Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Rubbing Elbows With the Almighty

July 1, 2020

Touch is a huge quality of a meaningful community of faith. Not that I’ve ever practiced greeting others with a “holy kiss”, although there were a couple of girls in my high school youth group at Ironton (Ohio) First Baptist Church I was open to experiencing that deeper spiritual possibility with,

photo of man and woman doing elbow bump

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we always had handshakes and hugs. Touch was part of the healing of the hurting, a sign of empathy for another saint in the dark moments of the journey.

Now on Sunday morning, I touch elbows with the other members of the faith community I frequent. Maybe it’s not as giving as a handshake, but it’s a simple recognition of the bond between us.

In the Apostle Paul’s communication with the church of Philippi, known to us as the letter of joy, he writes “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5, NIV)

The Lord is near! In this time of social distancing, it’s God’s way of whispering to me that he’s so close to me that we’re rubbing elbows. He’s so near that, like with my own dad growing up, I can lean on Him.

Some of the most meaningful biblical truths come in the simplest words. Just think about the elbow of the Almighty nudging you slightly, reminding you that the couch of worry you’re planted upon is being shared with the God who provides peace, the One who understands.

His elbow nudge is His reminder that when others wither away and circumstances pile up, He is near. When we lean into Him He will firmly stay with us.

The Problem of Monuments

June 26, 2020

One of my favorite writers of history is Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m rounding the home stretch of her 2018 book Leadership In Turbulent Times, a fascinating comparison of four former presidents- Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and LBJ.

In an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln led, Goodwin writes this, “Guided by the principle of forgiveness, Lincoln insisted he did not care if someone HAS done wrong in the past, ‘It is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.'” (Page 224)

In a time when some seem committed to the erasing of the footsteps of where the American journey has been, we’re discovering that there seems to be no grace period for monuments. What takes lifetimes to create is crashing down in a few minutes of pulling. No statue, it seems, is exempt. If it’s a statue the worst is thought about it. An abolitionist from Philadelphia toppled. Mahatma Gandhi, the promoter of peace, and who Martin Luther King drew inspiration from, was desecrated in Washington, D.C. George Washington was pummeled in Portland, Oregon.

People, like me, are confused by the illogic. It seems as if any statue with the dust of time on it must be prime for removal. There is a longing for past perfection and deafness to the fact that we are all imperfect. Some people were rooted in the idealogy of warped, imperfect systems. Some people were drafted into the purposes of suspect principalities and powers. And some were simply reflective of the opinions and perspectives of their day. But make no mistake about it, perfection was, and is an extinct condition.

So we seem to prefer tearing down instead of building up, defacing instead of forgiving, pulling apart instead of coming together.

Do we rewrite history and rename streets, parks, and institutions that commemorate it? If we “bland-ize” our surroundings we may solve the unrest in our spirits for a moment, but lose sight of where we’ve come from.

Back to Lincoln, the sixteenth president sought a cabinet that brought a mixture of political preferences. Instead of gathering only those who thought like he did, he appointed people who would bring different perspectives, and he valued each one of them. He saw the need for justice and the threats to unity.

However, a statue in Washington, D.C. called The Emancipation Monument has protestors threatening to tear it down because a black man is kneeling beside Lincoln.

architecture usa statue face

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Granddad’s Butt Chin

June 23, 2020

She has no filter yet. Our five-year-old granddaughter, Corin, verbalizes the raw truth. She just puts it out there for you to chew on.

Yesterday she informed me that I have a butt chin. In her view of the world, my chin resembles two hams squeezed together under one skin covering. The little upswing in the middle assists in the painting of the picture for her. If we were playing Pictionary the question would be is she drawing my chin or someone’s backside?

In her mind, the comment was not meant to be disparaging. She didn’t mean for me to rush off for a shot of chin botox, or to always wear a face mask. She was simply making an observation as if she was seeing a cow in the shape of a cloud or a bunny in a hand shadow.

Sometimes the raw truth saves a lot of time. I have a habit of sauteeing my conversation with words like kinda’, sorta’, and maybe. Corin has never once used those words. Granted, sometimes she gives displays of whining, pouting, and crying to express her dissatisfaction, and dancing, hugging, and jabbering to let us know of her excitement and happiness. But, she never sorta’ says the truth.

Her acknowledgment of my butt chin was followed by her touching it just to make sure it fit her specifications for what a butt chin should look like. And then she leaned into me to let me know I was still her granddad. She does not worry about invading my personal space.

So now I think I’m going to eat salad for the next month and see if I might slim down to a lean cut of meat!

black pig on green grass field

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Dad’s Birthday

June 18, 2020

Today, June 18th would have been my dad’s 92nd birthday. He passed away on February 15th, 2018, just four months shy of ninety.

Lawrence Hubert Wolfe was named after two Baptist deacons who brought his father back into sobriety. Lawrence and Hubert were difference-makers, and my dad carried their names for the next nine decades.

Interesting that my dad was honored as being “Deacon Emeritus” of Beulah Baptist Church in Proctorville, Ohio. Lawrence and Hubert would have been honored to know how valued he was to his congregation.

I carry many of my dad’s mannerisms. Just as he did, I begin many of my sentences with the word “well”. It’s like the prologue for the verbal contribution I’m about to make. Maybe it also was a Kentucky front-porch form of meandering through the path of a conversational subject matter. Well…that’s just what I think about that!

One trait/style I have not carried forward is my dad’s tendency to wear brown socks with his grass-cutting shoes. It’s the only way I can think of that I have tried to steer away from our likenesses. I’m sure my own kids have a whole list of my “doings” that they will seek to close off in a drawer of their memories.

man hands waiting senior

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I also learned and imitated my dad’s habit of listening before responding. My mom did most of the talking in our family, often entrenched in her opinion just her as father, Dewey Helton, was. When my dad’s tongue voiced a perspective, however, it was usually wisdom-laced and worthy of contemplation. Not that we didn’t listen to our mom, it’s just…well…

Dad served Mom in her deteriorating health, modeling devotion and sacrifice for his kids and grandkids. When Mom’s Parkinson’s minimized her physical functions and her ability to speak, Dad stayed beside her. “For better or worse, in sickness and in health…”, his vow was to remain faithful to his vows.

I miss him but am blessed to have known him and call him “Dad”.

 

Deeply Disturbed By Dense Readers

June 18, 2020

I’m evolving, it seems, at an increasingly rapid pace into a crotchety old man. My patience is wearing out faster than my underwear. I’m even looking with suspicion at my own mug in the mirror in the morning. If Carol weren’t still asleep in bed I’d say to myself, “What are you looking at?”

And in the midst of my scowl (Think Carol from the movie Up), I receive responses to one of my Words from WW posts. Don’t get me wrong! I love people to read and react to what I’ve written, but sometimes the responses are strongly indicative of the fact that the reader didn’t really read the whole thing or he is so dense he just doesn’t understand the point of the column.

Recently I wrote a post that began by using an illustration of a childhood game we played called Smear the Goat. The rest of the post was making the point that the person who had the football and got gang-tackled by everyone else was comparable to someone today who expresses an opinion and gets gang-tackled by those who salivate at the opportunity to inflict verbal damage. While many understand the point I was making about the vulnerability someone takes to express a view, so many responses to the post were focused on the memories of the game. I even had to delete a couple of responses that were inappropriate.

And then last week I posted a writing about the postal office drive-thru box that requires me to slide in my rearview mirror in order to pull close enough to reach the slot. I went on to make the point that the postal service and I both give and take to make it work…and that most of the difficult situations of life require both sides of an issue to seek that point of compromises. A response to the post, however, focused on the shortcomings of the postal service. It was an avenue for someone to gripe about something, and the person hadn’t read the whole post.

Listen! I’m not the brightest bulb in the light fixture, but I know not to make a judgment on the wattage while the switch is still in the Off position. I can’t stand there and spout off my opinions and perspectives if the light switch hasn’t been flipped yet.

Go back to the first word of that last paragraph. Maybe that’s the root of the problem. People don’t know how to listen because the only sweet music to their ears if what they’ve decided they’re going to say.

We’re an earbud-afflicted generation infatuated with the sound of our own voice. We’ve invented a new breed of deafness that has nothing to do with our physical senses.

There! Didn’t you envision Carl as you read that? Assuming you got all the way to the end!

person s right ear

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The Give and Take of Mailing A Letter

June 12, 2020

For the past three years or so I go to the post office whenever I have a letter or a bill to mail. I began doing that when there were concerns raised in our neighborhood about items being taken from mailboxes when the flag was pointed up. That had been the sign for the postal carrier to pick up a letter to be mailed, but, evidently, it had also become an indication for thieves to take a bill that had personal checks enclosed.

So I started going to the post office and dropping the envelopes into the big mailbox in the drive-thru lane. We didn’t have to worry about personal info getting stolen and it gave us peace of mind.

And then the post office put in new mailboxes! The first time I pulled up to mail a letter I realized I could no longer reach the mail slot from my vehicle. Maybe if I measured in at 6 foot 9 inches or had arms so long on my 5’6″ frame that I could be a carnival side show…maybe then I could have reached, but neither of those scenarios was the reality. The new mailbox almost qualified for a different zip code, it was so far away.

So I’d unfasten my seatbelt, put the car in park, get out, and insert the envelope through the slot. The new mailbox no longer had that door that you opened and placed the letter in. To make it more of a challenge, the new mailbox has a hard, unyielding metal slot that puts it a couple more inches out of reach. Ugh!

I’d made adjustments in the last year or so. Now when I pull in the lane to mail something I roll down my window, fold my rearview mirror in, and inch up so close to the box that I have to be careful not to scratch the paint on my vehicle. With a grunt that indicates the stretching of my stomach muscles, I’m able to get a business-size envelope into the slot just enough to tilt it over the edge and into the abyss. Slowly then I pull a few feet forward and push my mirror back in its proper place.

I’ve thought about the effort to mail an item in an industry that has been struggling for the past who-knows-how-many years. A parallel, or parable, of life, crept into my mind as I pondered.

So often I take the attitude that the world revolves around me, my wants, my whims, and my demands. When I have to stretch myself in such a way that it necessitates my leaning a little bit more I become annoyed and almost offended.

But what I have needed to learn– and I’m not just talking about the post office now– is that there needs to be give-and-take in our actions and expectations, a little bit of leaning toward the receiver and a little bit of peace of mind that it has been securely received. When life is filled with a crowd of receivers who aren’t willing to give there becomes a mounting suspicion in our midst. It starts small and builds to the point that it becomes a sticking point for separation.

And it simply began with a short arm and an envelope!

letter mail mailbox postbox

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Spellchecking Theology

June 6, 2020

Carol and I returned from vacationing in Utah today. It was a trip filled with memorable moments, beautiful scenery, and one spelling error.

It came as we made a turn in the road, a rural two-laner that kept us away from the interstate, as well as, consequentially, all restrooms. The face of a large rock had been painted with three words: Jesus is Comming! Maybe it had been there a while and had stood the test of time. After all, “Comming” is an obsolete form of the word coming.

But I thinketh not! I think someone gooffed!

Scripture does tell us that Jesus is coming again, but misspelling the point of the proclamation kinda’ lessens the effect. On the other hand, we did notice it. In fact, we would have turned around, returned to the site, and taken a picture, but the next place for a turn wasn’t for another two miles down the road.

Perhaps it was a two-person job and each person thought they had the “m”; or the painter proclaims the word with the inflection of a revival evangelist, long and over-drawn.

Hey! Everyone makes spelling mistakes. Just don’t do it on an enormous rock about the Rock!

asphalt countryside crossing daylight

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The Heat of Response

June 4, 2020

We used to play this strange kid’s game called Smear The Goat. One kid would grab the football and try to avoid being tackled by the 6, 7, or 8 other kids chasing him. The outcome was never in doubt, and when tackled the football-carrying kid would go down with everyone else piled on top. The ball would squirt out and somebody else would pick it up and pretend he was Jim Brown for a few moments.

Whoever the goat was always got annihilated. We’d go to our different homes after that, all of us bruised a bit by being the target one or times.

That memory seemed a sorta’ picture of our battlefield these days. Anyone who opinions themself seems to, so to speak, have picked up the football and the others take aim at him/her. The radicalness or sensibility, impassioned plea or philosophical ponderings, age, race, or gender doesn’t seem to matter. You’ve uttered an idea or expressed a belief and whoever doesn’t agree with you is ready to initiate a gang tackle.

It’s confusing. Some folk have been condemned because of their silence and others have been tackled because of what they have said. There’s not a safety net of listening, but rather a flaming underneath us.

In the Book of James, known as the wisdom of the New Testament, this advice seems relevant for all of us in this day of quick tempers and tongues, and bad decisions. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

We get those confused in the chaos of our culture, becoming slow to listen and quick to speak and become angry.

In our Smear the Goat days we’d sometimes put the football down and go to Tommy’s house to eat ice cream bars together. In those moments away from our youthful battlefield, we’d listen, and we’d learn to love each other in unconditional ways.

selective focus close up photo of brown wilson pigskin football on green grass

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Holding a Hand

May 28, 2020

I sat by her bed, occupying most of the front living room floor space. We talked about what was and is to be, the rain shower of life’s blessings, and the loneliness of the final days.

The same scene had been played out in the same room 18 months earlier. The only difference in that part of history was that it was her husband who was lying in the bed and she sat in one of the chairs to his left side. I wrote about that experience in another blog post entitled “Sitting Bedside With Someone Waiting For Glory”, and it was a visit punctuated with roars of laughter.

This time we chuckled about the memories of that time, but mostly, we talked about being blessed and being ready to join Jesus. Sixty-four years of marriage had been followed by the last year of physical pain and relational grieving. She wanted to be laid to rest next to her beloved. She longed for the warmth of his closeness underneath the cold earth.

There is a sweetness in such sorrow. When God blesses a romance with a long journey in which their hands are held together in support and prayerful agreement, the end is tear-filled. Like honey dripped onto a dry piece of plain white bread, the final chapter brings sweet completion to the void.

A modern-day version of  Song of Solomon with the Lover and his Beloved, rarely have I seen two kindred spirits in such a harmony of marriage.

We talked about what comes next and then I took her hand in mine and prayed for the peace of her final breaths. In a time when it is safe to stay socially-distanced and not risk touch, holding the hand of this saint was the ointment for our aching goodbye.

person holding hand

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Finding the Wise Middle

May 23, 2020

It’s hard! Perhaps that’s why so many of us can’t grasp it, can’t see it in the haze caused by personal opinions and anchored stubbornness.

It’s the wise middle, the place of common sense compromise. I like this verse in the New Testament letter of James.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Those are several criteria that indicate to us that wisdom is often hard to locate. Wisdom is the thin strands in the middle of that taffy that is being pulled apart.

Years ago, in another place and time, I was elected to our community’s school board. The town had been divided over school bond issues for years. I ran with the purpose of bringing the community together and seeking what was best for our kids. During my last two years on the board I was named as president of the board. What I remember about those years, and the six people I served with, was the cohesiveness we had. Personal agendas were put to the side. We often didn’t agree, and yet we sought the wise middle that took in everyone’s perspective. What one board member believed was good for our students might have been different than another member’s thoughts, but we talked through it. Perhaps the community came to the point that they saw the value of our efforts and trusted our wisdom because the school bond issue passed.

In this time of heated emotions and opinions on each of the extreme ends of the spectrum, there needs to be a willingness to seek the common good– to share the last cookie, if you will, not demand the whole thing.

So businesses reopen with– Knock on wood!– apprehension and anxiety. Some don’t reagree with it and others think it’s way overdue. Okay…so can we find the wise middle?

When I see the man vehemently protesting about wearing a mask into Costco, it shouts about entitlement. A mask won’t necessarily protect you from Covid-19, but it’s a small request in the right direction.

Staying at home and being restricted from going any place is a reach, also. So what can we do to have a sense of freedom while also watching out for one another? That’s the wise middle that needs to be searched for, not pushed to the side because it doesn’t fit my want.

We’re in a time of what the community needs, not what I personally want. Wait a minute! Peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere?

Sounds like a conspiracy! Maybe it is! A divine conspiracy!

group of people doing tug of war

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