Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

The Popularity of Extremists

November 22, 2020

They make me cringe and want to floss my teeth for no apparent reason. The extremist views of the right and the left are…well, extreme!

And popular! Not popular, because mega-number of people agree with them, but they attract attention because they are so “out there”. They are the political versions of The Real Housewives of Wherever, another cultural favorite that makes me run for the bathroom cabinet.

Being a moderate, I have to shake my head and go for a walk. And yet, as I think about it, extreme views and personalities are apparent in most areas and arenas of our world. Football players, and the whole offensive line, now make it an end zone production after a touchdown is scored. It seems like no one now scores and simply hands the football to the nearest official. Broadway has to make a showing. Speaking of Broadway, that brings back the memory of Joe Namath from the 60s and 70s, the quarterback whose nickname was Broadway Joe.

Even religion goes for the extremes, from Benny Hinn smacking people in the forehead to extreme conservative churches that frown on smiling.

In politics we’ve had the Moral Majority and the Tea Party and, on the other side, there’s the Progressive “Pack” and “The View”.

The thing is…those of us in the middle are very uncomfortable with the extreme views in just about any area. We don’t frequent marijuana dispensaries and we’re likely to have a beer in our refrigerator. Our sense of what is right is more resembling of a Norman Rockwell painting than a protest march. We don’t believe everything should be free and that work is not a four-letter word (although it has four letters).

We don’t attract a lot of attention and don’t garner the kind of Nielsen ratings that make us appealing. We’re more comfortable with farmers and the town square barber than we are with techies and fashion statements. We understand how blessed we are to be Americans, but also are willing to help those in other parts of the world who need food.

We drive Hondas and Chevys at reasonable speeds and reach for the floss as the red BMW speeds by us, weaving in between three lanes of moderates.

And we know that we’ll probably never be popular! We’ll just be average, or better yet, normal!

You Matter!

November 19, 2020

My heart breaks for them! They are people who operate effectively on the basis of relational instruction. That is, they are the teachers who long for their students to be with them…physically!

It’s a strange and detached new way of teaching, this virtual education. Teachers want that closeness with their students, but 18 inches away from their faces on a computer screen is not what they had in mind.

And so they keep going, keep hoping, keep encouraging, even when their own spirits have dropped into a deep mine shaft. Their worry now gravitates to when their students return. Will it be like starting over again? Will they have to get them used to sitting up straight at their desks instead of slouching to the side with a comfort blanket wrapped around them?

And when the students are able to come back into the school buildings will it be for a week, two weeks, a month, and then there will be another transition back to remote learning?

So many questions and so little resolution. Peace seems to be fleeing from the scene.

What can teachers do? First of all, they can write in bold letters on their classroom boards, or a paper sticking to their refrigerator at home the words “YOU MATTER!”

Second, they can encourage their teaching teammates, like an orchestra that demands the sound of each instrument to create the symphony, teachers can keep telling their members that they are needed and they are valued.

And third, teachers keep the perspective of a marathon runner who stays focused on the end goal. Runners will talk about “hitting the wall” about three-fourths through the 26.2 mile race. It’s the mental, physical and emotional fatigue point that causes pessimism and discouragement to affect the pursuit. From what I see, many teachers are at “the wall” and struggling to keep going.

Hear it again. You matter! You are essential! You can do this! Your students will respect you even more when you lead them across the finish line!

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 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.

The Blotches I Suddenly Could See

September 12, 2020

It was late in the evening, which is anytime after 7:00 for me, and I was sitting in a quiet moment of reflection. I thought about the day that had been, the conversations and challenges. The end of another teaching week was just another day away. Day 17 had proceeded without too many glitches and I was anticipating the Friday plan of tired eyes and distracted twelve-year-olds.

As I gazed at my hands I saw them, a couple of age spots, blotches, AARP markers on the backside of my hands that had not been there when I was twenty, or even thirty, but now, at 66, I suddenly could se them.

It’s not that they had suddenly appeared like the Colorado September 8 snowstorm the day after it was 97 degrees in Colorado Springs. No, I realized that the journey of time had slowly developed the indications of my advancing elderliness.

Perhaps it was a God-sign for our times that the thought came upon me. Like so many things in life, the differences and injustices in our culture and in our world that have been there for so long suddenly catch out attention. We see them where we didn’t really notice them. And I realize that events such as pandemics, and 9/11 terrorist attacks, race relations and tensions, financial heartbreak, closed churches, and the hyping of political fears cause the blotches of our world and aged issues of the past decades to stand out.

Like the imperfections on the backs of my hands, the imperfections and imbalances of our world have been there for a long, long time, but in a short focused look we suddenly see them with disturbed eyes.

The thing is they won’t be corrected or erased quickly. Noticeability is simply the first step in redirection. Unlike my skin blotches, however, the bruises of our times can be healed, perhaps slowly and painfully, but they can be “unwounded”.

The Balance of Fear and Courage

August 22, 2020

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”

Responsibility In The Crosshairs of Freedom

August 12, 2020

There are certain situations in our everyday lives that demand that freedom be put on the back burner. For example, the speed limit on streets and highways is meant to keep every driver and vehicle safe. A crash caused someone driving recklessly not only threatens their life, but the lives of those in other vehicles. And, oh my, most of us have experienced the frustration of backed-up traffic because of one speed demon crashing miles ahead of us!

America is a free country. We say those words and stretch the elastic in the waist band to the breaking point. Pardon the expression, but we try to fit a size XXX of freedom into a 28 waist with no apologies for the cultural bulginess is creates.

Responsibility seems to be a word that we use to overkill with our kids and place in storage for our own lives. It’s more than an issue about wearing masks and washing your hands. It’s a personal and corporate value that is being viewed by more and more people as a relic of The Andy Griffith Show era.

When freedom and responsibility co-exist and work in rhythm with one another like an Olympic figuring skating duo, it’s a beautiful thing. Most of the time, common sense and community benefit join hands with them, and the local newspaper must rely on news stories like whose house did Billy Bob and Joann Rice have dinner at after church on Sunday, or which 4-H’er was awarded the grand prize for her winning pig at the county fair. The teamwork of freedom and responsibility seldom makes good headlines, but, seriously, wouldn’t we like a few days that would be ho-hum and un-sensational?

It seems in these times, however, that responsibility is often in the crosshairs of freedom. Freedom drives a car smack dab into responsibility’s front window and takes off with items that don’t belong to it.

Freedom gone crazy is like a bear in a honey store. Look out! there’s going to be a lot of licking, broken glass, and beastly entitlement. I can understand bears. It’s the crazies who have mistaken free reign for freedom that I cringe about.

Lean on Me From a Distance

April 4, 2020

Bill Withers passed away yesterday at the age of 81 of heart problems. One of the many songs he had written was “Lean On Me”, the year of my high school graduation, 1972.

His passing at this time in our country’s struggles seems strangely appropriate because it has brought that song back into our minds. It’s a time to lean on one another, even from a socially acceptable distance. The words from the song resonate in our minds and spirits: Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna’ need somebody to lean on.

Each one of us has times where our lean is more pronounced than at other times. Weary health care workers are looking for a wall to lean against for a few minutes. First-responders are in need of a listening ear to lean on. Grandparents lean their ears closer to the phone to hear the angelic voice of their young grandchildren. Pained souls lean into a YouTube video of a church choir singing Amazing Grace.

When Bill Withers wrote those lyrics almost fifty years ago he had no idea that they’d be intently listened to in 2020.

Oh, there are still plenty of people under the illusion that the world revolves around themselves and the purpose of everyone else is to please and pleasure them, but I think this pandemic has brought a new awakening– I guess that would be a reawakening– of how I need you and you need me.

My wife, caring of the need of others, took a half-dozen rolls of toilet paper up to our middle school this week, where bagged lunches were being distributed. Her thought was that those who qualify to receive the free lunches might also need a roll of TP! I walked by the school an hour later just to say hi to a couple of the workers and they informed me that those rolls of TP had not lasted long. They had all been given…quickly!

Leaning on one another, once in a while, means something as simple as that. As Bill Withers sang, “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

 

Realizing What We No Longer Have

April 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 2, 2020

                        

When I recently taught 7th Grade Language Arts for 8 weeks, I noticed somber-faced students entering the building at 7:30. Although some were excited about being at school for another day of broadening their educational experience, most were as excited as a skateboarder at a geriatric bingo night.

Many of them longed to be anywhere but a classroom. Some of them had arrived at the notion that their purpose in life was to drive teachers looney. 

And now they are just one example of a long, long list of realizations of how good we, and they, had it! E-learning has been more taxing than their 57 minute class times in the school building. Teachers expect them to still be students and most of them can no longer be convincing when they say to their parents that they don’t have any homework.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we had until we no longer have it. No workouts at the Y! No booth at Red Lobster! No library to browse amongst the rows of books! Our routines have been knocked down like Lego blocks that we assumed were firmly in place, and now new routines, less certain and more like a Jenga tower, are being assembled.

Last Sunday I attended three worship services in different parts of the country- southern Ohio; Champaign, Illinois; and Pleasanton, California. Of course, all three were streamed into my study at home. It was a unique experience, and it made me realize how much I miss the “community of presence” when a church congregation meets together. I was fed the Word and yet I missed the fellowship that touches my spirit.

Grandkids miss grandparents and vice-versa. Waving to one another from the other side of a car window doesn’t do it. In some ways, it elevates the loneliness. 

I miss my writing stool at my local Starbucks and the baristas who I would joke with each day, giving each other new first names that began with our first initial, like Bartholomew for my “B” and “Catastrophic” for the barista whose first name begins with “Cat.” 

I miss the days when you didn’t look at people with suspicion— Does he have it? Shouldn’t those young people not be hanging around there?— or cut a wide berth around an elderly couple walking in the opposite direction.

We realize that things will never, in our lifetime, be what they once were. Our future plans are on hold. Our questions about when we might take a vacation have no clear answers. Our special events just lose some of their specialness when we participate by Zoom.

And I also think, in the midst of these cataclysmic changes, that many of us have come to realize how much of our lives have been revolved around things and events that, in the larger scheme of things, really aren’t that important. Many of us are coming to the discovery that our lives don’t have much depth to them at all. We’re shallow, like multiple text messages that just keep saying “Hi!” and “What’s up?” Perhaps, in the midst of this journey, we’ll dig deeper roots into things that matter…relationships, purpose, and spiritual nourishment. 

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament. It’s painful, in many ways to read. Job has the good life, things seem to be in perfect harmony for him. And then it all comes crashing down…wealth, health, the respect people showed toward him. But at the end of the story, after Job has everything else stripped away from his life, he finds that nothing and no one can strip away his relationship with God.

Realizing what we no longer have may help us understand what we do have and can’t be taken away!