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Man, I love that!

The shop had been struggling during the pandemic. Landis came to the crossroads point where he said, “God, I can’t do this!”, and he received the whispered reply, “You’re right! YOU can’t do this!” Word filtered through the community about the struggles of the shop that has given a number of people with special needs the opportunities to work and learn about running a small business. Soon donations that topped $100,000 came into the business from the community and people who had heard about Howdy Ice Cream.

On the Today Show, Marcus Lemonis surprised Landis and Howdy’s vice-president, Coleman Jones, with a $50,000 grant.

As Landis said, “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Wow! So often we view faith as an extra topping on top of a basic life sundae instead of being crucial to the foundation. It’s seen as being a step of desperation in the struggle to bring things back into balance.

I’m envisioning faith being in the passenger seat of a convertible Corvette, sporting a pair of sunglasses and allowing the breeze to blow through its hair. Instead of lights flashing to signal an emergency, it heads in the direction of the brightness.

That may sound like strange imagery for something we usually talk about in intangible terms. We tend to keep faith in a fog to protect its identity and shape.

Tom Landis has seen it as the vehicle to move forward, and in heading forward he has discovered a busload of people hoping someone would believe in them. As he once said, “Too often we see them as people with disabilities, instead of people with abilities.”

It makes me want to hop in my car and drive to Dallas for some Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip ice cream.

The Excuse of Fallen Nature

October 3, 2020

For countless children who were in the discipleship classes I led through the years one verse that was memorized was Romans 3:23, “For all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

I would talk to the boys and girls gathered with me about the inevitability of our sinning, although I never used the word “inevitability” with them. It would lead into a teaching about the effects of our sin, which would then lead into talking about grace and the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross.

Young minds seemed to get it! A few weeks later I’d stand with each of them and dip them into the waters of the baptistry, or as some referred to it…“the dunk tank”!

I think I need to do a TED talk on Fallen Excuses. In our turbulent, uncertain times where the need to be right has been mixed in with a world that has been turned upside down like a Dairy Queen Flurry, a new flavor has been concocted with lumps of callousness and a sprinkling of disrespect.

Instead of realizing our fallen nature and the need for a rescuer, we seem now to use it as an excuse for how we treat others. Just as the verse says we all have fallen short, I’m sure most of us could also say we have all made excuses. An excuse protects me in a weird sort of distorted way from taking responsibility. Like the driver who is riding the bumper of the car in front of him, he might say it was the other person’s fault for only going the speed limit.

For many people, taking responsibility for their actions is seen as being a sign of weakness, an indication of their vulnerability.

So, do I have an answer? Well, I have what I call a Personal Covenant, a few guidelines to help me navigate a life that is reflective of my faith. They would be the mix-ins for my “life flurry” that, I hope, would be listed on the menu as “Person of Integrity”.

  1. Respect everyone. My respect of someone else is not dependent on whether he/she respects me.
  2. Be forgiving and ask forgiveness. I do not have it all together, and no one else does either. I will not use that as an excuse, but rather as a reason to seek reconciliation.
  3. See others with equal regard. As my seminary professor, David Augsburger would teach us, see others as part of the solution we seek together, not as people to act superior towards.
  4. Relationships are valued treasures to be nurtured and supported. The other side of that is that relationships are much more difficult to nurture and more easily fractured. They resemble that dinner plate that has the potential to slip out of a hand that is tainted with the residue of life.
  5. Disagreeing on an issue does not mean I need to be separated. The sign of maturity is two people who can’t agree but still treat each other with respect, equal regard. Their value as a person is not contingent on whether I can convince him of my opinion.

Perhaps you can agree with all of those, or some of those, but whether you are with me or have a iced flurry creation with totally different mix-ins, I will try to follow my “Flurry Five.”

There IS A Free Lunch! Just Kidding!

September 26, 2020

This past week my mailbox was filled with the usual assortment of political pleas and warnings to increase the fear factor of what will happen if either major political party gets elected.

BUT I also received an envelope that looked like it had a check inside. I tore into the of it to see what I might have won or been gifted with.

Sure enough! Inside there was a check that said in bold letters “Pay to the order of William Wolfe“, and underneath my name was the amount of “Eighty-Four Thousand and 00/100”. It was even written out like us old folks used to do back in the day when we used paper checks with actual ink.

“Must be my lucky day,” I whispered to myself. But then I noticed the other side of the check where it informed me that I was pre-approved for that amount from some bank or company in California.

And then this declaration in even larger and bolder letters than the amount of the fake check.

William, pay nothing until 2050!

Wait a minute! I’ll be 96 years old in 2050…if I’m still alive. So…I guess there is a free $84,000 lunch to be enjoyed. You know that’s not true! Further reading of the fine print revealed that it was a letter from a reverse mortgage company, but the bold print said things like this: Lock in $0 monthly payments, permanently! and Relax with maximum flexibility.

I’m sure the plan works well for some people, but, in essence, it meant that my kids and grandkids would be affected. Instead of the equity from the sale of our home benefitting them after we pass on, the letter was saying to use the equity now in paying for present expenses and excursions.

I read it as another way to pass the buck or, in this case, diminish the benefits for the next generations of Wolfes. Perhaps I’m erroring in my judgment, but it seems that the circumstances of our lives and the consequences of our decisions seem to be sealed in an envelope and mailed down the road for the next few decades. I realize that there are situations where “stuff” happens…sicknesses, lost employment, failed businesses, natural disasters that destroy homes…but there seems to be a growing number of people whose lives are void of pain and agony who are happy to kick the costly can down to some distant “D Day”.

We live in a time where there are those who need to be cared for but also those who don’t care about anyone else. The ripple effect of self-centered citizens shows up in the unwillingness to take responsibility for their near-sighted stupidity. It’s the procrastination of maturity for the thrill of a moment of self-absorption. Kind of like someone who keeps eating high-sugared drinks and candy, but never brushes his teeth. At some point his teeth will begin to show the lack of concern and the cost of his negligence will result in a lot of drilling as the cavities get filled.

So…I’m tearing up the fake $84,000 check and wishing for a good life for my family. AND I can only hope that our culture, likewise, will stop putting the responsibility for being responsible on those we are presently taking on a walk in their strollers.