Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

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”!

Self-Centered Generosity

December 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 30, 2017

                                     

The year 2018 will be a telling experience that will show just how generous middle-class Americans are. New tax laws will reduce the benefits “kinda”… for many of moderate-income to give to charitable organizations.

One of the changes in the new tax laws includes a doubling of the standard deduction. That means an individual filer can deduct $12,000 and a married couple $24,000 without itemizing their deductions. Estimates are that less than 10% of taxpayers will continue to itemize their deductions. Thus, the incentive to give to charity will go to how genuine a person’s generosity really is!

Except for this year! Charitable organizations are seeing an increase in giving as the year ends for givers to take advantage of itemizing deductions. In other words, some people are being charitable in 2017 who will think twice about giving next year. It smacks of self-centered generosity. “What do I get out of this?”

To be honest, churches have been scrambling for years to make ends meet. In 2016 the typical church attender gave about 2.5% of their income to their church. During the Great Depression of 1929 the percentage was estimated at 3.3%! Generosity has not exactly run roughshod through the pews as things are. Now most ministries are expecting a decrease in giving to budgets that are already looking pretty threadbare!

So 2018 will be a year of indicators! Are Americans, especially followers of Jesus, generous or only generous when it helps their tax burden?

It’s not like there won’t be people in need next year. In Colorado Springs there are not enough available beds to take care of the growing homeless situation. The various shelters are looking for options to increase capacity, but more capacity requires more money to fund the ministries to the poor…and where will these funds come from?

The optimistic faith-based view of the coming situation is that the nation will see the heart of Jesus in the incredible outpouring of financial support from his followers; that Christians will take seriously Jesus’ directive to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. That’s a view that could indicate a spiritual renewal in our midst!

The pessimistic view is that the tax law changes will show just how greedy and self-centered we really are!

The Inclusiveness of Christmas

December 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 24, 2017

                             

Our nation has always had a battle over who belongs and who doesn’t, whether it be in certain areas, positions, occupations, or institutions. It goes back to even before the patriots of the 1770’s.

American history is dotted with issues over who could own land and who couldn’t? Who was allowed to vote and who wasn’t (which in many cases was also tied to who owned land and who didn’t)? Immigrants who came into the country in those days, and even for the rest of our existence, were pushed into certain locations. In the late 1800’s Chinese immigrants were viewed with suspicion and often mistreated.

In the early 1800’s many Protestant families in our country didn’t celebrate Christmas because it was seen as being too Catholic! Talk about religiously biased!

When I was growing up the phrase “they live on the other side of the tracks” was an indication of division based mostly on race, as well as economic class.

In recent times the debate about who belongs and who doesn’t has taken different shapes, and the battles have been fought in various venues. Agreement rarely raises her beautiful face. Instead the ugliness of humanity- our amazing ability to mistreat one another- often emerges.

A wedding cake battle in Colorado brings the issue of accepting everyone into the arena to go up against a couple who have deep religious beliefs about same-sex marriage. It has been a case where neither side has yielded.

In another area of life illegal immigrants are being sent home. Higher walls are seen as being part of the answer. Churches have offered sanctuary to those who could be deported. It’s a battle over what is legal versus what is humane? 9-11 will always make Americans suspicious of those who are noticeably different than white middle-class citizens…although Timothy McVeigh was about as white as you could get, and he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Here’s a hard statement that Christians who are also  Americans have a difficult time hearing: Our Christian faith is not always in line with our American pride and ways. That is never more apparent than at Christmas time when we talk about the birth scene of Jesus. His very pregnant mother and his father couldn’t find any space in the inn so they were pushed out into a stable. The birth was witnessed by livestock. Shepherds may have arrived a bit later, and wisemen from the East came sometime later on, perhaps even months.

The idea of our savior not having a place where infants usually were born is an indication that the gospel is not just for the normal folk, those who are accepted and valued. Shepherds were not to be seen or heard. They were expected to just stay out there and take care of the sheep, and yet Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.

Christmas reminds us that God welcomes everyone, and that his people are to be welcoming. We may not agree with everyone, their life choices, lifestyles, and opinions, but we are to be purveyors of grace and peace.

Each of us comes into a different arena from time to time where the battle between being a devoted follower of Christ wrestles with our passion for our nation. Those two often become entangled and difficult to discern which is which. What is Christian is often also American, but sometimes that “arm” that we thought belonged to Christ was instead the arm of patriotism that got mistaken for belonging to Jesus.

And the thing is, it’s always been that way in our nation!

Thinking The Best, Seeing The Worst

December 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 21, 2017

                     

The world is populated with pessimists and optimists, Norman Vincent Peale disciples and Doomsday prophets. I tend towards the optimistic side of the spectrum. When I hear that someone might have committed a misdeed I respond with an optimism towards innocence.

When watching a basketball game, now as a former basketball referee, and a suspicious whistle is blown I respond to the disbelief of those around me with a belief that the one who whistled had a view of the play that no one else had. Sometimes my optimism crosses over into absurdity!

Yesterday the wife of a friend of mine had surgery that was complicated. In fact, the surgeons believe they will need to operate again after she heals up some. My positiveness, and my belief in a God who heals, carries an assuredness that the situation will work out in good ways, that there will be a positive, awe-inspiring conclusion.

Of course, I’m an optimist!

The reaction scale is balanced with pessimists to keep things from resembling Pleasantville.

My initial reaction on the recent sexual revelations of a number of celebrities and elected officials was to not believe. After all, Matt Lauer spent time as a news reporter and anchor at WOWK-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. That was one of the channels I watched while I was growing up in Ironton, Ohio across the river and in the shadow of Huntington. No one who worked at WOWK could have done anything wrong, could they?

I also held out hope for the existence of Santa Claus until I was a teenager. It was a depressing day when I found out he wasn’t coming!

And I tend to believe that all door-to-door vacuum cleaner salespeople have my best interests in mind!

The world needs both optimists and pessimists. Pessimists have a way of irritating me, but I realize that my cheery outlook on life probably makes a few pessimists grind their teeth.

As a long-time pastor my faith congregations went through times of optimistic faith and pessimistic re-evaluating. Each fall as the church council prepared the budget for the coming year one viewpoint or the other would tip the scale. Some years there was a confidence that the year ahead would be blessed and a time of growth…and the financial vision was approached with that in mind. Other years the “downside of lifers” carried more weight and we planned a trimmed down budget.

Notice the terms! Financial vision and budget. They are monikers for the two different perspectives.

It seems 2017 has tilted to be a year of increasing pessimism. It filters through our newspapers each day. It rises to the surface in our conversations. I can even see it emerging in my driving attitude. I’m now prone to verbally insult the guy in the BMW that just cut in front of me. In fact, I’ve developed a pessimistic attitude about BMW’s all around.

Life has hit this optimist hard this year. Things I never thought people could possibly do have been done. The evil side of saints has shown its ugly presence.

I have a fear that I’m crossing over to the dark side of pessimism! God help me!

The Christ Child In The Shadow of Sutherland Springs, Texas

December 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 17, 2017

             

On November 5 of this year a shooter stormed into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire. Twenty-six people were killed that day. Twenty-three inside the building, two outside, and one who died on the way to the hospital.

Ten years ago this month 24 year old Matthew Murray shot and killed Stephanie and Rachel Works, and wounded their father and two other people outside New Life Church in Colorado Springs. The night before he had shot and killed two staff members at a Youth With A Mission center in Arvada, Colorado.

Two years ago Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people who were attending a mid-week prayer service at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Violence in the midst of American churches is becoming a bit too frequent for us. The fact is that violence in churches in other places around the world is much more frequent. Religious persecution in those faraway places that we only know about from page 15 of the news section of the Sunday paper is a way of life.

Let’s be honest! There are a limited number of “safe places” today. Schools now have security procedures, but shootings still happen there. Malls and work places, parks and restaurants…they all appear in the list of places where people have died in mass shootings.

And then we read the story of the Christ child, and see the violence in the miraculous event: Herod has his henchmen slash the life out of infant boys. It seems strange that the miraculous story of God could be stained with the violence of man. It gives us a sense of the uncomfortable truth of our day; that the ways of God will always meet the resistance of the world and its ways.

Joe and Claryce Holcombe lost eight family members in the Sutherland Springs church shooting. They are still approaching the season of Advent with hope and joy filtered through the experience of sorrow. Married for sixty years they look forward to the day of reuniting with departed family in heaven. It gives them tempered peace even as they will be looking at the empty places at the dinner table this Christmas.

Bad things happen in this world, but not just to followers of Jesus. Bad things happen to everyone. The difference that gives us peace is that Jesus followers are also accompanied by the Christ who comes alongside them in the journey. In the hostility of the world he is our safe place, a shelter in the midst of the storm.

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!