Hide and Seek

I was taught the goal of hide and seek was to hide and not be found.  However, winning the game wasn’t fun for me.  When I was 5, I was invited to Peter’s birthday party.  We were excited to see a big truck and trailer in the driveway with a pony we could ride.

While we played hide and seek outside, I crouched behind a huge tire under the trailer.  As kids were found, I heard them enjoying the fun of seeking together.  I became the only one left — all alone in my dark hiding place.  Before my friends went in to get cake, Peter called out “Wallis, where are you?  Come out – the game’s over.”  

I jumped up to yell, “Here I am.  I won!  I won!”  But before I yelled, and as I leapt up, I hit my head on the metal guard over the wheel.  I never yelled “I won” because I was ashamed I hit my head.

As I emerged from behind the truck, everyone’s eyes focused on me as their mouths dropped open.  The truck’s metal had gashed the top of my head and blood was running down my side.  While it wasn’t anything like the movie “Carrie” I was bleeding like a head gash does.  I was covered in towels and taken for several stitches.  I was sorry I won; I never got any cake.

I wish I had learned at 5 that I only hurt myself when I’m so competitive, but that painful lesson continues.  I did learn that I have a lot more fun being found than staying hidden.  Years later (maybe due to my early lesson), I’d play over a hundred games of “seek and hide” with my church youth groups.  One kid would go hide and the rest would seek; when you found the kid you hid with him or her.  The game ended when the last one followed the sound of stifled laughter to open a door on 20 youth in a closet.  Being found was a lot more fun than hiding, and we all won together.

In the beginning of my formation story of Genesis, the first question God asks is “Where are you?” The man says, “I was hiding.” When competition led to murder, God asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” One might summarize the rest of the Bible as asking, “Where are you in relation to God?” and “Where are you in relation to your brother/sister/neighbor?”

What are your examples of hiding from the Divine?  When have you hidden from other people?  How do you respond to being found?  In what ways have you joined others in the search for a path to follow?

Authenticity

My brother Baylor is 8 years older than I.  I watched him play Daniel Boone in his elementary school play.  I got his coon-skin cap as a hand-me-down.  When our uncle Wallis emerged from the production he told my family, “Well… I’ve paid more and I’ve seen worse.”  That line was often repeated over the years, including by some who may read this blog – I’ve paid more and I’ve seen worse.

Years later, I was excited to get the lead in my elementary school play.  I told my mom, “Our school is doing ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and I get to play the Emperor!”  “O no you’re not,” she retorted, “I know that story.”  

Thanks to thoughtful teachers and mom’s prodding, the clothes made by the royal tailors weren’t completely invisible.  I wore a pair of black boxer shorts with white polka dots as I paraded through town before a child pointed out what everyone silently knew – that I had no clothes.  I still hear the laughter, and I still don’t know if they were laughing with me, at me, or near me.

My stage career ended in high school.  Our drama teacher cast me in the musical “Lil’ Abner” to play the role of Senator Jack S. Phogbound.  I was a little jealous that my best friend had the larger role of Marryin’ Sam, but I got even by playing his part over a hundred times in years to come in my ministry.  Sen. Phogbound asks the cornpone crowd, “I guess you’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing in Washington these past 18 years…”  Mamie heckles back, “We didn’t care what you was doin’ Jack S. as long as you was there and we was here.”

I guess the two roles I played affected how important authenticity is to me.  In the Enneagram, those who have a four personality value authenticity so much they don’t even see you if you are inauthentic.  I want to learn from them.  I hear Jesus having a lot to say about being authentic with our words and actions since God knows our true self already.  I want to learn from him, too.

I invite you to take some time today to consider the masks you wear and the roles you play in life.  What roles have you been assigned in your family, work, faith community, and other social systems?  How do you discover your true self beneath the parts you play?  What are methods you use to remind you to seek to be authentic?

First Impression

I wonder whether I was a child of the 60’s, but I know I was a child in the 60’s.  On a fall Friday in first grade, my principal Miss Lewis told my teacher Miss Goodwin to tell our class that our president was dead.  I didn’t fully comprehend the impact of the news — as if I could at any age. 

Two days later, as we arrived home from church, dad turned on the TV as we watched the assassin shot dead — live on TV in Texas.  It was a first for both of us.  I noticed the shooter wore a hat just like my dad had worn to church.  I remembered the day before on the same TV I watched the Lone Ranger shoot a bad guy in Texas, but that guy lived.  What really affected me was school was canceled on Monday.

My journey would soon include asking questions and hearing crazy conspiracies until each was quelled with information and experience.  In a decade I’d visit Dallas and remember the grassy knoll as much as I remembered attending the Cowboys-Dolphins Thanksgiving Day game.  I would work hard to control my life, as I realized that the actions of another could change everything in an instant.

Over the decades, as I have witnessed many other unreal events happen before my eyes, I’ve stopped to ask myself: “How are first graders seeing this?”  What impact will this have on their lives?  How will they see the world based on their first impression?  Recently, on the church’s Epiphany Day, I wondered how children will come to view our nation’s capital and what crazy conspiracies they’ll face in their futures.

I’ve heard it said: “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Maybe we get a lifetime of chances to grow beyond it.

Describe a first impression that impacted your life.  How old were you?  How were you affected?  What have you firmly held onto?  How have you grown and changed since then?

Confidence

In 1987 I took a man into my confidence.  He was a member of a church about an hour away and offered to lead a workshop where I served as associate pastor.  The class was about parent and youth communication and I was pleased with what he taught and how well it was received.

When the class was over, we visited over snacks.  He said, “Wally, you should take your youth group on a ski trip.  I’ve been on a few; I’d be glad to help you plan it, and I could even go with you.”  That was the first time I considered using a ski trip to form a community of youth. 

During the decade between his suggestion and the first of our three annual trips, that man served time for a sex crime.  As I attended my first Boundary Training Class for church leaders, his offer to go on a trip with our youth echoed in my ears all day.  Was he being helpful or predatory?  Was he worthy of my confidence or was he a confidence man?  How do I trust but verify the behavior of others? How do I best protect myself and those entrusted to my care?

Experience gives me confidence that one betrayal of trust can have horrific ramifications for persons within a community.  As a church, we set many boundaries to protect children, youth, and the adults who care for them.  When questions arise about why we need protection policies in a church, my mind wanders to what might have occurred.  My mouth says, “we set limits to have the freedom to grow in faith in safety.”

Who are the people who have lived up to the confidence you have in them?  How have you reacted to being betrayed by another?  Where do you go for help when you’ve been hurt?  

Maintain Control

If you’re getting tired of what I learned at Winter Park’s “Ski Improvement Center” in 1997, you can take solace in the fact that, like many sermons, my lesson ended on the third point….. I am not alone on the mountain so “maintain control”! Ignoring nature and people has painful consequences.

I can choose to speed straight down the mountain until a person, tree, rock, or cliff gets in my way, or I can seek to maintain control by skiing side to side across the hill. I learned I didn’t have to sit, flip my skis, and get up (like I did 22 years before). Each ski is designed with an inside edge for slowing and turning. I can practice using the ski’s design to benefit myself and others.

After the lesson, as we waited in line for a lift, we saw a girl lying in pain with the ski patrol helping her. Our teacher pointed to a boy who had just run into her. The hurt girl had been obediently standing in line. The boy, who did not maintain control, now guiltily stood over her, not knowing what to say or do.

My journey down the mountain has sought to follow the path of Jesus. His first lesson in Mark’s gospel was “turn” (metanoia in Greek). My journey includes a myriad of turns. It also includes falling, losing a ski, backtracking up the mountain to retrieve it, and continuing on. My journey toward a destination has sought to learn and use the design of nature for the benefit of myself and others.

What are some major turning points in your life? What painful consequence resulted from ignoring the inside edge design of your “skis”? When have you lost control? How have you sought to maintain control?

Ski at your own Level

For years I would often describe my first ski trip with these words: “I couldn’t ski when I got there; I couldn’t ski when I left; I had a lot of fun in-between.” During my first winter of college, I was at our favorite watering hole called “Moe’s and Joe’s”. Georgia Tech owned the tavern on weekends, but we had the deed on Tuesday nights. In 1975 the state drinking age was 18, Emory had no classes on Wednesdays, freshmen could not have a car, and I accepted a ride from any Sigma Chi who would invite me.

On a wintry Tuesday, around 10, somebody said, “Let’s go skiing.” “When?” “Now!” Between Moe’s and campus, I was instructed to borrow a coat and change clothes. Seven squeezed in for a 5-hour drive to Appalachian State University in North Carolina. Rather than knock on the dorm door of our leader’s friend at 4 am, we napped on the hall floor before eating breakfast in a campus cafeteria.

At Beech Mountain Ski Resort, I spent most of “Wonderful Wednesday” on the bunny slopes trying first to survive and then to stay up one minute. We all met for lunch and the other six invited me to the top for a group picture. The view from above was great, but I didn’t get that view in the photo. What I did get was abandonment on the “Upper White Lightning Trail”. The usual 10-minute run lasted almost 2 hours. I would wait for an opening at the side, ski across flailing arms & poles, fall down on the other side, work to flip my skis over, get up, and repeat. It became my last run of the day and the decade.

22 years later at Winter Park, Colorado I was taking my first lesson at the “ski improvement center” (they don’t call it ski school). I was taught to “ski at your own level”. There are many trails marked for your level of skiing and instructors to help you understand and experience your level before they guide you to move on to the next. The goal is to not get too far beyond your abilities AND the goal is to improve to move to more meaningful trails.

When have you experienced a community of hospitality that accepts you for where you are? Who have been your instructors and guides from the “spiritual improvement center”? Where can you go for assistance in experiencing your next significant trail?

Sit Before You Hit

I learned lessons from Fred Craddock’s book about “Overhearing the Gospel”. Parenting with “Love and Logic” taught me about allowing children to learn by “overhearing a parent’s” conversation.

On my first day of 1997 ski school I overheard the lesson given to the 4 year-olds a few yards away. I thought I should learn from children who could already ski better than I (and who did not have as far to fall in skiing or pride).

I could overhear the preschool-ski teacher ask the crowd of children, “What do we do?” In unison the boys and girls would yell back: “Sit before you hit!! Sit before you hit!!”

If you’re skiing toward a person, tree, or cliff that could be an important lesson to learn. I’ve joined the children’s choir in many ways since that day. For example, I have never regretted NOT sending something I wrote in anger or frustration. I have regretted each time I did. My father’s advice ala “sit before you hit” was “Write your praises and speak your criticisms”.

I don’t remember my adult ski lesson that day so I guess I experienced what I’ve often overheard: “Today, I got more out of the children’s time than the sermon!”

In what ways has the mantra “sit before you hit” helped you in your life? In what ways might you try using this now?

Starting a Journey

Although I can’t believe we did it (and I couldn’t imagine trying it now), this week in 1997 our church took 16 youth and 7 adults on a ski trip from Moberly, Missouri to Winter Park, Colorado. We rented a 15-passenger van (back when it was allowed). We borrowed a second van from a church an hour away.

“Come Saturday Morning” at 3:45 am the first stood outside awaiting the last. Our Christian Education Director yelled a suggestion: “Hey Wally, don’t you want to start the vans to let them warm up?” It was minus five degrees, 4 am, and I had a lot to learn. I could not get the borrowed van to start. Several attempts sounded close, but it wouldn’t get going and neither could we. Jumper cables, and 7 adult attempts did not help. At 4:30 we awoke the 24-hour tow-trucker; he arrived at 4:45 with a powerful jumper that failed.

At 5 am we changed tactics thanks to the suggestion of those who had gone inside to let their brains warm up. We took the back seats out of my family’s van for luggage; our CE Director confiscated her van for 7 people; the two replaced the one we left behind. 23 worked as one team to remove seats, transfer luggage, and slide off at 5:30.

13 hours later we were in our double house with 2 kitchens and 4 baths. I pitched my planned devotion and we talked about life — life is not easy and life does not always go smoothly. In fact the true test of how successfully you face life is not how you do when things are easy, but how you face and overcome the challenges and obstacles in your way — like losing your means of transportation as you start a journey.

As I’ve tried to inaugurate a blog on an inauguration day, I’ve learned a lot by overcoming lots of set-backs. This “van” has started, but it desperately needs a tune up already, and a tire could blow out anytime. I thank you for setting off with me. We’ll see where our journey takes us.

When have you started something new in your life? What did you hope for? What did you fear? What obstacles did you overcome? What lessons did you learn?

I Don’t Know MLK

My TikTok & Twitch son asked me: “Why would anyone read a blog by an old white guy?” He never let the truth get in the way of my feelings and I never could find a good answer.

Maybe someone wants to hear from a 9-year younger white guy.

While the video is quality is not good, the spirit in the room was incredible when I was invited to speak at our community Martin Luther King Service at Second Baptist Church in 2012.

If you can’t go to a service on Monday, I invite you to listen.

Please allow me to introduce myself

  • As a preacher I articulate the shared faith of one community
  • As a hospice chaplain I listen to the experiences and questions of an individual
  • As a blogger, I write my life experiences that lead to questions that we share

My father told me: “Find something you’d do for free and then find a way to get paid for it.” I doubt I’ll ever find a way to get paid for it, but I’m sure going to love writing and asking this year.