Being First

As I listened to the tributes to Neil Armstrong a few days ago, I was flooded with the thoughts of what is required when you are first at whatever it may be. When you are first, it is no accident. It has required a pioneering spirit from your conception, or in the case of America from its inception. Neil Armstrong epitomized that pioneering spirit

.          Being first can never be about the person; it must always be about the event. The significance of the happening is the important factor. The reason is simple. If the  emphasis and importance are placed on the person, it becomes a celebrity event, punctuated with the notoriety that follows. If it is placed on the event, the person becomes a  model and the event can be owned by all who contributed to the happening and those who will benefit from its legacy. That requires humility, vision, a sense of purpose, the heart of a servant, and a sense of inner pride. It requires courage beyond the ordinary, and will to sacrifice beyond the will of most. It requires reaching for all the stars that are in your heaven of opportunity; it requires the energy and effort to become all you were created to be. That is a personal journey that all pioneers must follow.  Neil Armstrong needed no trumpets or headlines; he needed only to look up and reach for the next star. He was such an elegant model, and he will remain that model because he heralded no celebrity status to fade away or die. He was not a shooting star; he was and remains a shining star.

My America, this land that has allowed me to be and grow and strive and thrive, is a first. This great country that has allowed me to pioneer, to listen to my heart, to follow the dictates of my soul is a first of its kind. There has not been a nation created before our founding nor since our founding that is like ours. We are that unique republic, that first of a kind. It is the event that occurred with sacrifice, courage, and often great secrecy. Celebrity status would have brought death to many of our founders. They moved and worked with great purpose.  Our documents were created with great risk, great vision, and a constant reaching for the stars of freedom.  We have served as a model of those freedoms because we lived and fought for them. We have been proud to share the successes of those freedoms with millions. Being first requires that of us.

But I see much that makes me wonder whether history will record The United States of America as a shooting star or a shining star. Will it remain the shining star of freedom that will continue to shed the hopeful beams of freedom’s light or will it fall?

We must take pride in being first. We must accept the responsibilities that derive from being first. We must accept the humble servant status that accompanies being first. And we must never apologize for being first.


Clear Blue Skies

As I sat at the end of the driveway this morning, a life lesson became clear. Many mornings the sky is filled with clouds of various kinds: light and dark; large and small; cumulos and cirrus; red and gray; one of this kind and one of that kind; all the same kind; varied and sundry; ominous or friendly; some in the distance and some close; some in the east and none in the west. God’s universe is magnificently the same and creatively different. This morning was one of those “there’s not a cloud in the sky” days. I have two grandchildren with “sky blue eyes.” Now I know why they are described that way. There it was all around me from horizon to horizon. A cloudless, clear, blue sky.

I didn’t feel cloudless or even sense the potential until I looked up. There it was. This magnificent expanse created without a cloud in my vision. I could manufacture clouds in my mind just like the clouds that already cluttered my mind, or I could look for the sunshine that shines there just as it does in the cloudless  sky. I suddenly felt relieved because for this day I did not need clouds. Without the clouds, the hills and the valleys were distinct. The roads were clear ribbons that meander throughout my countryside.  The driveway was half shadows and half sunshine. I could choose to talk in either one.

There was the great lesson. I was given enough shadows to appreciate the sun and enough sun to appreciate the shadows. Wow! And I could choose the cool air in the shadows, or I could walk in the sun and feel the cool breeze grow warm as the sun skirted across the sky. At some point today, the driveway will be all sun, and sometime today it will be all shade. But for the moment when I started down the driveway, I had a choice ; I could walk in the sun or I could walk in the shade.

Most of the shadows we have in our lives are created because we stand in our own sunshine. We choose to walk in the shade.


At the End of the Driveway

The walk to the end of my driveway is one of my exercise paths. But it is more than that. It has become a part of my grateful walk. I can sit at the end and see so many things for which I am so grateful. Picture endless skies in the cool air of the morning. The tall palms that line the driveway are amazing. They shelter so many different species of birds that fly in and out as they pursue their natural ways. Amazing sounds emanate from the air as they fly their routes and claim their space with songs. The harmony of the sound is stunning. Only when you stop to be grateful do you notice.

Sometimes I think being grateful is a lost art. We even have folks who question whether or not Thanksgiving is necessary. It is only when we are grateful for what we have rather than complain about what we don’t have that we truly understand the abundance of our universe. Everything that we need is available to us but only if we ask. Availability is not a pie that has to be parceled out; if you take half then only half is available for me. No! The universe is more like the sand of the beach or the waters of the oceans. Plentiful.

But you have to ask to receive and you have to knock on doors if you want to have them open for you. And most certainly you cannot find anything if you do not search for it. What you believe you will see. Believing is seeing rather than seeing is believing should be our motto. The rest of the motto should be to receive with gratitude.

It is with that attitude of gratitude that I walk to the end of my driveway. As I look around and view my surroundings with gratitude  a wave of fear engulfs my being. The questions come in quick succession.

What will be left for my grandchildren? Will the entitlement culture devour their opportunities like the ravenous beast that it is? Will the people who believe that the government is their benefactor contribute less and less and require more and more from those who strive, who work, who believe they have an obligation to use their God-given talents? Will the entitlement culture drain the energy from the well of responsibility and the air from the atmosphere of self-reliance?

Those questions and more compelled me to write America First, Again. It is why at 91 I want to invite anyone of any age who is sitting around thinking things are OK to get out of their rocking chairs, or off their playground of complacency because things are not OK . We are losing our republic.  The lights are being dimmed on “A Shining City on a Hill.”

Labor Day and a Sixteenth Birthday

It is Labor Day 2012. And it is my granddaughter’s 16th birthday.

I celebrate labor. I want to blow the trumpets and announce again the importance of the work ethics of our founders, our grandfathers and grandmothers. My German grandfather was a master at teaching the value of honest labor. He never gave us a fish; he gave us a fishing pole. He never gave us money; he gave us the opportunity to earn money. Then he taught us how to keep some for that rainy day. He was grateful to his new country for the opportunity to own land, to build a multi-family home for his large family, to work from sun-up to sun-set; and to ride in the caboose of the long freight train that was taking his cattle and hogs to the markets in the stockyards of bustling Chicago.

As an immigrant, he seemed to understand better than many who are born in this country, how important it is for government to help you keep what you earn, rather than to figure out how to take more of a citizen’s earnings. He helped his children get their starts. He was an entrepreneur and a tough negotiator when it came to venture capital–the money he and his family had earned.

I sat at the end of the driveway this morning and contemplated the significance for me today of the double celebration. What do the next Labor Days hold for my 16 year old granddaughter? Will they be a celebration of hard work, of ethical behavior in the workplace,and of policies that will allow her to keep what she earns in the future? She works hard at her present endeavors; no one shoots the three-point shots for her; no one spends the hours doing her homework; no one takes her tests or writes her papers.

When she finishes her school work and heads out into her work world, what will she find? Will she find business, industry, and the professions prosperous and free, or will she find them further transformed to be controlled and largely owned by an ever-expanding government?

As I sat pondering the meaning of Labor Day and the future of my granddaughter, I thought about what college holds for her. Will those wonderful years be filled with opportunity to become all she was created to be, or will they be filled with an ever-increasing culture of entitlement, of subversion of our founding principles, of biases that re-write our history, of assassination of our founders, and one that belittles our founding documents that guarantee her freedoms?  Or will she encounter those bastions of truth that honor the exceptionality of this land and who instill the responsibility and humility that come with being a citizen of this great republic? Will she come out of college understanding and defending the Constitution rather than thinking it is a document that is outdated?

I ask these questions because I have spent a great portion of my professional career at the university level. And I see President Obama spending a great deal of time on college campuses. Why? Is the transformation not yet complete? I have seen all sides of the questions I ask. I have conducted classes during student strikes and I have walked by students occupying administrative offices. I have given diplomas and as a dean, recommended hundreds of students for degrees at all levels. What have the great private and state universities lost of their heritage that I should even be able to ask these questions?

Read the founding histories of education at all levels. You will be astonished as I have been even though I thought I knew the history. I lived on the inside of these institutions for many years. But the transformation has happened over time, and it has been intentional and clever. Our insistence on religious freedom has been a strength used against us. Our Christian foundings have been diminished or subverted; self-reliance has been replaced with entitlement all in the name of compassion and equality; equality of opportunity has been replaced with demand for equity; and self-reliance and responsibility have been replaced with demands for rights.

But I’m betting on my country and my Creator. I’m betting on the truth, innate desire for freedom, personal responsibility of our people, integrity, and hard work. And I’m betting on friends and neighbors to give people fish who really need help, but I’m hoping that the rest of us will take the fishing pole we are handed and learn how to fish.

Yes, I’m betting on future Labor Days to be celebrations of hard work, of self-determined enterprise, and an appreciation of all labor wherever it may be.

Yes, and I’m betting on a great future for my granddaughter. She is an American, born in this special land of opportunity, this one-of-a-kind place where she is guaranteed (if we keep these guarantees) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Happy Birthday, dear one, on this 2012 Labor Day.