“The Fault In Our Stars”

Big Bang 4

“THE FAULT IN OUR STARS” (Julius Caesar)

   By the time I was five years old, I’d had stitches in my head four times. I’d also been knocked silly by a baseball bat. Apparently, the first time it happened, I was three-ish (don’t remember) when I fell off a picnic table and hit my head on the corner. Another time I decided I must have a pretty little stone lying in the street—which wouldn’t have been a particularly remarkable thing except that I was sitting in a little red wagon speeding down the road when I reached over the side of it to get the pretty little stone. Forehead on pavement. Then there was the time my three-year-old sister picked up a putting iron, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to hit you with this.” I laughed. She hit me. And the worst part? My father wouldn’t believe a little three-year-old would ever do such a thing. That hurt worse than the stitches. (The doctor didn’t believe me either.) The next time, I was entertaining myself by climbing onto the back of our living room couch and sliding down the front onto the seat. It was fun. Until I climbed up there, lost my balance, tipped over backwards, and crashed through the window. Add to that the head injury the time I was 14 and got hit with a car, and I guess I’ve had stitches north of my neck five times.

To Risk Or Not to Risk?

   But why? Because I was reckless. I shouldn’t have climbed onto the picnic table or leaned out of the wagon or laughed at my sister or been sliding down the furniture or tried to beat a car across the road in the first place. But I did all of that—it was my nature (emphasis on was).

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” (Shakespeare)

   Thankfully, I’ve wised up and learned that there are some things you just shouldn’t try, but the point is, that “forward drive” is a personality trait which lends itself, even now, to a willingness to take a chance. I generally don’t dive right in anymore without thinking through the consequences, but it’s okay to take a risk—sometimes.

   One the other hand, it’s possible for a person to be too cautious to the point that he or she is frightened to take any risks at all. Generally, cautious, risk-shy folks are often not just afraid an endeavor won’t work out—they’re afraid it will destroy them. The two points of view seem to be the difference between the glass being half-empty or half-full. For risk takers, it’s always half-full; things will “just” work out. The more cautious among us are glass half-empty people; “What if this happens or that happens?”

And the Answer Is…?

   A nice balance is what’s called an “acceptable risk”. It’s the willingness to take that risk after the homework has been done—and this is key—the risks have been elevated. In other words, what can I afford to lose if the risk tanks? How much money can I afford to lose if the investment or business launch or whatever doesn’t work out? If it’s an amount that won’t ruin my life or get me in debt or bankrupt me, then it’s “acceptable”. What about the risk to relationships? Is the endeavor something that might stress or destroy a relationship? Personal, business, or ministry reputations should also be a factor: Is what I’m thinking of doing going to damage the integrity of anything valuable to me? Relocation might be a factor in a risky decision: Who would a move affect besides myself? The more components we consider, the more “acceptable” any risk becomes should we choose to take it.

But What About “Faith”?

   Obviously, the whole premise of faith is that we are willing to trust the Lord enough to take a risk without any guarantee that we might not fail—and fail hard. So how do we know whether to weigh the risks before an endeavor or to dive right in and call it “faith”?

Here’s the key: Have we truly heard from the Lord about whether or not to take that risk?

   Of course waiting for that certainty can be an issue for impatient risk-takers who may just want to jump out of the boat before really taking the time to hear what God is saying about that potential peril. Peter was like that. He was often three steps ahead of the Lord—and often that didn’t work out too well for him. He jumped out of the boat and then sank. He slashed off the ear of a man who was trying to arrest Jesus. And when he should’ve taken a risk of faith, he caved. After Jesus had been arrested, Peter denied knowing him out of fear of being arrested himself—or worse. For the same reason, he abandoned Jesus at the cross.

   Where was his risk-taking nature then?

So Is It God—Or Not?

    What if we really don’t know whether we’ve heard from God and there’s a hard deadline looming to make a decision? There’s one principle we can start with when we’re trying to figure out whether our perceived “green light” is really from God: Is the risk one that will benefit his kingdom? Now that doesn’t mean the endeavor has to be ministry per se, but whatever the risky proposition is, it should somehow further God’s plans and purposes. If not, then it’s probably not a risk God would be leading us to take. Nevertheless, here’s the thing: If he is calling us to “get out of the boat” and walk on water—then we need to obey.

   If we do, then one thing I know: He will catch us if we fall.

  

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Unicorn IIR-E-S-P-E-C-T

   One day, while discussing a book in class, I made the random observation that a gentlemen should open a door for a lady. The young men’s response?

   “Why should I? That’s dumb!”

   “She can do it herself!”

   “Is her arm broken??”

   I was astounded. Moreover, I was disappointed that most of the students, young ladies included, had never heard of the concept of a man holding a door for a lady. In fact, one of the girls became so outraged that she started yelling that she didn’t need some man to hold a door open for her; she was perfectly capable of handling it! So… I swallowed my amazement and calmly explained that such an action was simply a show of respect. Surely once they understood the reasoning, they’d be on board.

   Not so much. They laughed. Hysterically.

   By now I’m beginning to get suspicious. Could it be that this generation had no concept of what constitutes respect or, even more alarmingly, that even if they did grasp the idea, they had no intention of showing it? It would explain the chronic rudeness and even obscenities lobed at teachers and parents so frequently… So I tried another angle. Had they ever heard of rising when an elderly person entered a room or giving them their seat on the bus?

   They laughed some more, they uttered rude things, and they mimicked the elderly.

    “Why should I stand up for some old person?”

    “I’m not giving up my seat to some old f-rt! They can find their own seat!”

WHY IS COMMON DECENCY SO UNCOMMON?

   Well, I shut that right down, but later when I thought about it for two consecutive seconds, I began to realize something. Even though “Character Education” is the latest “cure all” in education, character itself is defined to students in generalities, not specifics. For example, in many schools, every month a new character trait is highlighted, such as “Respect,” “Caring,” “Trustworthiness,” and/or “Diligence.” However, students are not taught how, specifically, to demonstrate these character traits. For instance, during RESPECT month, are students encouraged to hold doors for each other, to write a “thank you” note for a gift, or even to say “please” and “thank you”? And while you might think that last one should be a given, you’d be surprised at how many times, after providing students with yet another pencil, they snatch it from your hand with no expression of gratitude whatsoever.

What would Miss Manners say? Better yet, what would Grandma say?

   Recently, I attended a dinner at a restaurant with about twenty others. Given the large group, it took a few minutes for everyone at the table to be served and I noted that nearly every person who had been served first waited to begin eating until everyone else had been served. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Moreover, I realized that while a few of the millennials at the table seemed a little baffled by the concept of waiting for others, they caught on when they realized what the “older folks” were doing and they complied. Why? Because an example had been set for them.

   Unfortunately, too often such examples seem to have fizzled out and our whole society suffers for it.

SO HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?

   When I pondered the question of how it all started, I have to conclude that it first began during the “hippy movement” of the 60s and 70s when the idea of bucking authority was all the rage. Policemen were called “pigs,” “establishment” and cultural standards were “square,” and tantrums and protests for what was “unfair” became the norm. And for those who never outgrew those four-year-old manifestations, they procreated and passed on their version of “manners” to their offspring. Which is probably why now we have the elderly being neglected and abused more than ever, movements against law enforcement and the military, and rioting, burning and looting in the streets. In short, it’s not about being sensitive to others anymore—which is the essence of respect—but rather it’s more “all about me.”

WHEN WILL IT END?

   The answer is two-fold: when we begin implementing example and accountability. That’s basically all it takes to teach respect and manners to those who don’t have a clue what they mean. But one won’t work without the other. If we don’t set the example of what it means to be respectful, then those lacking respect won’t know what it looks like or how to do it. And if we don’t hold people accountable when they’re disrespectful, then they won’t be respectful. Why should they? Respect does require something of a sacrifice so why put yourself through it when it’s just easier to be selfish and rude? The bottom line is that respect has gone the way of the unicorn.

   It’s time to bring the unicorn back.

 

   

Work Ethic 101

Lazy Person

WORK ETHIC 101

   Today was fun. I had to lecture my 8th graders (again) about working—which would be annoying enough in itself, but then I had to get attitude for requiring them to work in the first place. The nerve of me! However, I didn’t feel so badly about it when, the next period, I had to stop into another English teacher’s room and found her literally yelling at her students for the same thing: not working and then giving her attitude for actually expecting them to work. And I’m not talking about difficult work, either. What she and I both require of students is to read and write—and while they’re writing, to do basic things like capitalize sentences and names, use punctuation where appropriate, and spell words correctly. (This is 8th grade, mind you.) And I’m only talking about spelling basic words, not words like “ridiculousor “inappropriateor even “literate.  And forget knowing how to use quotation marks—that’s like asking them to explain the theory of relativity. But again, it’s because we teachers are so unreasonable, asking students to accomplish such monumental tasks. Not that, according to some parents, we’ve even bothered to teach those things in the first place. So, in a nutshell, it’s our fault. All of it.

Who Cares Anyway?

   Not all students are apathetic, of course, but too many students just don’t think anything they learn in school (or don’t learn) matters a hill of coffee beans anyway. So part of our endless lectures—as was the case today—are to try to inform students about why they need to care. Not that we haven’t had that conversation countless times before. (Wish I had even a nickel for every time we’ve had to have that little chat.) But part of the revelation we try to impart to students is the fact that employers do care. They care very much.

   It turns out that the English teacher and I have both had the same experience before we went into teaching; we’ve both been responsible for hiring. Consequently, both of us have played the same game: trash can basketball with myriads of applications. I am not exaggerating when I say that words on applications are misspelled, punctuation (if even present) is used incorrectly, and sentences are not capitalized. True story. And we told students why they should care now—because in high school, if you can’t pass all of your NYS Regents exams, you won’t graduate.

If you don’t graduate, you can’t even get a job flipping burgers at McD’s anymore.

   No lie. Recently, I’ve seen a number of signs in windows for entry-level fast food and retail jobs requiring a high-school diploma. Nevertheless, the idea that employers might actually want to hire people who can read, communicate effectively and legibly in writing, and count without a calculator—well, we just made that up. We’re lying to students. Employers don’t really care about any of that…

The Challenge Is Real.

   I’ve had a number of conversations with employers and business owners who regularly lament the fact that they can’t find employees who show up for work on time (or show up at all), know how to follow directions, or even expect to have to put forth effort on the job. Not making that up, either. Ask some of them. And while I’d like to say it’s gotten better, I can’t. The challenge of finding good employees has only gotten worse.

   Recently, I saw a show on television where an expert in the corporate world was giving advice about what to do and not do at a job interview. One thing not to do? Tell the employers that you’re really not a morning person and so they shouldn’t expect you before 11am. Really. Other issues? Not showing up for the interview on time, wearing jeans to the interview, and looking at your phone during the interview. Sad but true.

Cause and Effect

   So why are students and young adults having such a hard time grasping the concept of hard work? There are a number of reasons.

   First on my list is a thing called “social promotion” where students are passed through grades K-8 without having to pass their grade levels or courses. If you’re not in the field of education, you might not know this is happening but it is and has been for many years. Moreover, it’s happening in public schools all around the country and so what this philosophy is breeding is truckloads of kids who don’t believe they are required work in high school, college or the workplace. And why should they? They aren’t required to work in their formative years in school so unless parents are instilling a work ethic at home—which is increasingly a challenge for them—kids aren’t learning it anywhere. I’ve actually had students tell me that they don’t have to do any work because they know they’ll pass anyway, even if—and I’ve seen this—they have zeroes in all their classes. A few days ago I even had one student say to me, “I figured out in 6th grade that I don’t have to do any work and I’ll still pass.” The result?

Students and young people have essentially been programmed that they don’t have to do anything to succeed. Rather, it’s our job to accommodate them.

   Hence the “participation trophies” and rioting in the streets because people don’t get what they demand.

The Solution?

   Honestly, I don’t know the solution for the whole system. All I do know is that until we start holding students accountable with consequences, all of the “real life is coming” lectures in the world won’t do the trick. However, I can say to whomever is willing to listen: There are principles of success in the world that will work for anyone willing to implement them. The primary principle of success is work ethic. Period. The fact is that I have never seen—never—someone who worked hard and didn’t succeed. And it doesn’t make any difference how old you are, what race, gender or creed; if you’re willing to work hard, you will be successful. Of course, that doesn’t mean that folks start out at the top of the heap, but point out the hardest worker in any organization or business, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict who gets promoted.

   And the amazing thing is, that’s all it takes.

   It’s really very simple. To achieve success, to fulfill our destinies, and to make a difference really only requires one thing: a willingness to put our shoulders to the plow and work it. If we don’t have that mindset, all of the education, talent and connections in the world aren’t going to “bring” us success.

   The bottom line is this: Success isn’t owed to anyone. It’s earned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of the Fairy Godmother

Fairy GodmotherTHE MYTH OF THE FAIRY GODMOTHER

Today I had another in a looooong line of “discussions” with the usual 7th grade students about why they have to take a reading class in, well, 7th grade. They just don’t seem to get it—even though I’ve explained it every week since school began. (That would be at least 33 times in eight months. At least.) So, why are they still in reading? The bottom line is—they can’t read. However, that particular explanation is not one they seem to appreciate, so they keep asking the question as if one of these days, I’m going to change my answer to one they like. (I’m pretty certain, for some students, that strategy works at home.)

Nevertheless, the continuous whining about how they “HATE” to read, and declarations about how they’re not going to do it, and the inevitable arguments that follow about how they are not arguing with me—none of that would really matter—except that they’re completely missing one rather fundamental point. The excruciating pain of reading class would cease to exist if they would just learn to read.

Granted, that might take a little work and they would actually have to engage in that most unspeakable of deeds—completing an actual book—but the pain of that would be far less agonizing than spending their whole next year in an 8th grade reading class. Not that they really believe me when I tell them that will happen. But here’s the dirty little secret: no one gets out until they learn to read. Ask my current 8th graders.

Livin’ the Fairy Tale

We increasingly live in a world where people are separated into two camps: there are those who understand that, in order to achieve anything or for that dream to actually happen, you have to work—and there are those who either don’t know that or don’t care to know that. Their dreams are just “supposed” to come true and most of the time, it’s because someone else is supposed to make it happen for them. And guess who’s angry if the dream doesn’t just happen?

   The fact is, you are your own fairy godmother; you’re the one with the wand. If you choose not to use it, then the dream won’t happen. Period.

Why do people not want to work? Because work is, well, work. It requires sacrifice: it requires doing things we often don’t like, it requires long hours, it requires inconvenience, it requires putting up with unpleasant circumstances or (dare I say it?) people. It isn’t always fun. And it’s sad how “fun” seems to be the new standard these days in terms of which activities are of value and which are not.

In short, work is painful. We give up something now in order to get something later. That’s how it works. Or it doesn’t.

Midnight Is Coming…

We can play now—and then have to work twice as hard later. That’s painful—especially when everyone else we know is reaping success now because they didn’t play when it was time to work. (Ask my 7th and 8th graders.)

Working to save money comes to mind—or at least not spending gobs of it when you don’t have it to spend or you’ll need it later in life. We may not have enough to save early on but then we shouldn’t be spending what we don’t have. Want a reason? Because “later” always comes.

We can play now—and then regret a missed opportunity later. I’ve said it before and I’ll hammer on it again and again: there’s no pain greater than regret. That missed opportunity to go to school when you had the chance—or (here’s a thought) to learn something while you’re there. (I always tell kids that if you’re going to college to party, stay home; it’s stupid to take out loans to party.) Or skipping that job opportunity or business op because it would require too much work.  Opportunities take work!

The ridiculous idea that we can go through life without pain is more than just a stupid concept; it’s destructive. More and more people are becoming angry at the ludicrous idea that they must work to achieve. When people can’t handle the voluntary pain and sacrifice of hard work, then they end up with the inevitable pain and heartache of having declined the opportunity to work. And whether that involves working hard at a job, in school, at a relationship, or toward some other personal goal, it’s the same story: no pain, no gain.

Here’s the bottom line: you can endure good pain and reap the satisfaction and profits of it or you can suffer bad pain and reap the sorrow and tragedy of it. There aren’t any other choices.

As for your fairy godmother, she clocks out at midnight.

 

 

The Forgotten Key to Destiny

GrapesTHE FORGOTTEN KEY TO DESTINY 

   One spring when my kids were little, we planted a vegetable garden. They were all excited—until the veggies began to grow. We had planted carrots, squash and lettuce but for some reason, my son was expecting pumpkins. He cried when he found out that, well, there wouldn’t be any pumpkins sprouting that year. Why? Because we hadn’t planted any.

You Reap What You Sow.

   One of the interesting things about the principle of sowing and reaping is that, because of it, it’s not difficult to predict outcomes in any given situation. That’s because the first rule of sowing and reaping is “You reap what you sow.” In the natural realm, for example, when you plant carrot seeds, you get carrots. You don’t get pumpkins. No mystery there (unless you’re five).

   Still, some people have a very difficult time grasping the idea that what you sow in the spiritual/moral realm is also what you reap there. In other words, if you want good relationships with family and friends, you must first spend time caring for those people and relationships. It won’t happen by ignoring or mistreating people. On the flip side, it’s possible to end up with harvests you don’t want based on what you’ve done—or not done. If, for example, you don’t want to be in debt, then you can’t run up the cards. That’s all. You’ll reap the “laws of interest” and not to your benefit. There are dozens of other examples of folks sowing “bad seed” but expecting a good harvest, somehow deceiving themselves that the law of sowing and reaping will not apply in their situations.

   God’s command in Genesis that the plants and animals reproduce “after their own kind” is concrete proof that whatever kind of seed we plant will be the same kind we harvest. So it is in the spiritual/moral realm as well. Remember, “God is not mocked.” This means that we can’t pull one over on God with a violation of this principle. “What a man sows, so shall he reap.” End of story.

 Weeds

   The same is true with regard to what we don’t do: If we do not deliberately plant “good” seed, we can’t expect to get a harvest of something good. In the physical realm, for instance, whatever soil is not sowed with good seed results in weeds.

   I remember learning this lesson one spring after removing an above-ground swimming pool from my back yard. Doing so left a twenty-two foot circle of sand and dirt in its place. Not having a particularly green thumb, I was shocked at the size, variety and tenacity of weeds that quickly sprang up to fill this void. I plucked and pruned for weeks to no avail, until it finally dawned on me that I was violating the “nature-abhors-a-vacuum” principle and that if I wanted to be permanently rid of the weeds, I needed to re-sow that area with some-thing else.

   This applies to the spiritual/moral realm as well: If we want a harvest other than weeds, we need to sow deliberately into the areas in which we want to see a good return and we need to sow good seed—“good” as defined by the Word of God. The bottom line is that good harvests don’t  happen with no effort on our parts.

It’s difficult to reap a harvest if you haven’t sown any seed.

You Reap More Than You Sow.  

   The second rule of sowing and reaping is the fact that “You reap more than you sow.” This law also dates back to Genesis where God commanded all living things “to be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, inherent in an apple seed is, not just one other apple, but an entire tree full of apples—each containing many seeds of its own.

   Jesus emphasized this point about the quantity on the return of the seed that we sow as He taught about giving. “‘Give,'” he said, “‘and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured to you’” (Luke 6:38). In short, this means that while we will receive more than we’ve sown, how much more is essentially up to us. That might be good news and it might not, but that’s also up to us. 

   And the multiplication is not just about money. Something that parents need to pay attention to is how the seeds we sow are multiplied in our children. How many times have we heard that “whatever we do, our kids will do”? The fact is, not only will they do what we do, they’ll do it more frequently and more intensely. For instance, it’s not unknown for a child who hears his parents joke about cheating on taxes to conclude that there’s no difference between that and cheating on tests in school or even to cheat in marriage. For this reason, as parents, we need to think carefully about the choices we make for our children’s sake.

   The bottom line is that whatever we sow, whether wisely or foolishly will, sooner or later, result in an in-kind harvest bigger and more far-reaching than we’ve sown—which brings us to another principle of the Law of the Harvest…

You Reap Later Than You Sow.

   The third rule of sowing and reaping is that “You reap later than you sow.” Just as it takes time for seeds to grow, so it usually takes time for the consequences of our actions to manifest. What many people either don’t know or don’t want to know is that just because we don’t see the fruit of our actions immediately, doesn’t mean we’ll never see it at all. The point is, it may take some time for the seeds to bear fruit but they will—because that’s what seeds do. How long it takes, no one really knows. All we can say for certain is that some seeds in the physical realm, like lettuce, spring up and produce a harvest very quickly while other seeds, like acorns, take many years to grow up. Consequences are the same way. Driving too fast, for instance, will reap a harvest pretty quickly; it doesn’t take long for that red, flashing light to appear in your rearview mirror or for your insurance company to get wind of the situation and hike your rates. However, showing a consistent balance of love and discipline to an unusually strong-willed child can be disheartening because it can take so long, but there will be fruit—whether in this life or the next—and it will be good fruit.

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the right time we’ll reap a harvest—if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).

    It is because of the truth of this spiritual principle that “we reap later than we sow” that the Bible encourages us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We may not see the evidence of seed growth for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean we should give up if we are waiting for a harvest, nor does it mean that we should take for granted that we’ve gotten away with sin.

   We will always reap a harvest. We will reap the same thing we’ve sown; we will reap more than we’ve sown; and we will reap later than we’ve sown. “Whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.”

   Sow carefully.