As We Move Forward: Pioneers

Fence

We all find the idea of being a pioneer exciting. The idea of being the first to explore a new place or try a new idea has a certain fascination. History is filled with stories of people who left their homes for all kinds of reasons and all sorts of hopes and dreams and went to new and different places.

The study of history is largely a study of pioneers. People who left one place and made a new life and a new start in another. Sometimes the motivation was seeking new trade routes. Sometimes it was seeking precious metals like gold. There are numerous accounts in our history of people who sacrificed comfort and home to seek wealth in new places. One thing these stories have in common is how often being a pioneer involved incredible hardship.

I love visiting Colonial Williamsburg. I have developed incredible respect for the people who pioneered the experiment in freedom and democracy that has become the United States of America. While I would like to believe I would have the courage they demonstrated in risking their lives and their finances to make this country into a reality. Hindsight is an incredible gift in seeing the role of pioneers. Uncertainty and frustration were undoubtedly far more common among those early pioneers than the pride we experience when we celebrate what their sacrifice made possible.

That’s one of the things about pioneers. Going into their experience, things often look bleak and even hopeless. The people who settled the expanding territory that became the United States did not know what was ahead of them. They knew what they were leaving behind, but the hardship and uncertainty they faced was not the romantic scenarios we like to remember.

There have been statesmen pioneers as well. Many believe Abraham Lincoln may have been the greatest US President. He took over a country on the brink of division and brought it back together. As a major part of that process he led enslaved people to freedom. There were many pioneers in that period and in the course of our country so far. Times of great uncertainty and need call forth the pioneer spirit in some people.

Like pioneers in exploration and expansion, pioneers in science and technology often faced great challenges. Medical breakthroughs came in the midst of sickness, suffering and death. I enjoyed reading about the lives of great inventors when I was growing up. Thomas Edison is someone I have always admired. His invention of the incandescent light bulb transformed nighttime from a world of darkness to light.

Lamp

Who are the pioneers in our present time of darkness, doubt and uncertainty? What journey, discoveries and explorations will our modern pioneers accomplish? What hardships will they face? What will things look after they have settled this new frontier?

As we move forward, it might be useful to recognize we are at a time that is made for pioneering. The darkness, despair and fear that seems to be everywhere cries out for people with the pioneering spirit. Are you one of the pioneers who will triumph over this time of uncertainty? What is your role in this terrifying, exciting challenging time? What will history say about your role in this time of pioneering? Write your answer with hope, as did the pioneers who came before you.

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As We Move Forward: What Comes Next?

Playing Games

We might be surprised how many times we ask this question “What comes next?” Remember learning a new game, particularly one you found enjoyable? As you learned the rules and how to play, your mind probably raced constantly to what came next. It has been said that play is the work of childhood. In play, we learn the skills we will need throughout our lives. These lessons are constant and ongoing. Looking for what comes next becomes a natural part of our growing up.

I had the privilege of attending all six years of elementary school in the same building. We literally started at one end of the building-the “new” addition and worked our way to the basement of the “old” building, finally ending up upstairs in the old building. The whole progression through that school was a series of anticipating what came next.

My elementary school had a massive playground. Many of the swings, slides, monkey bars and so forth were only available to be used by the older kids. We used to look forward to what next as we became old enough to use the playground equipment reserved for the big kids.

The last piece of equipment I remember being big enough to ride was called the Ocean Wave. It was sort of like a merry-go-round. Only it did not just go around and around. It went in and out like a wave. When it got going really fast, it was a challenge to hang on. Every child in that school looked forward to the day what came next was being able to ride the Ocean Wave.

Another thing we had that school was the woods. To the little kids it seemed as if the woods went on forever. Of course, they didn’t. One of the things that added to that mystery was that there were degrees of how far you could go into the woods. There were two or three very low fences in the woods. Little kids had to stop at the first fence. It was fun just going into the woods, but reaching the fence made us eager for what came next. It was worth the wait. Further, back in the woods there were some rock formations that provided some great opportunities for the older kids to play more grown up games.

Reaching the point where we could go as far as the fence at the end of the woods was actually disappointing. Suddenly, there was no what came next. We were there. Sometimes in our lives we reach the fence at the end of the woods. What comes next is either unattainable or no longer exciting. Sometimes what comes next can be confusing, especially when we hear many people telling us many versions of what comes next.

That confusion can result in our getting stuck, unable to move toward what comes next. What might be next can sometimes be scary and confusing. We all know that we cannot go back to what was even if that seems comfortable. We must keep moving to what comes next, even if it seems uncertain.

Thinking

As we move forward, it can sometimes be fun to take a mental journey to look at our journey up to this point and remember all the exciting things we discovered and experienced as we went through the things that came next at each stage of our lives. Let’s use the memories of these discoveries to embrace what is coming next for the new adventure, the growth that it will be for each of us. How do you feel about what comes next?

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As We Move Forward: Shared Values

Family

One of the easier things to recognize might be shared values. Just realizing we are feeling comfortable in a given situation and around certain people can lead us to conclude we anew in a setting with shared values. It can be more difficult to understand what those shared values are. When we are young our values are shaped primarily by our families. I have read that a child’s values are largely formed in the first three years of life. They form so naturally that most children just assume that the way their family looks at things is the way everyone does.

One of the first things that help us identify our values is how our family spends its time. My father was a teacher. There were five children in my family. My mother did not work outside our home. For this and other reasons, my father worked all the time. He had several part-time jobs throughout the school year and a full-time job in the summer. None of these jobs paid very well, and, especially his summer job, demanded long hours, seven days a week.

This schedule did not include family vacations. I can’t recall more than three trips we took while I was growing up. Two of these were to visit relatives and friends. I grew up in an area where people come every year for vacation. I’ve always known vacations are part of the shared value system of many people. It was just not part of my shared values growing up. The shared values I developed centered around my family and my church. They also included a strong work ethic.

As a teenager, I spent most of my time with young people from several groups. There was our youth group at church. The rest were people, mostly from a band, with whom I shared interests and values. The process of discovering shared values continued. Since I chose to go to college, I spent four years with people whose values included an appreciation for higher education.

The career I prepared for required three years of graduate school. This is a result of shared values. Here again, I found more people with whom to develop shared values. In the process of education, I met the person I have been privileged to share my life with. Our relationship demonstrates that people who share values can have very different views of life. It also demonstrates that shared values can expand or even change. One of our shared values has become travel. Recently we passed a sort of a milestone. We have now traveled in all fifty states. This is not a specific goal. It was rather a result of our shared value of travel and experiencing new places and things.

Values

I have been blessed in my life to be able to pursue two different careers, each for more than twenty years. This is a result of shared values involving helping others attain their goals in life. My most enduring relationships over all this still encompass many shared values. I am pleased that whatever happens in life, my values sustain me and give me the strength to keep going. There are many voices today literally shouting at us what others think our values should be. Sometimes those voices can drown out our inner voice, the one that reminds us of what our values are. The relationships in which we experience these shared values help keep us directed and focused, even in the midst of the loud distracting voices telling us things we know are not true.

As we move forward, it is a good idea from time to time to reflect on our shared values. How did we come to have them? With whom do we share them? What do they mean in a world with more conflict all the time? As we move forward, let our shared values continue to give us guidance and strength to live through whatever life brings us.

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As We Move Forward: Reunions

Gathering

One interesting thing about the time I grew up and the dynamics of the place I grew up is that I was part of a multi-generational family, many of whom lived in the immediate area. This was a time when families regularly held reunions. As I recall, over my youth and teen years, I attended a number of reunions for at least three families. My parents and especially my grandparents made certain to introduce me to relatives I might not have known. I always enjoyed hearing stories of family history. I always enjoyed meeting or seeing relatives, the adults, and the “cousins.’

The locations of these reunions varied. Some were held at family homes. Sometimes the event was too large to be held at a home. I remember a few that were held in parks. I also remember some of the events being held at community halls. I remember one relative who had a position in a township government. I learned some interesting things at one of our reunions talking with her about local government.

Several of the relatives at these reunions were involved in farming. The area I grew up in was largely rural, but I have never lived on a farm and have very little first-hand knowledge of what life on a farm is about. I remember one reunion where I saw the farm of relatives after a tomato harvest. I remember being fascinated by this up-close look at how a harvest is carried out.

I confess the lesson about harvesting tomatoes had a deeper impact on me. A number of crops, including tomatoes, were harvested by migrant workers at the time in our area. I went to school with people whose parents had come to our area as migrant farmworkers and who had decided to stay.

In addition to reunions, my grandparents would take me to visit some of these relatives. I recall visiting several farms over the years and having cousins show me around their farms. To a young boy, these farms seemed magical. We visited one relative who owned a sawmill. That was a fascinating visit and look at how other people lived their lives.

Over my adult life, I have had numerous experiences with reunions based on high school and college graduation. Some have been associated with organizations I have shared participating with others. The thing all these reunion experiences have in common is a shared experience or relationship that gives people a desire to come together and talk about their lives in terms of these things we have in common.

These opportunities to experience a reunion are important as our lives become more and more complex. We need opportunities where we can share based on things we have in common with other people.

Family

As we move forward, it is helpful to think about our times of reunion. What can those times mean in terms of maintaining a connectedness in our lives? We might want to create times of reunion in our lives and the lives of others to give us continuity in our journey through life. As we move forward, what reunions would you like to help create in your life and the lives of others?

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As We Move Forward: How’s My Attitude?

Baby

One of the first things we develop in life is attitude. We might define attitude as “a predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation.” When we describe a baby, we use terms like fussy, nervous, upset or calm, peaceful, happy, or others, depending on what the baby is doing at any given time. When observing small children and animals, we become aware that they may demonstrate a different attitude depending on who is interacting with them.

As we develop skills, we tend to acquire certain attitudes. Prowess in certain sports can lead to attitudes of aggressiveness and assertiveness. In lives tending to quieter pursuits, attitudes develop that tend to reinforce and reflect these activities. In this way, different attitudes can be present in one person in different circumstances.

In the same way, the people in our lives can influence our attitudes. A loving, nurturing environment can nurture the development of one type of attitude. Strict, overbearing, or evening abusive influences in a person’s life can have a significant impact on the attitude a person develops. Economic factors can have a direct bearing on attitude.

A part of attitude comes from how we are wired emotionally. A highly systematic, detail-oriented person will most likely have a different attitude than a spontaneous person who has very little in the way of self-discipline and tends to go with the flow.

There is a cause and effect relationship between our attitudes and the things we pursue in life. We tend to engage in those activities that support our underlying attitudes and to avoid those that do not. In the same way, we tend to seek out relationships with people who support our underlying attitudes. Ideally, this results in a balanced, happy personal, and professional life.

Some things can disrupt things and cause tension with our attitudes. Something like a close personal relationship with someone whose attitudes conflict with ours can exert considerable stress on our emotional well-being. Being in a job you don’t like just for money or security can have a destructive impact on one’s attitude.

Thinking

Some of these things can, at least theoretically, be changed. Some other things like illness, loss, a local or global crisis cannot be changed but can seriously affect our attitude. An awareness of our attitudes and the things that are influencing them can go a long way toward helping us manage the circumstances in our lives and making sense of what is going on around us.

As we move forward, we can increase awareness of our attitudes and those of other persons. When we face seemingly overwhelming situations in our lives, knowing how these things can affect our attitudes can give us valuable tools to deal with these things. As we move forward, sometimes we need every tool we can get.

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As We Move Forward: Virtually

Watch

One of the things I remember from my childhood were the comic strips in the newspaper. The comic at the top of every Sunday’s comic section was Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy was a police detective. The plots and the characters in the story of Dick Tracy always interested me. One of the most interesting aspects of this comic strip was the use of technology–technology that didn’t exist yet. I will always remember how Dick Tracy communicated by means of his two-way wrist TV. Imagine being able to interact in voice and picture over a device worn like a wristwatch!

We had an Army Ordnance Depot in our town when I was growing up. My dad’s cousin, whom we called Uncle Bill, worked there. One day he invited us to a special event they were having for employees and their families. There were examples of a lot of military technology there. I remember a model of the Russian satellite, Sputnik. The space race had just begun, and the US was creating technology at a very rapid pace. One exhibit I remember from this day was a video phone. At either end of a long building was a device where you could talk with someone at the other end of the room. Not only could you talk. But you could actually see the person you were talking with!

I am amazed at how commonplace it is to communicate with both voice and pictures, compared to what an impossible miracle it seemed when I was growing up. Today we conduct meetings using devices to transmit sound and video images. I remember hearing stories of people in the military being separated by time and distance from loved ones. The occasional phone call was the only communication alternative to letters. Facetime and other video communication platforms cannot make up for face to face communication, but they make it so much better.

We have doorbells that let us communicate with people who come to the door, whether we are in the house or across the country. In a crisis, personal, local, or global, it seems comforting to be virtually connected with others. It can help people maintain a connection with others who are far away. Years ago there was a ride at Epcot called Horizons. One phase of the ride showed different groups of the same extended family communicating over video screens from different locations, even different planets. In the final segment of the Carousel of Progress ride, the same type of distance communication took place using virtual devices that transmitted voice and video.

Virtual Meeting

As we move forward, the role of virtual audio and visual communication is only likely to increase. The challenge is going to remain to keep relationships genuine and spontaneous as we spend less and less time in close physical proximity to others. Virtual meetings can save us time and travel, but can they really replace face to face interaction?

Working from home, telecommuting, can offer some real benefits, but can it fully replace interchange across a table from other people? As we move forward, we would do well to embrace a both-and rather than an either-or attitude to virtual technology. Nothing can ever totally replace one on one face to face communication with another person. May we have the wisdom to make the best use of virtual technology in enhancing, not replacing physical interaction in our relationships.

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As We Move Forward: How Big Is Your World?

Kid

When we are little, our world seems immense. Gradually it expands to include those immediately around us. Our world at this point seems complete and big enough. Some of my first memories of my world include the house my family lived in addition to my room and the rest of the house, I remember our yards where I played. I experienced one of the first traumas in my world in that yard. One day a dog in the neighborhood snapped at me. That triggered a fear of dogs that’s lasted into my adult years. I did not want to pass that fear on to our children.

My world soon grew to include my grandparents’ house. It was near-by, and we were there very often. One of my world-expanding memories came when my parents brought my sister thereafter they left the hospital with her.

My world continued to grow as I met and interacted with other kids in the neighborhood. My memories of this expanding phase of my world tell me it was a positive time, and my expanding world seemed big enough to encompass my growth. Our landlords in that house lived next door to us. I remember hearing that the husband died, and they decided to sell our house.

I watched my world expand as my parents decided to buy a house that was yet to be built. We visited the “lot” and came back frequently to watch the house come to life before our eyes. I recall a morning in that house that made my world suddenly seem small. I came downstairs and saw my parents and my grandfather sitting in the living room. As I started looking for my grandmother, my father took me into another room and said, “Your grandmother died today.” My first encounter with death suddenly made my world seem very small.

Sometimes things happen in our world that limits its growth in certain ways. I grew up near Lake Erie. I was not given the opportunity to learn to swim. I finally learned many years later, but my world is smaller because I am not as skilled as a swimmer. There are many things in our lives that either make our Le larger or smaller.

Recently my wife and I had an experience that made our world larger. We visited our fiftieth state. Both internal and external things can have an impact on our lives, making our world larger in a physical and emotional realm. I know there are people who have never traveled out of their town, their state, or their country. I also know people who have traveled to countries I may not even know the names of.

World

As we move forward, we can be aware of many things that can impact the size of our world. It can be difficult to deal with some of the things that make us aware of how small our world can seem at a particular time of crisis. We can be aware of feelings like helplessness or hopelessness. These moments can test us as we move through them. These crises do pass. Our world will adjust to fit its new size after the crisis has passed.

As we move forward, we can also be aware of the effect crises can have on others and the size of their world, both before and after a crisis. Perhaps these awarenesses on our part can help us and adjust to the changing size of worlds, ours, and others. How big is your world right now, and how did it get to be this size?

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As We Move Forward: Amid Change

River

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said, ” No man ever steps in the same river twice.” This is an interesting metaphor both of life and change. We are born in the context of change. Our birth affects not only us but the people closest to us. I stood in the pulpits of the churches I was serving in 1975 on Children’s Sunday and said it was my last Children’s Sunday as a perfect parent. I knew that soon our twins would be born, and actual parenting, mistakes, and all would replace my theoretical knowledge of being a parent.

A lot was going on in our lives at that time. Gail was in Graduate school, and I was beginning my career as a pastor. Even though much of our lives remained the same as they had been, the addition of children to our lives changed them forever.

Sometimes change comes as an event or series of events that forever alter the circumstances of life. World War I took people out of their mostly rural roots and gave them a vision of a larger world. A line from a popular song of the era asked, “How ya gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris (pronounced pair EE in the song)”. World War II did the same thing for the next generation. Suddenly families were stretched all over, making the traditional multi-generational family living all in the same place less the norm.

The home took on a new meaning as people brought their new experiences into familiar settings. Like the river that is continuously changing, new life experiences make even the same setting activities different.

Life-changing experiences can happen suddenly. We were at Universal Studios, Florida, on September 10, 2001. We went again on September 14. Walking in the same place was radically different. I remember wondering if it was OK to enjoy ourselves. The world changed on September 11, 2001. We can never return to the way things were before that day. We do things differently than we did on September 10.

Some changes come as gradually as the story about putting a frog in a pan of cool water. I’ve never tried this, but the story goes that if you gradually increase the temperature, the frog will be cooked without ever realizing what has happened. It is said that a frog dropped into boiling water will jump out.

We are Moving Forward

Whether the change is sudden or gradual, it is also inevitable. Aging brings about change. Our ability to do certain things changes with age. This can be frustrating, even disturbing. It is inevitable. We can not stop most change. We cannot control many things. We can decide how we will respond to change.

As we move forward, we need to accept that change is something we all have to face. It affects different people in different ways. Change tends to bring out the best and the worst in people. When facing change, try to take a measure of how it is affecting you. Do you need to reach out to others for help in dealing with it? Can you be of help to others? As we move forward, we weave the change into the fabric of our lives. Let’s resolve to be better as a result of the changes we experience.

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As We Move Forward: Life Isn’t Fair

House
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Probably every person who ever lived has said at one time or another, ”That’s not fair.” Thinking back to childhood, I remember some of the baseball games we had in our neighborhood. One boy was a far better athlete than the rest of us. It was “not fair” whichever team had him. We had special rules for him. He had to hit the ball a lot farther than we did to score a home run. We made these rules to level the playing field and make it at least possible for either team to win.

Sometimes the unfairness comes from those in authority. I remember standing in line for some function. The boy behind me said something to me. I turned around to talk to him. Because I was a good deal taller than he was, my hand made contact with the side of his head. There was no conflict, and I figured it was forgotten. A day or two later my father angrily confronted me. Apparently, this boy’s mother had approached my father about my fighting with her son. I told my father exactly what had happened. He asked me repeatedly why I had not told him about this incident.

It didn’t matter to him that there was really no incident. He kept telling me how embarrassed he was when this woman approached him, and he had no knowledge of anything happening. He went to great lengths to be sure I knew he was disappointed and embarrassed he had been. It did not matter at all that to the best of my knowledge there had been no incident. His reaction and his disappointment in me was more painful than the two days I
had to spend time in my room.

I recall one of my physical education courses in college. There were a number of activities in the class, and some of them were difficult. I have never been an athlete and did my best to do the things required in the class. There must have been a number of us struggling to complete the tasks. One day the professor, who was also the college football coach, stopped the class and yelled at us for not being able to perform well. He actually told us his football players were not given a break in the academic classes, and that he was not going to give us any breaks in his Phys. Ed. class. I remember being very surprised. We were doing our best in the class, and the fact that we were not athletically proficient seemed an unfair standard for judging our effort and participation.

Thinking Person

When our children were younger, they would occasionally tell us they thought something was unfair. To this day, I believe they could recite my response, ”Where is it written that life is fair?” We often find ourselves in situations and circumstances which seem to be or in fact are unfair. Often in life, there is no one to blame for these situations. Our responses to unfair experiences have a lot to say about the way we approach life in general. We can become fearful, critical and argumentative, or we can assess the situation and figure out what we can to endure and overcome the unfair situation we are facing.

As we move forward, it is also helpful to be aware of how others are handling unfair circumstances. Unfair circumstances tend to bring out either the best or the worst in others. Maybe “worst” behavior is someone’s best effort to cope with the unfair circumstances. Are you experiencing unfairness in your life? How are you handling it? Is your behavior helpful to others?

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