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John Madden, TV sportscaster and former professional football coach, has said that a coach's most important tool is a chalkboard. According to Screaming Madden, how a coach diagrams the positioning of his players with those little x's and o's on the board usually determines the outcome of the game. You can see that he believes that by watching him diagnose plays on television. After a play is over, Madden diagrams on the screen why it worked or didn't. With arrows and circles and other scribbles, he shows how a play succeeded because a player or players were IN A POSITION to make the play, or failed because someone was OUT OF POSITION to make a catch or a tackle or a block. Positioning is all-important.
Positioning is important in baseball as well. The fielder positions himself to catch the ball. It's a game of strategy. He studies the hitter to determine where the hitter is likely to hit the ball, and then the fielder stands in that position. The hitter's task is to outsmart the fielder and position the ball where the fielder ain't!
Tennis is a game of positioning. Watch the pros. They aren't running all over the court trying to hit the ball. They anticipate where the ball is likely to land and then position themselves.
Positioning is all-important in the game of life as well. When I position myself so the wind or the air-conditioning blows directly on me, I will get a sinus attack. I can prevent such attacks by positioning myself out of the air current, or by wearing a cap.
The Old Testament lesson this morning has two incidents in the life of Moses that have to do with positioning. Moses found himself out of position by his hot-tempered killing of an Egyptian foreman. He thought no one saw the crime, but the next day learned he had been observed when he tried to settle an argument between two Hebrews, and one of them turned on Moses and told him he was in no position to intervene because of what he had done the day before. "Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Exodus 2:14)
The second incident, which immediately follows in the text, finds Moses in a better position. He had fled to the land of Midian where he sat down by a well. If you have traveled in the Sinai Peninsula, you will appreciate the importance of a cold drink of water. Some women were at the well drawing water and shepherds came and drove them away so their sheep could drink. Again Moses found himself as a mediator, only this time he was in a position to help. He rescued the women from the shepherds, drew water for them, helped water their flock, and as a result, was invited to their home where he stayed and married one of the women.
Through anger and violence, Moses placed himself in a bad situation and a dangerous one. When the pharaoh heard about it, Moses had to escape to the Sinai Peninsula. But out in the wilderness, lonely, tired, lost, looking for direction and purpose, he found himself in a position of helpfulness and blessing. He then was in a position to hear God's call and become the Savior of the Hebrew slaves. Positioning is all-important.
Where do you position yourself? Do you position yourself for success or failure? Do you position yourself for disappointment? Do you make the same choices over and over that bring defeat? Do you constantly stand in the draft and then get a sinus attack? Do you find yourself having the same argument with your spouse or friend? Can you predict how it will turn out, with the same bad feelings, anger, and frustration? Do you find yourself always standing in the place where you know you'll miss the ball?
If so, move over! Stand, position yourself in a different place where you can catch the ball. Anticipate the opponent's moves so you'll be where he/she hits the ball, and you can return it. Set your sight on where the ball will land and position yourself there. Have you studied the hitchikers who stand at the entrances to freeways? Many of them hold up signs to announce their destination. Some are very specific: San Francisco, Los Angeles. Others are less exact: Texas, Colorado, New York. Yet others are more general: North, East, South. Glendon Harris saw a young man during the Christmas season holding up a sign which read: Anywhere. How sad. What was his position? Anywhere. Some folks know where they are going and take means to get there directly. Others are vague and like Moses on the lam, just escape to anywhere.
Take charge of your life. Decide where you are going. Position yourself to get there. Shakespeare has Julius Caesar say, "Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Shakespeare's truth is sound: your destiny is determined more by the positioning of yourself than the position of the stars.
Position yourself to be a winner. What will it take to be a winner? Live from a position of power, not weakness. Live from a position of anticipated victory, not resigned defeat. Martin Buber, the brilliant Jewish thinker, likened life to a checker game, where the importance of proper positioning is evident. He illustrated his point with this story:
Several Jewish seminary students were found by their rabbi one day playing checkers when they should have been studying Talmud. Embarrassed, they returned immediately to their books. But the rabbi smiled and told them not to be ashamed, since they always should study the law wherever they find it. So he asked if they knew the three rules of the game of checkers. "First," he said, "do not make two moves at once. Second, move only forward, not backward. And third, when you have reached the last row, then you may move wherever you like. Such," he said, "is what the Torah teaches." And he left. That was the lesson for the day.
According to Martin Buber, the game of checkers teaches us: First, do not clutter your life with more than one move at a time. Second, keep sight of your goal, going forward, not backward. Third, you will become truly free only as you move to the last row, making yourself the servant of others. Freedom is found in obedience. The secret of playing your life to the fullest is found in submission to the divine rules of play.
Therefore, there is more to it than positioning. Posturing also is critical. In whatever position you find yourself, what is your posture? Sometimes the position you have taken, or that has been thrust upon you, is stormy, full of turmoil and strife. Then, what is your posture? What is your inner strength, your inner core? Are you submitting to the divine rules of play?
Last week I overheard a woman describing the time she met and talked to a principal Watergate figure, one of those who was convicted and served time in prison. He has now served his time and tours the country speaking. According to the woman, she asked him, "If you had it to do over, what would you do?" He replied, "I would do it over again. I was serving my government. I was given orders, and I carried out those orders." The woman was very impressed with his answer and with his posture. She said, "He's just a wonderful man. I have such respect for him. He is a real patriot. He put his country first."
I thought to myself: what about God's orders? Is it right to obey commands, to carry out orders, you know are wrong? When people blindly obey orders, regardless of right and wrong, regardless of God's laws, regardless of morality or integrity, then we as a nation are in deep trouble, for we are vulnerable to fascism, ripe for dictators to rule mindless, amoral robots.
When you find yourself in a position where you must choose between obeying orders and your own conscience, what will be your posture? If you should discover your company's policy violates your code of ethics, breaks God's laws, what will be your posture? When you find yourself in a position where you must choose between what is expedient and what is right, between what is expected in order for you to succeed according to someone else's definition of success and what is morally right, what will be your posture? When you find yourself in a position where you must choose between tough shepherds and women who are trying to draw water from the well, what will be your posture? Ignore the women? Give in to the macho types? Overlook the injustice and oppression? Or, will you be able to confront the wrongdoer and support the wronged?
In last Sunday's edition of the San Jose Mercury News, our own Bob Hamerton-Kelly wrote an article raising serious questions about the policies and rhetoric of the popular hero, Nelson Mandela of South Africa. It was a provocative article, clearly against the tide of America's current fever. It takes courage to put yourself in a position of controversy because of your posture!
Are you true to your own sense of God's will, biblical morality, Christian ethics, and your own enlightened conscience? If not, what is important to you? Expediency? Whatever works? Ends justify the means?
Succeeding in the game called Life is a matter of positioning, but it takes more than positioning. Succeeding in God's eyes is a matter of posture as well.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris