Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

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!

Protecting Our Teens From Themselves

April 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 2, 2018

                            

The mobilizing of hundreds of thousands of young people around our nation…and even the world…over gun violence is to be applauded. In this age of entitlement there are even a few people who seem to feel entitled to go into schools, churches, shopping malls, parks, and city streets and start shooting. It didn’t used to be that way, but it is our present condition.

And so teens rallied and made their voices heard! Their cry is that no one should have to go to a place of learning and worry about their safety. Agreed! I see no reason why a gun that is called “an assault rifle” should be in the hands of anyone unrelated to law enforcement or the military. Just the name indicates that its intended purpose is not to shoot beer bottles placed on top of a post in the “back forty”!

Now to draw the ire of a few!

Eleven adolescents are killed each day in our country because they were texting and driving. That’s around 4,000 teenagers a year…so far! The number of deaths has been increasing each year since texting became as common as changing radio stations. One study found that distracted drivers had a 35% decline in reaction time compared to a 12% decline in the reaction time of drunk drivers.

Pedestrian deaths jumped 11% in 2016, an alarming increase. Once again, a main cause for the increase was either drivers distracted or, even more, pedestrians distracted as they stared at their cell phones, oblivious to approaching vehicles.

I’ve noticed it around our middle school and high school right after the dismissal bell. Students exiting and clueless about what they are doing as they cross streets.

Perhaps there needs to be a movement of teens to keep themselves safe from themselves!

At the beginning of a sports season I tell the athletes that I coach three words: Don’t do stupid!” I use the wrong verb on purpose because stupid is a choice, it isn’t who they are! They make the choice to do stupid, not be stupid. Crossing a busy street while listening to music with ear buds in and texting someone…or texting and driving…those are examples of “doing stupid!”

Expressing My Opinions…and Knowing People Disagree!

March 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 22, 2018

           

Crotchety…that’s what we would call old embittered men who walked around with scowls on their faces, mad at the world, and complaining about today’s youth.

I think I’m becoming crotchety! I seem to be shaking my head a lot these days, not necessarily at today’s youth, but the world in general. If you would like to draw a scowling face beside the page right now to characterize me, go ahead! If you are using an iPad do not use a Sharpie!

Opinion #1- Adults are pulling kids out of childhood like it’s a disease! Ever seen one of those TV show episodes about child “pageants” where a six year old is made to look like she’s twenty-six? As my Papaw would say, “Lord, have mercy!” Too many parents have bought into the lie that if little Johnny plays baseball year-round and gets expensive extra personal instruction from a hitting coach that he will receive a college scholarship down the road. Meanwhile, little Johnny would just like to play with his Lego’s for a while! Adults have minimized the importance of letting kids grow up gradually. The same development of a seed that becomes a bean plant should be used for our children. One day at a time and one stage at a time.

Opinion #2- The NCAA Basketball Tournament selection process is fixed! If money is connected to every tournament win, how much is the selection committee listening to the West Coast Conference versus the ACC? If strength of schedule is a deciding criteria for mid-major conference teams to be invited, how many Power Five conference teams turn down games with Western Kentucky and St. Mary’s in favor of Bethune-Cookman and Houston Baptist? Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets invited to play AT other arenas (Their first 13 games this season were on the road!) not because they’re expected to win!

Opinion #3- The public library has become a noisy place! Remember when you were expected to be quiet in the public library so people could focus? Last month the guy two seats away from me was doing a job interview on his cell phone! This week three people were gathered around a nearby table having a meeting. Where have the cranky librarians gone off to who elicited fear in those present? AND, half the time as I’m approaching the entrance or leaving afterwards there is someone trying to get me to sign a petition or Girl Scouts selling cookies. I know what you’re thinking…I’m really, really crotchety, but I’ve put on five pounds in the last month!

Opinion #4- My mom used to throw away blue jeans with holes. Now someone gets paid for putting holes in them! Actually, my mom would turn my jeans with holes in the knees into shorts! I don’t understand fashion, but I guess I prefer jeans with holes over sagging pants any day!

Opinion #5- Teens can’t go to the bathroom without their cell phones! With that exceedingly crotchety statement I’ll conclude my rant.

I had a student in a class this past week who asked me how old I was? I asked her how old she thought I was, thinking she’d mention a figure that began with a 4 or a 5, and she replied, “I dunno…70!”

The Pursuit of Happiness

March 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 21, 2018

                           

National Geographic did a feature article in their 2017 November issue about happiness. What are the happiest places around the world, and what raises their level of happiness? Are there common threads between them?

Although evaluating happiness is similar to deciding what success means and how it looks, the article brought out three strands of happiness that when weaved together brought the prospects of leading a happy life to a much higher level.

The strands are pleasure, purpose, and pride. 

Pleasure is a term that gets boxed in with our personal assumptions as soon as we say the word. The hints of my Baptist upbringing immediately insert the word “guilty” in front of it. Pleasure, however, is defined as “the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” We use it in a remark after serving another person in some way. When the person responds with a word of thanks the reply is often “It’s my pleasure!”

Pleasure, then, has as many categories as amazon.com. However, pleasure as a part of the pursuit of happiness is connected in some way to the community around us, the people we share life with, and a sense of harmony. Pleasure that is simply self-serving leads not to happiness but to a sense of detachment from the very vehicle that drives us towards happiness.

Purpose as a part of the happiness pursuit, in my opinion, is re-emerging. For a long, long time in the American culture we bought into the idea that more was better, that happiness was at the end of the rainbow that included a massive bank account, summer home on the lake, and Oil of Olay bubble baths (I’m not sure why that one popped up into my mind!).

Purpose means that I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that what I am about today matters not only for this moment, but for the days to come. It’s the teacher who understands and believes that what he/she imparts to the students today is important for who they will be in the tomorrows to come.

As a follower of Jesus I link purpose with the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches in Matthew 22…”to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Purpose in my life is seen in how I love God and love others. My life needs to be geared in those two ways and, as a result, it will fuel my pursuit of happiness.

Pride is the feeling of satisfaction in a person, group, community, and culture over achievements and shared values. Once again, it is far less about me and far more about the others on the journey with me. Parents say they are proud of their children not for what the parent has done, but rather what the child has achieved or attempted.

National pride rises as Olympic athletes go all out for the glory of the country. Community pride increases as it pulls together to address a major crisis or catastrophe.

The pursuit of happiness is like our local Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot. It’s 3,000 plus people of different sizes, ages, and abilities running (or walking) together from the start to the finish. Although some people finish quickly and many others finish slowly, the goal of everyone is to finish…and to enjoy the experience! Some people dress up like turkeys or even pilgrims and take on an amusing look in the pursuit. Others are more serious about the pace. Whatever one’s approach the post-race gathering in the parking lot around long tables of fruit, granola bars, juice, and bottles of water is a community celebration of the pursuit. Massage therapists give rubdowns, ice packs soothe aching calves, and friends jabber about the journey. There’s a sense of accomplishment…a feeling of happy satisfaction, purpose, and pride.

I don’t want to give the impression that a the pursuit of happiness can be summed up by a 5K road race, but it is, in my opinion, the perfect pictorial metaphor for how that pursuit can be understood. So, grab some hands around you and pursue it…together!

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”!