Category Archives: Thought-Provoking

Three Things That Walls Cost Us

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace.  If you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  If you seek liberalization.  Come here to this gate.  Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan

berlin-wall

AFP Photo / Gunther Kern

Reagan spoke those words at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987.  Glimmers of light were beginning to appear through the cracks in the Iron Curtain.  Many of us were fascinated at what was happening in Europe.

My generation grew up in fear of those who lived on the other side of that Iron Curtain.  We were told that they were evil.  They were the enemy.  They hated us.  Without giving it a thought, I accepted that the figurative Iron Curtain and the literal Berlin Wall were good things.  They protected us and prevented bad things from happening to us.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I made my first trip to Romania in 1997 as part of a church mission team.  I vividly remember landing in Bucharest and being struck with irony that I was “on the other side of that curtain.”  A place I never thought I would be.  I returned home two weeks later a changed man.  What changed in me?  I learned that the Iron Curtain was costly.  It had cost me these three things.

Understanding

Twenty-six trips there have taught me much.  Romania is a cultural island, different from her neighbors.  Like America, her people struggle with ethnic prejudices.  Vlad Dracul was real, he was nothing like the movies and most Romanians are weary of having to explain that fact to silly American tourists.  When I stopped focusing on my home, I began to understand theirs.  I have a deep appreciation and love for their culture because I understand it.  As Marie Curie once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.”  That wall prevented me from understanding the people on the other side.

Friendship

I have friendships with Romanians that are impossible to describe; deep, abiding relationships.  Some are like family to me.  Technology makes it easier to stay in touch, but I still miss them greatly.  It’s hard for two people to establish and maintain a friendship if a wall exists between them.  Walls cost us friendships and that is a high price to pay.

Opportunity

That Iron Curtain – or Cortina de Fier, as my Romanian friends call it – fell in 1989.  Freedom brought opportunity.  It provided those on the eastern side of the wall with a chance to participate in democracy.  To speak up for change, as many Romanians have done in recent days to fight corruption in government.  The wall coming down gave me the opportunity to share my faith and build relationships there.  Opportunity is lost on either side of a wall.

Are walls needed?  In some cases, yes.  But, they always come with a price.  I hope that you will consider that price before you build a wall between yourself and someone else.  I also hope that you will make today great!  Just good days, folks!

The 21st Century Gold Rush!

Skagway, Alaska should be on your bucket list.  Nestled on the coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountain range, Skagway is a town of about 1,000 permanent residents.  Cruise ships arrive during the summer months adding 10,000 per day to that number.  A portion of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” is set in Skagway.  It is a beautiful place.

Skagway’s claim to fame?  It was one of launching points for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush.  An estimated one hundred thousand souls braved the harshest of conditions to carry 200 pounds of supplies across the mountain range to Dawson City.  It was there, at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, that they hoped to strike it rich.  Many had sold everything they possessed in order to fund this venture.  Of the 100,000 who made the journey only 4,000 ever found gold.  The other 96,000 lost everything.  No one got rich.

If you visit Skagway ride the train that runs along the White Pass Trail.  You can still see that trail walked by those thousands, packed so hard that it remains visible 120 years later.  This photo of prospectors walking the Chilkoot Trail, taken by George G. Cantwell in 1898, gives you an idea of the conditions.

ChilkootPass

You may say that those times don’t exist today.  There will never be another “gold rush.”  Before you draw that conclusion you must consider what is at the heart of a “gold rush.”  The desire to strike it rich and to do so quickly.  On the date of this post, January 13, 2016, a different sort of gold rush is underway.  A 21st Century version.  The Powerball Lottery jackpot stands at $1.5 billion dollars.  That’s billion – with a “b.”

What is the source of that sum?  A number that grew from $40 million in November to $800 million in late December to $1.5 billion today?  Unfortunately, a lot of it comes from the pockets of those who can least afford it.  Public polling suggests that the poorest among the population are contributing more than those with higher incomes.  One poll found that lottery participants with incomes of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month playing the lottery.  That’s $552 per year.  In some cases that was more than double any other spending category.

A study conducted by the University of Buffalo in 2012 concluded that “increased levels of lottery play are linked with certain subgroups in the U.S. population — males, blacks, Native Americans, and those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Unfortunately, lotteries are conducted by a system that is monopolized and driven by those in political power.  They are often presented as something other than legalized gambling: in my state (Arkansas) it’s promoted as the “Scholarship Lottery.”  The marketers of this activity do their job very well.  They come up with slick slogans such as the one I found on Arkansas’ site: “Someone has to win.  It might was well be you!”  Some marketing is so effective that participants feel as if they are actually doing a service to their community by participating!

Each of us have the right to choose whether or not we’ll play.  I just ask that you keep in mind that your chances of winning are 1-in-292,000,000.  That’s roughly one person in the entire population of the United States.  Those odds are far less than the 4% chance of finding gold in the Yukon.

UtahLotteryPlayers

(Photo above shows Utah residents who drove across state lines to play Powerball in Idaho: Fox13 News in Salt Lake City, Utah)

I also ask that you keep in mind that the $1.5 billion was funded in large part by those who can afford it least.  Give that some thought before you jump in line to buy that ticket.

Whether you choose to play Powerball or not, I hope that today is a great one for you!  Remember: Just Good Days!