"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
One of the things that bothers me more and more about the aid and development industry (the "aid industrial complex?" is the great possibility that it is creating a welfare state writ large. My friend Josh Ruxin in Mayange says (and I agree) that the problem with most aid and development agencies is they don't realize that their job is to put themselves out of business.
My dream for EGR is that by 2015 we have become irrelevant. The Millennium Development Goals have been achieved and we are on to what's next. As we look to build a companion relationship with Lui in Southern Sudan, how can we create a relationship that is not one of dependence. Where we each bring to the table what we have to offer, what we have to be appreciated. Where we can marvel at each other and help each other.
An example I gave of this at our last companion diocese meeting is the problem of race. It exists both in Lui and in St. Louis. Both places are full of racial strife that spills over into violence. How can we learn from each other? How can we teach each other out of our own experience?
It's a great letter. Anyone who has been to Africa knows there is poverty but also knows there is so much more. It is the cradle of civilization. There are amazing people doing amazing things. There is beauty and courage and industriousness and creativity.
Mbeki's concern is that Africa will let the Western media define who it is and will become that definition.
It's a real concern ... and it goes hand-in-hand with the problems of much of the aid industry.
It looks like I'll be going to Rwanda this spring, and I'm thrilled. Not to see what has happened there, but to see what is happening. Rwandans rebuilding their country. We need to hear those stories. We need to hear them much more.
Everyday the African and global media publish articles about Africa, based on events that have taken place on our continent. In time, these stories begin to define who and what we are. In due course, as we come to believe the resultant image of ourselves, we also begin to act the part.
For some years now, our continent has been engaged in a sustained effort to change the lives of our people for the better. The 30 July democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the great rally at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 August to promote the emancipation of women, stand out as but two examples both of the good news emanating from Africa, and what our continent is doing to redefine itself.
It is in this context that many on our continent and elsewhere in the world have, once again, as reflected in the reports we cite below, raised the issue of consistent and seemingly compulsive negative reporting about Africa.
This article in New Sudan Vision, was written by Nhial Tiitmamer de Nhial - a Sudanese based in Canada. It is a lament in the same order of what I spilled out a few days ago -- only particular to one who has seen his land torn apart by war for more than two decades.
War is too bad a phenomenon to be returned Friday 22 December 2006
By Nhial Tiitmamer de Nhial
Dec 21, 2006 — Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish satirist and historian wrote, " Under the sky is no uglier spectacle than two men with clenched teeth, and hellfire eyes, hacking one an other's flesh, converting precious living bodies and precious living souls into nameless masses of putrescent, useful only for turnip manure."
How many times have many precious bodies and souls been converted into putrescent masses useful for manure? How many times have the birds of the air and the animals of the wild been feasting on the precious bodies of our loved ones? Enough is enough. War is too bad a phenomenon to be returned. Let us seek dialogues and seek no more wars to put an end to more woes. This piece is a lamentation of the souls. It is the voice of love drowned in the sea of hatred. At some points in time; my heart is loaded with optimism and at other times, I take a heavy dose of pessimism.
My optimism lies in our ability to put our embattled past behind us and accommodate each other's differences to give chance to peace. A chance to peace will not only save life but it will also be an impetus to development, eradication of poverty and diseases.
Yes, war is too bad a phenomenon to be wished to return. It bears some of the deadly woes that have rocked our society since time immemorial. War does not only take innocent souls but it also corrupts the people's morals and their ability to think fairly and make sound judgement.It robs them of age old ethical values that distinguish mankind from animals.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006 Children, Soldiers, Child Soldiers
Berkeley got me up at about midnight last night needing to go outside, and while I waited for her to finish up in the backyard I started channel surfing and came across the last hour of "Saving Private Ryan."
I've never understood war. I just don't understand what makes people feel they have to kill each other. That sounds incredibly naive, but it's really how I feel. I get how power corrupts. To some extent, I get how sin and brokenness work. I get how sometimes force might even be necessary as a lesser evil to prevent a greater evil. I can even understand the geopolitics and psychology involved in war. But what I just can't understand is why people kill each other.
And so I'm watching the final scenes of SPR and watching the American and German soldiers killing each other. I'm listening to Ryan tell Captain Miller about his brothers -- knowing that they have all been killed in the war. I'm listening to Capt. Miller tell Ryan about picturing his wife working in the garden with a pair of his work gloves -- knowing in a few minutes that he'll be dead, too.
And I'm thinking -- don't people get how horrible this kind of death is? Why would people knowingly do this to each other. It's bad enough when someone dies peacefully after a long life - -when we lose our grandparents, parents, favorite aunts and friends. It's bad enough when a six-year-old dies of leukemia or when a 21-year old dies is a stupid car accident. And yes, I believe that nothing -- not even death -- can separate us from the love of God ... but that doesn't make it not suck.
And so as I'm watching these soliders kill each other very graphically -- so graphically that it's tough to watch, what is troubling and fascinating me and bringing tears to my eyes is knowing that every one of those people - American and German -- had a mother who will cry when they get the news. They had brothers and sisters and friends.
I was in Schroedter's class yesterday afternoon for his birthday celebration (his birthday is Thursday, after school is out, so the party was yesterday). And as I'm looking at this movie, I think about all the kids in his class -- Ben and Ethan and Richard and Emma and Matthew and Jack and Diego and Skyler and all of them -- and I'm thinking that every one of those soldiers was once a child like this, who played at school, who had 8th birthday parties, and whose life would end with a bullet or a grenade far from home.
Why? War is reported like a ball score. We never see the fear. We're not even allowed to see the coffins coming off the plane anymore -- because that would be too disturbing.
I was watching my latest Aaron Sorkin addiction, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" last night while scrubbing the floor upstairs. There's a great story line that just started. The fictional network (NBS) is being fined millions and millions of dollars by the FCC because during a live news interview with a soldier in Afghanistan, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into some rocks just feet from the soldier who, predictably, swore. Only it was live and the offending word got carried over live TV and now the FCC was fining the network for an obscenity violation. The slightly heavy-handed point being that our definition of obscenity is WAY off and that our view of war is incredibly sanitized ... and that's a problem.
Maybe that's the problem. Maybe not. Probably there is no "the problem" but instead a whole bunch of problems. But I still don't understand.
I lay in bed last night unable to sleep after seeing this movie. I kept thinking about Schroedter and Hayden. Thinking that if they were over in Iraq right now that I would never be able to sleep at all. That all I would want to do is catch the first plane over there and shield them with my body -- not only to not let them die but to keep them from being caught up in this infection that is violence.
Why do we turn our children into soldiers? Not a new question ... but not one that has ever been sufficiently answered. Watching "Invisible Children," and in my own travels in southern Sudan what broke my heart more than anything were the children turned into soldiers. The 14 year olds walking around with AK-47s. I don't understand. Do we not see how terrible this is?
I came across this photo (above) in an amazing photo essay from Darfur in Vanity Fair. This one caught my eye and wouldn't let it go. How old is this child? When Robin used to teach at Grant Elementary School in Columbia, MO she talked about "children without souls" -- kids who had been so beaten down by even the kind of material and emotional poverty that exists in Mid-Missouri that there was an emptiness and disconnection behind their eyes. Mostly young girls of color who had been convinced that the world didn't care about them and who had walled themselves off so it couldn't reach them and hurt them. If it was that bad in Columbia, MO, how much worse is it here?
I know this is a rant. I don't have any answers. I guess this is the definition of "bleeding heart," huh? I know there are lots of arguments for war. I know the irony that in Darfur what is probably most needed is an armed force to come in and stop the killing. And that means other people's sons and daughters will die ... but at least they'll be dying trying to prevent killing, trying to stop it from happening. I guess that's what those soldiers in SPR were doing, too. But there are sure a lot of places where that's not what is happening. And it still doesn't answer the Why question. Why does the killing start in the first place?
It's Advent. I think I need this season more than ever. When Jesus was born, things were looking pretty bleak. The people of Israel were living under occupation. Mary and Joseph having to schlep to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed. Poverty everywhere. I wonder what the child mortality statistics were. I wonder if the incarnation happened other times before the person of Jesus ... only for the child to die ... and maybe the reason we know about Jesus is he just happened to be the one who lived to adulthood.
And yet into all this, God comes. Quietly. Beautifully. In a child. Small and vulnerable. In "Wake Up, Dead Man," U2 sings:
Jesus, Jesus, help me I'm alone in this world and a fucked-up world it is, too
God didn't say "wow -- y'all have really, really fucked up this world and I'm going to leave it to you." No, God said, "wow, this IS really fucked up and I'm going to come right in the middle of it and just be with you." God didn't come with the answer to the why question. God came in the midst of the why question. God became the voice of sanity in the midst of the insanity. And the insanity killed him. But the dead man woke up.
And that's what we're supposed to do. Not understand it. Just follow. Follow the star to the manger and gaze with wonder at the child -- my child, your child, the child with the AK-47 in Darfur -- any child. Seek out God's presence in the midst of the fucked-up world. Realize that God hasn't given up on us and we can't give up either. Pray for the courage of Christ to see each other as God sees us -- as beloved children. When the world tells us to kill, we must say no. When the world tries to co-opt us into its systems of power, tries to crown us king in Jerusalem, we are to say no -- we are of a different power. A power of love. A power that says the greatest good is service. A power that says that its favored locus is not upon the throne but on the scaffold, in the ghetto, in the refugee camp, in the child standing a post against the janjaweed.
And when the world shows us that child, maybe our job is to be the voice of sanity in the insanity. Maybe it is to hold up a mirror to the world and say "Why? Have we stopped to think about what we're doing?" Maybe for us, being the Body of Christ is to be Mary at the foot of the cross weeping ... seeing the world through a mother's eyes.
As Captain Miller dies, he pulls Ryan close and says "Earn this." And Ryan spends the rest of his life trying to make sure his life is worthy of the sacrifice so many others made so he might live.
The paradox of Advent and Christmas is that Captain Miller was right and wrong at the same time. We need to make our lives mean something. That's not a burden but an opportunity. Life is sacred. That's what makes death, particularly senseless death, so unbelieveably obscene and ridiculous. We need to live lives worthy of the gift.
And yet the good news of Advent and Christmas is that God's grace and love is not something we have to earn. In fact, it's God's promise that no matter how little we really do "earn it," no matter how long the question "why?" goes unanswered, no matter how long the forces of death seem to win, God isn't going to leave us alone.
| Mike at 12/19/2006 11:53:00 AM
Monday, December 18, 2006 The Quotable Rumsfeld As of this morning, Donald Rumsfeld is officially no longer Secretary of Defense. Crooks and Liars has posted a compendium of some of his most famous quotes.
Among my favorites:
"[Osama Bin Laden is] either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive."
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."
"It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." -in Feb. 2003
"Secretary Powell and I agree on every single issue that has ever been before this administration except for those instances where Colin's still learning."
"I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know."
and my favorite...
"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 Welcome to the world, Luke Alexander Gaynor!
My old friend, Christie Chatfield Gaynor, is the happy mother of Luke Alexander Gaynor. He arrived on Dec. 2nd at 4:31pm, 7 lbs. 10 oz., full head of long brown/blond/redish hair and big blue eyes. Christie, husband Joe, and Alexander are doing wonderfully.
| Mike at 12/13/2006 04:15:00 PM
Monday, December 11, 2006
So, what are we gonna do? How are we gonna liven up the cold, stand-offish intellectualism of our group? We'll smile and giggle and tickle Michelle and laugh at Doug and hit Noah and tease Rob and hug Stratton and abuse Mike until we accentuate everyone's flaws and force them to realize that we see through their personas and love them anyway and that they'll just have to get over the terrible shock of being loved and being happy. :) Then we'll be a fuzzy warm cuddly community and we can start reaching out b/c we won't have to focus on our own problems anymore.
Yes, I know, it's a fairly overly simplistic and idealistic and possibly even blind solution, but I do truly believe that all anyone wants is to be told that he/she is failing miserably at "being" what he/she wants to be (that is "being" is present tense and "wants to be" is future. The two cannot, logically, coexist unless you are God, which we are not.) Anyway, that we all see what he/she is now, which is nothing extraordinary or underordinary. . . that all he/she wants is to be loved and adored and to have people seriously interested in his/her well-being is what makes them so lovable. . . that he/she craves and fears being so vulnerable and TRUTHFUL is what we love most about them. I know that personally if everyone saw me as a confused mass of contradictions and idiosyncrasies with nothing brilliant or even interesting about it and loved me simply for existing and wanting to be loved, I would not know what to do with myself and would most likely respond by being totally secure. And in that security I would become sincere and would lavish love on everyone b/c I really am interested in everyone else and want to love them and be part of their lives.
So. . . what's my conclusion? That we are fallen. We are not God. That we will never be anywhere close to perfect. Some of us are deformed, some are not so quick, some of us are weak, some of us are downright weird. We all are constantly sinning and, even worse we are all FAILING in every thing we do b/c we are striving for that perfect image of self. So, let's just admit it: we are not brilliant, we may not get that job or make that audition, we may not be as attractive as we would like to be, we may fear that there is something wrong with us, we may have no idea of who we are or exactly what we believe, we may fear that life is meaningless and that if we clear away all the nonsense around us we'll find that we are nothing at all. . . but So What?!!!! That's what we are! If we lay ourselves bare, if we admit that our goodness and badness are integral, inseparable parts of our beings and that we are STILL, after ALL OF THAT, LOVEABLE, than we can stop hiding. we can begin to love. And it is in doing that that we encounter God. And we are no longer nothing. We still have faults which we can work on without concealing, but we realize that we are nothing without God, and that that is something to be celebrated and not feared.
It was five years ago tonight that Julia McNeely died. Five years ago on a rainy stretch of road near Louise, Mississippi.
This strange twist my life has taken -- to places like Ghana and Sudan and being executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation -- in a weird way it all goes back to Julia. To the coffee we had at Bread Co. when she showed me her pictures of Kenya. To her inviting Blair Henneke into ECM to share all the work she was doing in Tanzania with TEAM.
I'm proud of all my students. I love them. They have made me the person and priest I am today. I have learned so much from them. The words above are from an email Julia sent me late one Sunday night after a particularly frustrating Bible study group. She was only a freshman, and I remember thinking, "Wow. This kid's really got it." I was so impressed, I forwarded it to the House of Bishops and Deputies list of the Episcopal Church ... hoping some of her wisdom would penetrate that dense forest! Mostly, though, I was grateful she had penetrated mine.
I think about Julia all the time. I think about her every time I break the bread at the altar. I think about her every time I see pictures of crowds of children following people in places like Nairobi (or when I'm the one those crowds are chasing). Mostly, I think of her when I'm dashing through airports on my way to my next destination to talk about the Millennium Development Goals, knowing that somewhere she's watching me and smiling that wispy smile that means she thinks it's really cool and quite amusing what I'm spending my life doing.
And I still have the dream. Not as often, but I still have it. That we're all together. Everyone. Sarah, Amber, Cori, Noah, Stratton, Rob, Laurie, Ryan, Johnny, Jen, Steve ... and David ... and on and on. And then Julia walks in. And everyone just surrounds her. And we're together. And what was broken is whole. And I just stand back ... and watch.
But until then, I'll just try not to forget what Julia taught me. If we lay ourselves bare, if we admit that our goodness and badness are integral, inseparable parts of our beings and that we are STILL, after ALL OF THAT, LOVEABLE, than we can stop hiding. we can begin to love. And it is in doing that that we encounter God. And we are no longer nothing. We still have faults which we can work on without concealing, but we realize that we are nothing without God, and that that is something to be celebrated and not feared.
Today is tedious paperwork catch-up day, so I'm watching Season Five of 24 while I pound away at financials and other stuff. This time, it's cannisters of nerve gas that Jack Bauer & co. are trying to prevent being spritzed all over L.A. And that's just today. Previously, Los Angelinos have been threatened by nukes, dirty bombs, Islamic terrorist types and biotoxins.
Oh, and if CTU Los Angeles calls you for a temp job, I'd think twice. They've got the lifespan of the average housefly -- and if you live, chances are you'll be hauled in for "medical interrogation" at some point. Hope they've got dental.
And you thought the smog, traffic and skin cancer were enough reason to move out of SoCal.
Another Monday midday musing:
Got to change the title of this blog. Even if you read the C.S. Lewis quote, there's no way around how self-important it sounds. Looking for better ideas. Got any?
| Mike at 12/11/2006 11:57:00 AM
Thursday, December 07, 2006 Some quick, excellent reads, views and to-dos
*ECM alum and new priest the Rev. Amber Stancliffe Evans blogs about the MDGs, eschatological imagination and a conversation with a friend on IrreverentEpiphanies. *In case you missed it, 60 Minutes on Sunday aired the amazing story of Immaculee llibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who is now a tireless worker for reconciliation in that country and genocide prevention around the world. You can read the text of the story and see the video online here. *Go to www.savedarfur.org and sign the online petition. Yes, I know, online petitions are one of the weakest forms of political expression, but it does only take about 15 seconds. *Read this moving story about the return of Christ --- to the NBA (but the Hawks?). *And after taking that elbow to the sternum from Salim Stoudamire in practice, our Lord and Savior can always patch up with a Jesus adhesive bandage (courtesy of the good folks at "Jesus of the Week"). Now, what could the "free toy inside" be??? *This article in the Guardianthat reports (suprise!) that 1% of the world owns 40% of the world's wealth. *Finally, you could bop by my brother Ian's blog -- A Good World -- he's always got an eclectic collection of thought-provoking or just plain bizarre stuff to read. Then leave him a nice comment -- he turns 40 today!
| Mike at 12/07/2006 09:11:00 PM
Millennials, Disrupter Man and Death of the Church
Taken together, these three articles (and I have to say, they're true to my own limited experience) paint a picture of a large, rising generation that is VERY different from the Boomers and Xers. While the Xers largely eschewed institutions, the Millennials are either radically remaking current ones or -- more often -- building completely new ones.
Ten years ago, Mike Regele wrote a very popular (at the time) book called "Death of the Church." The buzz around it at the time seems to have been forgotten in the largely Boomer-waged culture wars of the first decade of this century -- but it's proving to be pretty prophetic. Regele's thesis was that the institutional church in America was going to look very different in 25 (now 15) years -- some denominations would die out, all would be radically effected. This wasn't a threat to the Gospel because the Gospel has lasted 2,000 years in spite of humanity's efforts to equate preserving institutions with preserving the Gospel! But, with a direct parallel to the heart of our faith, the churches that would survive to be vessels of the Gospel for and by the next generations would be the ones who would embrace death of their current structures so that something new and wonderful could emerge.
I often quote a Kiwi church planter I met named Andrew Jones once who said "Churches spend too much time asking God to bless what they're doing. What they should be doing is looking around at what God is already doing and asking "How can we bless that?"
I believe much of what we are doing in the church is fighting over what of our actions and structures God is blessing -- believing that "claiming that blessing" will ensure us of eternal life. We are forgetting that God doesn't need the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion! In fact, while we muck about, God is alive and well and wonderful things are going on within the church and certainly without it.
It seems to me what this rising generation is great at is blessing what God is already doing and in being blessed vehicles of God doing pretty cool stuff. I don't see them spending a lot of time (or any, really) fighting about what "the institution" is fighting about. They're out seeking and serving. Some of them are doing it in the church ... but more and more they're doing it outside the church. Creating their own structures and ministries.
A key question for us is --- how can we become a church that values the entrepreneurial gifts of this generation, encourages them, resources them, celebrates them? Another is ... Can we be our own "Disrupter Man" -- breaking open closed systems to maximize creativity -- or will we be the companies that cling to outmoded systems while the world passes us by?
But the real question is the one Regele asked in 1996 -- Are we willing to let much of what we equate with "the church" die so that something new and wonderful can emerge?
And, as Regele said back then, our answer to that question will not determine the future -- only whether we will be dragged kicking and screaming into it or run to embrace it.
In case you're interested in the articles, the first is -- "Gen Y makes a mark and their imprint is entrepreneurship" and it begins
They've got the smarts and the confidence to get a job, but increasing numbers of the millennial generation — those in their mid-20s and younger — are deciding corporate America just doesn't fit their needs.
So armed with a hefty dose of optimism, moxie and self-esteem, they are becoming entrepreneurs.
"People are realizing they don't have to go to work in suits and ties and don't have to talk about budgets every day," says Ben Kaufman, 20, founder of a company that makes iPod accessories. "They can have a job they like. They can create a job for themselves."
The second is a sidebar called "Companies slow to adjust to work-life balance concerns of Gen Y" and it begins
Businesses are struggling to keep pace with a new generation of young people entering the workforce, who have starkly different attitudes and desires than employees over the past few decades.
"We're at the tip of the iceberg," says Steve Miranda, of the Society for Human Resource Management, in Alexandria, Va. "The next 10 to 15 years will bring significant changes to expectations of what employers need to provide.
Workers born since the early 1980s (known as millennials, Generation Y or echo boomers) crave a more collaborative work environment and detest drudgery, say workplace analysts. They want a work-life balance, which is often at odds with the values of the corporate world.
Saturday, ECM alum Amber Stancliffe Evans was ordained a priest at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Emily Mellott and I were there to present her on behalf of the Diocese of Missouri and it was just an amazing event ... as was the next morning when Amber celebrated her first Eucharist at Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, where she is the Associate for Youth and Children's Ministry.
Another highlight was getting to see another ECM'er, Christine Stanley, who is in medical school at University of San Francisco and is doing a surgery rotation in Fresno. Also got to spend the night with another ECM'er, Michelle Davis Shaw, and her husband, Adam (see wedding pictures below), who had to put up with a very tired me after a wonderful but exhausting ordination and after-party. For all my photos from the ordination and Sunday morning, go to my Flickr page. These are to get you started. More later when Amber's parishioner Millie (shown above getting a blessing from the new priest) sends me hers. The second picture is Amber with some of her "senior seekers" high school group -- part of a truly amazing ministry God is working through her at Epiphany.
| Mike at 12/04/2006 10:59:00 AM
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."