Monday, September 26, 2016

an overview of Buechner

I've been a fan of Frederick Buechner and his work for a long time. (His name is pronounced "Beek-ner". It's important to him-- and to us-- but he explains that elsewhere.) I don't remember who introduced me to his writing-- and I can't say that I'm a follower or a devotee, because I've only read a fraction of what he's written. But I've read, I've always enjoyed, often been provoked, and sometimes, profoundly moved. 

In particular, I've enjoyed his books of definitions and brief character sketches. Along those lines, I have posted on Buechner previously-- here, with his memorable picture of anger; his closing comments on Moses' life; and his observation that Jesus saves is more difficult for us to hear than "Christ saves".

I recently picked up and read an overview of Buechner's work, assembled by Anne Lamott, called Buechner 101. I can recommend the book as a helpful overview, particularly if you enjoy fiction. If you're more interested in non-fiction, I'd start with my favorite book of definitions, Wishful Thinking. As with any writing, it's wheat and chaff. (In all of this, it's worth a compare and contrast with Eugene Peterson who is more pastoral and less into fiction. But their style and outlook are similar and similarly refreshing.)

Buechner shades liberal on some matters of theology and application, so from my perspective, there is some chaff to dispel. But as best as I can tell, the chaff is easy to discern-- and even there, the disagreements are always thoughtful, provocative, and helpful for promoting empathy. In any case, the wheat is too good to pass up.

Lamott opens the volume by noting that Buechner and C.S. Lewis are the authors she revisits frequently. (Lamott says that John Irving was a student of Buechner's. I didn't know that, but it figures, given the similarities. Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany was an enjoyable and important piece of fiction in my life.) Buechner and Lewis "have been, like all mentors, marbled into me." (3) And I concur with that. Both write well; both use vivid examples and draw out lively metaphors; both offer new insights or useful reminders every time I pick them up. Lamott says that Buechner is "plain and majestic at the same time" (2). In this, Buechner is a cousin of Annie Dillard more than C.S. Lewis. 

A recurring theme for Buechner is the intersection and combination of doubt and faith. Lamott quotes him twice on this topic: "Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there was no room for doubt, there would be no room for me." (3) And "If you tell me Christian commitment is...once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery", then you're fooling yourself or trying to fool me. Instead, you should ask yourself each day: "Can I believe it all again today?...If your answer's always Yes, then you probably don't know what believing means." (4)

Brian Mclaren and Barbara Brown Taylor also contribute introductory remarks. (I've blogged on BBT two other times: here on her excellent book about Christianity and darkness; and here, with a provocative excerpt on Judas with application to us.) BBT describes how a Buechner talk changed her entire life: "Dear Mr. Buechner, you rearranged the air...From you, I have learned that the only limit to the revelation going on all around me is my willingness to turn aside and look...From you, I have learned that the good news is not the cheerful news but the dismantling news." (19) (The last line reminds me of N.T. Wright's book on The Good News-- as both good and news.) 

Enough on the intro; how about some Buechner? Lamott opens her selections with one of his commencement addresses. Here's an excerpt (21-22): 

" can we be other than strangers when at those rare moments of our lives when we stop hiding from each other and try instead passionately and profoundly to make ourselves known to each other, we find this is precisely what we cannot do?...And yet in another sense we are none of us can we be strangers when, for all these years, we have ridden on the back of this same rogue planet, when we have awakened to the same sun and dreamed the same dreams under the same moon? How can we be strangers when we are all of us in the same interior war and do battle with the same interior enemy, which is most of the time ourselves? How can we be strangers when we laugh and cry at the same things and have the same bad habits and occasionally astonish ourselves and everybody else by performing the same uncharacteristic deeds of disinterested kindness and love?...The question is: Can God in his grace and power speak anything that matters ultimately through the likes of me to the likes of you?"

And then, from the same address, on the small, strange things that often change us and the world (32): 

"Again and again Christ is present not where, as priests, you would be apt to look for him but precisely where you wouldn’t have thought to look for him in a thousand years. The great preacher, the sunset, the Mozart Requiem can leave you cold, but the child in the doorway, the rain on the roof, the half-remembered dream, can speak of him and for him with an eloquence that turns your knees to water. The decisions you think are most important turn out not to matter so much after all, but whether or not you mail the letter, the way you say goodbye or decide not to say it, the afternoon you cancel everything and drive out to the beach to watch the tide come in -- these are apt to be the moments when souls are won or lost, including quite possibly your own."

An excerpt from his memoir on the life-changing moment in a George Buttrick sermon that also led to his fascination with Isaac's name and life as "laughter" (44-45). Buechner notes that Buttrick scripted his sermons, but years later, Buechner read the transcript and realized that Buttrick had providentially ad-libbed the strange phrase that changed his life. The idea? That the inward coronation of Jesus in our souls came "among confession, and ears, and great laughter". Buechner says: "It was the phrase great laughter that did it...not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found that a door had been open all along which I had only just then stumbled upon."

Another quote from that essay: "Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders." (48) Here, we see one of the downsides of reductionism, scientism, and various forms of fundamentalism. The blinkered view of the world is sad because it misses so much; scary when combined with self-righteousness; and especially troubling when it's combined with faux intellectualism.  

As I blogged about earlier today, music helps to avoid such reductionism and fundamentalism. As such, "the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot." (61)

Another book definition-- for "evil" (64)-- concludes with this on the "problem of evil": Christianity "ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene – not even this – but that God can turn it to good." 

See also: his definition of "forgiveness" (67) or these thoughts on The Lord's Prayer (73-74)...

Lamott also shares a Buechner essay on "Faith and Fiction", connecting/comparing the idea with the medium by drawing parallels in their exercise. (I also like his comment that he can only write about saints anymore, since they're much more interesting than other people [96-97]. Billy Joel sang that "only the good die young" but he and the young ladies in the song apparently conflate a narrow morality with Christianity and Spirit-filled living.) Buechner opens with three providential stories (83-84) and notes that all of them could be coincidence. But "if you had to bet your life, which would you bet...?" Providence or coincidence? 

"...we can bet yes this evening and no tomorrow morning. We may know we're betting. We may not know. We may bet one way with our lips...and another way with our feet. But we, all of us, bet...we can never be sure we bet right because the evidence both ways is fragmentary, fragile, ambiguous...Whether we bet Yes or No, it is equally an act of faith."

People are often unaware of their faith in various aspects of life-- from history to religion, from whether a bridge will not collapse to what my money is worth. Or they're allergic to faith or worried about having to rely on it and its cousin, doubt. But it's part and parcel for the world in which we inhabit. Relax; enjoy the ride; and do your best to put your faith and trust in things and people who are worthy.

Sherry Hofmeister and reflections on love, music, legacy, faith, etc.

Sherry Hofmeister, my first violin teacher, died about a month ago in Florida. I was able to attend Sherry's memorial service in Louisville on Friday. I don't remember her at all, but I wanted to honor whatever impact she has had on my life. (A small world story: Martha was one of the adult violin students in my music studio from my grad school days in Texas. She retired and moved to Florida, joining the community orchestra there. Her first stand partner? Sherry!)

I really enjoyed the service-- a celebration of a life well-lived; a reminder of our hope in the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead; a beautiful setting with beautiful music. (The setting was also historic: Middletown Christian began in 1836 and we ended the service by ringing the old bell which they have in front of the new building-- in a small structure comprised of brick from the old building.) A bunch of her students played three pieces, including Humoresque (with the harmony part)-- a beloved piece in the Suzuki music repertoire. She had her three boys read a poem each. Two of her granddaughters sang all four verses of Jesus Loves Me. The pastor read Ps 150 and Jn 14. And so on.

I learned that she was born exactly one week after my dad. I learned that her family lived in Elizabeth, IN for four years in the 1970s (a tiny town where Bob/Bonnie Parker have lived for years and where our friends, the Shaughnessys, live now.). She started or at least greatly empowered a string program at a charter school in Florida, after she retired. I found out that she played in our church orchestra for years. If I had ever joined (and I couldn't given their strenuous schedule and my PM teaching), I would have met her again. 

I'm confident that music and all of its trappings have made a big difference in my life-- although it's difficult to discern cause/effect clearly. Music makes us more human and puts us more closely in touch with the divine. It helps with forming an aesthetic-- an appreciation and healthy respect for beauty. The teamwork of making music together is an inspiration for compassion and empathy. The practice of music promotes humility and discipline-- what a combo! And in all of this (and more), it's interesting to imagine the impact Sherry had on me as my first teacher-- even though I don't remember it at all. 

Such things always/hopefully get us to think about our legacy, faith, life, etc. Everyone described Sherry in ways that were beautiful and seemed credible. (Sure: People usually sound awesome at funerals, but this sounded legit.) From the numbers and influence they cited, she made a profound difference in this world. She was remembered for her accomplishments-- in particular, what she empowered others to do. But more than that, she was remembered for loving really well. It was an inspiration to strive for greater impact, but more important, to be reminded of the over-arching importance of love. How will people remember me? How will people remember you?

Friday, September 23, 2016

review of "How to Survive the Apocalypse" (on faith and politics)

This is my review of a fun, fascinating, and provocative book-- that marries pop culture, religion (in a broad sense), and political economy: Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson's How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics... Joustra and Wilkinson (JW) combine current events, culture, psychology and religion to draw some striking inferences about politics and society.

Back when I thought it'd be easy to publish books, I wanted to do a book on Christianity and culture, especially through movies. I've always enjoyed movies quite a bit-- although with kids, we don't watch nearly as many films (and provocative films) as we used to! I've always been interested in Joseph and Daniel's biblical careers. (Thus, our choice of names for boys 3 and 4.) And Paul's preaching has always struck me in this regard-- I Cor 9:22's all things to all people so that by all possible means, we might save some. 

JW start by noting the popularity of apocalyptic in current pop culture. "Today, apocalypse sells like mad. Not just the threat of it, but its reality. And especially, its aftermath." (1) At one level, its popularity seems akin to #FWP-- First World Problems. But apocalyptic is as old as mankind: "As long as we humans have been telling the story of our beginning, we've also been telling the story of our end." (2) (FWIW, this is a theme I hope to explore with my research in the future, based on excellent books by Landes and others.)

What's up? Their thesis in a nutshell: Apocalyptic "is not really just about the end of the world", but "the dismantling of perceived renews as it brings an epiphany..." As such, "apocalyptic literature has always said a great deal more about who we are now...It reveals more than predicts." (2) It's not so much about the future and "the end of the world" as the present and the potential "end of our world" and where we think the future might go (60). This can't last; we're near the end of something; what's next?

One key difference in modern apocalyptic: we clearly are more capable of explicitly bringing about our own destruction (3). Along the same lines, we realize that progress and technological advance have proven to be mythic in their impact (35). Sure, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic-- prominent purveyors of the genre-- have connected sinfulness to destruction of various sorts. But modern potential for destruction is both more direct and more obvious. 

JW describe this as a particularly modern problem: "Most people in the West can easily choose to live primarily for their own flourishing, rather than something beyond it." (12) Moreover, we are among the first who can choose what to believe; even if we believe, we see ourselves as having a choice whether to believe or not. "This is quite a change...putting the human person at the center of the universe as the creator of meaning." (5) For the pre-modern, "disbelief was remarkably act of radical, terrifying, defiant autonomy in the face of powerful, invisible, and penetrating forces...And it one brave individual did break rank...the response was often violent and decisive" since they saw it as blasphemy, but worse, dangerous.

All of this sounds deeply troubling-- and potentially could be-- but JW are careful to caution that "every age has its own peculiar pathologies" (5) and that all of this can be for good for for ill. JW connect this theme and draw inferences about their applications through their reading of Charles Taylor's book, The Malaise of Modernity

JW lay out their understanding of what's changed a la Taylor in chapter 2. Taylor refers to various (potential) "pathologies": fragmented individualism that can lead to narcissism; efficiency-- narrowly conceived and weighted too highly; "freedom" misdefined and misunderstood (a la Galatians 5:1,13). To JW (more than to Taylor), all of these are steeped in pros and cons. Combined, they present big opportunities for trouble, but not necessarily. 

In any case, all of it points to a penchant for unrooted dystopia. As they quote William Adama in Battlestar Galactica (the subject of chapter 4), "We did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question [of] why? Why are we as a people worth saving?" (31) Generally, JW are (far) more optimistic than Taylor. In any case, I appreciate the careful cost-benefit reading and analysis of the contemporary tea leaves. 

JW work to define eschatology, millennialism, and apocalyptic (36-38a). They provide a history of apocalyptic (40ff) and argue that the classical version reached its historical apex from 1000-1515 AD-- from the turn of the millennium until the debut of "modern eschatology" in 1516. (I'm a little surprised that they don't give more weight to Jewish and Christian versions in the centuries around the time of Christ. But I suppose the argument would be that J and C carried relatively little influence in those early days.) 

The modern age was ushered in by Thomas More's book, Utopia (49). In this section, JW also reference Norman Cohn and Richard Landes' excellent book (41). (They cite Landes' theory about Amenhotep III and call it "an interesting and controversial case"!) JW describe the famous Revolutions in this context (51) and note the birth of "dystopia" with John Stuart Mill (54).

From Chapter 4 onward, JW turn to particular examples and applications/analysis. Once JW get to these examples, I'm at least a bit hamstrung in that I'm not familiar with most of their examples. I have passing knowledge of most of their examples, but only a thorough knowledge of the Hunger Games trilogy. Still, even within my ignorance, I found their discussion fascinating. If you have thorough or working knowledge of more shows/movies, you should find it that even more interesting and valuable. 

Ch. 4 covers Battlestar Galactica in light of individualism. It explores the series' connection to Mormonism, including debates between characters about monotheism vs. polytheism. 

Ch. 5 discusses the "anti-heroes" in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards. JW argue that the anti-hero is apocalyptic or even dystopian (78-83). And they connect these three shows to Machiavelli's The Prince and T.S. Eliot's Hollow Man (opening and closing the chapter with the latter).

In Ch. 6, JW analyze the movie "Her" and the idea of "being alone together" (98). I just talked about this at length in a forthcoming publication in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. We are all the same and yet, different-- and related to that: there is inherent value in the human person, both separately and in community (99-103). Despite many valid concerns about reduced capacity and desire for community (see: Putnam's Bowling Alone)-- and contrary to the pessimism of many contemporary social observers-- JW embrace the counter-claim that intimate relationships are still quite possible and likely these days (116-117).

In this chapter, JW also discuss the "politics of recognition" at length (108-114)-- and the implications for perceived value, the practice of "tolerance" (in its various contemporary forms), and the difficulty of unity (when this is not done well). Back in the day, when you were born into a particular context, there was little need to defend/justify "who you were". But today, we must prove ourselves to each other-- precisely because we and our roles are seen as unique. Or more precisely, "whatever was unique about you...didn't supersede or override your socially acknowledged role" (108). 

This also explains the passionate political desire (need?)-- in discourse and law--  to be explicitly legitimized by other individuals and by institutions. "I need the law and my government to recognize me not just as a citizen but also as a unique citizen with a particular, valid way of being-- my gender identity, my ethnic identity, my religion, my political beliefs, my sexual orientation, my profession-- that is on par with everyone else's way of being. The stakes are high. The politics of equal recognition are central and stressful." (111)

Defense of this new approach to value and dignity is correct at some level, but ultimately, too simplistic: "On what basis does that equal value exist?" Neither choices nor unchosen context can, in themselves, determine that value. Neither can "mere difference". Instead, "we are all equal not because we are different, but because there are valuable things that we all have as humans" (113). 

Ch. 7 features "Game of Thrones" and wrestles with the contemporary popularity of subjectivism and moral relativity. These lead to certain tendencies-- but they are not deterministic (121-122). JW describe Game of Thrones as apocalyptic (123-125, 130a)-- and see contemporary mores as an extension of Marx to Neitzsche (126-127). It's not merely religion that is an opiate, but all social and political conventions.  

JW express concerns, but argue that these tendencies are not necessarily bad (129-135), drawing a line between "more subjective" and "subjectivism". And there are benefits: "We are not more attentive to these background images-- these "worldviews"-- and their plurality, their strengths and weaknesses, as a result of subjectivity than we have ever been...Subjective does not mean the same thing as arbitrary or whimsical." (134-135)

In Ch. 8, JW argue that our popular zombie stories are both personal and political (138)-- but ultimately, more about what happens to society than to individuals. (For a terrific movie about personal, Christ-like sacrifice in the context of a zombie apocalypse, see I Am Legend-- what has been called the coolest Christian movie ever.)

JW review and applaud Max Brooks' novel (and the subsequent film), World War Z (140, 141). Where "Walking Dead" is about personal and group politics at a local level, World War Z deals with the world. "Brooks' novel is a study in social systems: their elasticity, their survivability, and how their logic can push toward both greater promise-- and peril." (141) For both stories, JW observe that one would think it'd be about personal survival, what seems to be the ultimate goal. Instead, for many, they sacrifice "not only security and power but their very lives for something they deem greater." (142) Along the way, Walking Dead illustrates that "all groups are not created equal, and all groups are not judged merely on the merits of delivering the goods of common security." (146) 

In this chapter, JW also wrestle with the problem of "groupthink" (148): when there is more "likability" (of whatever sort), "decision-making will follow a pattern of reinforcing those relationships rather than challenging faulty premises or logic". One sees this in all sorts of things, from the perennial temptations of science vs. the ideals of Science; these days, the popularity of the "wasted vote" myth; and various social norms that come to dominate and then fade. In all of this, Thomas Kuhn's classic book reminds us of the difficulty of evaluating the dominant paradigm from within that paradigm-- and thus, the rigidity of systems and "truths" in response to evidence.

Ch. 9's discussion of Scandal largely sets the table for a protracted discussion in Ch. 10 on The Hunger Games (HG). JW use HG to illustrate "why it is so important for distrustful, disconnected Millennials to dig in and do the hard work of institution-building". (165) The world of Panem represents a sobering threat to authenticity-- outside forces use surveillance and force to prevent the pursuit of one's true self. Citizens are tools-- instrumentalism and tyranny. And then there's the insidious tyranny of the hedonistic circus in the capital city: "distracted by the entertainment...numbed to the true injustices...a biting critique of entertainment culture." (168) They invoke Weber's "iron cage" and note it's only a cage "when people are truly, radically individualistic and atomized...why part of the Capitol's strategy is to pit districts against one another...also why it is such a threat...when citizens unite around a common idea." (169)

JW warn Millennials to be careful of fearing institutions or merely responding to them with cynicism. They also ask what all of us should do in such circumstances-- and how this points us toward a greater society, even when things are not nearly so rough: in a word, institutions are limited and often corrupt, and so we need to invest in our own institutions and exercise influence in our spheres: "to not blindly trust institutions again, but to be willing to invest in them." (177). HG "is quietly aware of this when it places all hope for any goodness in committed, loving, sacrificial relationships between people." (175) 

In Ch. 11, JW conclude by taking Daniel as the apocalyptic hero/archetype/model/example for ideal engagement with the culture. (My forthcoming JIS article relates here again-- in particular, my discussion of Richard John Neuhaus' American Babylon.) They cite Peter Leithart's excellent book, Between Babel and Beast, summing it up as don't abandon the city, but don't expect it to be the New Jerusalem.

If you're into contemporary culture-- and particularly into these shows and this genre-- JW is a must-read. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ghana 2016

In August, Kurt and I took our second trip to Ghana-- to train leaders and lay-leaders on making disciple-makers in general and to implement DC for Students in particular. (Details of the 2015 are here. You can read a lot more detail in my post from last year.)
Southeast Christian Church and a number of generous donors allowed Kurt and I to take another team to Northern Ghana this summer, August 10-20. We planned to take a team of six, including Barry Suggs, Kevin Speaks, and Michael and Dee Shaughnessy (a good opportunity to take a married couple and model marriage and ministry for them). But Kevin’s mother died just before the trip, preventing him from going. (As we were leaving, Chris Goodman—from last year’s trip—and his wife Cathy, were heading to Nigeria to do medical and discipleship training!)
This year, we flew into DC, Brussels, and then Accra. After staying overnight in a guest house in Accra, we had a short flight to Tamale. (Tamale is now an international airport, since Saudi Arabia now sponsors trips to the hajj.) There, we again stayed in a village/suburb north of Tamale—in the compound run by Bob and Bonnie Parker’s Seed Ministries.
On Saturday, we revisited last’s year training site in Savelugu. We had invited those who had started to implement DC—and encouraged them to invite their DC’ers. In total, about 40 people came and we built on last year’s training, refreshing and extending key principles. I taught on the highly-relevant passage out of Exodus 18 (Jethro and Moses).
It was great to see them again! Joseph was kind to remember my family members’ names. It was inspiring for them to pray for Kurt’s impending marriage. And it was fun to hear Kurt try to teach the fruit of the Spirit to Mordecai using a family song!
On Sunday, we had to skip worship and travel to Salaga—more rural and more difficult to reach by car. It was a three-hour drive—and it was wisdom for the driver to complete the trip and the return trip well before dark. Most of the last hour was a really rough road—and with the windows open, we got really dirty. One of our biggest laughs was seeing Dee’s make-up after the drive—the red dust bath made it look like she’d applied her foundation a bit too much!
In Salaga, we did a four-day version of the training we did last year—with about 50 church leaders from six different churches/denominations.  On Monday, Michael and Dee opened with “our Identity in Christ”. If you don’t understand your identity, then you’re unlikely to get much of what God has for you. Later on Monday, Kurt segued to Spiritual Warfare—in particular, how Satan attacks our identity in Christ. On Tuesday, Barry went through Neil Anderson’s “Freedom Appointment” booklet. Spiritual warfare is probably less prevalent and is certainly underestimated in the U.S. But it’s much more obvious in less-developed countries, particularly where various forms of pagan religion seem to invite more trouble.

Kurt and I taught through our version of Dann Spader’s “Four Chairs” model. I taught on hermeneutical principles and then taught through Genesis 3. The rest of the time, we divided into four small groups, simulated a DC group, and covered material from DC201-202: “Managing Conflict”, “Intro to Leadership”, Marriage and Stewardship. We closed with a charge and a small group discussion where churches made plans to implement DC for Students in some form (to be encouraged and held accountable by Francis’ team).
The Salaga folks were a bit more passionate than the folks in Savelugu. I don’t know if that’s cultural or tribal or other. One example: they strongly related to Moses’ passion for justice and ministry in Exodus 2-3. We were told that Islam is more forward in that region, but we didn’t notice much difference in our few encounters. They seemed as friendly there as they had been in Savelugu.
We were thankful that we didn’t need a translator. It’s not as inefficient as you might think, since you can form your thoughts as the translator is going through your last thought. But still, it’s nice to go in English.
As in Savelugu, there was a lot of praise and praying out loud. I don’t know if that’s uniform in Africa or this part of Africa—or maybe just for the groups we worked with. In Salaga, they added a lot more tribal dancing. And they were quick to pray and lay on hands.
As last year—and even moreso—we were struck by the importance of cultural influences. They range from Islam (religious and cultural) to tribal norms; from the impact of weather to different norms in economics and social life. Over and over, we were wrestling with whether a practice—in marriage, church discipline, stewardship—was biblical or merely cultural. For example, it’s difficult to “leave and cleave” when you have to live with one set of parents or another—because of finances or as encouraged by tradition. Or it’s difficult to handle mothers or mothers-in-law, when they routinely come to live with you for 40-365 days after the birth of a child. In matters of church discipline, this crew took things quite seriously. We talked at great length about the biblical prescriptions for dealing with conflict—e.g., in Matthew 18. Churches would “suspend” people or put them in a “red chair”. There are not things that we would do. But even if these were sins of commission, we weren’t tempted to pride because we know we have sins of omission in this realm.
Other small moments/observations:
--There were more women this time—maybe one-fourth of the group. As our previous trip, the women were viewed as equals, even when there was differentiation in roles. It was very comfortable in that sense, the opposite of what one might expect in a less-developed country with significant Muslim influence. But Christianity had impacted these people with respect to gender—and arguably they were more comfortable than one would see in conservative American churches. (I don’t have enough data to say.)
--At the training, we had to deal with modest heat (cooler than Louisville and cooler than last year—in the mid-80s). We had ceiling fans, but without A/C, it was more difficult to hold an audience’s attention!
--One of our small groups was interrupted once by cows. Last year, we were in a “neighborhood” of sorts, so we had a wider variety of noise—passing children, wandering goats, and an occasional donkey. There were many more dogs and even a few cats in this area. There were also more trees. We were near the Volta River and closer to the coast, allowing for more rainfall and greenery.
-The hotel in Salaga was really nice in terms of externals but many of the internals didn’t work. If you took pictures from certain angles, you’d think you were in an American three-star hotel. From other angles, it looked like a dump: holes in the wall with wiring hanging out; windows in ill-fitting holes; buckets of water that would substitute for plumbing deficiencies. There was a really nice TV (nicer than I have at home), but you could only get a half dozen channels and none were worth watching. There was a nice enough bathroom, but a non-functioning toilet in our first room and not enough water pressure for a shower. (We took bucket baths all week.) All of this made us enjoy Bob and Bonnie’s and the Accra guest house that much more!
-We had veggies and fruit with every meal—strange for Ghanaians since it’s relatively expensive and apparently, they don’t like fruit all that much! We ate goat twice—a first for me…good stuff! (That’s about how often they eat goat, annually, there.) We usually had fish with our meals. One weird thing: for years when I was younger, I used to joke about wanting to form a band called “Semi-boneless Spaghetti”. I had no idea why this popped in my head. But the funny thing is that we actually ate that dish on Wednesday at lunch. I had to pull about 20 bones out of the spaghetti we were served instead of the usual rice.
-The meals in Salaga were fine. But we really enjoyed meals at Bob and Bonnie’s: oatmeal and eggs; chicken dumpling and pot pie. Their hospitality is unsurpassed. And it was also an unexpected pleasure for them to give us a copy of DC for Students translated into Dagbani!
-It was a pleasure to meet and work with Parku—one of the lieutenants on the ground in Ghana. It was great to reacquaint with Zak who traveled with us to Salaga. In the evening, he and Kurt would “battle” in Star Realms—with each subjecting the other to vicious "attacks". We were quietly trying to play Splendor—and those two would be yelling and getting excited right next to us!
-God saved my bacon at least three times. When we switched rooms, I had placed my passport and trip money under my pillow in the hotel room—and almost left it behind. Then at the airport, I almost sent my Trip Packet and Book Manuscript into my checked bags when we were shuffling bags at the airport. Given the delays we faced, that could have been somewhere between annoying and painful.
Wrapping up: In Accra on the way back, we worked with a range of street-level vendors and picked up a nice range of souvenirs. Coming and going from Accra, we had pizza at a really nice mall—better than most malls in Louisville. On the way back, we flew through Chicago—the only hiccup in our travels, but a big one. We ended up flying back to Cincy instead of Louisville, after a long delay, where Tonia and Zach picked us up.
The need to make disciples and disciple-makers is universal—for time and place. In Ghana, the challenges are greater, because people are coming to Christ, churches are being planted, but without a plan to disciple and make disciple-makers, how can the Church grow effectively?
In all of this, we got another opportunity to experience Romans 1:11-12—that we would be of mutual encouragement to each other. It was good to reacquaint with old friends in Tamale (Zak, Samson, Isaak, Joseph, Thomas, etc.) and to make new friends in Salaga (Mercy and Silas; Moses, Benjamin, Paul, Dela, Ebenezer, Clement, James, John, Ruth, Hannah, etc.)
We look forward to returning to Africa soon—perhaps again next Summer. May God use our efforts to expand His Kingdom in Ghana, Nigeria and beyond!

Monday, September 19, 2016

the 47%, the 25%, the 99%

This article gets to one of the most important ironies of this year's presidential race.

Dems are famous for their supposed concern for the working poor, disadvantaged minorities, and the middle class. But if you look at their policy sins of omission and commission, their "champion" status in this realm is somewhere between untenable and laughable.

A sizable chunk of Trump voters (mostly, the non-deplorable kind, I guess-- but you'd better double-check that with Hillary) come from those who have been overlooked politically, are being left behind by economic and cultural changes, have had their education and family structure undermined by Democrat policy stances, and are (ironically) our country's most "independent" voters (they cross political lines). In one sense, they're Romney's 47%; they're Hillary's 25%; and they're a key subset within the 99% who are not the 1%.

Unfortunately, the answers to their problems are, largely, not political-- at least in a way that's a feasible place for hope. The Dems don't really care and support destructive policies, often to support crony capitalism. Trump's policies won't do much either-- even if we could believe what he's saying. Beyond Trump, the GOP lacks the passion and intellect to fight (let alone, win) the necessary battles.

JCPS bus troubles and Econ201

A lot of interesting stuff in Allison Ross' video interview on the C-J website with JCPS superintendent Donna Hargens (accompanying today's article in the C-J)...

A few thoughts: 

If you insist on keeping kids on buses for an artificially long time, you're insisting on creating more trouble on buses.
If you insist on spending a lot more money for busing to reach social goals, then you will have less money to pay bus drivers-- and more importantly, for education.
Econ201: We know how shortages arise and persist-- in labor markets, when compensation is inadequate. This ain't brain surgery: Pay them more and watch the shortage dissipate. (See also: labor union opposition to market wages for science, math, and special ed teachers.)
Related to this, Hargens notes that it's more difficult to find bus drivers (presumably at, more or less, the same wages) when the economy is stronger and labor demand is higher. All labor demanders must pay more in this setting or face shortages.
It's annoying and perhaps telling that Hargens uses the word "again", again and again, in the interview.
Hargens repeatedly refers to the proportion of incidents-- and of course, that's the best single approach. That said, I hope that she and apologists for JCPS do the same thing in other contexts-- e.g., focusing on the ROI of large companies rather than their profits.