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Archive for the ‘Opportunity’ Category

Photo courtesy of Lynn Kelly Author via WANA Commons

The first week of our sixth year with Alpha Omega Christian Academy has just about come and gone. It’s been a full one, with numerous challenges and rewards, but as a day or two off before the next week draws near, it seems like a good time to revisit this post from July 3, 2012.

Let’s have another look, shall we?

JUST DON’T PLAN ON DOING ANYTHING TOMORROW

With tomorrow being a national holiday, that surely sounds tempting: just a day to do whatever comes to mind, or nothing in particular.  I feel having a day with a plan like that once in a while is beneficial.

There’s another way of looking at whether or not we’re planning on doing anything tomorrow:  it’s the “I’m going to get to that…Tomorrow!” list. At this point in my life, I’ve seen several things die of old age on my “Tomorrow!”  list.  But a few crumbling remnants did make it over to “Oh, why not go ahead and try?”, and those that did made lasting impressions.

Like the time I decided for real that credit cards were crazy, and that I was about to be.  Mind you, that was no heroic thing.  It came after I totaled my less-than-one-year-old car, and began to look at my budget, spending plan, frantically scrawled figures, to see what I could afford.  Answer:  “NOTHING”.  Very disappointing.  A single mom, I’d been digging a hole deeper and deeper in credit card debt, thinking I’d get straight “Tomorrow!” I really couldn’t afford much of anything with real money.

I was directed toward the solid financial teaching/debt-lambasting of Dave Ramsey, who had gone bankrupt before learning financial principles.  Of all the good programs on getting out of debt, his communicated to desperate, debt-strapped people (already feeling like idiots), “You’re no dumber than I was, just don’t stay that way!”  The courage to try was imparted. So, with much prayer, and a plan for trimming a few non-essentials from our new budget, the cards were cut up, and I humbly went shopping for something closer to my reality-range. The progress hasn’t been perfect, but having greater balance has been golden. As long as that decision to stop and turn around was on the “Tomorrow!” list, though, I got no benefit from it — only mounting anxiety.

Another thing off the “Tomorrow!” list, is what I’m doing now:  Writing.  In my social work career, the opportunities to compose and collaborate on documents seemed among the most rewarding tasks I had. I grew to see it as more than an interesting sideline and more of a worthy pursuit.  How did I discover that?  By starting.

So you may be processing that last idea: “You found out by starting, and you started by finding out?  Huh?”  Let me explain.  I read someone’s blog I wanted to comment on, and to do so, had to sign up for the blog-hosting site (wordpress.com). When I did, I realized that writing a blog was in my power to do (and was free). That was exciting — and scary.  But the overriding sense was that I felt I had something to say.

The chance to read others’ blogs through Word Press showed me there were writers out there actually encouraging the writing of people they’d never met.  Who knew? Kristen Lamb‘s blog was of this sort, and by looking at the blogs of others who’d commented on her posts, I found several more with solid advice, and the ability to help growing writers learn.  They actually seemed to care whether I wrote that book that’s been on my “Tomorrow!” list so long.

So, my point? One of my favorite sayings is: “It’s easier to guide a vehicle in motion.” Duh, of course it is.  Yet how often have we looked at things we’ve dreamed of and thought, “I just don’t know if I could.  Maybe I’ll look into it…Tomorrow!” The way to know if it’s time to begin is: to begin — just take steps.  Baby steps are great.  With so much of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips (through internet on computer and smartphones, or even your good old neighborhood library), you have the ability to learn about your interest freely. Just begin to inquire: try, and see what can happen.

One more story.  When I retired a year ago, after 27 years as a social worker, I had some misgivings of “What next?”. I prayerfully asked that, and by the time retirement was official, I was deeply immersed in opening our church’s Christian School — our pastor’s vision, but an area I’d felt a connection to many years before.  Learning as we went, all involved were all amazed at the resources and support we found.

Looking back on this first year reminds me of this phrase from God’s word: “…the Lord working with them…” (Mark 16:20). It describes men who didn’t sit back and wonder if they should start, but began, and knew they weren’t working alone. The Lord worked with these apostles who were following his command to preach the gospel (detailed in the book of Acts), and he confirmed their word “with signs following”.

Obviously there are seasons for things in our lives, but when there’s a tug to pursue a passion, even if your ability seems fragile, the doing something — moving it from the “Tomorrow!” list — is the only way to know what can happen. So, just don’t plan on doing anything “Tomorrow!”  See what you can start “Today!”

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Last year, on this commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I wrote my thoughts on the State of the Dream, all those years later. I’d briefly like to revisit that idea.

LIBERTY

Our country in general enjoys a liberty that was purchased by the blood of others.  From the American Revolution to the Greatest Generation to the brave men and women sacrificing to keep us free from radical Islamists today, their work has carved out a country where we have the liberty to agree or disagree, to raise our families in the faith of our choice, to push and fight and work and sweat and gain more than we ever thought we could have — because of freedom purchased with blood.

Dr. King fought persecution and stood for the ideals of liberty for an oppressed people, that he eventually gave his life fighting to achieve.  I credit him and others like him with the fact that years ago the disgusting physical signs of senseless separation have been obliterated from society, and justly so.  We have to ask ourselves the question, though “Did the heirs of the dream get all he lived and died to attain?”

If breaking the chains that seemed so permanent when he marched and preached and addressed the nation so eloquently was what he came to do, then the answer would be a resounding “yes”. Institutional prejudice is simply not tolerated in this day and time, where in his day it was insisted upon and maintained. If changing the willingness of the majority to treat the minority with respect where it’s due was part of it, the answer still would be a “yes”.  Living right in the heart of Mississippi, “Yes, sir” is dispensed where appropriate regardless of race, though in my childhood it was certainly not so.

REVOLUTION

I recently re-read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in England and France during the period of the bloody French Revolution.  It is not easy reading, and certainly not for the faint of heart or the immature, but I recommend it as a classic that has endured for a reason.   A bitterly repressed and cruelly abused underclass of people, who were seen to exist solely for the sake of the aristocrats, as slaves were once viewed in this country, had no hope. They weren’t technically “owned”, but may as well have been for all the options they had on improving their situation. They had no political voice or political power whatsoever. The rulers of their day were unable to see that the boiling point for that “underclass” of people was near, until the pent-up rage exploded and brought down the King of France and all the established religious and political society in cruel fashion.

I have often credited Dr. King and others who insisted on nonviolent approaches to the inequalities of his day with avoiding a bloody civil war or conflict in our country.  Heaven knows it was bloody enough as it was, but what could have been did not materialize.  In that sense, the excesses of a revolution were avoided. But there is an aspect of the French Revolution that was captured by Dickens, through his character Madam Defarge, that  bears looking at.  Once the threats of real opposition to the underclass had been annihilated by the revolutionaries through summary executions at the guillotine, the architects of the overthrow seemed to have no further plan than continued annihilation. Rather than finding a place to rebuild and start to support meaningful advancements for those they were supposed to fight for, they began to arrest others for the slightest “crime” (passing many laws and making the appearance of any dissent to their cause punishable by heinous death). When Madame Defarge, the prime mover in Dickens’ account of the Revolution, is questioned by her husband  about “a place to stop”,  Madame Defarge’s response is, “Tell Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.” Though the story reveals how her history of wrong suffered had built the bitterness up in her soul, the result, in the story and of stories like hers in the reality, was devastation that healed nothing.

History bears out that the French Revolution began as something perhaps unavoidable under the circumstances, but snowballed into the Reign of Terror, where people who were not prepared to govern no longer knew what to do with themselves after seizing control, except to continue to exact judgement on the perceived persecution that long ago had been stamped out.  I realize any comparisons are minimal and potentially confounding to my point,  but to my personal observation, the real forces that once kept a Black man or woman with a true will to advance from prospering, as someone of another race with that same will could do, “died off” a long time ago (don’t tell Oprah — she wouldn’t understand).  The greater threat to liberty and prosperity for Black men and women I see is the perceived injustice fomented by a sector that simply doesn’t know what to do with itself if it can’t find a White majority enemy to name as the bad guy.  I don’t believe Dr. King gave his life for that.

REASON

I remember when I first read in school that had Abraham Lincoln been allowed to live and oversee the aftermath of the Civil War, the Reconstruction lunacy would not have occurred.  His desire was for a peaceful, orderly reconciliation that brought healing and growth to the nation.  Perhaps if Dr. King had been allowed to live and continue to speak into the gains made by the Civil Rights Act and similar successes, the true goal of his efforts — that an equal opportunity for advancement would exist, wherein people of all races were viewed for their abilities and achievements rather than the color of their skin — would have been championed, rather than what we have swirling around those actualities today: voices that continue to whisper “you’re not really free as long as anyone else has more than you do, however honestly they got it.”

I cannot say what I perceive in the world today, particularly in the political arena, more eloquently than Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory did when explaining his switch of political parties within his state.  I implore you to hear what he has to say. I am not writing here about parties, because I see faults in all the political system, but one party has tended to hawk the idea that meaningful change sans permanent social programs is a blow to Black Americans.  I agree with the good Senator’s take on that. How can I view you as a capable, intelligent, responsible citizen, while simultaneously making long-term plans to feed and house you because I do not anticipate your becoming able to do so for yourself?  That is not the respect Dr. King sought.

REVERSE

So how are the heirs of the dream faring? Worsening social climates in the last few years, that inadvertently (or otherwise) encourage Black on White violent crimes and make young Black men and women think they are gaining something by doing so is a reproach to Dr. King’s legacy. Refusing to discuss the idea that free enterprise is a better way out of poverty than welfare would disgust him, I believe.

Nipping at one another over any disparaging remark made in public toward a Black person shuts down public dialogue, and shouts the message, “There is nothing about me that could be the basis of your disagreeing with me other than my race — in other words, I have no thoughts, no ideas, no personal habits or traits that could possibly spark your disagreement; there is nothing of substance to me other than the color of my skin.” I don’t believe that is the case for one second, but when certain voices who claim to represent the Black community lash out over any disagreement as though it must be racially motivated, they are in effect saying that very thing.  I can disagree with you on your dialogue and your ideas because that is what intelligent, intellectual people do: They dialogue, find areas of agreement and sort through their areas of disagreement.  They don’t smile and overlook what they don’t agree with for risk of offending the other party, for by doing so they would be dubbing that personal incapable of rational argument.

So, final thoughts? I think, sadly, it is quite possible that there was an arc of change sparked by Dr. King’s legacy that is now trending downward, because the very tools that some used to help press for change could not be abandoned when change came.  Senator Guillory says it’s because one group actually seeks to control another, but it’s not the group you think.  I pray there can be true change, but it comes with truly seeking the One who made us all, and truly submitting to His laws that are “of no respect of persons.”

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What’s your “one of these days, I’m gonna…” dream? You know, the “when I have the time, …” thing.

I don’t have a “bucket list”, maybe because I associate those with jumping out of airplanes or hang gliding in the Grand Canyon, and I think that could hurt — a lot.

I’ve begun writing, which I suppose would have been my “one of these days, I’m gonna…” list topper.

Time-limited opportunity

Living in the fifty-plus zone (not the speed limit), I realize whatever I’m going to get done “one day” needs to be bumped up on the priority list. In fact, the state of the world at this point in time seems to point in the same direction. The old spiritual song said, “Trouble don’t last always”, but then, neither does opportunity. Usually there is a window of time — often taken for granted — to start or finish a preferred project, to contact an old friend from college, or visit that elderly neighbor down the road.

Famous opportunities from antiquity

Recently, as I re-read a Biblical account of the intertwined destinies of two major people groups, I saw it in a new way: an opportunity for changing the outcome — for at least a few — that was not originally intended to occur.

Most no doubt remember the saga of Israel’s being delivered from Egypt (an event celebrated each year during the Passover), which in fact was the birth of  the children of Abraham as a nation, as opposed to simply families united by a common heritage. God brought them out “with a mighty hand”, wreaking havoc on their former captors in a series of plagues and eventually devastating their entire army in the Red Sea, through which he’d just brought the new nation on dry land.

Following this unprecedented and divinely powered victory, they were intended to march almost straight to Canaan — the land promised by God to their father, Abraham — to drive out its inhabitants and possess it. Tragically, as they made it to the threshold of the “land flowing with milk and honey”, they were cowed by the testimony of the majority  of the twelve spies sent in to look over the land. These ten had suddenly forgotten how powerful their God was, and had no problem raining on the faith of those who had seen it all first-hand. For their unfaithfulness and doubt, they were required to wander 40 years in the wilderness, until the whole generation of unbelievers died out, and a new generation rose up to conquer Canaan, led by one of the only two spies who had insisted God’s people were well-able to take the land with God fighting for them.

I began to wonder what may have happened in Canaan during the 40 years Israel wandered in the wilderness. The generation that was alive when Israel came out of Egypt was slated to have been utterly destroyed, per God’s commandment. But 40 years for Israel’s unbelievers to die meant 40 more years of life for them.

How did that generation of Canaanites spend their respite?

Who got it?

When Joshua sent spies into Jericho before taking the city, they were harbored by one woman, a prostitute (harlot) named Rahab, who told them in brief what all in the region were saying: that the hearts of the people were already melted because of the great acts they had heard that God had done for them. She was brave enough to harbor those two men, though it could have cost her life. In acknowledging the power of their God, and allowing their lives to be spared, she and her household were saved out of all the thousands in Jericho when Israel took the city. No one else was spared.

Rahab was undoubtedly young — the nature of her occupation would indicate so. She had to have been of childbearing age, because she later married one of the Israelites and was included in the line of Judah that brought King David and all the later kings of the nation into the world. She was one of only four women mentioned in the earthly ancestry of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1.

Rabah would have been born during the 40-year reprieve given unto Canaan. She was the only one who made use of the time to turn her heart toward the things of God, and away from the heathen practices of child sacrifice and worship of everything but the true and living God, and put herself in the position of seizing the opportunity to reach out to him by helping his people, and thus gain an entry into his kingdom and salvation, when it came.

Is opportunity knocking?

God would be more than justified if he destroyed the world as it stands today, and the ungodly with it, but he hasn’t done it yet. When will he? I don’t know, but I for sure know that he will, because the original book of prophecy, the Bible, says he is going to.

Things in the world grow more frightful every day: politically, representatives seem to be losing the ability to make helpful, meaningful decisions for the greater good; sin is increasingly bold and incomprehensible, and the innocent are victimized cruelly. Is it time to give up and resign oneself to the inevitable? That’s what most of Canaan did. They all must have heard the same reports of the awesome, unstoppable power headed their way, but only one woman chose to seek the help that would change her life and that of her family forever.

If there was just one, would it be you?

Does it matter if anyone else around you chooses to say, “I will not lose out with those who cling to this current situation because they’re  enjoying the liberty of living every way they want; I won’t cower in fear with those who say that  it’s hopeless to try to change; I will ask for help; I will make a change”? The Bible makes it clear that God wasn’t destroying those cities because of Israel’s righteousness. Israel had messed up over and over and over in their time of following God. He was destroying those Canaanite cities because they had chosen wickedness repeatedly throughout the generations they had lived there. They deserved destruction, as does our wicked world today. But God had paused it, as he has paused ours for a time.

How are you using your respite?

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