Archive for September, 2007

More on Mercenaries

September 27, 2007

In light of our discussion a couple of posts ago about the practice of hiring private “security” companies to do jobs the military used to, this is an interesting tidbit.

Basically, the upshot is that Sec. of Defense Gates is concerned about the fact that these companies are paying people more than the military pays to do the same jobs those people used to do for the military.  One can understand why that would concern him.  He’s so concerned about it, in fact, that he’s looking into making members of the military sign non-competition agreements when they enlist.  (And let’s just think for a moment about what it means for the American military to have competition.  Not enemies, as in a foreign military.  But competition, as in other domestic organizations trying to do the same job they’re doing, only for profit.)

The linked post also discusses the fiscal impact of using private contractors, although very little and in very broad terms.

 Here is a longer AP story on Gates’ concerns.

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And Again.

September 26, 2007

Eviscerate. Tell me there’s a word that is more fun to say. I dare you.

It’s even funner because such a peaceful sounding word has such a violent meaning.

Phoning It In Again

September 25, 2007

Fuel pumps cost considerably more in Malibu than they do anywhere else in the world. So does labor for auto repairs. So I had to do some soul searching yesterday. I actually asked myself this question: is it worth paying these prices to live in Malibu?

Yes. Yes it is.

It was a busy weekend, what with having to walk everywhere, and so I haven’t the time to put together a coherent post about Greenspan’s new book or Secretary of State Rice ringing the opening bell on Wall Street or the big meeting at the U.N. about global warning (although, I’m giving myself a pass here, since the leader of our own nation couldn’t find the time for that.)

I don’t even have the time to put together a witty post asking Joe and Whitney if they are still mad at the Texans for drafting whatshisname instead of Reggie Bush.

So I’ll once again just throw up a random link and hope you find some sort of enjoyment out of it. Here are some drivers who will likely spend much more on car repairs than I did yesterday. And while they’re waiting on their cars to get fixed, they probably won’t get to sit next to Robert Downey, Jr.

Enjoy laughing at other people!

God-Forsaken Places

September 21, 2007

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Several months ago now, Wade Hodges  shared the following passage on his blog from Alan Roxburgh. I have mixed feelings about it, and I was interested in hearing the reactions of others.

If we want to discern the emergent work of God, we’ve got to ask, Where are the most God-forsaken places today? Let me suggest to you, one of the most God-forsaken place for us, is the local congregation. Why? They don’t get it. They don’t understand any of this stuff. They are so steeped in a commercialized Gospel. They are so busy trying to make life work and trying to keep up and catch up, that they don’t get it. Here’s what I want to say to you. That is exactly the place where God’s future is going to emerge. Many of us who buy the emergence narrative want to give up on these places. That’s why with so many young leaders today, church planting is the thing. You know why church planting is really the thing? Because they don’t want to bother with that stuff. Because you can’t change it.

The Spirit of God is amongst the people of God. Which means God’s future is amongst God’s people. And I mean that literally, because here’s the next thing: The answer to the question: What is the emerging form of the church today in North America in this complex culture that we live in? – I want to say to you the answer is right there in the suburbs, inner cities and in all those dumb, stupid congregations that don’t get it.

That’s where it is. In the most God-forsaken places in our culture today. That’s where God’s future is present.

That is a radically alternative narrative because God’s future is not found in the new and the next. God’s future is not found in the great high priests of the church who say, “This is how you do it.” God’s future is found in the ordinary men and women who don’t know how to do it.

God’s future is not found in leaders who have the plan and the strategy, the top-down, “aren’t you lucky you’ve got me, I’ve got my M.Div., D.Min., I’ve got a wonderful plan for your life, let’s go.” It’s not where God’s future is found. God’s future is found in the very opposite of that.

God’s future is found in the temporality, materiality, locality, specificity, of particular people in particular places. In other words, there is no big answer out there that big people bring, even at these conferences. There is a confused people, and in the midst of those confused people, is God’s Spirit and God’s future, waiting to emerge.

Therefore, being a leader is not having an answer. Being a leader is being one who is shaped and formed in practices of cultivating environments that call forth that people and that future. And the way in which that future gets cultivated and formed, is by re-entering the memory of the story. But, the gift of our moments is that we have a chance of re-entering that story from below, and outside, and no longer from dominion and power and control.

Moderates and Mercenaries

September 19, 2007

A couple of news items that caught my eye:

Moderate or Else — The military is providing instruction in Islam to its prisoners in Iraq.  They’ve brought in moderate mullahs to convert radical detainees into moderates.  According to the man in charge, they’re making headway.  I appreciate the effort, but . . . seriously?  I just have a hard time imagining it actually works.  I mean, how seriously would you take forced instruction in your religion, sponsored and directed by a foreign power that doesn’t believe in, understand, or even respect your religion?  Especially when the contents of that instruction are that, lo and behold, contrary to everything you’ve ever been taught by the people you love and trust, your religion teaches that you should be nice to that same foreign power?  Thoughts?

Global Conflict of Interest — Mitt Romney has hired Cofer Black, former high-ranking CIA and State Dept. spook and now a vice president at Blackwater, a huge military contracting firm, to head his counter-terrorism policy team.  Given that Blackwater reaps huge profits from large military deployments like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, does it seem like Mr. Black’s counter-terrorism advice might be just a wee bit self-serving?  More generally, how do you feel about our military’s increased dependence on private-sector companies like Blackwater?  It seems to me there are some very large issues — practical, political, legal, and moral — created by this practice, many of which we’ve already seen become realities in Iraq, and I don’t see anybody coming up with any solutions to them.  I don’t even see much of an effort.  The whole thing is deeply worrying to me.  You?

I’m Phoning It In

September 18, 2007

I usually have to spend a few days a semester talking about the pros and cons of using websites as resources. Because they — websites — can be very useful, sometimes. And they can be utter nonsense. I almost always have to deal with the wikipedia issue. Isn’t it a good source? Because it’s kind of self-policed, no? Everyone, it seems, loves wikipedia.

So I always end up sounding like the crotchety old man I fear I am becoming and try explaining to students about the wonders of peer-reviewed articles and following the development of arguments over the span of a few journals or books, but students’ eyes begin to glaze over and I end up sounding like someone you wouldn’t want showing up at your birthday party because I might go on and on about how sugar is bad for your teeth rather than just letting everyone enjoy the cake.

Truth is: I kind of like wikipedia. It is just eat up with interesting. Here’s one of my favorite pages.

I had no idea what the longest name in the U.S. was: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. And I didn’t know that there is a “104-foot long, 5-foot wide house in New York City built entirely out of spite for the neighbors.” It’s called, creatively enough: Spite House. I didn’t know that there is a name for the theory that the world is steadily getting smarter: The Flynn Theory. I didn’t know that toilet paper holder was so complex a piece of equipment: but it is.

Anyway….skim through the list and enjoy learning about things you didn’t even know you wanted to learn about.

Technical Difficulties?

September 17, 2007

Is it just me, or is the header for our blog progressively disappearing?  Over the weekend, the image from the boardgame disappeared.  Today, even the title text is gone.

 For me, this is happening on computers both at home and at work, and in both IE and Firefox.

 Is anybody else seeing this oddness?

Control Freaks

September 13, 2007

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I was in a meeting Tuesday afternoon when my cell phone silently buzzed in my pocket. Later, I noticed the call came from one of our folks from church, but since he didn’t leave a message I assumed the call wasn’t that important. But I was wrong.

An hour later, his son-in-law called to ask if I had heard the news that my friend’s niece had been violently murdered in Jackson that morning. At the time I was informed, the news media was all over the story: the suspect was in a car at a gas station with a gun to his head and his mother in the passenger seat while the SWAT team and police negotiators hovered around the scene. The situation eventually ended in surrender, but the most awful fact remained all too true: a beautiful 28-year-old woman had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death. By her boyfriend.

Heather’s boyfriend had only been out of an Oklahoma rehab facility for a week, that stay prompted by a prior instance where he assaulted her with some sort of hammer, requiring fifty-seven stitches to Heather’s head. But she hadn’t left him because of that, reports say. Our typical response is Why? Why didn’t she leave him? I have no knowledge, of course, but experts claim that the most dangerous time in a battered woman’s life is when she tries to leave, so maybe that was exactly what she had been trying to do? I doubt he assaulted her because she had declared her forever love. Murder generally occurs when the batterer declares with his weapons, “If I can’t have you, then nobody can.” The ultimate in control.

Domestic violence remains an epidemic in our country. In my training to be a CASA volunteer, I had the privilege of listening to experts in the field:
* I heard an unfathomable story of a lady found in a house in the middle of nowhere, whose “man” chained her to furniture each day, locked the door, and left her with no clothes and no communication every day. This happened in my area.
* I learned that batterers aren’t generally motivated by anger or violence: it is all about control.
* I learned that domestic violence is one of the few remaining taboo subjects in our world.

But what is there to do?

I heard one of the experts say something sad. He explained that one of the two major concepts he teaches in his support group for batterers is the absolute equality of both persons in a relationship, but that his biggest obstacle in teaching this is the Bible. (I was proud, however, to read THIS ARTICLE from T.D. Jakes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who provides a refreshing church perspective.)

But what is the overall solution to a problem prompted by the lust to control? I’m wondering today…

Give Me Reality, or Give Me Death

September 10, 2007

This review of Hanna Rosin’s book, God’s Harvard, resonated strongly with me. 

 The book’s subject is Patrick Henry College, a small, elite conservative Christian college established in 1999 for the purpose of producing future generations of Evangelical culture warriors.  More accurately, the book is about the students at PHC.  The author spent a year and a half on the campus, and seems to have had continuing contact with some of the students after that.

 I haven’t read the book, and don’t plan to.  From the review, I think it would resonate a little too strongly with me.  The “Harding Experience” is something I try to forget.  My heart goes out to these kids, though.  In a few more years, after more of their grads have had more time to mature and gain more life experience, there probably will be recovery groups specifically for PHC alums.

 The story of the star student who went out into the world on an internship and returned with a decidedly un-Evangelical lifestyle reminds me a bit of rumspringa, the Amish practice of sending their teenagers into the world for a year or two to let them make their own choice about whether to join the Amish community.  The problem is their kids are completely unprepared for the outside world.  They smoke to excess, drink to excess, sleep around to excess, do drugs, commit petty crimes, and often, not surprisingly, end up with serious problems (legal, physical, psychological, or some combination thereof). 

It’s like teaching a toddler to walk by locking him in a high-rise stairwell.

Like the Amish practice of rumspringa, places like PHC — from what I can tell, based on a book review and on experience in similar environments — send their graduates into the world as artificial life forms.  Some of them find niches in which their artificiality serves them well.  Some find or create micro-environments that mimic the one they came from.  Some adapt.  Some break.  I really don’t have a good sense of this, but my guess is that categories 2 and 4 are larger than categories 1 and 3.

 The sad irony, as in the story of the PHC star, is: those most likely to break in the real world are those who were best adapted to the environment at PHC.

I often find myself quoting something Michael Weed said 20-odd years ago — that Christian education tends to serve as a vaccination against the real life of Christ, rather than as an exposure to it.  If that’s true, then it’s probably also the case that Christian education prevents exposure to real life of any kind. 

How good an education is that?

Happy Monday

September 10, 2007

I hate to knock Al’s article (below) off the front page, but I’m going to anyway. It’s very thought-provoking — if you get a chance to read it, it will make your head hurt. Like the good kind of head hurt that happens when you eat ice cream too quickly.

I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of the Darwin awards — you know, the yearly awards given out to people who die from seemingly careless or even silly acts. Because most of us do some pretty stupid things from time to time — our stupid things just usually don’t end up killing us.

I’m not completely humorless, though. Here are some pictures of people in the process of doing some stupid things. Most of these pictures involve people not really understanding the basic principles of gravity and ladders. Since these people (hopefully) weren’t harmed from their silliness, it’s okay to laugh, no?

The first picture is my favorite.

Happy Monday.