Are you feeling lucky?
'Probability' is a fascinating maths topic for children as they realise how odds can be calculated - and how 'luck' isn't always as random as we think. During the First World War, luck was one way of explaining whether someone lived or died - perhaps to cushion the blow of dealing with random deaths among close friends and relatives. This assembly explores the whole idea of being 'lucky' or 'unlucky', relates it to the experiences and beliefs of the First World War, and discusses how we handle fear of the future.
It will help if you have a coin (or dice) and some way of recording scores on a display board. If you are lucky enough to have access to a First World War helmet, use it as an illustration.
Start by asking the pupils: Are you lucky? Do you feel lucky?
Stage a quick maths demonstration of 'probability' using the flipping of a coin for heads and tails.
- If we flip a coin 12 times, then how many times will it come up heads? Or tails?
Point out that the more times the coin is flipped, the more likely it is that the results will fit a predictable pattern of 1/2 for either heads or tails - that is, they are equally likely to come up. (For a six-sided dice, it would be 1/6 for each face.) Using two dice, you could run an experiment to look at which 'scores' (2-12) come up most (it's usually 6, 7 or 8), explaining why (more possible combinations come to those totals). If you possess a loaded dice, you could also demonstrate how that changes the outcome. (Spend a maximum of five minutes on this whole activity.)
People sometimes blame 'luck' when something good or bad happens in their lives. Some people even give 'luck' a personality when they gamble money on games of chance like the National Lottery - Will Lady Luck smile on me today... or not? A famous general who was once told that a brave and clever soldier would make a very good commander, replied: Yes, but is he lucky?
So, what does it mean to be lucky? When you accidentally drop your piece of toast on the ground, does it land butter side down, or butter side up? If you're playing a dice game and want to throw a six, does it happen?
There's a famous old song that goes:
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune's always hiding,
I've looked everywhere,
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
'Fortune' is another word for good or bad luck.
- Are you a worrier?
- Do you sometimes feel that luck is hiding from you?
In the First World War, soldiers talked about luck when they were scared. Some said: It's no use worrying about being killed. If a bullet's got your name on it - then it'll get you. Of course, bullets didn't have any names on them - it was the soldiers' way of trying not to worry. They had other ways of doing this too - maybe keeping something 'lucky' in their pocket or hanging it around their neck, such as a rabbit's foot (which can't have been lucky for the rabbit!), a four-leaf clover, a religious medal or a picture of somebody precious. There were also stories of pocket Bibles stopping bullets, so some men would keep a small Bible in their pocket. Did it make them any more lucky? Probably not. Keeping safe was more about making sensible choices, like remembering to wear your steel helmet.
The Germans had Gott mit uns (God with us) inscribed on their helmets, which takes the idea of luck a bit further. If God was on your side, would he help? Would he stop the bullet before it hit you? In fact, the Germans got 'more lucky' when they took the spikes off their helmets, because they realised the spikes made it easier for an enemy to see them walking along their trenches.
But here's an odd thing. God with us is one of the names given to Jesus - Emmanuel, which means God with us. But Jesus never talked about luck. He talked about a loving God who cared for his people, who listened to prayers, but he didn't promise to do everything that people wanted. Sometimes, people wanted Jesus to do magic tricks - but he refused. Sometimes, he would make something amazing happen - but it was always to help someone, or to prove a point. And he tried to be where he was needed most. With Jesus, luck didn't come into it. It was all about keeping an eye out for the signs of God's kingdom and responding. When he died on the cross, Christians believe it was like he was 'taking a bullet' for everybody. That wasn't luck, that was love.
Of course, many soldiers didn't believe in luck, but they did believe that God cared for them no matter what happened - and that even if their bodies were killed in battle, something of them would still go on living, with God. In their pocket Bibles, Jesus said:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.
John 11:25 (CEB)
Death is scary, but Christians believe it's not the end for those who love God. And believing in this helped many soldiers to be brave even when they were scared of being killed. Instead of believing in 'Lady Luck' to see them through, they believed that Jesus would be there for them - whatever happened.
Do you worry about something happening in the future? It might be something in school, or something at home. If something worries you, don't bottle it up. Talk about it to someone you can trust, who can help. Don't leave it to luck and hope it'll go away. Many soldiers learned to handle their fears of the future by talking - and by praying too. So, let's pray.
Father God, when I'm worried, I don't know what to say or do. I don't know what's going to happen, and I feel helpless - but I'm not! Show me the good choices I can make. Show me the good things I can do with my worries. And thank you for being there for me even if bad things are happening. Amen.
In the silence, think about something that worries you - or somebody you know who worries a lot.
You might like to finish with the song 'Bag of worries' (Fischy Music).