Thursday, October 31, 2019

The last best hope for America

I came across this post from 2017 by accident and am re-dating it to today. Today was the day that the US House of Representatives voted along strictly party lines to proceed with impeachment proceedings against the president. I make no comment here as to the merits or not of the proceedings. But as much as my colleague's words rang true two years ago, how much more compelling are they today.

From July 2017:
From former district superintendent in the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church, Sky McCracken:
In my opinion, the most powerful force in Christianity - if it wants to be - is a local church who decides to be a community of faith and discipleship in the manner of Jesus for its neighborhood, instead of a chapel for members who like things "just the way they are." No law, no entity, no politician has any power against such a force. Regardless of the happenings, fear mongering, and media hype of the last few weeks, they pale against the total history of God's presence with His people - which has always been unrelenting and ever-pursuing. I'll quote Bill Hybels:
"For eight years...I went to Washington, D.C., every month to meet in the foremost centers of power with some of the highest elected officials in our country. What I discovered was not how powerful those people are, but how limited their power really is. All they can actually do is rearrange the yard markers on the playing field of life. They can't change a human heart. They can't heal a wounded soul. They can't turn hatred into love. They can't bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace. They can't get to the core problem....I believe that only one power exists on this sorry planet that can do that. It's the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame and heals wounds and reconciles enemies and patches broken dreams and ultimately changes the world, one life at a time. And what grips my heart is the knowledge that the radical message of that transforming love has been given to the church. That means that in a very real way the future of the world rests in the hands of local congregations like yours and mine." - In his book, Courageous Leadership.
There is no political solution to the severe dysfunctions of America today because our national illness is not really political. It is spiritual. There will not be a better America until there are better Americans. That is the task for the Church today: to bring more and more people into the fullness of reconciliation to God through Christ so that we can be reconciled to one another. Absent that, our congregations are just religious clubs. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The ground beneath our feet

The United Methodist Church is committing denominational hari-kiri, which will be nearly completed before the end of May, 2020. Recently, a long-term friend and law-enforcement officer posted an article from "The End of Law Enforcement, " written by a 20-plus year active LE officer and a trainer of LE officers around the country.

He says that this is the state of law enforcement today:

1. Retirement eligible officers are retiring even though they have many years of useful service ahead of them.

2. Mid-career officers are miserably trying to make it to retirement and are "are trying to get off the streets, afraid of the next 'viral' video showing them doing nothing wrong but ruining their reputation and ability to work forever." Some are leaving LE anyway.

3. Less than 10-year officers "have now realized that they work in the only profession that can ruin you for doing nothing wrong. They have stopped working. Some call it the 'Ferguson Effect' but they just call it trying to save their [hind ends]. It’s not worth staying and the majority are looking to leave."

I responded thus:

There is a French phrase from maritime history that was adopted by some other nations' services that is usually, though inaccurately, translated as, "every man for himself." The French is, "Sauve qui peut," and don't ask me how to pronounce it.

It was the command given when a vessel's captain decided the ship was lost and was going to sink no matter what. So he would order, "May he save himself, whoever can" (literal translation) or basically, "Stop trying to save the ship and save yourselves."

ISTM that is what this writer has concluded about the profession of law enforcement.

Regarding the UMC, I had a conversation recently with a senior staffer of one the UMC's general councils. It became clear to me that sauve qui peut has already been adopted by large numbers of our laity. Both attendance and giving have plummeted at UM churches across the nation, including mine. The laity who have left because of all the intra-church fighting over the homosexuality question have absolutely abandoned ship and are not going to return.

I can only wonder how many serving clergy will decide the same between now and the end of General Conference in May 2020. Will we see a parallel with what is going on in law enforcement? Will we see retirement-eligible ministers with several more years of possible service just hang it up now? Will mid-career pastors try simply to hang on until retirement and younger ones make (covert) plans to move to another denomination or profession?

Update, Dec. 10: I attended a Mon-Wed. GCFA conference last month with pastors from across the nation present, although the majority from the southeast and eastern seaboard. Here is my takeaway summary:

Basically, retirement-eligible pastors are doing so, even if they have years left to 72. I met some who are younger than I who are retiring in 2020, including two who pastor mega-churches (neither in my conference).

Several ministers from about age 50 openly told me that when they hit 62, they're gone. Very few were there much younger than that, but if I was 44 rather than 64, I almost certainly would be covertly making contingency plans.

And the denomination is going broke. Giving across America is way down. Way. Down. This is not going to be reversed and will, if anything, accelerate. At current trend, the GCFA's episcopal fund will be at zero dollars by the end of 2024. 

One minister told me that giving is down so much in his present appointment (not only because of people leaving a strife-torn denomination, also several major donors died) that his church can no longer afford his compensation. But he wonders what the point in a new appointment will be if it will probably run out of money also within a year. May as well retire, right?

BTW, even apart from people voting on the "issue" with their feet and checkbooks, the UMC will still be in accelerated rate of decline due to increasing deaths of an aging laity and our inability (and frankly, denominational unwillingness) to evangelize, especially evangelize unconnected to politics.

Just as law enforcement, the UMC still has many strengths and still is doing great work. But we are more and more resembling Centralia, Penn. Our foundation and "solid rock" on which we stand is being destroyed from underneath us.

Centralia was a coal-mining town where the mine shafts caught fire in 1962 and 
the town was destroyed from underneath. The fire is still burning. Estimates are that 
it will burn at least 250 more years.

The ground burning beneath our feet applies to much more than the UMC or law enforcement. I would be hard-challenged to find any national-level institution not affected by this threat.

Wesley said that when we are on fire for Christ people will come for miles around to watch us burn. The UMC is on fire, all right. But decide for yourself for what we are burning.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Kurds, Turkey, Syria - and US forces

Link to article

I worked with Petraeus when we were both at the Pentagon. He was a major then, promoted to Lt. Col. not long after I came to know him. I respect him immensely. He and US Marine Gen. James Mattis were the key, essential players in redirecting US strategy in Iraq away from the disastrous Rumsfeld model. I have never met Mattis, but have nothing but greatest respect for him. Marines I have known who worked with him are in awe, and that says a lot. 

So when Petraeus and Mattis both sharply disagree with the administration's decision, I have no choice but to pay attention. 

But having said that, I would say their view is very solidly an establishment one. S
enior military officers prosper very well. They gain their rank and status not only because of the military skills, but their political skills as well. They retire as comfortable members of the country's political class and often wind up with lucrative corporate consultancies and defense-related boards. I have seen this play out with three- and four-star generals I worked for. I do not blame them, actually, but we need to understand that they are far too invested in the status quo to try to change it. It what got them their rank and positions in the first place. Their incentives to change it are exactly zero. (This also applies to senior diplomatic personnel.) 

I wrote a long essay in 2008 on why the US should exit NATO, but of course, with both the outgoing Bush and incoming Obama administrations, there was so much Old Guardism at work that there was (and is) no chance. Petraeus and Mattis (and I, for that matter) were raised militarily and strategically with a Cold War, organizational mind-think that has not significantly subsided. They still think that what G. Washington warned against, "entangling alliances," should be normative and are simply the way things get done. 

Fifteen years ago Petraeus and Mattis and some others were the Young Turks. Now they are the Old Guard. And that should temper how we assess what they say. 

None of this is to say that all will turn out well today. In fact, it would be insane to say so. I mean, point to one time in the last several hundred years that things have worked out well in the Middle East! 

But it is also a real error to assume that had a mere 50 US troops been left in place, that everything would now be unicorns and rainbows. Turkey did not ask our permission to incur. They simply announced they were doing it. Turkey did not ask Trump to withdraw the troops; Trump just got them the heck out of the way. It would be nice for Petraeus and others to say how they would have responded to Turkey's announcement that it was coming, instead of just clutching their pearls in protest. They know better because they many times had to think through questions such those as I pose later in this essay. They know how to do it, but now they do not need to do it because the media will smile kindly upon them if they don't. And that is the problem.

My take: 

There is no solution to the problem of the Kurds. The Kurds have been screwed, they are being screwed, and they will continue to be screwed, because only Iraq, Turkey, and Syria (and Iran, as if) can resolve the issue and all of them see the Kurds as tools to be used for their own purposes against the others. No Western nation can possibly have any effective role - not the USA, not Britain, not NATO, not nobody.

The Kurdish PKK is Turkey's main target. The PKK, Partiya KarkerĂȘn Kurdistan, is a Marxist faction that has been launching cross-border raids into Turkey since 1984 - as have other Kurdish factions. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the Turks -- and by the US, the European Union, NATO, and even Japan.

Anyone who is denouncing the withdrawal of a few dozen US troops from the affected area of Turkish operations, insisting they should not have been withdrawn, should first answer one basic question:
If you were president, would you have ordered US troops to stay in place and resist the Turkish incursion by force of arms? 

Then proceed to these:
  • If you would have given that order:
    • What is your strategic goal?
    • How many US troops are you are willing to have killed to attain that goal? 
    • Once US troops are killed, what would be your response? 
    • How many Turks are you willing to kill to attain the strategic goal? 
    • Would you escalate the violence if the Turks do not withdraw? If so, would you restrict US combat strikes to only the incursion area, or would you strike Turkish forces still inside Turkey proper? For either answer, explain why.
    • How will you ensure the safety of thousands of US Air Force personnel, aircraft, special weapons, and family members at the Turkish air base at Incirlik, Turkey? There are also large numbers British and Spanish military personnel there. 
    • Would you ask for a congressional authorization of use of military force against Turkey? 
      • If yes, are you really willing to go to war with a decades-long, US-ally member of NATO? 
      • If not, why not? Would you wage war against Turkey anyway?
  • If you would not have given that order:
    • What is your strategic goal?
    • Why would you leave the troops in place rather than withdraw them, if they are not to fight?
    • What would you have done specifically different from what the administration has done, and why?
Anyone who will not address those topics before slamming the administration is not thinking about this seriously at all. And yes, that includes congressional members of both parties and, I regret, many of my ministry colleagues who have posted about this topic.

Finally, here is a pretty well-balanced article that explains why Trump did not sell out the Kurds while also pointing out that Erdogan is pretty much a thug himself. (But we knew that.)

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...