Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

A Culture of Quick Stoppers

January 9, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 9, 2020

                               

It’s funny the things you remember decades later. There’s no reason why a certain conversation or moment in time should stay embedded in your memory, but for some reason it keeps being revisited in your mind.

The latest moment that keeps coming back to me is from an episode of Traffic Court, a TV show on the Columbus, Ohio CBS station one night a week back in the 1970’s, usually right after the news and before Jeopardy. 

Think Judge Wapner for traffic violations!

For some reason I remember one man in one episode. He had been cited for failure to obey a stop sign. He stood before the judge and the judge asked if he had anything to add about his violation. He replied that in Indiana they had something called a “Quick Stop”. It was a stop, just real quick! The judge imposed the appropriate fine upon Mr. Quick and told him that in Ohio a stop sign means stop!

Lately, I’m thinking that a lot of Indiana people have moved to Colorado Springs because I’ve noticed a lot of “quick stoppers” driving around our streets. 

Let me be so controversial as to say that “quick stops” are an indication of how our culture has changed. What???

A stop sign is a momentary halting of our progress and we have become a culture that does not like anyone or anything to tell us to stop what we’re doing. It’s a ripple effect of our sense of entitlement. Not obeying traffic laws is simply a sign of our self-centered idea that the world revolves around “me!”

Speed limits are seen as being suggestions. 

Okay! I admit it! I have a tendency to go a few miles over the speed limit…to keep from dying! I’m going 49 in a 45 and cars are whizzing by me like I’m stuck in mud. And, of course, there’s the guy who hangs on your bumper to let you know that you’re impeding his excessive progress.

The number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in this country by drivers in 2019 exceeded 7,000. Fatalities and excessive speed has become such a problem in Colorado Springs that the City Council has made it a matter for their attention.

When entitlement becomes ingrained in our culture’s thinking there is a corresponding adjustment to expected behavior. We make exceptions to the rules and many take on an attitude that says the rules don’t apply to them. In essence, the thinking is that rules are for all those other people, but don’t apply to me. 

And, like the Indiana man, we reinterpret what a rule or law means. Don’t get me started on how “Yield” has been reinterpreted, or the emergence of that creation of a crazed road engineer called “the round about!”

And how about texting and driving? One out of every four traffic accidents involve someone who is texting and driving. Wait a minute! Isn’t that against the law? No, it’s just another one of those suggestions from our law enforcement…er, law suggestion people!

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.

The Influence of Mis-fluencers

November 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              November 3, 2019

 

Freddie Bentley is a 22 year old British reality TV star and social media influencer. That is to say, what he says, for some strange reason, influences the minds and beliefs of others. Freddie stated his belief this past week that World War II shouldn’t be taught in school because it’s too intense for young minds. The Gen Z influencer thinks the past is best left in the past.

He’s a part of a growing number of social media influencers who might better be described with a new title, “mis-fluencers”. 

“Mis-fluencers” are those who have taken advantage of their elevated social media popularity to promote ideas that others buy into simply because of who has said it, even if it is idiotic!

Mis-fluencers are okay with leading the Titanic on full speed towards the iceberg. And let’s face it! Social media is over-populated with mis-fluencers in every age bracket, every political persuasion, and every industry. They are evidence for the troubling trend that more and more people can’t think for themselves, but follow whatever tune the pied piper is playing, bad notes and all.  

Misguided ideas easily accepted by people who can’t process thought patterns lead to a chaos that awaits in the fog of the future. 

Freddie Bentley doesn’t believe that we need to learn about the past because of the challenges of the future. The past, however, is destined to be repeated if we don’t learn from its mistakes. 

I cringe at the “mis-fluencers” of Hollywood, the sports world, Westboro Baptist Church, and the Tea Party. The urgency of convincing the populace knows no boundaries. The pull to gain a following knows no limits, whether it is convincing fans that a wide receiver is worth a boatload more money for being able to catch a football, to a politician making his followers believe that the other side of the political spectrum is over-crowded with idiots.

Most of the responses to Freddie’s mis-fluency were not in his favor…but there were several who were fully in support of what he was saying. It is the wonder and delight in our belief in the freedom of thought, as well as the red flag that says the potential for a fire storm has been raised. 

Taking Personal Irresponsibility

August 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 17, 2019

 

Once in a while you’ll hear the words, although they are often uttered by the designated scapegoat. 

“I take full responsibility!”

Responsibility. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot with middle school students. We tell them that they’re responsible for making sure they have all of their supplies, that their valuables are locked up, and that their classwork needs to be completed. It’s a big word for them, and they hear it so much that they begin to believe it’s part of our country’s DNA.

But then what gets emphasized actually comes into play. Something happens that the word goes from an emphasized principle to an actual life experience. As fast as someone can say “Not my fault!”, responsibility gets trumped by excuses.

I’m sure it’s been going on for a long, long time, but I remember a situation in 1997 when a young man killed several people and the defense set forward for it was that he had been influenced by video games. In other words, he did not bear responsibility for his actions. He was found guilty, but it put a seed of thought into people’s minds. That is, we are responsible for our actions and decisions, until they affect us adversely…and then it becomes someone else’s fault- a game company, a dog who munched on our homework, the alarm clock that didn’t work properly, or a certain coach who is so stupid he didn’t recognize talent when it was staring at him right in the face.

“Taking personal irresponsibility” is the mantra for a new generation of teflon excuse-makers who believe blame can never stop with them.

It comes at all levels. It’s the new math! The equation is no longer relevant for a lot of people. “Because of A and B, C happened” is not what the excuse-makers believe is true. “A and B” are disqualified from even coming before C!

For example, since Little Johnny didn’t lock up his $150 pair of sneakers in his assigned locker and left them sitting in the hallway, they were taken. Today’s culture abbreviates that statement to “Little Johnny’s sneakers were taken.”

When responsibility becomes simply a word we talk about, but not practiced we lose our voice. It’s like a person of faith emphasizing his belief in God until he has to live out that faith in a life situation. Then the shallowness of his faith becomes evident.

I’m amazed at the news stories that fill the daily paper or on the nightly news. There are only hints of responsibility, mostly when it’s advantageous to do so. More often than not, sparring matches take place of two or more combatants dodging punches as they throw one back in the other direction.

With that in mind, I take full responsibility for my cholesterol level (Although I could blame it on my taste buds’ infatuation with fried foods). 

I take full responsibility for my lack of academic success when I started college back in 1972 (Although 8:00 classes should be banned…as well as 9:00 classes! Was I REALLY expected to get out of bed in time to attend them? ).

I take full responsibility for walking through an airport unzipped one time (Although I think their should be a warning light attached in some way to warn me of my openness, maybe even a buzzer in my pants!).

I take full responsibility for my lack of video game knowledge (Although the blame should be on my thumbs…all ten of them!).

I take full responsibility for the bad financial decisions I’ve made (Although the advertisements have drawn me into making rash decisions. Consumerism is a temptation of the Deceiver!).

There…I feel much better about taking responsibility…unless most people!

Remembering What Has Been Forgotten

May 27, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 27, 2019

                      

There is trivia and then there is truth. Trivia consists of those little morsels of interesting facts that may be known by a small percentage of the populace. Like yesterday’s “Trivia Hive” question: By what name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner better known? 

Give up?

Answer: Sting.

Interesting, right? But it does nothing to effect the rest of my day. It’s a trivia fact. Add an ‘L’ to trivia and you have trivial!

But then there is truth. Truth changes the way we live, the way we think, what grounds us. Truth is timeless. It is rooted in the past, lived in the present, and remembered for the future. Truth that is forgotten causes a drifting of our beliefs and life principles.

And yet, in our culture, truth seems to have been minimized. I think about this for three reasons: One, that it’s Memorial Day, a day rooted deep into our history, begun in 1866 following the Civil War and originally known as Decoration Day; two, because I see the disconnection between today’s younger generations and knowledge of the past; and three, because there is a tendency for truth to be distorted by those who either don’t know it or have agendas that seek to challenge it.

When we forget what has been we creep towards the edge of the dangerous cliff that leads to a slippage into old mistakes. When we forget where we have been we risk being careless about where we are going.

My wife and I were recently at the Luxembourg American Cemetery. 5,073 American soldiers, who lost their lives during World War II, mostly during the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge, are buried there. As we gazed upon the rows of white crosses across 17 acres it was impossible to not think about what had happened and why they were here. The freedoms we so often take for granted today were solidified by their sacrifices. 

It is in that realization that I have my greatest appreciation, but it also in that realization that I cringe, for there is a forgetfulness in our midst that blurs the price of the past. The truth we forget gets bundled with the trivia that we tend to disregard. When we forget the principles of our democracy we become vulnerable to the corruption of the powers that be and the self-centeredness of personal privilege.

Never forget where we’ve been, because it is vital to the direction of where we need to be going.

Being Redemptive Synonyms

April 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 21, 2019

    “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

I was writing a chapter in the book I’m currently working on and came to a pondering point. I had just used a certain word to describe the mood of one of the characters and I needed to say something similar about him again. To use the same word would have been repetitive at that point, like reading the First Grade Primer with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff. 

“Sally ran. Sally ran up the hill. Sally ran fast. Sally ran and ran!”

Didn’t want that! So I searched for another word that would describe the same situation, a synonym of the already used to communicate the same picture. 

This past week the scenes from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have elicited a torrent of tears. Parisians who have seen five months of protests (Yellow Vests protesters) were united in their sorrow as flames shoot up from the 850 year old church. They sang together in a candlelight vigil, a mass community of people dealing with loss.

It’s interesting that the protesters have now returned, angry that billions of dollars have been promised by tycoons around the world to rebuild the structure!

Notre Dame is a symbol for the redemptive story of the gospel. It’s holy space that was, ironic as it sounds, in the midst of a restoration project. The preliminary reports are that something connected to the restoration- an electrical short or similar- was the cause of the blaze. Now, despite protests by French citizens, there will be efforts to save and rebuild.

In our own country the past couple of weeks have been stained with the burning of several African-American churches in the south, the threat of an 18 year old girl infatuated with school shootings, especially Columbine, and other assorted acts of evil that let us know the Deceiver is still active and productive.

In the midst of the darkness, however, there are the stories of redemption and the power of the gospel. Redemption comes in many forms, actions, and stories. It takes the form of a Notre Dame security guard rushing to save two priceless relics from the burning building. It  surfaces in the two million dollars of contributions that have been received to rebuild the three Louisiana churches. It appears in the gathering of Columbine families yesterday to remember those who died and those whose impactful stories continue on even in the midst of those deaths. People like Dave Saunders, the teacher who died in the midst of saving some of his students.

A synonym of “redemptive”, in fact, is “saving.” Many of us have been saved from harm, sometimes even from the harm we self-inflict, by someone else who has come alongside us and taken our hand, pulling us from what would be a bad ending. 

Being redemptive synonyms is our opportunity to make a difference, to compensate for the tragedies that surround us, to be new revelations of the Christ story in the present. 

Living out the gospel is a continuous synonym of the redemptive story of Christ. Oh, that there would be more stories of transformative redemption, as opposed to antonyms to the good news!

Weird Stuff I Think About

February 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 20, 2019

                                 

My mind is active, and it seems more and more it’s active in the confusing waves of life. Like the various debris washed onto a seashore each morning, I find the sands of my thoughts cluttered with questions.

Here’s a few of the shells I’ve picked up and wondered about.

1) Does it seem that there are Girl Scouts selling cookies everywhere these days? The supermarket, the library, school, the high school basketball game, church, the appliances section at Home Depot! Okay, just kidding about the last one, but not about all the others! I’ve seen more Girl Scouts than rabbits recently, and that’s saying a lot!

2) Do Republicans and Democrats ever agree on anything, or does the media only seek to report the differences? Geez! It feels like a nasty custody battle with the nation as the child! Wouldn’t it just a little bit refreshing to hear someone say something like, “Yep! we were wrong about that!”, instead of “We’re never wrong!”?

3) Why doesn’t Old Navy sell men’s jeans in size 35? I feel like the wiener inside a corn dog in size 34 and someone who is unintentionally sagging when I wear size 36. And speaking about that, companies that make jeans should put extra strong fabric in the back left pocket. I put my wallet in that pocket and it wears out long before anything else. Carol says to just move my wallet to the right back pocket, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…and I guess you also can’t convince Old Navy that some of us are size 35’s!

4) Instead of the three advertisements I get in the mail each week from my cell phone company I wish they’d just take $3.00 off my monthly bill! Hello! I’m already your customer!

5) After substitute teaching for 5 days in 8th Grade math I believe it should also qualify as a foreign language! 

6) I did not watch the NBA All-Star game last weekend. Having coached for twenty plus years I can’t bear to watch it! It’s like a pick-up game at the Y where defense is optional!

7) All the clergy sexual abuse cases that are arising make me ill!

8) I bought three CD’s for $5 each last weekend. They were all contemporary Christian musical artists, like Lauren Daigle, but then I figured out why they were only $5 each! It took a toolbox just to get them unwrapped and open! Plus, my MacBook doesn’t play CD’s, so the only place I can listen to them is in the car! It may be easier to just hum to myself!

9) I’m reading through the Bible this year, and there are a number of things that confuse me. Like why God filled Egypt with frogs, and then Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing! Why would they do that? That makes about as much sense as Old Navy’s discrimination against size 35 men! (I’m not bitter about that, though!)

10) I get a Medicare ad in the mail everyday. It’s kind of disconcerting to realize how many people seem to know that any 65th birthday is coming up! 

And, yes! My mailbox seems to be filled with cell phone ads, Medicare possibilities, and this week’s Kohl’s sale items! Thank God it isn’t political campaign season! I actually look forward to having a bill amidst all the stuff!

Now you know how weird I am! I can’t help it! I need a Tagalong cookie!