MIA: rəˈspekt, ri-ˈspekt

Over the last few weeks, the following news headlines have caught my attention:

  • Vancouver Island, Canada as reported by CTV:  Mounties in British Columbia release image of man wanted for urinating on Dairy Queen counter after mask dispute
  • Tuscon, Arizona as reported by the Washington Post:  A school ordered a student to quarantine. His dad and two men confronted the principal with zip ties, official says.
  • Flushing Meadows, New York home of the US Open tennis tournament as reported by the Daily Skimm:  American star tennis player, Sloane Stephens, who is black, opened up about the over 2,000 threatening and racist messages she’s received since losing in this year’s US Open.
  • Gulfport, Mississippi as reported by Bill Chappell for NPR:  A Man Who Accosted A TV Reporter Covering Hurricane Ida Faces Assault Charges
  • Across America as reported by Carolyn Thompson for the Associated Press:  As School Board Meetings Get Hostile, Some Members Are Calling It Quits

For me, these headlines are confirmation that no matter where we live— respect is missing in action. Our inability to respect people who serve our public in any capacity is another indication of the unraveling of our basic human decency.

The people in the headlines who encountered these disrespectful behaviors, must feel exactly like comedian, Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line:  “I want to tell you, I get no respect.”

Just like I do not understand how a terrorist can strap on a suicide bomb, I do not understand how a customer can publicly urinate in a store because personnel asked him to put on a mask.

My wife and I raised three children. Yes, there were times when we did not agree with decisions made by teachers, coaches, and school administrators. However, we never were disrespectful, combative,  or threatening in those situations. 

What was this parent thinking in Arizona? The school is trying to protect the health of your son, and your response is ok principal, my friends and I are going to punish you by restraining you in zip ties—unbelievable.

Without question, technology can be useful. But, when we use our technology to wound a human being with over 2,000 hateful, racist, threatening comments because Sloane Stephens lost a tennis match—this is beyond wrong— it is sickening. And the sad thing about these incidents is the brazen cowards who do this believe what they are doing is fine.

Hurricane Ida has just pounded the Gulf Coast. A reporter is giving an update for a local television station. The reporter and the crew are doing a live broadcast. Out of the blue, a guy from Ohio in a pickup truck stops. He approaches the reporter and starts yapping about how the news is reported. This man keeps yapping, and the reporter and his crew stop the live broadcast because of this misguided intruder.

In your news feeds, if you have not read Associated Press reporter, Carolyn Thompson’s story, about how school board members across America are being treated in public meetings, I encourage you to find the piece and read it. Truthfully, I’m not surprised at her findings, but reading these incidents touched me because I served on our county’s school board for fourteen months.

In my work as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and school board member, I had some bad days—days when my thinking could have been better. In those situations, I deserved criticism. However, in all those years of service, I can recall only a handful of times when I was scorched by another person’s disrespect.

Thanks to my college roommate, I’m currently reading The Called Shot. This book is about the 1932 major league baseball season.

The first chapter focuses on Rogers Hornsby, one of the best players of that era. After the death of his father, Hornsby’s mother moved her family to Ft. Worth, Texas. 

Ft. Worth at the time was a tough cattle town. Work was found in stockyards and slaughterhouses. Author Thomas Wolf describes Ft. Worth as a town with “pervasive wickedness.”

A Baptist minister, Frank Norris, nicknamed the “Texas Cyclone” was determined to reform this den of sin. Preacher Norris took a stand against this lifestyle. For taking his stand, this is how the preacher was treated: February 4, 1912, arsonist destroyed his church, one month later, his parsonage was burned down. (The Called Shot, Wolf, page 16)

America can’t deny that our past, our present, and probably our future is full of stories like the preacher experienced.


Well, that’s like trying to answer a multiple choice question.

Yet, I believe one of the answers is we have lost the internal capacity to respect ourselves. 

Another possibility is that people who are prone to disrespect others might just have a long history of being disrespected in their walk through life.

And there is one more, as we were growing up, being raised, what were we taught about respect? How was respect modeled by the adults in the home?

And here is another one to ponder, churches, houses of worship. 

For many years, people attended church searching for some type of spiritual, emotional nourishment. On Sunday mornings in sanctuaries, preachers could remind us to be kind, loving, caring, respectful. 

That church, the bedrock of community, with its capacity to touch stubborn souls like mine, is now rapidly fading into the landscape of our rearview mirrors.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this line of scripture from 1 Peter 3:8:  “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate, and humble.”

Good advice, but how do you sell it to people who think like this headline:  A Teen Called For Masks In School After His Grandma Died Of COVID— Adults Mocked Him. (NPR 9/10/21)

Grady Knox, a high school student in Rutherford County, Tennessee, had to stop his speech at a school board meeting. Knox, whose grandmother was a former teacher, died from COVID-19. He was urging the school board to implement wearing masks in the school system. 

Adults in the audience “mocked, jeered, heckled, and laughed” at his remarks. (Bill Chappell NPR)

That story only makes me worry more about America. 

And here is what really troubles me.

We all know in our hearts that the disrespect in each of those headlines is wrong, horribly, horribly wrong, and yet the wrong in those headlines continues to rumble across America.

What has and is happening to us?

It is clear to me that disrespect is driving a wedge of separation deeper into our American hearts.

Somehow, America must reasonably find ways to counter this unhealthy separation.

To do this, Americans must find courage in our like-minded silence.

We must nudge ourselves out of our fearful silence.

And the only way to do this is to humbly share our compassion and love with those who have lost the capacity to respect.

Respect can’t continue to be missing in action.

If we are not careful, then America could be missing in action.

Despite all of our imperfections, do we really want our country to become a vanishing speck in the rearview mirror of the world because of our inability to respect and love one another?

I want to believe that deep inside our stubborn, inconsiderate hearts, we know better.

Church and school leaders are you listening?

Without question, COVID-19 and its variant, continue to turn our world upside down. This pandemic has scarred us in ways never imagined.

Longstanding public, nonprofit, and private institutions have been repeatedly punched by COVID-19. Particularly, churches and school systems have been required to counter those multiple hits. For church and school leaders, formulating and implementing a response is challenging work. 

Often in their careers, church and school leaders deal with the unexpected. Yet, I doubt responding to a pandemic was in their preparation to serve the public. From my experiences in schools and a church, the key pivot factor for leaders is always people. 

Schools and churches are people centered. But sometimes,  people are the biggest challenge for pastors and school leaders. Why? No matter the decision— it is impossible to please everyone.

Our church is in the midst of a renovation project. Early on, a large dumpster was placed outside our preschool. 

After an outdoor worship service, one church member quipped— we should put a sign on the dumpster—Suggestion Box. I laughed, and thought— bet our congregation could fill it up. But, then I wondered, how are pastors and school leaders equipped to take suggestions?

Wilson Memorial Chapel in Ocean Point, Maine photo by Bill Pike 9/18/21

Daily, these leaders cull through ship loads of information and suggestions from staff. Communicating and implementing a practical user friendly response can be challenging.

Communication, appears simple, but it’s not. COVID-19 is not user friendly. 

 Thanks to the whims of the virus, a carefully thought out plan for Sunday or Monday can change in a blink.  If we survive this madness, I’m certain post pandemic studies of church and school leaders will reveal sleep deprivation and increased intake of antacids were significant.

Sleep deprivation and heartburn are not limited to leaders. Congregations, students, parents, and teachers aren’t immune from these health concerns. On the surface, these people might appear fine, but a significant undertow is at work—morale.

Morale can’t be overlooked by leaders. 

 “Toughest year of my career” is what a high school teacher told me after a June graduation. I wonder how many other teachers felt the same?

Monhegan School on Monhegan Island, Maine photo by Betsy Pike 9/19/21

Comparably, if pastors were polled, I believe we would hear—“my toughest year as a pastor.”

If it was a tough year for teachers and pastors, think what the year was like for students, parents, and congregations. Mental health and morale wears on the people being served by churches and schools too.

During the pandemic, the infrastructure of technology has helped churches and schools reach their communities. However, technology isn’t a substitute for that most critical infrastructure—human relationships.

We should not be surprised that student test scores from  Virginia’s Standards of Learning are down. Education researchers have documented the significance of the instructional relationship that a teacher develops with a student. Building those relationships within the confines of a computer screen is difficult.

Additionally, no one should be surprised that churches continue to struggle to meet needs of congregations. No matter the quality of an on-line worship service, congregations like students need human interaction. 

So do pastors and school leaders need to have suggestion boxes installed in their buildings? Probably not. 

However, these leaders would be wise to assess their listening skills. In assessing their skills, they should also be asking what mechanisms are in place for congregations, students, parents, and teachers to be heard.

The first step in rebuilding and developing relationships is taking the time to listen. 

Church and school leaders might be surprised with their take aways from interacting with the people they serve. Those take aways can be very valuable with this asking—“don’t tell me what I want to hear, tell me what I need to hear.”

Church and school leaders, listening is an opportunity to learn.  Failure to listen reduces transparency and increases distrust. 

With the uncertainty of COVID-19 still lingering, no leader can afford not to listen.

Atlantic Coast Conference, don’t forget Greensboro’s loyalty

The headline in the August 27 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch stung me:  League weighs move of N.C. HQ. 

Translation— new Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner, Jim Phillips, has authorized a study to determine if Greensboro, North Carolina is worthy to continue as headquarters for the conference.

Since the league’s founding in 1953, Greensboro has been the headquarters. During those 68 years, the original founding universities developed a league that became famous for its college basketball. Eventually, the conference’s tournament became just as prominent with other athletic conferences copying its template.

Much has changed since the founding of the conference. Without question, money has driven the conference to expand. Logical geography hasn’t been a part of inducting new schools into the league. Money, market share, and visibility have even pushed the annual tournament to other cities considered to be more glamorous than Greensboro.

With permission, Commissioner Phillips contracted with two consulting teams to conduct what he calls “a holistic and transparent review” of the conference. A study like this cost lots of pennies, and I wonder if included in the review is an assessment to determine if Commissioner Phillips is of sound mind?

Commissioner Phillips certainly presents himself well in sound bytes and print interviews. But perhaps, adjusting to North Carolina’s summer conspirators of heat, humidity, and dew point, or a sip of some unfiltered high octane moonshine warped his thinking.

I grew up in Burlington. I did not graduate from an ACC school. But, from the first basketball shot I took on the dirt court in my backyard, the league’s teams, players, and coaches never left my heart.

Yes, I agree this is a bold move by the commissioner. It is wise to assess daily operations, assets, and to peer into the future. But, suggesting that Greensboro might not be the best fit for future growth is irresponsible. I guess Bentonville, Arkansas hasn’t been a good fit for Walmart.

Change is always a challenge. No one wants to be pushed out of his/her comfort zone. And while the goal might be to keep these assessments neutral from an emotional stand point, that isn’t possible. Why? People. 

Since 1953, the people of Greensboro have put their hearts and souls into collaboratively constructing with conference leaders a successful league. That history, legacy, hospitality, work ethic,  and support ought to count for something. If these attributes are not taken into fair consideration with the evaluation teams, then their findings will be pointless.

Instead of focusing these assessments on media opportunities, alignment with Fortune companies, corporate sponsorships, branding, and making more money, why not use the studies to help solve challenges the league faces? 

For example, how could the medical schools in the league conduct research to reduce injuries for all athletes? How might athletic directors find ways to reduce the impact of powerful alumni? How could university leaders work to insure that coaches apply integrity and honor in recruiting and developing relationships with student athletes? How can travel costs be reduced?

Perhaps Commissioner Phillips knows of the Wieners Circle, a hotdog stand, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.  While their charbroiled hot dogs are delicious, customers also seem to enjoy the sometimes snarky attitude of their employees, and the profane quirkiness of the messages on the restaurant’s marquee.

What does the Wieners Circle have to do with the ACC?

Truthfully, nothing, except for one critical ingredient—people.

Since 1983, despite snarky employees, and a wacky marquee, people keep coming back to the Wieners Circle—why?

 The answer is grounded in their location, a quality product, and management that understands the pulse of the people they serve.

Comparably, Greensboro is an ideal geographic location, the city offers quality support, and without question the city’s intelligent, visionary, and loyal people have sustained the ACC through a wide range of challenges.

In our fast paced, impatient world, loyalty is often overlooked. In this process, Greensboro’s loyalty can’t be overlooked.

Commissioner Phillips, I hope your heart understands loyalty.

If you need any help in grasping loyalty, you might consider consulting with Bass, Campbell, Fife, Lawson, Pyle, and Taylor in Mt. Airy. They know quite a bit about loyalty.

Commissioner Phillips, leaders are supposed to look forward into the future. It is tough, necessary work.

In doing this work, it is also necessary to understand the heart, the pulse of Greensboro. Greensboro’s heart has always been loyal to the ACC.

The real question is whether your heart believes in Greensboro’s loyalty.

Photo supplied by Bill Pike

We are not all. We are “me”.

I call them early summer morning simmering sinner runs. Thanks to a Bermuda high anchored off the coast, the temperature, humidity, and dew point miserably conspire. From these conspirators, by the end of the run, I am soaked in perspiration. I think this is a good way to get the meanness out of my old body.

With these occasional early morning treks, my mind wanders. I don’t know about you, but I have a weariness in my noggin. I think quite a bit about America, and often, I conclude from “sea to shining sea” we are a mess.

If we really think about it, I don’t believe this is new news. Our struggles are well documented. Despite our good intentions, America has been internally wrestling with itself for a long time. 

I am no historian, but I think quite a bit about World War II and how our country responded to the challenges in Europe and the Pacific. Despite our imperfections during that time, what strikes me was our unity, sacrifice, commitment. 

I often ask myself where are those qualities now? Why don’t we want to defeat COVID-19 with the same determination?

Maybe Asbury Pruitt has some insight on those missing qualities. Mr. Pruitt was one of the Tangier Island watermen in Earl Swift’s book, Chesapeake Requiem. Mr. Pruitt perceived that the waves from the Chesapeake Bay were having an impact on the island’s shoreline.

On January 8, 1964, on the western edge of the island, Mr. Pruitt drove an iron pipe into the marshy ground. Next, he measured the distance from the pipe to where the water lapped against the shoreline.

Each year on January 8, Mr. Pruitt returned to the iron pipe and measured the distance to the waterline. For decades, he measured and recorded his findings. During the first seven years of tracking, Mr. Pruitt found an average of twelve feet of shore was eaten away by the bay. 

In 1974, ten years after the start of his research, the Chesapeake eroded away thirty-seven feet of the island. Personally, I believe a similar type of erosion has been wearing on America. Inch by inch, foot by foot, we have been slipping away from our unity, sacrifice, commitment.

Most obvious in this deterioration is the selfish, stubborn emergence of “me.” “Me” appears to thrive in creating incivility, havoc, disunion. That type of thinking erodes us further away from we and all— the good of the cause.

I try to be an optimistic person. 

But, I really struggle to understand why individuals smarter than me will not take the vaccine. I have the same question for medical personnel, police officers, teachers, firefighters—the backbone of our country who refuse to comply. My guess is that “me” has blurred their ability to reason out the facts and find the truth.

With the opening of school upon us, I do not understand the pushback for requiring students and teachers to wear masks. What doesn’t the “me” in our elected public officials and parents understand about the 647,361 Americans (NYTimes 9/4/21) who have died thanks to COVID-19? Does this mean the “me” in them wants to jeopardize the health of more individuals?

Sadly, even within the holy walls of houses of worship, “me” skirmishes occur over masks and vaccines.

I’ll be honest. There is me in me too. I’m imperfect. I can be stubborn and selfish. 

But, with COVID-19, why can’t we be we and all, not “me”? Where might America be now if “me” had been more compliant with masks and vaccines earlier? 

Before departing on my simmering sinner runs, I record the current weather data including visibility. Most mornings, the visibility is ten miles. Some rare mornings, the visibility falls below ten.

During this battle with COVID-19, I think our vision has been undermined. That makes me think about this quote from Helen Keller:  “Better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing.” 

In responding to COVID-19, the “me” in our current vision is not working. We can’t continue this way.

Asbury Pruitt’s vision and subsequent findings about his cherished island eroding into the Chesapeake were not grounded in “me”. His findings were grounded for the we and all on Tangier.

If we have any chance of defeating COVID-19 like we pushed back our enemies in World War II, we must change the “me” in our hearts to we and all.

A pretty church and our American flag Carpinteria, California 8/8/2018 photo Bill Pike