Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The Starburst Rapper

February 14, 2021

I couldn’t help myself. One of my seventh-graders had pushed me, dared me, to do it…to do a rap! He doubted my ability to lose my attachment to ancient music– that is, music from the seventies– and pull off a different genre of music that I rarely can decipher the words of.

My students have become used to my tendency to stray outside of the stoic, starched collar, and whatever the textbook says. When I showed up one day while everybody was virtual, dressed as my twin brother, Bobby Wolfe, complete with a blonde mullet wig and Wolfe Family Reunion ball cap, their virtual eyes widened. Another day, as we were finishing the novel The Outsiders, I came as a greaser with a close resemblance to Fonzie (Henry Winkler) on Happy Days. A twenty-year-old Furby showed up a couple of weeks ago.

So a rap, doable!

I wrote it out and waited. The seventh-grader who had double-dared me was out of school because of a sickness, so I waited some more. Finally, he was back this week and on Friday afternoon I let loose with the lyrical masterpiece. Astonished– or petrified, I couldn’t tell the difference– students were taken back by the rhythm and fluctuation in my rapping solo. Here’s the words, in case you’re wondering:

I’m a granddaddy with the Starburst. I wish they’d make a flava’ of Liverwurst!

I’m looking at an empty wrapper, you can just call me the Starburst Rapper!

Don’t want no cherry, ’cause cherry got to be my scary!

It needs to be strawberry! Do I look like Katie Perry!

I’m a granddaddy with the Starburst. I wish they’d make a flava’ of Liverwurst!

I’m looking at an empty wrapper, you can just call me the Starburst Rapper!

Here’s where the rap took an unfortunate turn toward the unexpected. I plopped a strawberry-flavored Starburst candy into my mouth as I was weaving my way through the original creation. As I neared the end, about the time I said Starburst Rapper for the last time, one of my lower gold crowns sprung loose with the taffy attached to it. It was a fitting end, as my students eyes widened even further at the object that emerged from my mouth. Then there was the sound of clapping for my rapping…or was it for the unexpected special effects ending?

The student who had double-dared me into this adventure, and who is always bugging me for candy, looked at me and the strawberry-taffy-covered gold crown I was holding and gave me a frown that communicated, “What a waste of a perfectly good Starburst!”

Clean Hands

February 13, 2021

The pandemic has kept my hands cleaner than they’ve ever been. So much so, in fact, that a couple of my fingers have cracks in the skin from the multitude of hand washings each day. I don’t remember being concerned about my hands being clean when I was a nose-picking, coughing-into third-grader. Cleanliness has come on me later in life.

Late-18th Century preacher John Wesley said that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Although Wesley was thinking just as much about moral purity as he was of physical cleanliness, the message stuck. Most people think that Wesley’s words were a scripture quote from the Book of Proverbs. They would very well fit into the emphases of our present COVID-19 precautions.

In my reading through the Bible this year I am presently in the “clean chapters” of Leviticus. I’ve been intrigued and startled by the requirements for cleanliness amongst the people of God. If I wasn’t reading scripture I would think it had been written by someone with excessive compulsive behavior or the CDC.

Good hygiene has a purpose. So does a soul rescued from the darkness of sin. Leviticus is filled with remedies for “getting clean” again…offer a sacrificial animal, get quarantined for a period of time, wash thoroughly. Each situation of intentional or unintentional defilement had a procedure. Leviticus 18 and 19 reads like a Baptist youth group’s list of don’ts. Better to be proactive at the beginning of a youth activity than reactive afterwards.

Jesus was proactive and reactive. That is, he became that cleansing agent even before we’d been tainted and he is that reconciler even after we’ve strayed into the dirt. Hebrews 9:14 tells us this.

” How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

That’s some deep cleaning!

There’s another parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15 about deep cleaning. It’s the story of the widow who sweeps her house until she finds one lost coin. That probably meant sweeping a dirt floor, moving everything around until she found one small, perhaps to most insignificant, coin. That tells me what a clean fanatic Jesus is willing to be to find me and anyone else who’s lost and doesn’t realize it.

Yesterday, Carol dropped a needle on the floor and couldn’t find it. A needle on the floor is hard to find until the bottom of your foot says, “Found it!” I went to my knees and searched until the flipping of a rug caused it to become visible. That picture of being on my knees made me think of the extensive search that Jesus conducts for each one of His children. Can you see him down on all fours looking for you?

Somewhere Between Too Religious and Jesus-And”

February 6, 2021

I’ve been reading “The Message/Remix”, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, for my devotional/quiet time reflection this year. This week the readings took me into Leviticus and Hebrews. Peterson gives a brief introduction to each scripture book. For Hebrews, he says that it was written for people who were either “too religious” or had a bad spiritual habit of putting a hyphen after Jesus…Jesus-and-angels, Jesus-and-Moses, Jesus-and-priesthood.

It’s so relevant for us today that it’s scary! There are followers of Jesus who are so concerned with the fabric of his robe and the color of his crown that they fail to see the Jesus they are called to follow.

And then there are those who feel like Jesus can’t be enough. The hyphen adds any number of things…Jesus-and-politics, Jesus-and-church programming, Jesus-and-money. The danger with hyphens after Jesus’ name is that whatever it is that follows the hyphen is prone to become the dominating force. In other words, it’s almost like Jesus stands up to introduce the guest speaker for the evening and then whatever the add-on happens to be rises to the podium, and Jesus steps to the side.

To clarify, it’s not that Jesus isn’t connected to other parts and interests in our lives; it’s the tendency to contort the Savior into some kind of shape that fits into our interests. He becomes a reference for our opinion, instead of the Revelation through whom we come to an opinion. He becomes the after-the-hyphen word, kind of a substitute driver if the main driving passion of our life gets exhausted.

Peterson makes the point that the book of Hebrews is getting the followers of Jesus to realize that God’s action was in Jesus, not Jesus-and! In our complex culture, many people shudder at the idea of simplicity. It’s too plain for them, like a bowl of rice with no seasonings or butter. Jesus is just not exciting enough for them. The “happening church” they attend adds some color to the plainness of their King with a moving light display and a pastor in skinny jeans. The cappuccino they can sip during the live praise band performance also adds flavor. They are addicted to spiritual seasonings, not quite the intent of Jesus’ words telling people to be the salt of the earth.

Imagine, however, hearing the words of grace and forgiveness for the first time, and finding out that the One who loves me and beckons me to follow is the Only One who does not need to be hyphenated. In fact, the only punctuation after His name might be simply a wondrous exclamation mark! Simply amazing!

Bringing Furby to School

February 1, 2021

It was the craze of the late-90’s. Furby, the furry toy that said things that were located somewhere between gibberish and toddler talk, was bought by over 40 million customers in a three year period.

We had one, and still have one. Our bundle of joy had been hibernating for the past twenty years in our basement, out of sight and out of mind. Since I had brought a busload of stuffed animals and one creepy-eyed doll to my school classroom, I decided it was time for a Furby resurrection, a Furby introduction to a new generation of kids unacquainted with his/her personality.

Fresh batteries needed to be inserted first. Furby demands four AA’s to get him to say anything. Otherwise, he/she simply stares at you with those huge eyes. Carol and I played around with the creature, increasing his vocabulary kinda!

On the way to school the next morning he kept making sounds every time I went over a bump. “Whee!” and giggling and party-like utterances kept coming from my backseat.

And the students met him…and were creeped out!

Despite all of their video game exposure, compete with fantasy and foolishness, Furby was too real for most of them. That is, the realness of his un-realness was spooky for them. One class tried to hide him so he wouldn’t talk at all. His language was unfamiliar. They would have been less frightened by a mouse squeaking his way through the classroom.

The toy hit of the previous generation resembled a mini-version of Chucky for them. Now, if I could only get him to answer questions in class that deal with hyperbole, extreme exaggeration!

Hidden Behind the Headlines

January 23, 2021

When I log onto Yahoo (to check college basketball scores) the first screen that appears for me is the screen with the headlines. These days the headlines mostly focus on the downside of life, whether it be the pandemic, riots, or major storm fronts.

Our culture is fixated on the headlines, the drama of the stories, the status of the unrest. We’re influenced by the influencers– sometimes simply because of their beauty or handsomeness– and begin to take on their views and opinions as if they are rational.

Followers of Jesus get sucked into this just as much as anyone else. Our attention so often is diverted to the immediate instead of the eternal. We battle over who’s in charge…Republicans or Democrats…as opposed to Who is in charge?

The Almighty rarely makes the headlines these days, and He undoubtedly is not concerned about it. It says much more about who we are than who He is. When I feel myself sliding off a crumbling cliff created by the heaviness of depressing headline news I turn to the middle of my Bible and reacquaint myself with the One Who gets hidden behind the headlines. I read words that open up the veil of current newsprint.

Like Psalm 98:1-4

Sing to God a brand-new song.
He’s made a world of wonders!

He rolled up his sleeves,
He set things right.

God made history with salvation,
He showed the world what he could do.

He remembered to love us, a bonus
To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.

The whole earth comes to attention.
Look—God’s work of salvation!

Shout your praises to God, everybody!
Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!

The Almighty doesn’t need to be on the front page, the op-ed page, or even the back page. He’s made His statements to the hearts of His created. As Jesus said to His followers, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear!” (Mark 4:23) God may be hidden in today’s headlines, but He still speaks to our hearts, and His spirit lives within us!

Preventing Punctuation Problem People

January 20, 2021

It’s a ripple effect of texting and other forms of social media, like that bloated feeling a person has after his fourth trip to the Chinese buffet food bar. I wouldn’t call it a catastrophe, but I might put the label of “famine” on it– punctuation famine, that is!

Grading seventh-grade language arts assignments for the past five months has made me realize it isn’t a slip, like when I think I’m typing an exclamation point and I realize I typed the number 1! (In fact, I just typed that three times to get the punctuation point111!) No, the punctuation shortage has become an epidemic. Commas are no longer common, capital letters have fled to the South, and semi-colons are less understood than the 70-year-old hoarder getting counseling on Dr. Phil’s show.

Pretty soon punctuation marks may disappear from our keyboard as if they were carryovers from the Greek alphabet. I have some students who understand the meaning of a comma in the midst of a sentence, but there are other seventh-graders who shave more often than they have one of those squiggly marks appear in their assignment.

So I’ve had to start taking on the role of the mean teacher and taking off points for not capitalizing the first word in a sentence. I need to take the next step toward being defined as cranky and chop off some points for writing a one sentence paragraph that includes sixty words and no separating signs that would allow the reader to take a breath.

I’ve had “martin luther king”, “denver”, “december”, but no one uses lower case letters when they write “The Nuggets” or “Broncos”. Quotation marks are seen simply as being an unnecessary nuisance, like a speed bump on a drag strip! Question marks are questionable, and a colon is believed to just be a body part.

So I’m leading these enlistees through a punctuation boot camp. They are going to get down-and-dirty in the new jungles of strange species of punctuation. When they see their parents they’ll begin to think of parentheses. When they pass a fire hydrant they’ll recall the use of a hyphen. When they watch a hockey game they’ll think of “periods”. I’ll be like a drill sergeant making them view an apostrophe as being an extended hand to keep an ‘s’ from falling off the cliff!

My hope is that come May they may remember to capitalize the month and then say “I did it!” (exclamation point).

Center Wisdom

January 16, 2021

Rubber bands have always made me a bit nervous. When I use one to hold a stack of notecards together or to keep a box-top from flying open, I proceed with caution. You may be doubting my manhood at about this point, but, you see, I hate it when a rubber band suddenly snaps. The snap often results in my fingers getting hit in the recoil. And then I have to do the same thing all over again with another rubber band. It’s like having your mom shovel a second helping of hominy grits onto your plate right after you had survived the last bite of the first helping!

Rubber bands have their limit. They are only so flexible, and then they snap into a worm-like piece of useless rubber.

It’s a visual example of the extremism that is stretching our nation. Both progressive and conservative extremists are bringing us to the snapping point, and the flexibility of our nation is being sorely tested. Those of us in the middle, or leaning some either way can see it, but the ends of the tug-of-war keep pulling like it’s a taffy pull.

As I’ve grown older, I hope I’ve grown wiser in some ways. That wisdom has caused me to see the foolishness and selfishness of political extremists. Their agenda is usually short-sighted and prone to displaying various versions of bullying. Wisdom, more often than not, makes a home in the middle or close to it.

Not to be left out of the equation (And I’m not using the word ‘left’ there to hint at anything!), many churches have also stretched the elastic band of their member bodies. There’s been the pulling on Jesus’ arm to reposition him in one camp or another. Interestingly, this week I was reading some words that were written by Philip Yancey all the way back in 1996. He wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today magazine, entitled “Unwrapping Jesus” (June 17, 1996): “Each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s person” for the White House. I had difficulty imagining Jesus pondering whether Tiberius, Octavious, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.”

Jesus was “God’s man” and God’s Son! He was always aware of the pulls to get Him to support this or that agenda. His wisdom, given to us in the Gospels, is void of any agendas but His Heavenly Father’s. He had a social conscience that sought to care for the widows, orphans, the poor, and outcasts; and He displayed a passion for the spiritually lost. He ate with a tax collector who was perhaps the most despised person in his town, and probably the richest; and he walked with fishermen who were about as common as anyone of their time, and struggling to make ends meet.

In the end, the Jesus I follow, knew what His purpose was and where it would lead Him. The factions that He listened to but would not join turned on Him and snapped back.

That’s what happens quite often with the wisdom in the center. The pulling ends won’t give up. The call for unity in the views of the extremists is not a priority, but rather a nuisance. Like the rubber band about to snap, their focus is more on getting a bigger piece of the rubber, regardless of the pain.

My Life in Hair

January 11, 2021

It’s interesting to think of how my hair started out, light and fair, and to consider that in my later years of life it’s gradually been returning to a lighter tint. The grey has begun to force out the brown, like the weeds taking over an uncared for lawn. Of course, I don’t really have a say in the accumulating grey population, unless I want to use one of those products that try to fool people about your hair color.

My life could easily be separated into several hair chapters that tell my story. In going through old family photo albums I can see the progression, or regression in some cases. It begins with a little boy who has been a barber’s dream cut. The electric razor has simply mowed down the hair like our lawnmower at home going back and forth, one row at a time. Five minutes tops and I took a seat beside my older brother who sported the same style, no comb necessary.

Short defined me in my early years: short in height, shorted in prized possessions because, being the youngest, I always received the hand-me-downs, and my short hair. A picture I discovered recently of my South Zanesville Junior High 8th Grade basketball team has me sitting on the end of the front row, noticeably shorter than everyone else, wearing unfashionable geeky glasses and…with short hair. Growing my hair out like 95% of my classmates was not a choice. Mom and Dad had decided the matter, and besides, it saved a lot of unnecessary time being wasted at the barbershop getting all “handsomed-up”!

The hair was permitted to be grown out some– but nothing wild– about the time I hit sixteen. When I say “grown out”, I mean it became necessary to carry a comb with me. It was as close as I came to living on the wild side back in my high school days. It wasn’t necessary for my dad to wait on me at the barber anymore, which may have opened the gates to freedom just a crack. Morris Barber Shop in Ironton, Ohio was right across the street from J.C. Penney’s where my mom worked as the bookkeeper. That meant I could spend as much time as I wanted over there.

My brother had joined the Army just about the time his hair was getting long and been roughly reunited with the buzz. Some other boys in my class were beginning to walk on the wild hair side, growing it out long and parting it in the middle. Vietnam was still going on and the unrest over our country’s involvement was filtering down into sit-ins, protest marches, and long out-of-control hair kept in place with headbands. Not me, though. I was Baptist and clean-cut, like the friends I hung around with.

And then I went to college. I remember coming home on Christmas break during my last year at Judson College. Our basketball team had played in a tournament at Spring Arbor College in Michigan, and then I had taken a bus to Columbus from somewhere close to Spring Arbor. I had grown my hair long, parted it in the middle, and felt like it made my 5’8″ frame look more muscular and imposing. My mom was not impressed. In fact, she was more depressed. Her first words upon seeing me at the Columbus Bus Depot were “Lord, have mercy!” The next day Morris Barber Shop was open I had the “hair nonsense” cut away and was quickly brought back to normal-looking. I’m pretty sure Mom used the word “hippie” in describing me.

A couple of years after that tightrope hair-style walking over a chasm of foolishness, I grew it out to an acceptable length that wouldn’t cause the elderly crowd in any church I worked in to shudder and call a special deacon’s meeting. I tried to find a length with a side part that made me look like I could still relate to young people, while “pastorally” enough for those in the church who paid my salary.

Carol had entered the picture by then. We both wore eyeglass frames that were so big they could have doubled as windshields for our car. Her hair was long, down to her waist when we said our “I do’s”, so mine just needed to be long enough for her to be able to run her fingers through…or, at least, that’s what I hope I’m remembering.

On three different occasions since those years I’ve gotten buzzed for a cause or as a result of a lost bet. The first time was to show my support for a man named Dave Buffmack, who had a brain tumor. Dave was a great guy. I can still hear his laugh, which resembled a sly snicker. The next time I got buzzed was as a result of our VBS kids raising $1,800 for missions. The stipulation was that I would get a mohawk, but if they raised over a thousand dollars I’d get a blue mohawk. I believe one mom wrote a check for $1,000 to make help create the final vivid picture. I went to my barber right after the close of that VBS to get the blue mohawk shaved off. Like my mom’s words from years before, I can still remember Phil Hanson’s words when I walked into his shop: “What bet did you lose?”

The last time I got buzzed was at the end of a basketball season when I lost a bet with one of my players– perhaps the worst free throw shooter of all time. He couldn’t make a free throw in practice so I told him that if he shot 90% for the season I’d shave my head. In the 14th game of the season he shot two free throws and made them both. Those free throws ended up being the only two he shot the whole season in our games. In fact, I’m pretty sure he tried to stay away as far away from the basketball as possible in our final five games. At the conclusion of our team banquet, I was buzzed clean.

It was almost like coming full-circle back to my childhood days. Five-minute haircuts, Morris Barber Shop, no comb necessary. In some ways, those were golden days.

Now I’m into the silver and grey days, signs of wisdom and experience. One of my students recently asked me how old I was. I turned the question back to him. “How old do you think I am?” He put a hand on his chin and considered what the answer could be. “Well, I know that wrinkles and grey hair can be signs of stress and age…so…I think you’re probably somewhere between…30 and 45!”

Sold! The “A” he received for the quarter, however, was earned, not a payoff! I’d bet my hair on it!

What’s My “Jesus Word”?

January 7, 2021

Cary Nieuwhof wrote a blog recently as a result of the Washington protest/unrest. Although written with church leaders and pastors in mind, it had several great points to make about the power of our words. I love it when I read something or hear someone speak that results in causing me to think and ponder the words of the author/speaker.

Cary makes this statement: As Jesus so clearly said, out of the overflow of the heart your mouth speaks.

Word issues are heart issues. The only way to really fix your words is to fix your heart. Sometimes we get so tired of the words we’re hearing that we retreat to silence or irrelevance. Last night, for example, my wife and I got so tired of the reports of what was happening in Washington that we switched channels and started watching the Tennessee-Arkansas basketball game. For someone who grew up as a Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball fan, watching Tennessee play was almost sacrilegious, but we needed a break from the “words”!

Words carry power and influence. They are impactful expressions of our mindset. However, they can be used to lead folks to a place of greater understanding deeper peace, and broadened hope; or they can be used to lead the herd to the edge of the cliff.

The question that came to me, being a Christ-follower, is what’s my Jesus-word for this time? What communication of Christ will inspire me, instead of causing me to change the channels? What word will emerge from my mouth that will be an reflection of my heart?

I think of Jesus sayings at the beginning of the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. We refer to them as His Sermon on the Mount. He talks about people of mercy and peace, people whose life-priorities are God-glorifying, people who are caring and loving, and people who may be poor in the world’s views but rich in spirit. There are Jesus’ words about grace and forgiveness, servant-minded, and giving. He teaches about inner beauty as being delightful in the eyes of God versus outward piety.

I must do self-inspection of what word my heart is echoing before inspecting the lives of others. We live in a time where criticism has dominated the tapestry. The darkness that shades our hearts affects our vision of our surroundings. For me, I must ask myself why I react with bitterness to a person whose perspective is different than mine? Why am I apathetic toward someone’s passion for a just cause? On the other side, why do I get emotional when I see a child who is seeking to befriend a lonely elderly person?

What Jesus-word will be a guiding force for me in these coming weeks?

Billie Dean Wolfe

January 4, 2021

I was born in Kentucky, close to J. D. Vance’s roots of Hillbilly Elegy fame. Everyone I knew went by two names, first and middle. If someone was referred to only by their first name– aunts and uncles excluded– they were viewed as an outsider or highfalutin. My sister went by Rena Lou, my brother Charles Dewey, and I was Billy Dean.

Except to my aunts! To my Aunts Cynthia and Irene I was Billie Dean. The only other Billies that I knew were all of the opposite gender: Billie Johnson in my high school class, Billie Holiday, Billie Jean King. I never got an explanation as to why my aunts thought I needed an extra vowel to spell my first name, but it appeared on every birthday card they sent me or Christmas present they blessed me with. It may have even been on our wedding present: Mr. and Mrs. Billie Dean Wolfe. I was such a deer-in-headlights during that event that I didn’t notice.

My grandmother, MaMaw Helton, pronounced my first name in such a way that it seemed to warrant more than one letter at the end of it. And then she would roll right into the middle bridge that held the first and last together.

Names were important to us. It connected us to the past and rooted us in the present. I bore the nameplates of a great uncle and an uncle. I was almost a Silas Dean, but, for some reason, my parents yielded to what they stamped on me. Perhaps because Billie Dean flowed better than Silas Dean. Too many “s’es” can cause a lot of spitting. My Uncle Millard (Vance, mind you) chewed Mail Pouch. “S’es” were risky. He even steered away from saying his last name very much!

Still, Billie Dean! It didn’t infuse much manliness into me. I was relieved when I arrived in Ironton, Ohio my sophomore year of high school that some of my classmates connected the closeness of Beowulf, that we happened to be reading, with “Bill Wolfe.” Quickly the new kid was christened with the name of the Scandinavian hero of literature. I became Beowolfe, which was soon shortened to “Beo”!

In a way I had finally shed my aunt-bestowed name, Billie Dean, for a simple three letter replacement. It wasn’t me, but it sounded slightly more heroic. Since I was 5’2″ in 10th grade, I needed all the help I could get.