Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on Black History Month part 1

Sometime in the early 1900’s, a one-eyed black man named Willie Seymour sat on the steps outside of a church and listened to what was being preached inside. He wasn’t allowed into the church itself because at the time black people weren’t allowed to attend church with white people. Inside the church, a preacher named Charles Parham was delivering a message on the topic of being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Rev. Parham hadn’t experienced the Pentecostal baptism himself, but was convinced of its truth. Rev. Seymour, on the other hand, while listening on the outside believed and asked God to baptize him in the Holy Spirit. His prayer was answered. William Seymour would go on to preach the famous Azusa street revival that would eventually give birth to every modern Pentecostal denomination. Pentecostal tradition, as I grew up in it, tends to promote the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a personal experience based on the Scriptural pattern found in Acts chapters 2 and 10, as well as 1st Corinthians 12 and 14. Essentially, it is a post-salvation experience in which a person receives supernatural power to be a witness for Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years after I entered the ministry that I studied the above mentioned passages in enough depth on my own that I realized that there was more to the New Testament pattern. The experience wasn’t personal at all. It was racial. People received the baptism in groups. Each group was thought to be an “outsider” to God’s people. In Acts chapter 2, the group was the followers of Jesus whom the Pharisees and priests had excluded from worship. In Acts chapter 10, it was the gentiles who were baptized. The gentiles were being excluded by the followers of Christ. In 1906, It was the African Americans who were being excluded. As a matter of modern church history, an accurate view of Pentecostal history requires acknowledgment that it was the African Americans who were being excluded. It was an African American who received the experience while being excluded from a worship service. But, it was African Americans who, as a group, experienced the blessing of Pentecost. The modern Pentecostal movement seems to be a direct result of God’s decision to include African Americans into the people of God over white objections. My thought for the day: Which group of people are generally excluded from the church today? I believe that if you can identify that group, you will discover those with whom the next great religious awakening will occur.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why I "Sub"

I enjoy my “pizza money” job as a substitute teacher. Unlike many who do this, I have no ambition for becoming a full-time classroom teacher (Whenever I feel like finishing my certification, I lay down until the feeling goes away). Instead of “subbing” as a stepping stone, I do it for the enjoyment of it, and for the extra cash. I don’t need to explain the importance of extra money. However, the enjoyment might require explanation since the words “substitute teacher” and “enjoyment” rarely are mentioned together. I sub for teachers who expect excellence from their students and who are well organized. I rarely spend a day showing movies or fighting for respect from students. So, to be fair, many of the problems that substitute teachers face are not part of my experience, anymore. I enjoy teaching students how to learn. I don’t have the advantage of coming to a classroom prepared to teach the material. I usually get 10-15 minutes to read over the teaching plans before class begins. So, when a student needs help, I have to figure it out with them. I can’t say, “let me show you.” I have to say, “let’s figure this out together.” For me, this is fun. Sometimes, the student expresses gratitude, which also feels powerfully rewarding. I enjoy witnessing young people grow in character. The vast majority of students that I encounter enjoy learning. I witness young people showing leadership in helping other students. I see students overcoming problems every day. Much of the cynicism about humanity dispels as a result of being around young students. To be honest, my experience is the result of developing relationships with teachers and schools where I get the most positive experience. The result is that even though my goal is to teach three days a week, it is hard for me to say no to working extra days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I Ref

Despite the long hours, travel, hard work and sore muscles I wouldn’t trade what I do with anyone else. The life of a sports official comes with many dangers an inconveniences. However, the difficulties do not outweigh the blessing. I enjoy officiating sports because it is fun and because I believe in the good that comes from it. Did I mention that it is fun? I enjoy watching competition of various kinds and levels. I enjoy witnessing a hard fought game played by skilled competitors. I also enjoy competition between competitors who are having fun and doing their best despite a lack of skill. As an official, I am on the court (or field) with the competitors. I run with them. I am actively crafting the game for maximum enjoyment for all. Even after a rough game, I always feel good. Coaches can be unfriendly. I don’t mind because I had fun. Crowds can be unfriendly. It doesn’t matter because I had fun. Besides the enjoyment, I believe in the good that comes from competition. Youth and young adults need to know how to work as a team. They need to learn to handle defeat as well as victory. The skills needed for success in life are taught in competitive activities. Sports is only one of many competitive activities, but it is the one I get to participate in. Because of what I do, young people learn life skills that lead to success. Competition is good for me, too. I don’t officiate in order to stay in shape. I stay in shape in order to officiate. I have to compete with other officials in order to get higher paying games with more talented teams. I have to learn more and practice more. I have to accept criticism. I have to be accountable. I have to keep getting better. Sports officiating is my calling. I enjoy it. I believe in it. I live it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Artists and Other Athletes

The pencil drawing set sits silently, staring at me day after day mockingly daring me to pick up the pencils and try to make my hands draw what my mind sees. So far, I have been too much of a chicken to attempt it. In my attempts to learn to things, I usually am able to rise to at least the level of mediocrity. Not so with art. One look at my handwriting gives a clue to my clumsiness with my hands and any writing tool placed in them. I have failed at several attempt to draw a straight line. I mentioned my sad condition to an art teacher who advised me that I could draw if I followed advice that sounded exactly like something a basketball coach or trombone instructor would say. “keep drawing lines and circles.” She said. “Draw the same shapes repeatedly until you grow comfortable with them. Draw them slowly at first. Eventually you will build the muscle memory needed to move on to other shapes. This will take lots of practice.” This, by the way, is the same advice I have heard music instructors give all of my life. Practice long tones until the sound is pleasant. Play new pieces slowly at first so that muscle memory develops. Speed and accuracy will come with practice. It’s the same advice received when I was learning to swim competitively. Work on your balance. Slowly practice your form. Get the form right and speed and endurance will come. I mentioned to the teacher that it was the same advice athletes get. She agrees. Art is a discipline like any other. Now, I only have to conquer the fear of creating drawings any fifth grader could exceed in quality and skill.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Grace and Athletes Like Her

Grace is one of those student athletes whose name I can remember from among the thousands of faces of athletes I never even hear. It is rare that I am even introduced to an athlete by name. Mostly, I just call them “kid”. But Grace is one of those athletes I will remember not because of her athletic ability but because of her sincerity. I ran into her last night as she was preparing to play basketball for her varsity team. “Are you reffing our game?” she asked. I told her I wasn’t. I had the JV game. “Awww...” she went on. “You are a really good ref. “ “I had you in volleyball,” I repied. “I might just suck at basketball.” “I like you because you are calm and happy.” As it turned out, one of the officials for the varsity game drove her car into a ditch on the way to the game. I had to stay and ref the varsity game as well. When I lined up for the second game, she trotted over and expressed her satisfaction. Grace, and athletes like her, bring joy to the game for me. They play hard. They take their lumps. They have fun. They will occasionally object to a call, but they quickly regain focus. Afterward, they say thank you. Grace won’t be playing ball in college. At just five foot one and slight of build she doesn’t have the physical characteristics necessary for being competitive in collegiate ball. Besides, she tells me that she is ready to move on. I’m sad that I won’t be able to see her play anymore as I have for the past four years in both volleyball and basketball. She, as well as student athletes like her, has demonstrated the joy and meaning of scholastic sports.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Luree Could Make the NBA, But Us Old White Refs Will Need to Help

Basketball refs should remember the name Luree Brown. She is a Detroit native who is in her mid-twenties and one heck of a good basketball referee. With any luck, she will make the NBA as a ref. I emphasize that it will take some luck. If skill and commitment were the only requirements for climbing the ranks she would be a shoe-in to make the big show. But, there are so many more hurdles she will have to overcome as she works at the high school level that have nothing to do with her talent. The system favors middle aged white males. Referee assignments are determined by assignors who are generally middle aged (or older) men who favor seniority over talent. You may have noticed that the refs at your students' basketball games seem to be getting older and slower. This is because many assignors believe that seniority and skill are one and the same thing. Therefore, many of us will continue to referee games long after we have lost our ability to get down the court. Luree could work ten more years at the junior varsity level before getting a varsity schedule despite the fact that she would stand out as a top tier varsity official today. New referees tend to be friends with current referees. Since current refs tend to be white males, the friends they recruit tend to be other white males. And, since they are already friends, they tend not to reach outside their circles to help promote younger officials. Finally, there is no system of evaluation in the high school ranks other than coaches ratings. A talented referee easily goes unnoticed unless that ref works for an assignor who goes to games to evaluate his staff members. In my experience, I have only had one assignor show up to a game I was working. Even though Luree has the talent and presence to work higher level games, she could very well go unnoticed. Luree has worked high school ball for the past four years. For the most part, she works the middle school and junior varsity games she is assigned. I worked a men’s rec league game with her last night. Besides talent and hustle, she has the court presence to set her apart as one of the elite. Now, let’s hope she gets noticed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

USA Volleyball and a Bad Alternator

I felt tremendously blessed in the moment and in an instant felt like I had been suddenly cursed. That moment occurred while driving home on the Ohio turnpike after becoming certified as a USA Volleyball referee. I had a long day of being evaluated by top volleyball officials in the Ohio Valley Region. The day went very well. I was halfway home, feeling the glow of success, when my headlamps dimmed and the battery light came on. My alternator had died. Now, instead of feeling blessed I was worried about being stranded on the side of the road. Circumstances can change quickly. The mind races when faced with a crisis. Barbara and I feel the post holiday financial crunch. We don’t have excess cash. I wonder if the car will make it home. What do I do if it doesn’t? What is the safest route home? How do we get through the week with one car? The car made it home. The headlamps had all but died, but I was in my driveway. As I recalled my day the feeling of being blessed returned. As we worked our budget we realized we could make it, although things will be tight for a couple weeks. We know God provides. But, we get nervous so we pray. I got offered a large officiating contract. I accepted another basketball game. I get another basketball tournament. The alternator gives out. I don’t like it but I admit that it does serve a purpose. It forces Barbara and I to get creative in how we save money this week. I bake a week’s worth of lunches for the boys. I figure that will save $20 over the cost of school lunch. They show gratitude. We reduce the satellite television package. On it goes until everything balances. Circumstances conspire to bring me from highs to lows all in the space of an hour. Faith smoothes out the highs and lows with a steady realizing that God provides and that things will all work out.