Monthly Archives: May 2009

Rummy in Retrospect

Excellent article online from GQ about Don Rumsfeld and the problems he caused within the Bush Administration. Most interesting was his resistance to helping out with Hurricane Katrina. He didn’t want to deploy anything but National Guard troops, and kept a whole fleet of nearby helicopters idle, while the pilots wondered, “Why aren’t we being sent in to rescue people?” Finally, George Bush basically read him the riot act–good for him–and got things moving. The article tells about another time, involving Abu Graihb, when Bush called Rummy on the carpet.

I’m reading similar things in “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s book about the Iraq war. Rumsfeld wanted to disprove the Powell Doctrine–go in with overwhelming force. So while the generals said we would need several hundred thousand troops, Rumsfeld started the “negotiations” by saying we would need just 10,000 troops to conquer Iraq. Rumsfeld’s stubbornness and arrogance cost a lot of lives, and led to the chaos which soon engulfed us in Iraq.

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Alpha Chi Finds Me Worthy, Sort Of

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Every kid wants acceptance. To be invited to the Popular Kids Table. And that, as we all know, is the table where the smart kids eat.

Oh wait. I might be thinking of the Jocks Table. Or the Cheerleaders Table. Or the Good Looking Kids Table. Whatever the case, I’m sure smart kids have their own table. A table in a dark corner of the cafeteria known for geeky glasses and slide rules and wedgies. 

At Huntington University, the smart kids had their own club, with its attendant secret handshake, code words, and yearbook photo. It was called Alpha Chi, which in Latin means “Someday you will work for me, you insufferably dim-witted peon.” I never knew the entrance requirements, only that I fell short, most likely by multiple lightyears. Cursed with middling intelligence, I was condemned to wander life amidst the lower castes, shopping at Wal-Mart and flying coach. 

I have, over the years, in my tireless fight against injustice and inequality, publicly bemoaned my exclusion from Alpha Chi, with its arbitrary GPA litmus test. Deep down, I admit, my motives actually surround an enduring quest for acceptance. I desire the recognition, thus far withheld, of my peers. Not my peers in the sense of intelligence, because I can find them in any trailer court. But my fellow HU alums, with whom I endured four years in the academic crucible–eating HUB food, attending classes in steam-heated Ad Building rooms, meeting the bare-minimum chapel requirements, and living with the constant fear of an impromptu thrust. I yearn to sit and sup at the Smart Kids Table and bask in the reflected glow of their otherworldly cerebral brilliance.

And now, 30 years since my classmates and I trod the platform erected on the front campus that sunny day in 1979, ultimately grasping the congratulatory hand of Dr. Dewitt Baker, my unquenched thirst finds respite. And along with it, I discovered that benevolent grace lurks within the HU History Department. Who knew?

A couple weeks ago, I received a soft package from Huntington University. Inside was a green T-shirt. Some might call it pukey green, but never mind about that. This, for me, was a magical shirt. A shirt that transported me to that mythical Popular Kids Table, which I never stopped believing in. And the T-shirt said:

Alpha Chi National Convention
Literacy 500
April 2-4, 2009, Indianapolis

On the back was the Alpha Chi logo, along with two tacky sponsor ads. Literacy 500, I learned–for I crave all Alpha Chi-related knowledge–is a drive to collect 2000 children’s books. If these are destined for the children of Alpha Chi members, then they are no doubt textbooks. 

Holding back the tears, I tried on the shirt, instantly feeling as if I could go out and square a root or name every member of the Romanian legislature, or Politburo, or whatever they call it nowadays. 

The shirt came from Dr. Paul Michelson, the Imperial Wizard of the Huntington University chapter of Alpha Chi. His Holiness Dr. Michelson, among the original recipients of the Alpha Chi Distinguished Service Award and a 12-year member (elected member honoris causa, because they adore Latin) of the Alpha Chi National Council, took pity on this member of the yearning masses. In his incalculable wisdom, he knew that this T-shirt, a meager symbol without substance, would satisfy my thirst without compromising Alpha Chi’s integrity. Like throwing an old bone to a dog and saying, “Shew!” Or maybe “Shoo!” If I were truly deserving, I would know the correct spelling.

That is okay. While the shirt may not, after all, give me a seat at the Popular Kids Table, it at least gives me the privilege of hovering nearby and observing, with envy, what the Upper Echelons eat. Unfortunately, Dr. Michelson neglected to include directions to the Popluar Kids Table. I think they moved it.

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Anchor Worship Team at Cherished Again

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The Anchor worship team playing at Cherished Again. Jenny’s son, Jonathan, kept creeping close and closer until he was pretty much part of the band. We got a kick out of that.

Tonight, the Anchor worship team played for 40 minutes at Cherished Again, a Christian coffeehouse of sorts in Fort Wayne. I say “of sorts,” because it’s actually a used furniture store. They just do Christian music in a coffeehouse atmosphere every couple months.

The Anchor team has played there several times. This was only my second time with the team. It’s a fun place to play.

Jenny Vergon, the newest member of our team, sang with us for the first time outside of Anchor. It was nice having her.

I took my short Alesis keyboard, but left it in the car. Another gal, with an 88-key Roland, said I could play hers, which was already set. That was one fine keyboard. The one I play at church is an 88-key Roland RD600, an older model. I love the Roland touch.

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At the Gun & Knife Show

I went to the Fort Wayne Gun & Knife Show this morning with my nephew, Benjamin. I’ve never seen it so crowded. Lots more guns for sale, especially handguns, than I’ve seen before.

The hysteria continues, about Democrats supposedly plotting to clamp down on, or tax, gun sales.

I remain amazed at the ability to openly by assault rifles. They were everywhere. Plus a few of those huge 50 calibre sniper rifles. I kept my eyes alert for the Mexican Mafia, but didn’t see any. 

I don’t own any guns, but do have a great bayonet collection. Bought one today, a World War I era bayonet for the Ross rifle (model 1905/1910). 

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Book: Unfashionable

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Here’s a name I’ll bet you haven’t heard: Tullian Tchividjian. And I’m sure you can’t pronounce it. He’s a pastor, and he’s got a pedigree: his grandfather is Billy Graham. 

“Unfashionable” is best summed up with this line: “Christians make a difference in the world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same.”

Tchividjian cuts through our emphasis on relevance, trendiness, using the latest technology–in short, being fashionable in the world’s eyes. “Just when our culture is yearning for something different, many churches are developing creative ways to be the same….Churches are losing their distinct identity as a people set apart to reach the world.”

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He’s a young guy, an innovative pastor, not some old fellow criticizing Gen Xers. 

If you think he’s gonna start taking shots at Saddleback and Willow Creek and Lifechurch–well, he doesn’t. But he does raise a lot of good questions…in the first few chapters, and in the concluding chapters. In between is a lot of stuff written, I’m afraid, to produce a full-length book. Stuff I’ve heard in countless sermons. But those opening and closing chapters were worth reading. 

Some excerpts:

“To be truly relevant, you have to say things that are unfashionably eternal, not trendy. It’s the timeless things that are most relevant to most people, and we dare not forget this fact in our pursuit of relevance.”

“Daily Christian living means daily Christian dying–dying to our fascination with the sizzle of this world and living for something bigger, something thicker, something eternal. 

“Almost everything Jesus said about the nature of Christian discipleship is precisely the opposite of what our culture exalts…..What do we see more of–conferences on serving, or conferences on leading?

He critiques how we’ve built an alternative Christian culture which is based on popular culture–our own T-shirts, music, books, TV shows, movies, etc. But our model is the world; that’s where we take our cues. 

“I want to possess the backbone to dig in and be unfashionable. I’m ashamed of those moments when I’m afraid to be a fool for Christ because the world might think I’m strange….Christians who try to convince the world around them that they’re really no different at all, hoping they’ll be accepted on the world’s terms and on the world’s turf, should be embarrassed. It’s time for Christians to embrace the fact that we’re peculiar people.”

This is an important message. The book “The Fine Line” also struck these chords. I didn’t find either book totally satisfying. But it’s still stuff we need to be thinking about.

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Remembering War Reporting from Vietnam

“The best combat reporting book since Dispatches,” is how reporter/novelist Pete Hamil described it, or something close to that. He made the comment on Morning Joe a couple months ago, just as New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins joined the set to talk about his new book, “The Forever War,” about his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m reading it right now. It’s excellent.

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Hamil’s remark made me think again about Dispatches, Michael Herr’s 1978 classic. It was among five Vietnam books I read real close together in the early 1980s. I’ve still got them all, with underlined passages that struck me at the time. All of these books were in print years before the movie “Platoon” thrust Vietnam fully into the American conversation.

Nam, by Mark Baker (1981), an oral history in the tradition of Studs Terkel.

Everything We Had, by Al Santoli (1981), an even better oral history by 31 American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Santoli was a highly decorated soldier in Vietnam (including 3 Purple Hearts).

Something I underlined: “We did a fine job there. If it had happened in World War 2, they still would be telling stories about it. But it happened in Vietnam, so nobody knows about it. They don’t even tell recruits about it today. Marines don’t talk about Vietnam. We lost. They never talk about losing.”

A Rumor of War, a war memoir by Philip Caputo (1977), Caputo first arrived in Vietnam in 1965 as a marine, and saw plenty of combat. Later, he returned as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He’s a masterful writer.

Something I underlined: “Our mission was not to win terrain or seize positions, but simply to kill: to kill Communists and to kill as many of them as possible. Stack ’em like cordwood. Victory was a high body-count, defeat a low kill-ratio, war a matter of arithmetic.”

Home Before Morning, by Lynda Van Devanter, who spent a year in Vietnam as an Army nurse (1983). 

But I’d say Dispatches was, indeed, the best. And it’s acclaimed as one of the best pieces of war reporting ever. Herr wrote for Esquire, not for a staid newspaper, and his writing reflects that with passages that are often surreal and off-beat. I may need to re-read it.

Something I underlined: “Patrols went out, patrols collided, companies splintered the action and spread it across the hills in a sequence of small, isolated firefights that afterwards were described as strategy.”

How does “The Forever War” match up? It ranks right up there, and I wouldn’t doubt Filkins wins a Pulitzer. It’s that good.

But all things considered, I’ll still take Ernie Pyle’s writing from World War 2.

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Who to Believe?

Nancy Pelosi? Or the CIA, who surely would never mislead anyone.

Who is telling the truth?

Maybe, uh…neither? We’re not talking Good Guys and Bad Guys here, but full-blown Gray Folks. But it’s sure fun watching Nancy twist in the wind. Makes life worth living. 

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Poems I Remember, but Shouldn’t

In books and movies, fictional people often have a tremendous grasp of obscure poems. Someone will say one line, and another character will say, “That was Keats.”

This, of course, never happens in real life. But I do remember sitting at a meal with my grandparents, out on the farm, many years ago. I don’t know what brought it up, but the end result is that grandpa, a life-long farmer with no higher education, was quoting poetry he learned decades ago in school. Good, pretty, worthwhile poetry. 

I, with my advanced degrees, am far less sophisticated. Here is one of the only poems I can recite, a poem I learned as a teenager:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Some poems rhyme,
This one doesn’t.

Now admit it: that’s funny. It’s not Emerson or Frost, but at least I remember it. And now you are the beneficiary.

Oh, then there are the gross Little Willy jokes. Growing up, we had a children’s book in our home with some Little Willy jokes. I don’t know what kind of demented children’s book editor thought they belonged, but hey, there they were for this impressionable elementary-age kid. And I can still remember several of them.

Willy with a taste for Gore,
Nailed his sister to the door.
Mother said with humor quaint,
“Now Willy, don’t scratch the paint.”

Willy threw his sister Nell,
Down into the drinking well.
She’s still there because it kilt her.
Now we have to buy a filter.

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity never pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

And that, folks, is why reading RandomPokes and being exposed to my cranial leakages holds such socially redeeming value.

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Book: The Monkey and the Fish

monkeyandthefish_130.jpgI wrote a review of David Gibbons’s book “The Monkey and the Fish” on the BishopBlog, to which I’m a contributor. It’s a book I highly recommend. Not your typical church growth book. He hits some areas that progressive evangelicals will appreciate, and that more traditional evangelicals need to become better attuned to.

Here, I want to comment on a totally minor, almost incidental part of the book.

davegibbons.jpegGibbons (left) mentions an interesting study. People were shown three pictures: a chicken, a cow, and a bale of hay. Which two pictures were more alike?

American audiences chose the chicken and cow. But Asian audiences chose the cow and hay. Why? Because they looked for relationship. Cows eat hay. They go together. 

Americans value size and categories, so the chicken and cow ended up together. They have no relationship. They just fit the same category–a farm animal. 

Now let me ask: Which of the following are more alike:

  1. A church of 2000 people.
  2. A church of 3000 people.
  3. A church of 150 people.

Most of us would say the two larger churches are more alike. But in reality, the church of 3000 and the church of 150 may be more alike–in philosophy of ministry, in setting, in constituency. Even in organizational structure, perhaps. 

Our tendency, then, is to assume that the church of 150 will eventually become–or should become–a church of 3000. Because we value size–attendance. No matter how many disclaimers we throw at it, in the end we value attendance. It’s simply invalid, in a typical American’s eyes, to think that a church of 150 can stay a church of 150, and still be healthy. Sure, that’s still large for churches in most of the rest of the world, and it was large for most of American history. But America defines how to do church, and we’ve decided that in 2009, 150 just doesn’t cut it. 

The sad truth is, your big and wealthy church in the suburbs and my small, low-income church in the city may have more in common with each other than with the early church of Acts.

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The Noose Tightens

The conservative stranglehold on the Republican Party tightens. Now Colin Powell, once a star in the party whose name regularly came up as a Presidential candidate, is persona non grata.

Rush Limbaugh said, “What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party.”

If you don’t hold the approved views, the Republicans don’t want you. I predict that John McCain and Olympia Snowe will soon be ushered to the door. And no doubt others. I guess I might as well get in line. If Powell doesn’t meet the litmus test, then I certainly don’t.

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