quiet battles

Around midday on Tuesday, March 23, our friend came into the church office. He stopped by to update us on his quiet battle. 

With lots of deep thinking, anguish, and prayer, his best friend, his wife, is now living in a facility to help manage her memory loss. Even though this was the right decision, I know our friend’s heart is crushed.

A couple of months ago, a  dear friend who had retired to Arkansas called me. My friend faced a quiet battle too. 

She described her courtroom appearance before a judge to have her daughter committed. All other options in trying to help the daughter manage her mental health had failed. I could hear the hurt in her heart.

Somewhere today in America, a student will confront a quiet battle— a dangerous environment at home. With the student’s heart pounding, words will pour out to a school counselor.

Quiet battles are all around us. 

We all have them. 

There is no immunity.

The toughest of those quiet battles are the ones that keep overloading the wiring inside a person. Eventually, the wiring snaps.  When wiring snaps, all rational thinking is gone, there is no turning back, and in a blink 18 people in Atlanta and Boulder are senselessly killed.

We blink. 

We think another foolish tragedy. 

We move on in our numbness. 

These tragedies are soon to be forgotten.

That is until the next quiet battle snaps and more lives are altered forever.

When are we going to wake up?

The real question is do we want to wake up and change?

Frankly, I’m not sure we want to wake up and change. 

Any number of statistical studies indicate that the number of firearms owned in the United States is more than our population.

Try as we might, I’m not sure we can legislate our way out of this mess. We already have multiple federal, state, and local laws about firearms.

I’m no Einstein, but it appears to me that we need to legislate our  minds, our hearts, our souls.

How did we become so brazen with our thinking to believe that pulling a trigger can solve all our problems?

What inside that trigger puller made that person believe— this is my chance, I’ll show them, I’ll get even, no more pushing me around, I’ve had enough.

Some people find reasonable ways to resolve these internal conflicts.

For others, the internal raging continues. The overloaded wiring circuits continue to push their irrational thinking. When that circuit breaker trips for this person, there is no turning back.

We talk a lot about mental health in our country. Our tax dollars are often spent on senseless pursuits. 

What might happen if we stop talking about mental health and pursue reinvesting and improving our mental health infrastructure and services? 

Don’t people in quiet battles deserve the opportunity to address their mental health?

America, aren’t we better than this? 

Don’t we respect and value the fragility of life?

Aren’t we tired of these ridiculous headlines? 

Shouldn’t we be disgusted and ready to say enough?

I have seen first hand the impact of a cherished love one being killed from the firing of a gun.

From what I have seen for the family who experienced this loss— the grieving has not stopped, sleep is unsettled, the mind still questions, the heart is broken, and the soul is empty forever.

America our quiet voices need to be heard.

At this very moment, someone’s quiet battle has snapped.

The predictable, repetitive headline will reappear—Another Senseless Tragedy For America.

That headline should repulse our hearts.

Why doesn’t it?

A good place for quiet reflection Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Henrico County, Virginia photo by Bill Pike 4/10/21

Hey God, thanks for the clunk

Singer-songwriter, John Phillips, penned these heartfelt words in his famous song about Monday—“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.”

Mr. Phillips’ lyrics captured the way Monday, March 8 started out for me.

A little after 7 a.m. I received a phone call from Kim, one of our church staff members. Kim was reporting to me that the fire alarm panel for the building was beeping. 

Beeping sounds from a fire panel are annoying. This is because the sound is high pitched and ear piercing. But, what was even more irritating is that despite Kim hitting all the right prompts to silence the alarm, the panel was not cooperating.

I told Kim I would be at church as soon as I cleared the frost off of my car windshield.

When I entered the hallway by the office, I could hearing the panel’s beep. At the panel, the beep was inconsistent. It would loudly beep for several seconds, and then there was silence. But, that pause was short lived.

I followed the same prompts for silencing the beep that Kim had, and I too had no luck. Thankfully, the panel was not reporting any actual alarms. So, I put in a call for service to the company who we contract with to silence an unhappy panel.

After verifying that she was talking with an authorized idiot, this nice representative from the panel maker, walked me through some different prompts to mute the beep. Like a stubborn child rebelling against a parent, the beep wasn’t cooperating.

I asked if we could take the system off line until a technician could arrive, but that option would not bring quietness. So, a ticket was written for a technician to battle the panel. I thanked the representative for her help, and let her move on to another beeping customer.

I thought to myself, no duct tape application here, but maybe I should go to the tool shed and grab the sledge hammer. I’ll bet that will silence the uncooperative beeping panel. But, the rational part of my brain talked me out of that option.

However, my internal voice told me I should check the mechanical rooms and the room that houses the sprinkler system controls. I let Kim know that a technician for the panel had been requested, and I told her I was going to make sure the mechanical rooms were ok.

In the Trinity Hall mechanical room, all appeared fine until I looked a little closer. I saw two puddling streams of water going in different directions. My eyes scanned further to confirm that the 65 gallon hot water heater was leaking. 

Not seeing any obvious leaks at any connections, I went to my knees and looked under the tank. There I saw the dripping. Not thinking about where I was, I rose quickly pivoted around, took a couple of steps, and clunk. The top of my head collided with the bottom of a low hanging relief valve.

At that very moment, God was not pleased with my choice of words.

Immediately,  alarms were beeping in heaven—we have a head clunk language violation transmitting from 903 Forest Avenue.  It is a name in vain breech. This is lifetime name in vain breech 6,771 for William Avery Pike, Jr. 

The non-Sunday school language continued as I exited the mechanical room. I could sense a warm oozing on the top of my head. I hustled back to the church office, grabbed some paper towels, and put slight pressure on the point of the collision.

Kim took a look at the cut, and confirmed it wasn’t deep enough to merit a trip to the emergency room. With the bleeding under control, I walked toward the Eaton Hall mechanical room. More good news awaited me there as I noted the steam boiler for the Sanctuary was in alarm. 

I told myself to check it later, and I headed toward the control room for the sprinkler system in the basement of the Preschool. Thankfully, this system was working properly.

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.”

At this point, I headed home to cleanup the valve cut and to eat breakfast. 

Back at church, we loaded the pickup truck from Friday’s food collection to deliver to the Welborne food pantry.

Good news, the fire panel technician had arrived. He found a circuit that had decided to misbehave. The technician was working his magic to bring the rebellious circuit back on line.

At some point in the early afternoon, a loud pop was heard coming from the copying room. With the pop, we lost internet service to our building. Kim put in a call to the company who takes care of our technology.

When their technician arrived, he discovered the backup battery system for the server had decide to croak. The technician was able to reroute some power connections to the server, and in a few sluggish seconds the internet service returned to the building.

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.”

I spent the remainder of my afternoon prepping for the monthly Trustees’ meeting at 5:30. Since the arrival of our pal the pandemic, the Trustees have been meeting via Zoom. 

By 7, the Trustees meeting had come to a conclusion. The swirl of topics, discussions, and decisions had my clunked old noggin even more— it was running on empty.

I was ready to go home.

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.”

Monday gets a bad rap. Things can go wrong on any day of the week.

A beeping panel, a leaking hot water heater, a head clunk, a boiler in alarm, and a backup battery expiring are nothing compared to what some people experience during the course of a day.

Right now, there is a person out there beeping just like that fire alarm panel.

That human being is beeping because their internal circuits are on overload.

Every problem in that old church building today had a solution—the help from another human being.

Sometimes, God clunks our noggins to help us to see and understand—this world is still upside down. As badly as we want it, normal is still a long way off.

Getting to normal depends on us. It means taking God’s clunks, his reminders, as a way to find those people in our community who are beeping. 

God needs us to work cooperatively, he needs us to work smarter, he needs us to help those who are beeping. 

Be ready, the next God clunk might be for you.

My friend the relief valve Photo by Bill Pike

God doesn’t like us

A little after 5:30 on March 28, Palm Sunday, I arrived at Trinity United Methodist Church. This morning at 9 we were holding our first outdoor worship service since the pandemic slammed our doors shut.

Lots of planning, thinking, teamwork, and communication had gone into the logistics for this service. There was an edge of nervousness among the staff. And of course for outdoor events, weather conditions are the pivot point.

This morning, I had some basic early staging that needed to be done. Placement of traffic cones, tables for checking in the congregation, that included COVID-19 protocols, and chalking the designated parking spaces/pods where families would gather during the service.

Our communication specialist had worked hard to make the technology easy for our congregation to reserve a pod. If needed, this also included a simple step for cancelling the reservation.

The staging was going well. I even chatted with a couple of early morning walkers from the neighborhood. They were curious about why an ancient geezer was rambling around in a parking lot before sunrise.

My old brain kept running through my checklist—tent, trash bags, chalk, podium, palm crosses, hand truck, extension cords,  and raindrops.

Yes, a few raindrops fell just before I started chalking the pods. But, as I finished the chalking, I heard something I didn’t want to hear—the rumble of thunder.

I checked the National Weather Service’s radar site, and immediately texted our son, the weather expert in our family.

Shortly, he texted back. A cell of heavy rain was tracking toward the church. But, there was good news, once this cell passed we looked to be rain free.

I called our senior pastor. We agreed to keep moving forward. I let our communication specialist know that we were still holding the service.

The clock was ticking, and the most critical piece of setting up was still to be completed—the sound system. When our modern worship leader and his wife arrived, the rain was coming down steadily. Inside, we did some staging of equipment and waited.

I rechecked with our son. He told me the cell had grown, intensified. But, he still believed that we could make it—I wasn’t so sure.

The rain was now coming down in buckets. Sharp lightning flashed through the windows in the Welcome Center where I waited. I put in a second call to our senior pastor. When he answered I told him—“I don’t think God likes us.” He laughed, and probably because of some heavenly connection, the service was still a go.

Gradually, the rain stopped. In an adrenaline fed frenzy, check-in tables were dried, pods re-chalked, a tent and sound system were set up, and we started.

The service worked out.  Maybe God does like us. 

 But, there are times I wonder how he could like us at all? What must he think as he looks down upon us?

We are a mess. Part of me believes the world has always been a wreck. In some ways, Holy Week confirms this. 

I will confess I don’t know that I fully understand the logic of God’s thinking. Sacrificing his son is a tough sell for me. Especially, when I know how hard his son worked to teach us about love.

I’ll leave Holy Week to the theologians and preachers to debate.

And perhaps, this is part of my struggle with Easter. I hold out every Easter for its hope. It is the same hope that I hold out for at Christmas too. 

 Hope that maybe, just maybe, we will wake up, and realize—you, me, we, us, America, the world, we can’t keep living this way.

This senseless disrespect and loss of human life is all around us. The tragic pain of these losses crushes the hearts of families everyday.

We can’t continue to blink and be numb to these foolish losses. 

Yes, I’m pretty sure at times God doesn’t like us.

But deep inside God’s heart, he too holds out for hope. 

Hope that somehow, someway, we will wake up, and collectively say enough.

And when we finally say enough, maybe then we will be ready to reteach, retool our hearts to love.

One of my favorite songwriters is a Methodist minister, Drew Willson. 

His song, “But We Could Love” acknowledges our differences, but offers a solution:

   “From the ground of all our being

    to the fabric up above, we cannot think alike,

    no, we cannot think alike, but we could love,

    we could love.”

Yes, we could love.

We’ve known about love for a long time.

No more stalling.

The time is now. 

We should love.

Trinity UMC Richmond, Virginia Easter 2020 photo by Bill Pike

College basketball=madness for coaches

In 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented basketball. He had been give an assignment at Springfield College in Massachusetts to create an indoor sport for the season of winter.

Much like the Wright Brothers with their airplane, I suspect Dr. Naismith would be amazed to see how his game has evolved.

Basketball is played around the world—indoors, outdoors— in backyards, playgrounds, parks, gymnasiums, and oversized arenas.

Children start playing at an early age. A few will develop the skills needed to play collegiately and professionally.

Forever locked in my brain is that spring afternoon when two of my fourth grade classmates, Johnny Huffman and Tommy Hinson, introduced me to basketball. 

Since that introduction, I have been hooked, a fan— especially for the college game.

I have attended games in person and watched many on television. Sometimes, when watching a game on television, my wife has issued me a technical foul and banned me from the den. She had just cause. A grown man should not be shouting unflattering words at a unresponsive television when his team is losing.

We all know about the madness created in March with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But, there are other levels of madness that college basketball creates too.

The pursuit to win pushes coaches and their staffs to travel all over the world to recruit and sign the best players. Sometimes, recruiting becomes mired in broken promises, shady transactions, and investigations that ruin lives.

Coaching a men’s college basketball team is dangerous work. A coach puts his livelihood in the hands of 17, 18, and 19 year old college students to win games. Even if a coach compiles a winning record during his tenure, those wins might not satisfy impatient alumni. 

If a coach can’t consistently guide his teams into the madness of the NCAA tournament to pursue winning the national championship, his job might be in jeopardy. Often, that’s when alumni become agitated and start the drumroll of grumbling to athletic directors.

Every March there is a carousel of coaches who are fired or whose contracts are bought out. Just ask Steve Wojciechowski and Archie Miller who were this season head coaches at Marquette and Indiana.

In seven years at Marquette and four years at Indiana the teams of both coaches compiled winning records. Both schools have a rich history of college basketball success. 

In that history each school has won the national championship and competed in the  NCAA tournament multiple times. But neither Wojciechowski or Miller in their tenure was able to consistently bring their teams into the NCAA tournament to pursue the national championship.

Wojciechowski was fired, and Archie Miller on paper became a millionaire.

Grumpy alumni at Indiana stroked checks in the amount of $10.3 million so that the athletic director could buy out his contract and fire Coach Miller.

This contract buyout makes me think about students and professors at Indiana University.

I wonder how students at the school who struggle with food insecurity feel about this million dollar buyout?

 How about students who are not on scholarship? Many of these students like their parents at home are working multiple part-time jobs to cover the costs of college.

And don’t forget that university professor who teaches his/her heart out everyday. That same professor fights for funding to sustain critical research.

Where is the leadership of university presidents in the firing and buyouts of coaches? Do they have a voice? Or do the deep pockets of prominent alumni do the speaking for them?

Dr. Naismith invented a beautiful game. But recently, the beauty of the game is being tarnished by the desire to win at all cost— no matter how many dollars it costs to win.

Perhaps, there is a simple solution—a one year contract. 

Maybe university athletic directors and presidents should research Walter Alston. 

Mr. Alston managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for over twenty years. Every contract he signed with the Dodgers was for one year. During that time span, Mr. Alston’s teams won seven National League pennants and were World Series champions four times.

Despite its maddening flaws, college basketball still captures my attention.

However, I remain dismayed at the multiple layers of madness it causes in its pursuit to win.

When will university presidents and athletic directors collectively say enough?

Maybe saying enough to this coaching madness can be found in a quote from Winston Churchill: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.”

University presidents and athletic directors, this coaching madness needs some courage.

A beautiful, but maddening game photo by Bill Pike

Hairy bittercress, a woodpecker, duck toots, and laughter

I recently heard my church friend, Dr. Art Charlesworth, a university professor state these words:  “perfection is boring.”

He cited an example of a gifted musician performing a newly written song in a concert. At some point, the musician botched up the lyrics and had to pause.

But, Dr. Charlesworth also referenced his own pursuit of perfection related to technology. 

He was counting on technology to start a class for his students, but something wasn’t working properly. In a panic, he reached out to university staff and friends who frantically offered suggestions. None of the suggestions worked until someone wisely told him—“reboot your computer.”

For various reasons, we all pursue perfection.

I pursue perfection with my lawn. Right now that perfection is being ruined with a pesky, pesty weed—hairy bittercress. The bad thing about this nuisance is its seed pod. When the seed is mature, the pod fires out into the lawn like a rocket blast.

We have a woodpecker who is pursuing the perfection of claiming his territory and searching for a mate with the arrival of spring.

As the first rays of sunlight crest into our neighborhood, this wacky woodpecker lands on the metal cap of our chimney that serves our den. 

With the same fierceness of tapping into the cobbled bark of a pine tree, this woodpecker attacks that metal cap. This beak hitting metal sound is like a jack hammer pounding asphalt.

 After several rounds of metallic tapping, the woodpecker lets out a bellowing squawk as if announcing—“ok ladies I’m here, I own this section of Rollingwood.” And then the rapid fire tapping returns its sound reverberating through the den. 

I think to myself with all the energy Woody is using trying to attract a Woodette, if he happens to get lucky, I’m wonder if he says to her when she arrives—“I’m sorry, but I have a headache.”

Oh, the pursuit of perfection.

During the pandemic, the Commander Supreme and I have been Zooming with our cherished group of college friends. We Zoom once about every two weeks on Sunday afternoons. 

Butch, Dan, Doug, the two Steves, and I have been through a lot in the fifty years we have known each other. But somehow, through the good and the bad, the guys, our spouses, significant others, children, grandchildren, and pets have held together.

Perfection is part of those conversations. It is still a part of our DNA for lots of different reasons. But, I sense that each of us in our on unique way is coming to grips with the imperfections of aging—our health both physical and mental.

A recent call had an animal theme. 

Doug had recently adopted a little dog named Corky. Yadkinville Steve had adopted a big cat named Todd, and Butch shared with us a recent encounter with a drink named a Duck Fart.

While we were all eager to learn about Corky and Todd, that drink  name made all of us ducklings a bit curious.

If you have experienced a difficult day, and you sense an urgent need to forget that day, I think a Duck Fart within a few seconds would erase that day, and probably the last twenty years.

The duck fart is a layered shot of dark Patron tequila, Crown Royal, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

The next time our college friends can safely schedule an in person gathering, we will be sampling the Duck Fart. And, I’m sure for those who partake— nap time will arrive quickly.

And now, I have a confession, I love my college pals, and as heartfelt and honest as those conversations can be, I need those Zoom chats for one very simple selfish reason—those calls make me laugh—sometimes to the point of tears.

No matter who or where the humor comes from I need that laugh. We know each other so well that the humor usually comes from our own self-deprecation or gentle pokes at each other, and at the bottom of that laughter is something priceless— love.

I treasure that laughter. 

For in that laughter in those few brief ticks of time, the world goes away. Its troubles, fears, worries, anxieties— vanish. This relief comes as my ears ring with the priceless sound of laughter.

If God gave us laughter, I am grateful.

But, I’m even more grateful for the love and laughter from our college pals. In its own unique way that laughter has sustained us.

If “perfection is boring”— then laughter is an imperfect perfection for our souls.

And God knows all of our souls need to laugh.

Author’s note: On Sunday, March 28, Might Be Baloney enjoyed post number 200 on our WordPress site. I want to thank my family, relatives, friends, and strangers who have patiently put up with my posts since 2017. I am honored that you take the time to read the posts, and even more appreciative when you comment with encouraging words. A special thanks to our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who completed the template for the blog. Please check out some of her photography on the site. Many thanks, and the photo is of the pesty, pesky weed Hairy Bittercress by Bill Pike.

“senseless”

On the evening of Friday, February 26, a spectator who wanted to enter the gym to watch a high school basketball game failed to comply with a request to wear a mask.

For whatever reason, John Shallerhorn took exception to the request. A confrontation took place between Mr. Shallerhorn and a school staff member. 

Tulane University Police Officer, Martinus Mitchum, who was working security for the game went to assist. Apparently, Officer Mitchum was able to get Mr. Shallerhorn out of the gymnasium. 

At that point, Mr. Shallerhorn pulled out a gun and shot Officer Mitchum in the chest. Transported to a local hospital, the officer later died from the wounds.

Tulane University Police Chief Kirk Bouyelas called Officer Mitchum’s death—“senseless and tragic.”

When I served as an assistant principal at a large suburban high school, attending athletic events was one of my responsibilities. The purpose was to keep an eye on the spectators. Police officers worked those events with us too. Rarely, did we have to call on them to assist us. 

Clearly, our high school athletic events were not trouble free. But usually,  spectators complied with reasonable request made by school personnel.

I wonder if Officer Mitchum would still be alive if Mr. Shallerhorn had complied with the request to wear a mask?

I also wonder if and when America will become tired of these “senseless” murders?

When are we going to say enough, and help people figure out that there are other ways to solve problems instead of pulling out a gun and taking a person’s life.

Sadly, I’m not sure Americans want to bring an end to gun violence.

We appear to have grown accustom to this pattern of disrespecting human life. In 2020, over 19,000 Americans died from gun violence.(Gun Violence Archive)

Just think of the impact of those losses.

 Life is forever changed for the trigger puller and the person killed by the bullets. Families and friends of these men must respond to the challenge of trying to put their own lives back together. 

Attempting to put lives back together in a tragedy like this is almost impossible. 

Sadly, I have seen first hand this excruciating pain. Close friends from college lost their youngest son to a “senseless” murder at the hands of a stranger. Almost two years after this tragedy, their hearts, their emotions, their souls have not healed. 

In all of those athletic events I worked, I noticed a difference about nightfall and daylight. A handful of times a severe, late fall thunderstorm would force football game officials to postpone the game for that night. 

 Usually, the game was rescheduled for the next day to be played in daylight on a pretty Saturday afternoon. Those Saturday afternoon games were as calm as a church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

To me the difference in setting between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon was the darkness. There is something about darkness, the cover it provides, that seemingly makes a person a bit more brazen.

I wonder what made Mr. Shallerhorn, the trigger puller, so brazen on this evening at a New Orleans high school? What darkness snapped inside of him?

According to media reports, he had some prior skirmishes in not complying with laws in our society. After killing Officer Mitchum, police officials learned that before Mr. Shallerhorn entered the gym, he robbed a person of a gold chain. The victim, who was simply sitting in his car, cooperated when Mr. Shallerhorn raised his shirt to expose a gun tucked into his waistband.

Officer Mitchum was described by colleagues as a “dedicated police professional who had a heart of service for the Tulane community.” With no hesitation, Officer Mitchum’s dedicated heart of service responded to the school staff person in need. 

I assume countless times in his career Officer Mitchum’s heart of service had responded to similar circumstances. But, on this evening, he encountered the wrong heart. A heart that for whatever reason did not stop to think before pulling the trigger.

Every community in America has a Mr. Shallerhorn and an Officer Mitchum.

And every community in America has these sad, senseless, tragic stories left to families to wrestle with in their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Why?

There are many reasons.

But ask yourself this— why is America very adept at launching billions of dollars into space exploration, but very inept at solving our country’s internal problems?

Seeking solutions for “senseless tragedies” will be tough work.

That tough work is a two way street. Potential solutions must include learning from the troubled heart and the dedicated heart of service.

This is urgent work. 

We can’t delay.

All of our hearts need these “senseless tragedies” to stop.

Writer’s note— news feeds from the Associated Press and assorted New Orleans media outlets were reviewed in preparing this piece. For me my writing start date was 3/5/21. Also, the photograph was taken by me. The handgun pictured belongs to a friend who has the proper training and licensing credentials to own it. Bill Pike

It’s not the parking space, it’s the hospitality

It is a well established fact that even the whisper of the word snow in a weather forecast for the South creates a commotion.

The only good thing about Southern snowstorms is that they are usually short-lived. 

These winter weather blasts, roll in, dump a few inches, repaint the landscape, give children hope for a day off from school, and in a couple days most of the snow minus a stubborn, graying snowman is gone. 

Despite cold temperatures, Sunday’s snowstorm in Richmond was melting away. It was Tuesday, February 2. Trinity United Methodist Church members Nell Smith, Catherine McSorley, and I were waiting on our church grounds to meet a representative from a local sign company at 12 noon.

After a long Methodist slog through samples and budgets, all of our antiquated interior signage was gone. Replaced with sleek, simple new signs strategically positioned so that guests, visitors, strangers in a strange land can find their way in the maze of our building.

Now, we were ready to improve the signage on the grounds. The goal the same—help people navigate into the building.

We had a good meeting. 

In less than an hour, we shared our opinions, learned about sight lines, proper placement of signs, and value engineering. We left the representative with all of the requirements for the project so that he could develop a plan to meet our needs.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this meeting centered upon parking spaces for visitors, who are now called guests, but who in most cases are strangers to our grounds and building.

Since our meeting, I’ve thought quite a bit about our discussion related to designating the best parking spaces on the grounds for visitors, guests, or strangers. And, I’ve concluded that special parking spaces for visitors, guests, or strangers aren’t needed. 

No, there is something much more important needed for visitors, guests, and strangers, and that is hospitality.

As I was writing this piece, I highlighted the word hospitality, and my computer produced this definition:  The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of visitors, guests, and strangers.

Churches come in all kinds of sizes and shapes. 

But no matter the size or shape of your church, the most valuable asset in that building and on those grounds are the congregation.

And one of the most critical pieces of work done by a congregation is hospitality. A congregation must at all times be prepared to offer a friendly and generous reception to visitors, guests, and strangers.

Churches who do not have the capacity to offer this essential hospitality might as well shut their doors, turn off the lights, and contract with a local relator to sell the place.

I’m not spouting anything new here. This isn’t rocket science thinking. 

And, yes I know my tone is a bit harsh.

But in truth, the survival, the future of the church really depends upon how a congregation connects with visitors, guests, and strangers.

Well before COVID-19 paralyzed us, churches were struggling. In many instances, hanging by their fingernails, just waiting for someone to push them off the edge of the ledge into the church graveyard.

It will be interesting to see if churches learn from COVID-19. 

Will they return to the same predictable paralysis that they stubbornly held on to before the pandemic? 

 Or, will churches have the courage to take a look in the mirror, and say we need to make some changes, if we don’t, we’re dead.

Churches talk about being welcoming, welcoming to all. I think the question I have for churches about being welcoming to all is simply this—do we really mean it?

For sure having proper  signage in place is an essential piece for helping visitors, guests, and strangers to find their way about a church. 

But, the most critical piece of that way finding is the people connector. 

Can a congregation step out of their comfort zones, their familiar patterns of friends, and consistently welcome the newcomers? 

Like a paint brush stroke, a southern snowstorm can in a few hours transform a landscape. 

But transforming the thinking of a congregation about hospitality isn’t always a brush stroke or a quick hitting flurry of snowflakes. 

On December 31, 1967 on Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin the National Football League championship game was played between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. This game has been labeled the Ice Bowl because of the weather conditions.

According to the National Weather Service, at kickoff the temperature was minus 13 degrees below zero, and the wind chill was calculated at 36 degrees below zero. The field was frozen.

Over time, sportswriters have called this one of the greatest games in the long history of the National Football League.

On a last second play, Packer’s quarterback, Bart Starr, squeezed into the end zone scoring the game winning touchdown.

When Pride Still Mattered is a book written byDavid Maraniss that takes a detailed look at the life and career of Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi. Chapter 24 titled Ice gives readers lots of insights about that famous game.

In the post-game press conference, legendary Packers coach Lombardi, told the media that the story of the game wasn’t him and his decision making. 

He nodded to the adjacent locker room where the players were trying to reclaim their bodies from the brutal weather conditions. In Lombardi’s mind the victory came from the players and something the coach referenced in his speeches as “character in action.”

Sports announcer Ray Scott in Maraniss’ book described that last downfield drive by the Packers to score the winning touchdown as “character in action.” That group of determined players moved confidently downfield, and Scott felt what he saw in that drive was “the triumph of will over adversity.”(Maraniss 426)

Churches are not immune from adversity. But how churches respond to adversity is important. 

Post COVID-19 might just be the time for churches to relaunch to reconnect with communities and individuals who have been hurt by the pandemic in countless ways.

In order to make those connections, congregations can’t ignore hospitality.

Irregardless of signage, congregations must feel and sense what it is like to be a stranger in a strange parking lot, sanctuary, fellowship hall, classroom, or corridor. 

And in those critical moments of awkwardness, a congregation must embrace “character in action” with friendly and generous hearts, hearts that can put that stranger at ease.

Forget the parking spots for visitors, guests, and strangers. 

Make sure your interior and exterior signage works. 

But, do not neglect hospitality. 

Put your “character into action” and remember these important words: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2.

Old sign in church parking lot photo by Bill Pike

Extra Weight

I didn’t like what I saw on the National Weather Service’s map—ice storm warning.

 Snow and sleet can be pesky winter time pests, but freezing rain in my old brain is the worst type of frozen precipitation.

Freezing rain glazes all surfaces with a coating of ice, and it does not take much of a coating to reek havoc.

The worst of that havoc is for trees and power lines. 

As the rain drops fall they freeze when they hit that 32 degree or below surface. Each little drop continues to add to the thickness of the ice. That build up of ice adds extra weight.

 At some point, the tree or the power line can’t handle the stress of this seemingly harmless clear coating of ice, and they snap. When tree limbs and power lines decide to snap, the outcome usually isn’t a good one.

This was to be the story for Richmond starting on the evening of Thursday, February 11. 

First, the storm gave us a cold rain. This was followed by a round of sleet, and then the sleet converted to snow. A few inches of snow piled up before the snow stopped, and the freezing rain took over.

All day Friday into Friday night, and late into Saturday afternoon, the gentle rain and mist provided its coating of ice.

My wife and I knew that our pretty tree lined neighborhood was well known for losing power in all kinds of weather environments. Once the remnants of a hurricane toppled a massive oak in our front yard. From that fall, we were lucky— no loss of life or injuries, and property damage was minimal. 

So through Friday and into Saturday and Sunday, we were on edge just knowing that in a quick blink we would lose power. A couple of times, we experienced the fearful flicker, but surprisingly, we never lost power during this storm.

In our own yard, we heard the crackle of two large magnolia limbs fall from our east side neighbor’s tree into our backyard. 

On Sunday morning, we heard the sound of the quick whoosh and thud of something bigger than a tree limb falling. We scurried to different windows to peer into the glazed gray and white landscape, but did not see a fallen tree.

Our oldest daughter and her family in Summerfield, North Carolina lost power. She sent pictures of fallen trees and crews working to clear trees and raise power lines back to their normal height. That included a couple of photos of our two grandchildren bundled up in their 50 degree house.

Local media gave the same accounting here— auto accidents, trees down, power lines down, internet out, and no heat. 

And in those miserable conditions, utility crews are using their expertise and training to safely restore power. Safety is the key word for them. 

This is dangerous work even in good conditions. And while customers grow impatient with the inconvenience, these workers know their protocols, and they know— shortcuts are not an option.

I waited until Monday morning to clear off our cars and to remove  snow and ice from our driveway and sidewalks. I was amazed at how thick the ice was on the snow covered cars.

 I used the handle of a broom to crack its surface. And that thickness of the ice glaze could also be seen on tree limbs and shrubbery.

For sure this crystal glazing was pretty, but it is an unwanted disruption too. 

With the cars clear, I walked up to Trinity to check on the church. The walk down Stuart Hall Road didn’t reveal much. Near the creek and off into Francisco Road I could hear the hum of generators. 

The church held up well—a couple of large pine branches had snapped. Luckily, they fell and landed harmlessly. Without a doubt pines and magnolias struggled with the extra weight of the ice as did all kinds of green shrubbery.

Sometimes like pine and magnolia trees in an ice storm, you, me, we, us struggle with extra weight. That coating of additional weight can wear us down.

That additional weight could be attempting to manage the physical weight of our bodies. We ignore our internal voice—get off the couch, don’t have that second piece of cake, and we block out the words from our doctor—you need to drop a few pounds.

But, life creates other weighty burdens for us too. 

Sometimes, we are blindsided by a burden.  

Sometimes, our procrastination catches up with us. 

Sometimes, the stress of a burden can make us physically ill.

Struggling with the weight of a burden can deplete our hope.

Depletion of hope isn’t good for anyone.

At some point in this stretch of winter weather, our youngest daughter lamented the gray no sunshine days.

I remember a handful of times on commercial airline flights taking off in dismal gray weather. As the pilots guided the plane through this thick cloud deck, I was always surprised to find the brightness of the sun above that layer of nimbostratus clouds.

I told Elizabeth, just remember above those clouds somewhere the sun is shining, and that is something to hold on to.

When life adds extra weight, we look for something to hold on to, something to support us, steady us, give us balance, stability.

That support might come from a friend, a stranger, or maybe the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. 

The widow never “lost heart.”

When the ice storms of life burden us with extra weight, remember the sun is out above the gray—don’t lose heart.

Ice storm coatings 2/15/21 photo by Bill Pike

Heart work: “deliver us from evil”

Ever had these words burn your ears—“I’m disappointed in you.”

I know my ears have been seared by that statement.

Many times in my life, I have disappointed people with a poor choice or decision.

I am imperfect. 

In some instances, my lousy thinking wounded hearts and souls.

My old brain will not let me forget the hurts I caused.

Forgiveness is a tough wrestle.

Honestly, I wrestle with lots of things on a daily basis. I imagine that you do too.

Somedays,  I wrestle with God.

Often, I wonder if I’m really wrestling with the devil?

I wrestle with procrastination.

I wrestle with the internal voice in my body—especially about aging.

I wrestle with worry— my most persistent pest.

I wrestle with the future for our grandchildren.

And in truth for a long, long, long time I have been wrestling with America.

Lately, that wrestling has been over our division. I’m afraid our division is our end.

What has happened to us?

It appears that we have lost our capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.

Not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an American the insurrection in January was wrong.

Why is this so hard for some Americans to reason out?

But even more disturbing to me was the outcome of the second impeachment trial. 

Again, why were the choices made by our former president so hard for elected officials to reason out?

Seven Republican senators recognized the truth and voted for impeachment. Afterwards, some were censured by their state supporters for doing the right thing.

Even more troubling is my hunch. 

I sense the elected officials who voted against impeachment really knew in their hearts that the former president was guilty. But, they put blinders on their hearts blocking out that capacity to see the truth of his errors.

In the second season of the Andy Griffith Show, there is an episode titled—A Medal For Opie

In this episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor’s son, Opie, trains for a race in a local event. Opie is optimistic that his training, including encouragement from his father and Deputy Fife will help him to win the race, and earn his heart’s desire— a medal.

Opie finishes last. He is crushed.

Instead of joining the celebration of his friends who finished better than he did, Opie mopes off and leaves the event. This wandering off catches the eye of his father.

Later in the day, a dejected Opie is questioned by his father about his decision to leave. It is quite a conversation. 

Opie stubbornly holds on to his logic—“his friends defeated him, they took his medal, they are not his friends.”

Andy is focusing on the basics of sportsmanship—“how to lose with courage and dignity by congratulating those who performed better.”

Opie is unbending in his assessment of the event. He refuses to accept Andy’s logic. 

Sensing they are at a stalemate, Andy leaves Opie to ponder these piercing words—“I want you to know one thing—I’m disappointed in you.”

I do not always understand my country. And despite my country’s imperfections, I love my country. 

But, right now, more than in other time in my life I am disappointed in my country.

I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer.

Recently, I have thought quite a bit about these words from that prayer—“deliver us from evil.”

I think the “evil” in America is this division we have inside us.

I wonder if we have the fortitude to confront the division in a reasonable way so that we come to our senses?

I wonder who is going to deliver us from this division, this evil?

Some might think God will deliver us. 

Some might think this whole mess— the pandemic, social injustice, and the insurrection is all part of God’s attempt to wake us up.

I’ll leave that to you to sort out. But, you know—we can’t even agree on how we interpret the Bible.

One thing is certain, we can’t hope to work through these challenges if we continue to betray our hearts.

Delivering us from our evil is heart work.

The blinders betraying our hearts need to be removed.

America can’t continue with this disappointing evil division.

We must invest in the hard work of changing our hearts—now.

We are better than this.

 Our hearts know it, and so does God.

Delivering us from evil comes down to this—can we rediscover and put to work the love that God built into our hearts?

As 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us, God did not put us here to be timid.  He built us and our hearts to use his “strength, love, and self-control” for challenges like this.

Delivering us from evil, pushing back this debilitating division—can that be done?

Yes, but I must embrace that “strength, love, and self-control”.

What am I waiting for?

Shouldn’t I be tired of disappointing God?

How about you?

Mammoth Lakes, California in the Eastern Sierra mountains August 13, 2018 photo by Bill Pike

Welcome to the ACC, Commissioner Jim Phillips

Commissioner Jim Phillips welcome to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The dynamics of a move, the transition from one part of America to another is always interesting for a person and their family. I hope this change is going well.

My hunch is you will welcome a break from Chicago winters. I suspect you will chuckle quite a bit at how we Southerners have panic attacks when snow is forecasted. In that flurry of hysteria, bread and milk producers laugh all the way to the bank.

Additionally, I would advise you not to get tangled up in any in state geographical squabbles about North Carolina barbecue. Here is my advice—forget the barbecue, focus on the peach cobbler with a monster scoop of vanilla ice cream from Homeland Creamery.

Here is some more geographical advice as you learn about the state. Let a North Carolina raised professor of linguistics instruct you on how to properly pronounce— Mebane, Beaufort, and Conetoe.

And while we are focusing on the importance of geography, here is a bit of wisdom about the ACC men’s basketball tournament. This advice comes from Floyd’s Barber Shop just up the road in Mt. Airy— the ACC men’s basketball tournament should only be played in Greensboro, North Carolina—nowhere else.

I’m sure the orientation about the league from ACC staffers has been thorough for you. However, in not wanting to run you off, I suspect the staff or former Commissioner Swofford, have delayed discussing with you the following file—  ACC Security CONFIDENTIAL: The Wacko From Virginia.

Commissioner Phillips, I’m that wacko. 

You see I grew up just a stone’s throw away in Burlington. My affection for basketball and the ACC started in the fourth grade. 

I have a deep respect for the courage and the vision of the leaders from the original schools who founded the conference. As I’m sure you are aware that birthing took place in Greensboro in 1953.

 Well before the concept of branding,  the conference created a highly respected brand. Grounded in that respect was a collective desire to construct a tournament that was unique and durable.

This cherished tournament has served as a model for others across America. Replicating the ACC tournament really isn’t possible. Here are some reasons that come to mind—the quality of the players and coaches, the loyalty of the fans, and most important—the character of the citizens of Greensboro and their leaders. 

I have always struggled with the geographical expansions implemented by the league. In my old brain expanding a league is only about branding and that troublesome green stuff. 

And I think that is why Greensboro is so important to the tournament. Greensboro might not be as alluring as other cities, but Greensboro understands the essentials of hosting and hospitality. 

Greensboro knows the lineage, the heritage, and Greensboro knows that the focus should be on basketball—not a push to expand the brand in cities that really have no relationship with the league.

 My logic might not play well with some, and I understand. But, Greensboro is the pulse, the heart—the city that has helped to frame the success of the tournament. If allowed, I believe Greensboro is positioned to take the tournament deep into the future.

That confidential file about me will probably tell you that I am still a fan of the long gone, but not forgotten Andy Griffith Show. A character from the show Ernest T. Bass occasionally comes into Mayberry from the hills and disrupts the town’s tranquility.  

Now, Ernest T. is long gone, but I need to alert you— his ghost is still around. I’m told his ghost gets mighty riled up when the ACC tournament isn’t played in Greensboro. 

Because of the pandemic, it was a wise move to bring the tournament from Washington back to Greensboro this year. Intelligence reports indicated that Mr. Bass was well prepared to invade the Capital One Arena.

I want you to be successful as commissioner. But, in order to be successful, you do not want to irritate Ernest T.

Veteran security analyst lose sleep trying to figure out how to contain his clever ability to disrupt in any environment. However, there is a simple solution—keep the tournament in Greensboro.

I think Commissioner Swofford knew in his heart that the tournament should be in Greensboro. Heck, four of the original founding schools are located in North Carolina. 

That is an important part of the league’s legacy, and that foundation should be a part of the chapters yet to be written.

 Commissioner Phillips during your tenure, we are going to learn a lot about the leadership in your heart. I hope your heart will come to understand that Greensboro is the logical location for the tournament.

Greensboro!

Author’s note:  This piece was submitted to the Greensboro News and Record as an op-ed. To my knowledge, the editors for the paper chose not to take it. I’m sure they have good reasons. However, if you would like to share the piece with ACC fans who believe Greensboro should be the permanent home of the ACC men’s basketball tournament feel free to share it. Be safe, Bill Pike