Pursuing the vision

by Donald Hostetler, Mayor – 

Not everyone who calls another “a visionary” intends it as a compliment. It has sometimes been used in derogation to suggest an approach to life which is unrealistic. You know the idea (it is spoken with a bit of a sneer): “He has his head in the clouds. He’s one of those ‘visionaries.’” Miguel Cervantes wrote the story of Don Quixote about one such loopy optimist—and contributed the phrase “tilting at windmills” to describe the type.

Yet those who have entered training college around the world have become members of the “Visionaries” Session of cadets. It will be the signature of their session.

If the Visionaries are to be true to their calling, they must be firmly grounded in the realities of mission…while being obedient to their heavenly vision. There are too many real obstacles to overcome in that pursuit; there is no time for “tilting at windmills.”

But the rooted dream is the stuff of our Salvationist heritage. It is what called the Booths to see drunks and prostitutes as God’s children capable not only of redemption, but of becoming effective evangelists to others bound in the ravages of sin. The dream of “the world for God” sent Salvationists around the world in the 1880s with a gospel message rooted in the unique realities of the culture in which they ministered. The Army’s integration of practical works of service with a militant evangelism took shape under the vision of the Founder, but has added dimensions of ministry that he could never have dreamed—from hospitals to schools, from disaster relief to residences for seniors.

I wonder, though—have we decided in this enlightened 21st century that the optimist and the realist are a breed apart? It sometimes seems as if we are forced to choose. We are told that “a practical visionary” is an oxymoron. It is the job of the “bean counter” to bring the dreamer “back to earth.”

This need not be so. “The vision thing,” as President George H.W. Bush referred to it, has become part of management and leadership texts. If we have decided that vision and reality are incompatible, we are casting aside a Scriptural truth that secular organizations have finally come to: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The leaders of every organization, large or small, are challenged by consultants to cast a vision for the organization.

If we have decided that vision and reality are incompatible, we ignore the lessons of the Army’s history: dream large and put feet to your dreams. Who dared dream that seven young women would plant dozens of corps across the U.S., armed only with flags and tambourines…and a vision of winning the world to Jesus?

If we have decided that vision and reality are incompatible, we depart from our American heritage: there are always new frontiers to be conquered. Whether it is to settle the “Wild West” or land on the moon, whether establishing women’s suffrage or overcoming racial injustice, there have always been those like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who say, “…in spite of the difficulties of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Playwright George Bernard Shaw (who wrote Major Barbara in homage to the Army) said, “You see things; and you say ‘why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say “why not?’” That is the kind of spirit that should characterize the Visionaries Session—and, indeed, all Salvationists.

The story of Don Quixote was turned into a stage musical titled The Man of La Mancha. The show-stopping song by Joe Darion could well be our anthem, if you will permit me a few editorial parentheses:
To dream the impossible dream (and turn it into reality),
To fight the unbeatable foe (in the power of God, wearing his full armor),
To bear with unbearable sorrow (made bearable by the grace of Christ),
To run where the brave dare not go (as have Salvationist trailblazers in every generation),
…This is my quest…to fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.

I pray that all of us—not just those called Visionaries—possess a spirit that pursues with vigor, with diligence and, yes, with reality, the vision that God has given to us.

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