Posted tagged ‘traditions’

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

The Changing of Advent (Holiday) Traditions

December 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 13, 2017

                            

Last Christmas Eve was a strange time for me. It was the first time in 38 years that I was not involved in the leadership of a Christmas Eve worship service. Having retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I had to shift from leading to being one of the ones being led.

It’s okay! I survived, and enjoyed the worship gathering at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs that evening. It just felt weird, like the first time you wear silk pajamas!

Advent and Christmas are punctuated with traditions. Last Sunday we sang Christmas carols in worship. Christmas music is about as traditional as you can get, although the Starbucks I’m sitting in right now is playing their “holiday tracks.” Bah humbug!

In the secularizing of our culture the traditions’ scale has been shifting in recent years. Although Christmas Eve is the most heavily attended worship service of the year, when people think of traditions between Thanksgiving and Christmas they are likely to put 5 A.M. Black Friday shopping trips, office holiday parties, watching The Christmas Story movie or It’s A Wonderful Life, fruitcake, and ugly sweater contests as their traditions this time of the year.

Advent calendars used to be a tradition in many families, counting down the days until Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting and expectation but we are no longer a culture that waits very well!

Wrapped gifts used to be symbolic of the gifts being brought to the Christ-child. Now gift cards in an envelope will be the biggest sellers this season. We’re unsure of what to give someone so we get extra fuel points at the grocery store by simply buying a Best Buy gift card and letting the receiver figure out what they want. Our giving has taken on an element of what we get out of it!

The number of people sending Christmas cards, another tradition, is dropping as Facebook has made things easier and cheaper…and who wants to wait in line at the post office anyway?

The tradition of Christmas Eve services has changed also. It used to be that going to one’s church on Christmas Eve was a time of worship and reuniting. Kids who had grown up in the church were back in town. Old friends were back. It was a gathering of community that had become tradition. In recent years families look for a service that fits their time schedule. Mega-churches with five or six service times become the place to go so that people can get on with what else needs to be done.

Things change, that’s how it is! I just wish more people would first think of “O, Come All Ye Faithful!” when they consider a Christmas song rather than “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Switching Pockets

March 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 20, 2017

                                

I am a creature of habit in so many ways. Last night Carol started to make scalloped potatoes to serve with the hamburgers I was cooking on the grill. I stopped her! “We”, meaning my family growing up, always had either french fries or potato chips when we had hamburgers. So we had to make a trip to the store to get a bag of chips…and one other bag in reserve!

Habits! Habits are traditions that have become natural reactions.

I’m sitting on the last stool on the right at Starbucks that looks out at Pike’s Peak. Habit!

In the morning I shower, dress, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and shave…in that order…every morning…no variations!

I get the morning newspaper and flip through to the sports section first before I read anything else!

Whenever I’m doing work on my book manuscript I go to the public library and find a cubicle to create some words in the midst of.

Recently I’ve been dealing with another habit that I’ve tried to change. It’s simple and silly, and yet so hard to change. It involves my wallet and my left hip pocket.

You see…I’ve always carried my wallet in that pocket…always! But last week a hole started appearing in it, which clearly outlined the top part of my billfold. In the past when that has happened I’ve headed to Old Navy and simply bought a new pair, but this time someone made the simplistic suggestion of switching pockets…to move my wallet to my right hip pocket and my comb and handkerchief from right to left!

So I did that, and it is not going well! I’ve dropped my comb out of my pocket numerous times because it has suddenly gone from left to right at sometime during the morning, cozying up to my displaced wallet, and then falling to the ground when I reach for the billfold. I keep reaching for my hanky in my right pocket and finding my wallet there. I reach for my wallet in my left pocket and don’t feel it, which brings on a moment of panic about where it went. The answer…eight inches to the right…doesn’t occur to me until after the cold sweat surfaces.

Habits are hard to break! There’s a pocketful of lessons in there somewhere. We get entrenched in systems that lead to stagnation and frustration, but we can’t imagine things ever being done differently. Even when a hole gets worn in a pocket…or the carpet…we go on with our daily living habits as usual.

Lord knows that churches have hole-filled habits that need to change, but tend to cause the weeping and gnashing of teeth when they are changed. We always said that it took at least three Baptists to change a light bulb…one to change it and at least two others to stand there and comment on how nice the old one was!

Of course, there are habits that should never ever change…like the caring of the impoverished, seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus, being light in the midst of darkness, sharing the good news of Christ and being a reflection of his grace, love, and peace. It seems , however, that those are often the habits that aren’t deeply ingrained. They haven’t left their imprint showing through to the outside of the pocket.

Habits!

I just felt a sneeze coming on and reached for my wallet! Darn it!

There is an increasingly good chance that I will be going to Old Navy sometime today!

Remembering My Wolfe and Helton Christmas Traditions

December 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              December 4, 2016

     For me Christmas is more about the comfort of traditions, customs our family have practiced for years and years.

Growing up as a son of two Kentucky parents there were certain things we did that still bring a warmth to my spirit. Christmas Day was always spent at our grandparents. My Granny Wolfe and Great Aunt Lizzie lived in a two-story home outside of Paintsville. They always had a batch of sugar cookies available, even though they were both diabetics. We’d share gifts with them in their living room, and at least one of them would look at her gift-wrapped present and say “It’s too pretty to open!” My dad’s two siblings lived in Alabama and the D.C. area, so our visit was usually all the family that Granny and Aunt Lizzie had for Christmas. They were two wonderful women! Every Christmas I look at least one of my gifts and say “It’s too pretty to open!”

Towards noon we would pile into the car and drive to the farm in Oil Springs, about twenty minutes away, and converge with the Helton Clan. It was a much different atmosphere than at Granny Wolfe’s, because usually five of the six Helton offspring were there with their kids. Only my Uncle Doc (John) would be missing. He lived in California.

The Helton Christmas had certain traditions that no one messed with. One of them was that the men and boys gathered around the large dining room table and ate their meal first. The women served them! After the men were done, they retired to the front porch to smoke their pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, and the women and girls then sat down and ate their Christmas dinner. This tradition has not continued in my family!

After the meal there would be conversation and laughter. I’d roam around the back of the house sneaking peppermint stick candies and chocolate-covered cream drops. They were much more preferable to a young boy than the fruitcake that was another Christmas tradition. After a while the family would gather in the living room to open presents. My Mamaw and Papaw Helton were always the center of attention for these gatherings. They occupied two seats on the couch with twenty people as their audience. Almost every gift each of them received had some kind of garment within it, but also cash or a check. Every Christmas they would discreetly pocket the money into either a shirt or apron pocket and pretend that there had not been anything in the gift but a shirt or sweater. My Papaw kept a calculator in his head that was doing a running tally. He knew when he had enough for a new steer or hog…or both! When a new livestock purchase had been achieved we all knew it because he would look up and smile without saying a word!

Around 6:00 we’d pack into the car and head back home to either Winchester, Kentucky, Williamstown, West Virginia, or Ironton, Ohio. The car would be loaded with my Aunt Cynthia’s peanut butter fudge and my Aunt Irene’s Chex Mix. Unfortunately, there would also be a fruitcake somewhere in the trunk! Mom would fall asleep in the front seat on the way home and delight all three of us in the back with her bobblehead-flopping from side to side as the car turned in different directions.

Our own family had opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember many of those presents besides an Erector Set, a Dennis the Menace doll, and a Matchbox carrying case filled with cars, but what each of us kids knew without question was that one of our gifts would contain underwear and socks. To be more specific, Towncraft underwear and socks from J.C. Penny’s! Since joining the ranks of grown-ups I’ve felt the freedom to buy my underwear in different brands and at different business establishments, but…I still buy my black dress socks at Penny’s.

Those were good days! The memories of them still sing in my mind. Uncles telling stories…my Papaw saying “Lord…..have mercy!”, aunts chuckling in the kitchen, and cousins scooting between adults like hyper ants on a mission.

Good days…great days! My wife Carol and I have meshed some of her traditions and some of my traditions into “our traditions.” We’d also added a few, like socks in empty cereal boxes and Christmas Eve services at church.

But besides the tradition of men eating first, one other tradition that has not carried forward is…the fruitcake!

The Chaos of Life’s Delays

November 17, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       November 17, 2014

                                

     I love snow days…and I hate snow days!

I love the unexpected freedom, the sudden opening up of my day’s schedule, and the surprise of a snow day.

But I hate the loss of rhythm that a snow day brings.

I have discovered that I am a person of routines and consistent behavior. I’m at Starbucks right now as I write this. It’s Monday morning about 9:00 and my day off. If you were to come to Starbucks next Monday at 9:00 you’d stand a very good chance of finding me sitting on one of the stools facing the windows drinking coffee and pecking on my laptop. I feel comfortable integrating certain routines in my life.

If it’s 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon I’ll be napping.

If it’s Wednesday night I’m at church.

If it’s Friday morning at 8:00 there’s a fifty percent chance I’m at a different Starbucks having coffee with Roger and Steve. The chances are only half as good because we meet every other Friday morning.

If it’s 10 P.M. I’m thinking about bed if I’m not already in bed.

I think you get the picture. Life has its patterns and order…and then the thermometer plunges to 0 and chaos blows into the day. Events get canceled, meetings get postponed, there’s a breath of fresh air in the uncluttered day…and I feel lost!

I find myself trying to figure out what day it is, what’s on the schedule, and what I’m about. We are creatures of habit whether we want to admit it or not. If given a choice the Hebrew nation would have chosen to return to Egypt. Egypt offered steady work…yes, also enslaved work, but a person knew when he woke up in the morning what he was going to do that day!

It also makes me wonder about those who become followers of Christ during their adult years, and slip away within months of their conversion. Spiritual transformation for many people is a tremendous change, leaving the old and accepting the new. We use terms like lost and found, “the old has passed away and the new person has been born.”

And yet such terminology, freeing on one hand, is difficult on the other hand. It’s like the ratty blanket that I sleep with each night, and have slept with for about 35 years. It doesn’t really offer that much warmth, but it feels like home.

Conversion, though it offers freedom and forgiveness, a new start, a fresh beginning…is out of rhythm for us.

On the other side, I’ve been a Christ-follower since I was 12. I’ve always gone to church on Sunday. In fact, growing up I was in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. I thought Sunday night services were mandated by the Bible. I remember asking Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois why the church didn’t have Sunday night services. I was serving there as a youth director while i was in seminary. I’ll always remember what he said to me. “Well Bill, what it takes you Baptists two services to do we can do in one service!” A few years later when I was pastoring at First Baptist Church of Mason, Michigan, I brought Sunday night services to a close.

I’ve always gone to church, been involved in ministries, participated in leadership as a member and pastor. My Sunday morning seems to have gone haywire if I’m not in worship. I don’t quite understand Saturday night services. If I went to one I’d be lost on Sunday morning!

The longer I pastor the more obvious it is that there aren’t many people left who see things like I do. The church is populated with an increasing number of people whose life rhythm is not centered on Sunday morning worship as a consistent part of their lives.

Understand that I’m not whining about that. I’m just coming to grips with what is the reality. My understanding of having a conversion experience is a different picture than most people now have. Being aware of that has given me more of an open mind and listening ear to those who are still trying to find that spiritually healthy rhythm of life.

 

The Loss of Tradition…Cat, That Is!

November 28, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 November 28, 2012

 

We lost our cat on Sunday night, but lest you think this is going to be one of those articles that get all weepy, it’s not! Perhaps it is a bit therapeutic for me to write it, but it is also about some things I’ve been pondering.

Permit me a moment to recap. Carol and I came home Sunday afternoon only to be greeted by a cat in obvious pain. A trip to the emergency veterinarian clinic revealed it wasn’t a good situation, and the vet advised us to put Princess Malibu- Boo for short- to sleep.

Don’t be too amused by her name. She follows in a long line of head-shaking names that our daughters have christened our cats with, including “Tickles”, “Prince Charming Kisses”, “Duke”, and “Katie Katie Cocoa Puffs.” Some of our cats have had more names than I have.

On Monday I found myself looking for Boo around the house. Passing by the front door my habit returned of looking out the window of the door to see if she was waiting on the front step to get back in the house. Opening the door into the garage later that day I instinctively looked at the hood of my car to see if she was laying on it. (I seldom get bird droppings, but paw prints are like a hood design for me.) As I sat in my home study I looked at the ledge by the window where she quite often laid when the sun was shining through.

I realized that I had not only lost a cat, but also some of my daily traditions. I no longer have my hide-and-seek playmate for the evening. I can’t convince Carol to fill that role. If I went out to out hot tub for an evening soak the tradition has been that Boo would sit on top of the tub cover and peer into the night.

A part of my life was lost on Sunday, because things I’ve always done for the past eight years suddenly were finished.

I thought about that in regards to the church. Not cats dying, mind you, but rather traditions being lost.

There are many traditions that should never be lost, but there are a lot of traditions that just become lost. It is neither a good thing nor a bad, it just is. Like a cat that is not destined to live forever, but rather one day to just no longer be.

That is a hard thing for people of the church to hear. We make sacred cows out of a lot of baloney. We look for a world that is filled with things that suit us, while prickly points are vacuumed away.

I remember the first time Carol and I put up a Christmas tree, and she decorated it all wrong, because I was raised to think that there was only one way to decorate a Christmas tree…and she was brought up in a family that had found a different way. My tradition died, but in its place was born a new tradition that has suited our family of five well. Letting go of my understanding, however, was hard!

All of us have our areas of inflexibility. All congregations battle a desire for attracting new people with an addiction to keeping things the way we like it.

Will we ever get another cat? I don’t know. I’m still looking for the one we just lost.