Archive for the ‘Youth’ category

Returning to the Old Pulpit

April 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 28, 2019

           

I did not do a General MacArthur when I retired from pastoring at the end of 2015. I did not say “I shall return!”

I had no thoughts of returning! After 36 and a 1/2 years of pastoring I was fried, fricasseed, roasted, and toasted! I knew it was time to move to the side. So I did! Just about anyone in any profession prefers to go out on their own terms, as opposed to being told it was time to depart. Not that I had anyone who wanted me to take a quick exit and leave them alone, it’s just that there were some days I wanted to be left alone! That’s when I knew it was time!

This morning I return to the old pulpit. Back in August the church asked me to come back and speak at their 60th anniversary celebration. Six months later Pastor Reggie, who also happens to be a friend of mine, asked me to come and speak again, and now, three months later I’m speaking again. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the time between speaking engagements keeps being reduced by 50% each time.

It’s with mixed emotions that I speak in the place where I delivered about 750 sermons over the years. I loved the people, and still love the people. I remember the baptisms, like when the baptistry had a leak and Jacob Lundquist gave a shivered moan as he was dunked into about 8 inches of ice cold water; or Barbara Shepherd getting baptized at the age of 80. 

I remember the Sunday we served donut holes for communion, and the Sunday I made the unwise decision to give two children’s stories during the service. By the second story it was like herding cats to keep the kids all together!

I remember our seniors group, called The Ageless Wonders, who kept me encouraged; the young guys group who took me camping; and the Saturday Morning Men’s Bible Study group that encouraged each other in the journey as men of faith.

I remember the tears of heartache and the hugs of healing. I remember the losses of life, the funeral services for the departed; and I remember some Sundays where there seemed to be a loss of congregational life. 

I remember the folk who caught my vision for ministering to the community around us and others who wouldn’t be caught dead in any ministry that reached outside the walls of the building.

There were people who loved Jesus and others who loved the church…and still others who loved Jesus and the church. A fourth group simply loved the free coffee and donuts!

By the end of 2015 my level of cynicism had risen to an unhealthy level even for a Baptist! It took a few months into retirement for a healthy perspective to re-emerge. 

Pastoring is like a marathon race. It needs a nice steady pace, not an opening sprint that results in a long exhausted walk! 

So today I return with a different perspective, an old guy who has been humored by the past two years of substitute teaching with middle schoolers. The challenge of teaching 7th graders what is really important in life is similar to getting church folk to believe that the gospel is more important than the Denver Broncos.

Oops! Here comes that cynicism again!

Middle School Math and Life

April 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 25, 2019

                                   

“Middle school math is the dumbest thing!” a young lady in eighth grade informs me with conviction and angst. Her eyebrows flow together in a sloped look of frustration.

“Why is it dumb?” I ask, not thinking of the redirected venom that will now come my way.

“What do I care about square roots?”

I have no comeback. I know there’s reasons, but they are all escaping me. If the final answer of Jeopardy happened to be “Square Root” I wouldn’t know what the question was!

“I’m sure you’ll use it someway.”

“How? It’s dumb!”

“Well…”

“You can’t think of an answer, can you?”

“I…I…!” Truth be told, I was a math whiz until the alphabet got intimately engaged to numbers, like a mail order bride to arrived and couldn’t be returned. In my 8th grade class the teacher asked what 28 multiplied by 23 was and I popped up with the answer first. I could figure it out in my head in a snap. 

“644!”

The next year “a” and “b” suddenly started hanging around with 1, 2, and 3, and I couldn’t even remember my own name.

“Some things in life just aren’t clear to us until later on.”

“That sounds like something an adult would say!”

“I am! A very old adult, in fact!”

“The only way I’ll use math in life is in spending money, stuff like that.”

“I hope that’s not the only way you use math. What about if you were baking a cake and you needed to measure amounts of ingredients?”

“I’m never going to bake a cake. I don’t like cake.”

“What do you like?”

“Packaged cookies and store-bought candy.”

I have no comeback for that one. This is a student whose diet consists of processed food and wrapped up sugar. “How about if you bought a house and were trying to figure up how much interest you would pay if the interest rate was at a  certain level?”

“I can’t think about that. I’ll be living with my parents for the next decade or so, and then I won’t be able to buy a house because I’ll have to pay off my school loans for the rest of my life and beyond!”

“You sound pessimistic about math and life.”

“No! I just don’t like math. It’s dumb and stupid and I’d rather have a tooth pulled.”

“Well…you WILL use math in life! Believe me!”

“Life doesn’t have to be that complicated! You get up in the morning, you get dressed, you do your thing, and there you go! Math is dumb and my class is dumb!

“So…is it the class, the fact that you have it the first period of the day, the students in your class, or something else?”

“EVERYTHING!” she answers exasperated. 

“I tell ya’ what!” I have a brainstorm coming. “You tell me something that is a part of your life, or will be a part of your life, and I’ll tell you how math is related to it.”

“Snapchat!”

“Okay! Ahhh…there’s one for you! How about something else, like some daily routine or job you are asked to do?”

“Snapchat is a daily routine for me!”

“Okay, besides Snapchat.”

“Harry Potter!”

“I…don’t really know anything about Harry Potter, but I guess you would need to know how far you are in reading one of the books…like halfway, or two-thirds done…how about that?”

“That’s lame! You read it until you’re done and that’s it! What’s the point of saying you’re half done? The best part is towards the end anyway, not some fraction point! That doesn’t add up!”

“Was that a math joke you just made?”

“No!” she responds, clueless about her unintended humor.

“Well, you’ve just got to trust me on this one! Math will be important to you in a lot of ways!”

“Sure!” she says with cynicism. “I’ll probably use it to figure out how many houses Santa Claus has to get to each minute on Christmas Eve, or how many hops the Easter Bunny makes in an hour?”

“Now you’re getting it!” I say as I smile.

She sneers at me. In her eyes I’m one of THEM, an unreasonable adult who has been tainted by the equations of life!

Middle School Cool

April 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 23, 2019

                                   

I was never one of the cool kids in school. It’s hard being cool when you’re a 4 foot 8 inch eighth grader with nerdy looking glasses. I was a cute kid, but eighth grade girls had moved past cute and had started looking for handsome, manly, and hints of voices that had suddenly started getting lower. I was a high-pitched, miniature, buzzcut boy who always wore clothes from the J.C. Penney’s store my mom worked at. Randy McDaniels was cool! He was 6 foot one inch, a great athlete, and the dream of most of the females in our class. Of course, when Randy entered his senior year he was still six foot one! He had just received an advance on his masculinity that the rest of his classmates wouldn’t catch up on for a couple of years.

As I walk down the hallways of Timberview Middle School nowadays I notice cool and uncool. That is, what students perceive as cool! 

For instance, having a cell phone in your hand is a prerequisite to even being considered cool. To be talking to Joey and without hesitation look at your cell phone and text Charley that you’ll see him at lunch…that’s in the preface of the book on cool. 

In fact, up-to-date technology is the first chapter in the book How to Be Cool In Middle School In Ten Easy Diagrammed With Pictures Steps. Cool students walk down the hallways with Apple AirPods in their ears. They are an indication that overpriced merchandise is not an obstacle for them…or their parents’ credit card. Having an Apple Watch is an even greater advance in the Kingdom of Coolness! In saying those things I have to admit that I pull out my gold MacBook at Starbucks with an air of prideful arrogance!

Middle school cool kids stand in the middle of the hallway at the height of student traffic moments and expect everyone else to detour around them. It’s their position of royalty with the feel of their subjects keeping their distance from them. If uncool students did that they would be trampled by the stampeding herd!

Uncool kids wear things like hair headbands with cat ears attached. Cool kids wear hair apparel with a Nike swoosh prominently displayed!

Cool kids have their parents deliver Chick-Fil-A to them for lunch. Uncool kids bring Lunchables or sandwiches made with white bread. 

Cool kids go to school athletic contests and sit in the upper corner of the bleachers with their cell phones and make inappropriate remarks about uncool classmates. Actually watching the game that is being played is not cool, unless someone they are infatuated with is playing.

Cool kids moan and groan about going to Language Arts and Math. Depending on whether the teacher is considered cool or not, it may be acceptable to seem interested in the Science and Social Studies classes. 

Cool kids ask to go to the restroom at least twice a day and take their time in the venture. Cool kids have cool looking water bottles, also. 

Cool kids run for student council and get elected even though they have no interest in making any decisions or planning any initiatives. Uncool kids, who would be awesome in getting some things done, never get elected! 

Cool kids show up in the morning with their Starbucks Frappuccinos. Uncool kids have juice boxes.

Middle school coolness is the predecessor to high school cockiness. It’s like the incubator for developing distorted perspectives on what’s important in life. Into the mash of that heated setting teachers try to lead students to deeper life understandings and principles. 

And, you know something? Bottom line, middle school teachers are the ones who are really the cool ones! 

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!

Middle School Brainiacs and Maniacs

April 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 20, 2019

                      

I approached the desk of the assistant principal’s secretary, who also handles athletics.

“Kristen, sometime today would you be able to print me off track rosters so we can have a copy for the bus ride today?”

“Sure! It may be a while, though. I’m behind because of all of these discipline referrals I need to type up.” To the left side of her computer a stack of papers position themselves like pancakes.

“The maniacs are alive and well!”

It happens each school year around this time. Students start thinking they’re either invincible or uncatchable. This past week a student, who I love dearly, received after-school detention for stuffing another student into a garbage can. I asked him who reported it, as in which teacher or administrator. “No one,” he replied. “It was on one of the security cameras.”

Ahhh, yes! The cameras see all! Last year…about this time!…I broke up a fight before it really started between two 7th grade boys, both muscular deficient and evidently on some kind of supplement that is able to raise their level of annoyance. One of them made a comment about the girl walking with the other boy being his girlfriend. He said it with ridicule in his voice so the other boy responded, “You wish you could even get a girlfriend!” That was it! The pocket protectors were cast to the side and they were ready to further embarrass each other, but I stepped in. And it was all on camera!

A couple of years ago…about this time…an 8th grade boy thought he would pretend to be one of the Avengers, blessed with super human gifts, and slide down the stone barrier of the staircase that separated the first flight of stairs from the second. He overcompensated too much to the right and went over the edge, dropping about six feet onto the lower steps. He wasn’t seriously injured, but paramedics had to be called to treat him for possible injuries.

My number one rule, “Don’t do stupid!” needs to be put on a banner and displayed at each of the entrances of the middle school about this time of the year. Teachers are thankful that the security cameras can’t capture the essence of their thoughts around the end of April!

Thank God there’s also the brainiacs in the midst of the student population- the kids that are guided by intelligent decisions and the quest for knowledge. I heard one young man talking to his father, a math whiz himself, and the content of their conversation…er, that is, what I heard of their conversation sounded something like this:

“But if Q is taken to the tenth power and square rooted with the negative feature of X, wouldn’t that make it supportive of the equation Y divided by Z cooked in butter and multiplied by the baking temperature of Q on the second Thursday of the month?”

“Yes, but what if X ends up being the anthesis of Y? Would that effect the judgment of Z when taking into consideration the altitude of the cake mix minus brown sugar?”

Something like that!

Brainiacs are the saviors of teachers the last six weeks or so of the school year. In a sea of “Fortnite” addicted adolescents, the brainiacs are the life raft of hope. They are the ones that teachers don’t have to worry about, the ones who still ponder the why’s and “what if’s” because they want to know, not just because they desire an “A” in the class. 

This time of year they stand out. The Office for Stupid Decisions is overpopulated! Kristen is just trying to keep up with the paperwork!

Middle School Passing Period

April 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   April 13, 2019

                             

It’s like an 8:00 A.M. corridor in an O’Hare International Airport terminal…many people rushing and others in no hurry at all…people on a mission and others who look like they’ve been beaten into submission…people all put together and others who are frantic as they seem to be coming apart.

Instead of an airport terminal, however, it’s a  middle school hallway…between class periods. It’s the four minutes of bedlam where a thousand students are required to navigate slimmed down hallways to get from one classroom to the next. 

I stand with two of the awesome sixth grade teachers, Dan Ferrante and Stephanie Wilcox, against a railing watching the mixture of personalities and temperaments pass us by. 

Some use it to ask one of their teachers a quick question or to plead their case for grace.

“Ms. Wilcox!” whines one girl, as she sticks her lower lip out and speaks in a tone that conveys the world is coming to an end, “I didn’t get all of my math homework done…but it wasn’t my fault! My little brother was sick and I had to do his jobs around the house, PLUS my own!” She punctuates the agony of injustice in being the overworked child of the family with a deep sigh.

Ms. Wilcox is very understanding of the inconvenience and tells her that she will send an email to the mom to express her concern for the illness of the brother and her understanding of the daughter’s inability to complete her math assignment.

Eyes wide open greet the teacher’s response. “Oh, you don’t have to do that! He’s…he’s fine today! Our…ahhh…internet is down anyway!”

Ms. Wilcox knows the talent this student has for avoiding work. She’s heard it all before. As the student walks away she enjoys a giggle of satisfaction over the terror she has created in someone who’s been prone to be the terror!

Several eighth graders walk down the crowded hallway with their noses in their cell phones, oblivious to the mass of bodies around them. 

A couple of sixth grade boys with an obsession for looking cool walk by with AirPods in their ears, as if their social status has been elevated. AirPods are the middle school version of a high school student driving a Maserati GT Convertible to school. They think people notice! They overestimate their peer group. Little Tommy, who has so many papers sticking out of his folder that it resembles the aftermath of a tornado, notices only the obstacles in his path to science class. His coat, which he never takes off, flaps in the hallway breeze and one shoelace is untied and so loose the tongue of the shoe looks thirsty! AirPods mean as much to him as hominy grits!

A small herd of seventh grade girls roam down the way in unison. Their conversation is so fast-paced they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Never once do they acknowledge the three teachers. We are obstacles in the midst of their verbal jabber.

The boy I sent to the office last week passes by and I sense a scowl. He may have just spit on me…in his mind! His preference is to have the inmates run the asylum. Teachers are like prison guards. Someday he may find out from first-hand knowledge that prison guards are different!

“Mr. Wolfe, who are you subbing for today?” asks a cute sixth grade girl who still isn’t tall enough to ride the carousel merry-go-round by herself. 

“No one! I just decided to come and hang out in the hallway for a while.”

She giggles and goes on to her Language Arts classroom, not sure if I’m serious or trying to fool her. 

Another sixth grade girl. “Mr. Ferrante, do you want to read my speech?”

“Sure, but maybe at the beginning of our lunch period…unless I can read it in 15 seconds!”

There are the few who seek to take five minutes to get to their destination. They are in no hurry…with the exception of the 2:45 bell at the end of the school day. Jet propulsion empowers their feet at that point!

The crowds lessen and the teachers turn towards their classrooms. For the next 57 minutes the terminals will be quiet until the next class period’s flights begin boarding. 

Middle School Food Intake

April 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 10, 2019

                              

“Sam, what’s this?” I pointed to the food and drink he had taken out of his backpack and placed on the desk in front of him.

“Breakfast!”

“An Arizona Ice Tea, a fruit roll-up, and a bag of cookies?” I reply with confusion etched across my face.

He nodded his head and looked at me, searching for some reason why I seemed unreasonable. I was substitute teaching in a 6th Grade class and what I didn’t realize was that the treasures now in full display mode on Sam’s desk happened to be what he had every morning in this class. Sometimes a sleeve of Ritz Crackers or chocolate-covered mini-donuts were on the menu instead of cookies, and Gummy Bears instead of a fruit roll-up, but that’s it!

“You didn’t have time to eat at home?”

“No! I never do!”

“Nutritious breakfast there, big guy!”

He smiled back at me as a Chips Ahoy disappeared into his mouth. 

Being around middle schoolers these past few years has brought back the memories of what I would consume at school when I ran the halls of Williamstown Junior High/Senior High School as a 7th grader. Back in those days, before technology took over, my parents would give me money to buy “lunch tickets”. In the school cafeteria a student handed in a lunch ticket and proceeded to have unappetizing food plopped on the tray by scowling ladies wearing hairnets. Lunch was an ordeal. There were no chefs serving fine cuisine there. In fact, the weekly menu came out ahead of time so students would know what unrecognizable food items had been placed on their trays. 

Williamstown also had candy machines in its hallways and I remember selling my lunch tickets at a discount for hard cash…er, coins to jam into the candy machine. PayDays were my lunch of choice!

When I was in high school in Ironton, Ohio we’d walk a block down the street to Smitty’s and consume Hostess Fruit Pies and Little Debbie’s.

So Sam’s breakfast of non-champions smelled of past memories and choices. What I’ve noticed is that he’s not unusual. In various classes students bring out snacks of Cheetos, Fritos, Oreos, and once in a while…a granola bar! They “snack” their way through the school day. I don’t see too many apples emerging from backpacks!

As I’m eating my salad during the lunch period a few students come into the classroom to chat and razz me. One has a fudgesicle, another ramen noodles, and the third munches from a bag of potato chips. 

“You all don’t eat lunch in the cafeteria?” I ask.

Three faces of disbelief greet the question. The cafeteria is too stressful, too confining. Bringing a bag of chips means the student doesn’t have to stand in line, and can use the 30 minutes to socialize and do whatever, ALTHOUGH I wasn’t quite sure where the fudgesicle had come from!

Cafeteria food offerings are much better than when I was a 7th grader, but many students need that high dose of sugar to satisfy their cravings. I can’t tell you how many Starbucks Frappuccino drinks I see being consumed in the first two hours of a school day. Also, there’s never a school day that goes by where a few parents don’t arrive at lunchtime with a bag from Arby’s, Chick-fil-a, or Jimmy John’s because they promised the Johnny Jim’s they’d bring them lunch that day.

The interesting thing for me is that I’ve noticed that I EAT HEALTHIER when I substitute teach. It’s usually a salad, or cottage cheese and cucumber. Don’t think too highly of me, though! I eat a light lunch so I don’t fall asleep in the afternoon classes…like I used to do in American History class back in high school! The teacher had a soothing monotone voice and the heavy non-nutritious lunch made my eyelids heavy with sleep. My understanding back in those days of our nation’s story was distorted by only catching the first 20 minutes of each class period lecture!

Perhaps the diet of many middle schoolers could explain the irrational decisions that they are prone to make…like the boy who was dared to walk into the girl’s locker room…and he did! For the next five school days after that he could eat what he wanted to…at home! Perhaps that was because of his poor eating decisions!

No…no, that’s just because he was a middle schooler!