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By John Pierce

The intriguing life of Margaret Mitchell was shared this week in an excellent Georgia Public Broadcasting production that will air nationally next spring.

Amazingly, Gone With The Wind was her only novel. More amazingly, it has been released in more than a thousand editions and in multiple languages, and still sells a quarter-million copies each year.

The documentary looked at and beyond the book and subsequent movie to the private life of the writer. And indeed she protected her privacy.

Interestingly, she and Atlanta’s well-known educator Benjamin Mays secretly corresponded about the need for training African-American physicians. A student courier from Morehouse College, where Dr. Mays served as president, would pick up and deliver the checks that Mitchell wrote in support of that effort.

Current Atlanta leaders spoke of how the late novelist was responsible for the medical school producing an early generation of doctors to serve the black community.

About Gone With The Wind, Mitchell said (and I pulled out a pen): “I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”

Language evolves over time and words gain pejorative meanings. Urban slang uses “gumpshun” to mean smart-mouthed or quick-witted, which certainly applied to some of Mitchell’s characters.

In the novelist’s time, however, the word “gumption” defined other characteristics such as fortitude, determination, risk-taking, courage and spunk. Having a good dose of gumption is a good thing, I believe.

It took gumption for the early disciples to leave the familiar and the secure to follow Jesus. It still does unless you tone Jesus down enough to fit social acceptability.

It takes gumption to stand with those who many put down, to love unconditionally and to live sacrificially. All of that goes against the larger push to always play it safe and focus on self.

I’m not sure the biblical text contains a word that can be fully translated as “gumption” — although Clarence Jordan may have done so in Cotton Patch Gospels. But the concept is certainly there.

So may the gift of gumption be among the good things we discover this Advent and Christmas. It can be well used in the days ahead.

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