OptionsPosted August 2nd, 2012
by Dexter Thomas
Ricardo and I stand on the corner of San Pablo and Peralta Streets. It is a Thursday at midnight. We are finishing our “rounds,” touching base with friends on the Oakland streets. A tall, strikingly beautiful woman approaches us. She knows Ricardo and is excited to see him.
After chatting a bit, I feel impelled to ask her, “Ruby, what would life be like for you without drugs? Paint a picture for me if you were not on drugs.”
After a period of silence, Ruby replies, “If I wasn’t on drugs? If I wasn’t on drugs? If I wasn’t on drugs?” She repeats the question several more times in the same tone of disbelief. Ruby has been on some form of addictive substance for the last 25 years—in other words, for most of her life.
Finally, after a long, bewildered pause, Ruby says wistfully, “If I wasn’t on drugs, I’d have my own apartment. I’d be able to pay my rent monthly. I’d be able to read bedtime stories to my kids.”
As she speaks, her voice grows in strength and confidence. “I’d be able to sleep in my own bed. I’d be able to wear clean and nice clothes.” She touches the tattered clothes she is wearing almost in surprise, as if her imagined dreams have already taken effect.
I am unable to stop the swelling of the lump in my throat. Ruby’s unimaginable dreams are the daily comforts I take for granted. Right before my eyes, I see how desperately important it is to help people see that they have options. They have alternatives. Ruby’s dreams are not far-fetched, but to her they are nothing but distant fantasies.
Vision, as I am referring to the idea, is typically described as our ability to use our imagination to take ourselves into a possible future and to create various possibilities there. It is fast-forwarding the DVD player of our imagination to see what the end might look like. We all need a clear picture of what something better could look like.
To do this is not, however, to ignore our current reality. According to Frederick Douglas Hanes, “Vision takes note of the ‘dump heap’ circumstances but sees the invisible and works to bring about the impossible. Vision is never ignorant of the mess and maddening maladies in our world, but, regardless of the wreckage, can still foresee the way things ought to be.”
Saul Alinski, who worked among Chicago’s poorest, believes that accepting the world as it is “does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be. It is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.”
Imagining what can be is an exercise in faith and hope. It is something we all need to do more of.
Vision is not just dreaming. It is seriously developing options and alternatives. It means real choices. We don’t have to be defined by our circumstances and history. Nor must we be defined by fears, addictions, and the low expectations of others.
The Possibility of Freedom
Where there is no vision—where there are no options or alternatives—a person gets stuck in a rut of brokenness and pain from which he or she is unable to rise. But the simple existence of options and alternatives points forward to the possibility of freedom. Harriet Tubman, a key activist in the Underground Railway during the nineteenth century, once said, “Yes, I did free hundreds of slaves, but I could have freed thousands if only they had known they were slaves.”
In today’s rapidly changing world, it is important to be able to accurately assess trends and changes. Vision is also the ability and readiness to take advantage of these trends and changes and grab with both hands the opportunities that present themselves. In other words, vision is also being alert to opportunities.
Consider for a moment the story of the lame beggar at the gate called Beautiful, which is recorded in Acts, chapter 3. When the man who was crippled begged Peter and John for money at the Temple gate, they looked at him and said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Through their absolute faith in the Lord Jesus, the disciples brought him a blessing he would never have imagined was remotely possible.
What do you think the man would choose if given the options of being healed or spending a lifetime living on handouts? Of course we are sure that he would have jumped at the chance to be healed. However, when people are crippled by circumstances and hardships, they often do not see beyond their immediate plight. It is not because they are dumb or ignorant, but because trials and troubles veil their eyes from seeing the opportunities of change and transformation within their reach. For years, the only reality the beggar faced was disability, poverty, and—because a physical disability equalled total disability in that time and culture—shame.
Silver and Gold the Answer?
The beggar thinks that satisfying his hunger is the best he can hope for. He is simply accustomed to his reality. Only silver and gold can meet his needs and he must beg in order to get silver and gold.
But then along come Peter and John, who provide him with something he has never considered: a restored body? In that moment, he has a choice. An “impossible” opportunity presents itself to him. What will he do? In unbelief, will he ignore the opportunity in disgust, looking for the next person with money? Or, alternatively, does he have the vision to adjust to the opportunity that presents itself?
Peter takes him by the right hand, and lifts him to his feet. Finding strength in his feet and ankles, the man immediately begins to walk. He stands upright as he enters the temple with Peter and John, jumping around and praising God (Acts 3:7-8). In the midst of the drudgery—being disabled in a culture that was ruthless toward the disabled—he catches a glimpse hope. And he reaches for it.
Though both the attitude toward the differently-abled and the technology of accessibility have vastly improved from that beggar’s day, most people reading this publication know the daily challenge of living with a physical disability. In the midst of our struggles, can we benefit from understanding vision? We need to.
Vision is imagining a better future—and what it will take to get there. Vision is seeking alternatives and options in order to have a choice. Vision is readying oneself to grab the opportunities when they come our way.
Ultimately, the reason we are able to have vision and to make the most of the opportunities is that we love and serve a God of possibilities. We have a Father who loves us and has a vision for us that is better than anything we can imagine.