Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Donald Trump: Like a petulant child

Donald Trump refused to participate in the last Iowa debate among those running to become the GOP presidential candidate because he did not like one of the moderators, Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

Trump's behavior is more like that of a petulant child than the maturity of someone ready to become the leader of the world's most powerful nation. The President of the US has to interact, repeatedly and with at least a veneer of politeness, with many people whom the President may personally dislike or whose views the President may find distasteful if not reprehensible. The President, as Commander in Chief, also has direct authority over the world's most powerful military and nuclear arsenal. A person campaigning for election as President of the US, who sulkily refuses to participate in a debate because of objections to one of the moderators, demonstrates a very disturbing lack of emotional maturity and a frighteningly excessive degree of narcissism (believing him or herself to be the center of the world).

After months on the campaign trail as the self-proclaimed GOP front-runner, Trump's ignorance of the Constitution, economic facts, and international affairs reflects a similar emotional immaturity. Contrary to Trump, (1) prohibiting Muslims from entering the US would violate the Constitution's ban against government discrimination based on religion; (2) unemployment in the US is not in excess of 20% but at 5%; (3) the Kurds and the Iranian national guards are not identical but are from different religions, ethnicities, and states.

Sometimes the President of the US would benefit from having a dealmaker's skills. The job, however, calls for much more than making deals. A President depends upon global respect to exert international influence. A President needs vision to inspire and to lead domestically and internationally. A President needs an extensive grasp of politics, economics, military, national, and international affairs. Crises do not occur with built-in time-outs for the President to get up to speed on a set of issues. Debates that ask potential candidates to address tough issues, issues some would prefer to avoid, offer opportunity to watch the candidates perform under pressure. Candidates who refuse to take the time to learn about the issues convey amateurism, an implicit lack of respect for the public, and appear to substitute brash self-confidence for the depth and competence that the seriousness and magnitude of the President's responsibilities require. Trump, for example, in a press interview was unfamiliar with the US nuclear triad of ground, air, and submarine capacity to launch strategic nuclear weapons.

The Presidency is not like Burger King: you cannot have it your own way, Mr. Trump.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

When will we learn?

Last week, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, suggested that the US might integrate members of its armed forces with Iraqi military units at Iraqi bases as part of the effort to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS.

His pronouncement is bad news for two reasons. First, the warning indicates that Iraq's military and civil governments are not up to unilaterally defending Iraqi territory from ISIS aggression in spite of thousands of US casualties and billions of dollars in aid. Almost fifteen years after Saddam's defeat, Iraq still lacks a stable, effective government. Second, the US appears to be on the verge of expanding its continuing, although currently low key, military presence in Iraq. Sending more troops will inevitably lead to more casualties with little prospect of achieving enduring gains.

Immediate control of Mosul is strategically unimportant. The fundamental strategic needs are for peoples in the Middle East to exercise self-determination and agree to peaceful coexistence.

ISIS is an insurgent movement that aims to establish a state, a global Caliphate governed by its extremist version of Sharia. If ISIS only had aspirations as a state, the US and its allies would handily finish defeating it. ISIS in the last year has suffered repeated losses and now governs less than 75% of the territory it controlled a year ago. Furthermore, people ISIS rules are widely dissatisfied. ISIS has had to employ increasingly harsh measure to coerce compliance from the people it governs. Concurrently, recruitment of foreign fighters is slowing. M of ISIS' current fighters are growing demoralized and disenchanted.

However, ISIS is actually both a state and a political/religious movement. ISIS retains significant popular appeal in the region. Many disenfranchised Sunnis in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East believe that ISIS represents their most viable, perhaps only realistic, option to better their lot in life. Foreign military victories against ISIS are unlikely to alter that perception.

Instead, ISIS' defeat and ultimate demise as a political/religious movement will happen only when its putative constituents believe that a more viable path exists for realizing their aspirations for their children to have greater opportunities for better lives, economic prosperity, improved physical security, and progress toward self-determination. No external organization or state can impose these changes.

The US should stop meddling in Middle Eastern internal affairs (i.e., withdraw all military personnel, halt all arms sales, etc.), guarantee Israel's continued existence (but not its borders), and strongly endeavor to convince other states to follow suit. The peoples of the Middle East need and deserve the opportunity to establish states and borders of their choosing (not have to live with states and borders European nations created at the end of WWI). The emergence of these new states will be messy, slow, and conflicted. However, this represents the region's best hope for peace. Incidentally, the current global oil glut, the lifting of Iranian sanctions, and oil shale production in North America, diminish the potential adverse economic effects on the rest of the world from implementing this policy.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Brokenness as the source of healing

A class discussion during the first week of my second semester of seminary left me feeling unsettled. One of my classmates nonchalantly remarked that she was attending seminary to search for mental and spiritual healing. Several classmates quickly echoed her sentiments. I dissented. I was not attending seminary to work on personal issues. Instead, I had reluctantly concluded that God was calling me to ordained ministry because that ministry was how I could do the most to make the world a more just, peaceful place. Seminary, I hoped, would provide the knowledge and skills to equip me for effective ministry.

At some points in the conversation, I sensed that at least a few of my classmates regarded personal brokenness as a prerequisite for ministry. That idea conflicted with my self-image. Although I have never considered myself perfect or whole, I still had enough self-awareness and confidence to recognize that I, a child of privilege with reasonably good health, had the relational competence, education, and marketable skills to live well without attending seminary. My understanding of call emphasized service and not self. Any personal benefits that might accrue from ministry seemed incidental rather than essential.

My efforts to convince my seminary classmates that Jesus' power to heal the sick was not dependent upon Jesus' being ill or broken failed. I have occasionally wondered what happened to my classmate who attended to seminary to find healing. I hope she found the path to health that she sought without becoming an unintentional source of hurt for others.

However, during almost four decades spent in collegial ministry, much of it in a supervisory capacity, I almost inevitably observed problems when the sick tried to heal the sick. Sometimes it worked. Most often, it ended in tragedy, e.g., as occurred in the ministries of a former Suffragan Bishop of Maryland and that of a gifted colleague at the Naval Academy who was arrested for public indecency.

Thankfully, effective ministry does not require health, wholeness, or perfection. If it did, the Church would not have any ministers, lay or ordained. Nevertheless, effective ministry requires awareness of one's disease(s), brokenness, or imperfection while having sufficient health (1) to set and keep appropriate boundaries to avoid harming others, (2) to be a channel of the grace that heals self and others, and (3) to be an icon in and through which others meet God.

Twenty years ago, a laicized Roman Catholic priest, a former vocation director for his diocese, told me that a major reason he had left the priesthood was that his superiors, faced with declining vocations and desperately needing priests, repeatedly lowered the standards of candidates for holy orders. This became intolerable when his superiors directed him to accept candidates they knew had serious mental health problems.

Pressures to accept individuals and move them through the ordination process are growing in The Episcopal Church (TEC). Even though TEC currently has no shortage of clergy, too few are willing to serve small congregations, particularly in rural or geographically remote areas. Consequently, some dioceses are developing alternative ordination paths. Hopefully, these dioceses will maintain TEC's historic insistence on refusing to ordain those with significant mental, physical, and spiritual impairments. Admittedly, TEC's screening never identified every troubled individual; furthermore, clergy sometimes develop problems after ordination. Yet the process, as I know from watching hundreds of chaplains from faith groups without similar screening requirements, is essential for safeguarding the health of the Church and well-being of its members. Concurrently, a few diocesan ordination processes appear reluctant to impose stringent requirements for mental, physical, and spiritual health on putative ordinands, wanting to honor the call the individual and sponsors think that they have heard.

TEC's continuing numerical decline will inevitably increase pressures to generate ordinands. Ironically, the necessity of ensuring healthy ordinands varies inversely with institutional health. A more stable, institutionally flourishing Church has far greater capacity for identifying clergy with problems, minimizing the harm those individuals can do, and guiding them into wellness programs and positions that provide close supervision. A weaker institution has less resilience, less capacity for averting harm from dysfunctionality, and more pressure to accept aspirants.

My sporadic, though continuing, reflection on classmates' explanation that they attended seminary to find healing has deepened my appreciation for metaphors about Jesus that connect brokenness and ministry. Brokenness in these metaphors does not connote illness or imperfection. Illness and imperfection may help a minister to stay grounded in his/her humanity, reveal the minister's need for healing, and encourage awareness that s/he journeys as a fellow pilgrim. But this brokenness can never displace or replace God as the source of healing.

Instead, brokenness in metaphors that connect brokenness and ministry connotes Jesus giving himself in love to us: his life poured out (spent) for us; his wounds (physical and emotional pain suffered because of his uncompromising love) being a source of healing for us; his emptying himself (becoming human) that we might become whole. Through his being broken for us (both his passion and in Holy Communion), we enter into the health of his wholeness. God's love flowed then and now through Jesus to heal the sick and restore the broken to life.

My ongoing prayer asks that I may be broken (spent, emptied, or poured out) so that the love of God and neighbor may increase. In living into that prayer, I have experienced life, love, and God more deeply than I could have imagined when a seminarian.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lessons in community

The Golden State Warriors – reigning champions of the National Basketball Association – provide three lessons for creating and strengthening community, which Ed Frauenheim identified in his article, "Lessons from the Warriors" (Fortune, January 1, 2016, p. 16):

  1. Have fun. Too many congregations are not having fun. Declining attendance, financial struggles, seemingly unending conflict over priorities, policies, and programs can leave a congregation full of negative emotions that unintentionally discourage participation and growth. Healthy congregations are fun places to be to which people want belong and from which people derive great satisfaction. God created people to enjoy life, not to be miserable.
  2. Care for each other. Tragedy and pain are inescapable in every life. Few people, however, suffer great pain and experience large needs every day. This allows us to have the capacity to care for one another, which Jesus articulated as a basic tenet of Christian community ("I give you a new commandment: Love one another.").
  3. Cooperation is key. Everybody has ego needs; humans are hardwired to be self-centered. Nevertheless, nobody succeeds in living abundantly entirely because of individual talent and effort. Working together, people can achieve more than any person can achieve acting alone. The Apostle Paul's metaphor for this truth is the body: no part of the body can exist by itself; all of the parts are necessary; as a whole, the body can do absolutely wondrous things, none of which any part of the body can do by itself.