Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

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!

Cheaters Never Prosper…Kinda’!

September 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 29, 2017

                               

This week’s news about a number of college basketball assistant coaches being indicted for bribery and other forms of corruption after a two year FBI investigation rocked the sports world. Four assistant coaches at four NCAA Division 1 institutions were arrested for taking bribes. The shoe company, Adidas, is also involved in the corruption schemes that were made public, as are a couple of financial advisors. In all, ten different people were indicted.

The investigation revealed that athletes were being paid to, first of all, sign with a certain financial advisor, and second, to sign with certain colleges that have contracts with Adidas. The family of one high school junior was demanding a certain payoff for their son to sign with University of Louisville. A couple of other parents of two Auburn players were also receiving payments as a way to get the players to sign with a certain financial advisor.

The whole story stinks of entitlement, greed, and a total lack of ethical behavior. The FBI also hinted that there may be more indictments coming. That prompts the question, “How wide spread is this pattern of seeking to gain advantages and wealth by not following the rules?”

One of the principles we were taught was that cheaters never prosper. Well, obviously they prosper at least for a season! The purity of college athletics has long sense disappeared. Now, however, the smell has filtered down into the high school ranks. Even high school coaches are getting involved in the odor of sports’ underbelly.

There’s enough blame to go around. Parents push their kids into club sports to the point that a  number of athletes are burned out by the time they are high school juniors, and others robe themselves with a thick layer of entitlement. College coaches know that their job is based on how many wins they chalk up and, therefore, many are willing to edge outside of the legal lines to gain a few more victories. College athletes want to be paid to sacrifice their bodies and hours to being a part of that success. Receiving a full ride scholarship to that university no longer seems to be enough for a number of players. Others steroid up in order to be more dominating, and still others practice academic fraud in order to stay eligible.

Sports is turning into a pastime for cheaters, because cheaters kinda’ prosper! We would be naive to think that this scenario started just recently. I was raised in Bluegrass Country, listening to Kentucky basketball on radio in my growing up days. Although it was shortly before I was born, the history of Kentucky basketball still has the distant scar of the 1952-53 point-shaving scandal. UK’s basketball season was canceled that year due to the scandal in which four players were implicated.

Sports has worn expensive suits with stains for a long, long time! Hopefully, the recent evidences of what has spilled out from it will cause people to steer back towards doing what is right and what is good, but I’m sure there will also be other people who will simply seek to be sneakier in their addiction to prosperous cheating.

Americans, Antagonists, and An Anthem

September 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 26, 2017

                             

Like children sticking out their tongues at one another professional football players and our president keep spitting towards the other side with no saliva involved. The National Anthem has become like the battlefield of the sports world.

It has also caused millions of people to be conflicted! Countless people voted for our president, but they also worship NFL football players. Countless other people didn’t vote for him…and they won’t let us forget that!

History is the best clarifier of the present. The National Football League rakes in more money from its starry-eyed fans and television networks in one year than some nations’ gross national income. It includes owners who are deeply involved in their communities and other owners who are always looking for a better deal in another city. (Most recently St. Louis to LA Rams, San Diego to LA Chargers, and soon-to-be Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas Raiders! Some NFL owners are not adverse to ripping out the hearts of their team-jerseyed fans!)

It includes players like J.J. Watt whose heart went out to his city (Houston) in the midst of the recent flooding from a hurricane, and other players passionate about contributing. But it also includes players who are all about themselves with egos as massive as Mount Rushmore and a sense of entitlement simply because they are physically gifted and intimidating.

On the other side is our president who someone needs to man-up to and take his cell phone away from. I’m sure that there will be a book published someday entitled “Trump’s Tweets!” Our president is the same hard-nosed egotistical man who hosted The Apprentice for serval years. Empathy is not one of his strong suits, although it showed recently in how he responded to the Florida and Texas hurricane victims.

And the focus of this fight between a bunch of stubborn alpha males has settled on an anthem that is a tribute to the never-say-die attitude of our nation!

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was first sung at a sporting event back in 1918 during the World Series in Chicago. Believe it or not, the Cubs were playing the Red Sox. Babe Ruth pitched Game 1, a 1-0 Red Sox win. The game, played at Comiskey Park because it held 30,000, was quiet until the seventh inning stretch. At that point “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. The third baseman for the Red Sox, a furloughed Navy sailor named Fred Thomas, snapped to attention. Other civilian players followed suit and placed their hands over their hearts. The United States had entered into World War 1 about a year and a half before that. The moment was a recognition of national pride and unity. The Cubs continued the playing of the song the next two games during the seven inning stretch, and when the Series moved to Boston the Red Sox also incorporated it, but moved it to part of the pre-game festivities. The next season other baseball clubs began singing it.

The National Anthem has been a part of the national pastime for almost a century. The National Football League was late arriving at that anthem-singing party.

Both sides of this fight have good points that neither side wants to hear. Instead of being a catalyst for unity the National Anthem has become the rock that is being thrown back and forth, seeking to embarrass, insult, and divide.

I wonder what Fred Thomas would think about it. The Red Sox went through multiple third basemen that 1918 season before asking the Navy if they could borrow Thomas for a couple of weeks. What if one of those other third basemen had been sufficient? If that had been the case Fred Thomas would not have come to his salute posture that September afternoon in Comiskey Park…and, it could very well be, the song we sing before almost every sporting event I attend would not be part of the program.

Interesting that a type of inadequacy paved the way for the National Anthem to arrive. Perhaps this time a realization by all parties involved in this recent dispute might once again pave the way for us to realize that we are inadequate without one another! In a time when our country and area of the world has endured devastating hurricanes and a terrible earthquake aren’t there more important things to deal with? Fred Thomas had that thought in 1918, because he knew the war was bigger than a baseball game, but a song had the potential for a few moments to focus a crowd of people on what was really important!

Seeing the Good In the Bad

September 10, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 10, 2017

 

Natural disasters seem to be frequent headliners these days. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis…they seem to be as common as a Bronco’s blitz! Carol and I have many friends who have gotten chummy with Hurricane Irma in the past couple of days. We’ve been watching Facebook to make sure each of them is okay. I’ll call a couple of  my friends today to check on them.

Some people see situations such as Irma and the earthquake in Mexico and see only the downside of it. I’m sure there will be several people this week who will equate the rash of recent disasters as evidence of the second coming of Jesus.

I take a different view entirely! Perhaps the ravished areas of the world are an opportunity for people to experience the sharing of their resources, love, and compassion.

I called my friend, David Volitis about a week ago to wish him a happy 60th birthday! We were able to talk for a few minutes, but he told me he was in Corpus Christi helping with the recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey. He had celebrated his 60th birthday by working a fourteen hour day clearing debris. It is an example of the good of people emerging in bad situations.

One of my favorite books is John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man? It tells of the unpredictable impact of Jesus upon the world. Ortberg tells of an epidemic of smallpox that broke out in Rome in AD 165. Between a third and a fourth of the population perished from the disease, including Marcus Aurelius, the emperor. People responded in panic. At the first sign of illness a person was pushed away from their family, throwing them into the street before they were dead. But a community in that city who followed a man who would touch untouchables cared for the sick and dying. They were even willing to be infected by others with the disease in order to be caregivers for the Caregiver. And as a result of their sacrificial giving the Jesus movement spread.

In essence, the way Christians responded to the needs of a community that confounded people’s understanding of the limits of love and sacrifice ended up drawing others towards Jesus.

Any time there is a disaster such as Irma and Harvey people will be confused and devastated. We experienced that a few years ago with two major fires in the Colorado Springs area, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest, that burned down over 800 homes. From that an organization emerged- a coalition of faith-based and secular organizations- that developed a partnership for responding to tragedy. It took two consuming fires to make that happen. Good can come out of bad.

It’s like the story of Jesus’ life and death. Resurrection happened in the midst of the pain of death. It happened with the adulterous woman that Jesus encountered. Forgiveness and cleansing came out of guilt and shame. It came to a boatload of disciples being tossed to and fro in a fishing boat. Jesus woke up and calmed the waters. Peace and assurance came in the midst of a storm.

A number of people in Texas, Florida, and Mexico have lost everything they own…and there will be those who will come alongside them making sure that they will be okay.

Talking Soccer With American Football Dads

September 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 9, 2017

                      

Even though I’ve coached middle school football for thirteen years my family is a soccer family. I’m a soccer dad. All three of our kids played soccer through high school- our son was a part of one undefeated state championship team and a member of the state runner-up team the year before that. Our two son-in-laws play soccer. Their wives (our daughters) still play on indoor teams and an occasional outdoor team. Our two oldest grandchildren play soccer. I took up the game later on and played in an “older than dirt” league for men. I coached two of my kids’ teams when they were younger.

So, as you can tell, we’re a soccer family!

With the growing concerns about concussions in football I’m seeing more kids start with soccer and stay with soccer. In our nine year old grandson’s soccer program the boys aren’t allowed to do headers yet. That doesn’t become legal for another year.

What amuses me are the number of football dads who now frequent soccer fields but don’t quite understand the game yet. They bring football terminology and football philosophy to another sport that is more about finesse than brutal power, more about speed and touch than holding a block and running over someone.

And a lot of the dads are having a hard time making that transition from what was to what is! My high school in Ironton, Ohio was, and is, a football town. Kids start playing just after they’re conceived. Our high school teams became dominant in the 70’s and 80’s. Ironton High School still does not have a soccer team. You have to enroll your child as a student at Ironton St. Joseph if you want him to kick a round ball.

But Ironton is the exception, the one who has been slow coming to the dance! They have been resistant to the transition from what was to what is. To change would mean learning a whole new sports language.

Football dads still bring the mindset that any kick or punt needs to be launched into space, the longer the better! You’ll hear a football dad yelling “Kick it! Kick it!”, and then shouting in celebration when the soccer ball is booted down the field…even though it’s kicked to someone from the other team. With football dads distance is over-valued.

Ironton usually used a tight offensive formation. Power football over the guards. Soccer is about spacing and anticipation, weird concepts for an Ohio culture that grew up with the Woody Hayes’ philosophy of “three yards and a cloud of dust”!

At our six year old granddaughter’s soccer game this morning I heard a couple of dads talking about game situations. One had been a soccer dad for about a year and the other was making his rookie dad debut at a soccer field. Several times I heard the soccer dad begin a statement with the words “That means…”, and then explain the unfamiliar concepts to this new parent in a foreign land.

To be fair, Americans football is still more ingrained in our culture than soccer. No one gets together at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fantasy Soccer Draft Night, but BWW sells a lot of wings to people who gather there for Fantasy Football Draft Night. In fact, they even have a draft kit for each fantasy league commissioner. Yesterday at the middle school where I coach it was “Favorite Team Day”. Students could wear the hat or jersey of their favorite team. I think I saw about…two soccer jerseys, both of teams in the English Premier League, and about a gazillion professional football jerseys!

Football is ingrained in us and, therefore, I expect to hear more statements at the soccer fields in the coming week like “That was out of the end zone!” and “Why aren’t they huddling?”

You’ve just got to be patient sometimes and bring some football dads along slowly.

The Relevancy of Libraries

August 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 28, 2017

                                  

I remember the library in Ironton, Ohio. Its familiarity was due to the fact that it was right next door to the First Baptist Church of Ironton, the church that ordained me! That was about as close as I got to discovering the library back in those days. It was a place of books, shelves, and cranky librarians.

Sad as it is, I can not even remember where the library was located in my old high school. Yes, I realize that was forty-five years ago, but you would think I could recall its approximate location. It was not crucial, however, to the attainment of my 2.5 grade point average! Conversely, at the school where I substitute teach and coach now the LMC (Library Media Center) is the activity hub of the school.

In recent times I’ve actually discovered the INSIDE of the library that is about two miles from our house. It is wonderful! It’s a place of books, computers, DVD’s, magazines, lectures, displays, and…librarians who smile!

There is growing debate about the relevancy of the public library. Its naysayers promote the value of the internet as now being the ultimate source of knowledge, immediate access to information, and available anywhere. As is often the case their viewpoint is as one-sided as a political party position. There is merit in what they say, without a doubt, and yet there is also a naiveness bundled with it.

I’ll go to our public library tonight to spend a couple of hours in quiet and contemplation. I recently finished the first draft of a book I had been writing. Most of the book was written from a quiet area on the first floor of the library. Being surrounded by books and other people’s creativity prompted the igniting of words in my own mind.

Last Saturday I picked up a DVD from the library that we watched with our three grandkids that night.

Last week I gazed upon the display shelves of about a hundred different magazines. To see them side by side, and to read the titles of articles, was an intriguing experience.

Libraries are depositories of ideas, thoughts, and stories. They are my refuge from the noise of life. I am a lover of history, biographies, and mysteries. I’m currently reading a book about presidential campaigns by John Dickerson entitled Whistlestops; and a Greg Iles mystery Blood Memory. Before these books I read Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions, John Sanford’s Golden Prey, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, and Glen Jeansonne’s Herbert Hoover: A Life. All of them I could have ordered from Amazon, but all of them I checked out from the public library.

The demise of the public library will come, not so much because of the internet, but because less people see the value in reading. We have been “Tweeterized” in our reading focus. Although reading is stressed and emphasized so much in school, adults seem to have evolved into 140 character beings. They have slumped into the non-commitment of being couch potatoes. Let’s pray that downward trend in reading  shifts back the other way because there is enough ignorance being shown in opinions right now even with the presence of libraries. To have them become a thing of the past will open the floodgates for people to say even more stupid things…and even more people to take the stupid things as being truth!

The Loudness of Stupidity

August 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 13, 2017

                                 

While visiting my dad in Ohio recently I drove him one morning to a doctor’s appointment across the river in Huntington, West Virginia. The waiting room for the physician was “intimate”, meaning that there were about eight chairs positioned in a way so that you could see everyone else, whether you liked it or not!

Two men unfortunately became part of this setting soon after we arrived. They were loud! Now, my six year old granddaughter is also loud, but she’s six! We remind her to use her inside voice! These two men, however, were loud and…stupid! They trumpeted their stupidity to let everyone know that they were “life stupid!”

I know, I know…you’re thinking that I’m being very judgmental here. I guess I am. Yesterday morning when I sat down to eat some scrambled eggs that had been sitting on the counter for a few minutes I made the judgment on the first bite that they were cold. Sometimes judging a situation is easier than deciding on a score at an Olympic diving competition. In this situation the two waiting room individuals made it known to everyone in the same zip code that one of them was about to enter into his eighth marriage, while the other hadn’t followed simple pre-visit instructions that were going to result in his sharing his life wisdom for the others around him for the next four hours. A woman who was evidently related to them kept referring to them as “Dumb and Dumber.” They seemed to take it as a compliment. These two did nothing to change the stereotypes that people have about West Virginians!

The problem in our society is that some forms of stupidity are disguised as how things should be. People don’t see their prejudices and bad behavior as ignorance. They think that’s how the world should be.

And so racism gets portrayed as natural, and white supremacists LOUDLY proclaim that their warped view of the world is normal. Last week someone or someones who were committed to being stupid in life defaced the outside of a Jewish synagogue in Colorado Springs. Stupidity doesn’t just happen east of the Mississippi or in a Huntington physician’s waiting room, or at a Charlottesville, Virginia rally. People do stupid all over the place loudly!

We could go to the bottom line of the Christian faith that says that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but, quite frankly, that often gets used as an excuse  for deep-seeded evil and deliberate cruelty.

Stupidity finds a comfortable home in a number of people, snuggles into their decision making, and reveals itself with a blow horn!  There is nothing rational or reasonable about it, and yet multitudes seem to follow it’s enchanting call.

In the midst of our culture’s shouts of lunacy I keep repeating to myself the words of the prophet Amos, “…but let justice roll on like a river, righteous like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24, NIV) In reading those words I envision the thundering sound of a rushing river drowning out the loudness of ignorance!

That is my prayer more and more these days!