Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Afghanistan

I know only enough to be dangerous and possibly look stupid but here goes:

I know we are in for another "surge" as Obama/McChrystal plan to add many more soldiers to the mix and they are already planning their withdrawal. Here's my overall take.

I'm reading a book right now by former NRP reporter Sarah Chayes called the Punishment of Virtue. I'm about 1/3 thru but it at least confirms what I've felt for some time: we can not win in Afghanistan. Distant and more current history there should confirm this.

I have no idea how a rag-tag bunch of mujahadeens could somehow survive and eventually force the Russians to give up but they did. How we think we can possibly do better? The first way (Bush 43) was mostly to bomb the daylights out of them. And for what?

The Obama way seems to be the "Hearts-and-minds" strategy. I've heard plenty of comparisons to Vietnam and this one seems to ring true. Maybe we can just win them over to our way of thinking.

News flash - these people will never think like we do. They have centuries of culture that just don't mesh with ours. Much like the factions in Iraq that made/make it so difficult, the tribal culture in Afghanistan is nothing like ours, it is not and has never been a democracy.

I heard another report this morning about our military training their police force. One thing they were working on was teaching the future Afghan soldiers to read so they could ID the #s on their rifle butts.

If much of the young populace can't read (we already know perhaps most women can't since the Taliban didn't allow women to go to school), how can we expect them to understand our way of government? This is a multi-year process of just getting people up to speed on so many things, then we teach them how to govern, keep the peace, etc.

And I'll make a risky statement, democracy doesn't always work like we want it to and doesn't always work everywhere.

We are spending billions every year in Afghanistan to do what? We have to drive out the Taliban. Al Qaeda. Replace the commerce around Opium. Take care of two major borders (Iran on the west - Pakistan on the east) that allow for the flow of said opium, terrorists, you name it. Pakistan doesn't seem to be able (or want) to fix that the problem - some of what I've read show they benefited from the way things were.

I don't think we can just pull out, but I'm not sure what we can accomplish by staying. Eventually Great Britain became not quite so great. Pax Britannica or whatever it was called proved to be too great a burden and the world changed around their empire.

The United States can't fix the problems in every country around the world. We can't keep our heads in the sand either.

But in a similar vein I heard someone describe how Obama's approval rating was the lowest of any President at this time in his first term ever and one major reason was he hadn't done anything to fix things here at home. More than 10% are still out of work but the focus seems to be on the climate or Health care. Neither one of these is minor but neither one will put people back to work and food on the table.

I don't have a good answer for Afghanistan but what we are doing there doesn't seem to be working. Most of us (self included) likely don't recall we started things up there in 2001. More than 8 years ago. From my limited vantage point it doesn't seem like things are much better 8 years and billions of $ later and how ever many American lives (not to mention civilians) lost.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Primal: A review

I’m not a professional book reviewer or critic and I don’t play one on TV. But I follow a blog by a pastor in DC, Mark Batterson. He’s written three books now (I’ve read two of them). He mentioned that his publisher was looking for bloggers to review his latest. All we had to do was send an email and a URL. They’d let us know if our blog was selected.

Shortly thereafter I got an email telling me I had been picked and my review copy was on its way. How cool is that?

But with the copy came responsibility; I need to write a cogent review, publish it on my blog, mention the book on Facebook and in general spread the word.

Readers may not be able to tell but I’ve selected American Typewriter as my font. I thought it smacked of publishing. I don’t like Courier (too spread out for me) and I’m tired of the usual Palatino et al. It (AT) also looks sufficiently old-fashioned. Getting back to the roots or writing on an old Olivetti. Almost primitive if you think about it.

Primitive. Webster’s defines this as ”pertaining to the beginning …” also “imitative of the earliest times; crude, simple, rough.” These all describe where things are about to go.

Batterson’s 3rd book, Primal, is subtitled “A quest for the lost soul of Christianity.”

He begins his written quest in Rome venturing down into some of the catacombs. I’ve been there too. Maybe not to the exact places he and his wife visited but I’ve been underground and seen the places where early Christians hid. Many were buried there.

If this book had just been titled Primal, it might have attracted some of the John Eldredge crowd or even the guy who took other guys into the woods to beat drums. But the subtitle does at least two things: it dramatically narrows down the potential audience and begs the question (or perhaps requires the assumption) that you think Christianity has lost its soul. Or maybe as eventually became my case as I read and liberally marked up this free review copy (hope they don’t ask for it back!), you begin to wonder about the soul of your own faith.

The book is a relatively short 171 pages. But it made me stop and think so much that I took more than a week to read it.

Batterson echoes some of my thoughts early on when he exhorts the reader to go back “to the primal faith you once had. Or more accurately, the primal faith that once had you.”

Mark 12:30 is the main thesis of the book; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Batterson takes each one of these four parts of our being and digs into what they represent; or perhaps should represent in the life of every Christian.

Batterson pastors an Assembly of God church but from what I read about his church, five churches actually, (to get some details about his congregations around the Capitol area of DC, you need to check out evotional.com – his blog, which will give you all sorts of insight into his role as a pastor and his ministry), his church is atypical for the Assemblies of God and this is most certainly not an AG book or even Pentecostal in that sense of the word. He points out early that Christians “will disagree about a variety of doctrinal issues until Jesus returns.” And rather than expand or add to the many discussions about this or that little jot or tittle of Christianity we could all most likely disagree about, Batterson takes us back to the roots of our faith. Those core things that the early Christians staked their lives upon.

I started reading with a pen and highlighter in hand. I think I used up one highlighter and ended up underlining most of the things that jumped out at me on first read.

But let’s at least outline a few things. He calls Mark 12:30 the “Great Commandment.” As noted, he spends much of the book fleshing out those four things: heart, soul, mind and strength.

I think most of us would agree that the public (and even private) face of Christianity is not always pretty. Batterson notes, you can change that face or get a “face-lift” but what we really need is a “change of heart.”

Our faith tells us that Jesus comes into our heart when we ask Him and begins to change us from the inside out. Some more than others and some more successfully than others! Batterson has a somewhat different interpretation (disclaimer #2 here: I am most certainly NOT a theologian). Instead of the more traditional Jesus-lives-in-my-heart belief, how about thinking and living as if we had a transplant? We actually have the heart of Jesus inside us in a spiritual sense. Batterson calls this being part of the Tribe of the Transplanted.

Delving into the soul Batterson describes the wonder of looking at a work of art. He recounts the wonder felt by God Himself as He observed His creation and saw that it was, indeed, good. We should, according to Batterson, have the same, well actually much much more of a, sense of wonder about the things of God.

Good storytellers know how to get our attention; how to draw us into their stories. Batterson has a way of doing this with personal examples. He gets us interested in something we can all relate to, then deftly moves to a deeper insight.

He shares how his son had an incidence of sleepwalking. From there he describes an empty soul. How can we love God with all our soul, if we are half-asleep and unaware of what He is doing all around us? And just like the sleepwalker eventually becomes conscious, so must we to God.

Ultimately though the way to love God with all our souls is to be obedient. The best way we can find out how to be obedient is to read what God has to say.

Christians and curiousity? Sound like the beginning of an oxymoron? Batterson thinks we should to be the most curious people. Using an archaic definition of that word, many in the world might think we Christians are a curious lot! Being curious means asking questions.

In an age where one stereotype of Christians is having our collective heads in the sand, Batterson admonishes us to be curious. Explore science, for instance, rather than being afraid of it.

What is one goal of all this curiousness and creativity? “If we are going to have an eternal impact on our culture,” Batterson writes, “We’ve got to create it.” He notes that churches may be suspicious of creativity because it can breed change. And Lord knows we don’t like change! If you don’t believe this, just try using a different version of an old hymn sometime in your worship service!

As someone who would like to be more creative, Chapter 7, One God Idea, spoke to me more than probably any other. There is hardly an unmarked-up page. No way for me to do it justice. One reason right here to find the book (waterbrookmultnomah.com).

Finally we get to strength. What does it mean to love God with all our strength? For Batterson this one is simple: do something. He uses the phrase “sweat equity,” or to risk mis-interpreting his intent, in the same way we add value to a fixer-upper by doing the work ourselves, we need to be doing something for God. This is not a “works-over-faith” book. Just an exhortation to do something. He sums it up best here: “Some people spend their entire lives getting ready for what God wants them to do.” And then they die. Please note this last line is outside the quotes. I added that one.

So, back to the beginning. Batterson says the “… quest for the lost soul of Christianity is about rediscovering the primal energy that sustained the first-century church during persecution.”

And finally since we live in a world of conflict over ideas and ideals which most certainly include religious ones, Batterson has a reminder: “… we are called to reflect God – His compassion, His wonder, His creativity, and His energy.”

Batterson brings it home like this: “We have to be great at what matters most. And what matters most is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If this is where you want to be, grab a copy of Primal.

Vince Crunk
crunksblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I need some oil perhaps?

Today I was walking into the building where I work from the parking lot. As I approached the door another younger guy was there and opened the door for me. As he turned around to face me he said “You were squeeking while you walked.”

Somehow, today being my Heinz (57th) birthday, that expression rings true. While I think he was talking about something in my briefcase or my shoes, I often feel like my knees and ankles need some lubrication before I get out of bed in the morning.

So to all us older people who need some oil in our joints … cheers!

Friday, December 11, 2009

What me? Pro Union?

My dad worked for a small place all his life and did "fine, thank you" without the benefit of any sort of union so I guess by that osmosis and observation, I’ve never been too much of a union fan.

I’m sure they have done great things over the decades and serve(d) their purpose.

But even in my short time of living in a union strong-hold in Ohio, I saw the perennial two steps forward – strike – two steps back – new contract – two steps …

But today I heard that unions in general (not sure who was actually talking) came out against one big part of health care reform – placing a tax on so-called Cadillac plans.

On some level it is hard for me to understand a health plan whose premiums runs into the tens of thousands of dollars and maybe any excise tax would only be levied on those extreme examples but …

I’ve seen it locally with our own issues and heard a spokesperson today say how the unions had given up wage increases in exchange for better health care coverage.
There are those who will say those increased health care benefits drive up costs for everybody. Don’t know, can’t say for sure.

But if an employee bargains with his employer – in this case through a union, and both sides eventually agree – how can the government step in and say “nope, we disagree and we are going to tax you for that.”?

I’m sure my health plan comes no where near the level the feds plan to tax but what is to stop them from lowering the threshold of what constitutes a ‘Cadillac plan’?

Interesting that in the days of Lexus and many other expensive cars that Cadillac has remained in the lexicon and everybody gets the meaning.

I read an article about Cleveland Clinic (in either WIRED or Fast Company – can’t find it on-line or I’d link) and while I am sure they are far from perfect, this ought to be required reading for every Congressperson before they vote on any health care plan.
Cleve Clinic puts their docs on salary – a handsome salary but one that none-the-less focuses more on results and successes rather than the volume of expensive tests and the like. It also notes a ratio of some 1,400 clerks for their 2,000 docs. Mostly to handle insurance. So where are the costs being driven up?

But back to my premise. Maybe it will take the union voices to get congress to take another harder deeper look at what their ideas for health care reform are doing to Americans. Look to places like the Cleveland Clinic who provide successful and often expensive health care BUT are trying to do it in new ways that measure results and not padding the bill.