Saturday, June 27, 2015

The "Equal Protection" Conundrum for We the Christians

I have chosen to leave the TV off, not spend much time on FB and have scanned the morning news paper for wherever you turn you see nothing but the joyous celebration of same sex marriage now the Law of the Land in America in all fifty states and territories. This same week we have seen a flawed health care Federal system validated by that same Supreme Court rendering in fact that the United States Government is the central control and clearing house for a family's health from birth to death. This has been a banner week for the U.S Constitution around the Equal Protection Clause defined as:
The Equal Protection Clause is part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The clause, which took effect in 1868, provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction "the equal protection of the laws."
In disconnecting from the flood of joy, I have taken that time to do two fundamental things this morning beginning with praying for our scarred, torn, divided, backward stepping nation in which I have lived, loved, worked, fought for, served and represented for sixty-seven years of my life.  As my wife and were just talking, remembering as Christians we are to hate the sin but not the sinner, that is a very hard test track for me to run on please know but please know as well I try. Growing up around alcoholism, I grew to hate the smell, the hint and the jokes about alcohol so the issue of staying ever mindful of being charged to hate the sin and not the sinner was, for me, was and is still one of the great battles of my life. The second thing I have done today is seek quiet, peace and calm. I have gone through my FB friend list to "thin the herd" with the main caveat being how well do I know this person and do their FB posts lift and encourage or incite. It is a great exercise I highly recommend to each of you.
In our nation, as Christians, I believe I have landed on a fundamental reality that has been spoken of my whole life, preached about, sung about and that is that there would come a time when Christians and our beliefs would be challenged and hasten persecution for what we believe. As Americans, we have a central, overarching document that has been fought for and over called the Constitution. Every law, ever act by either branch of our triumvirate form of government is always viewed through the lens of the language of that Constitution. So like it or not, the Constitution is very clear that every citizen is due equal protection under the law.  Many nations where I have traveled do not assure that so we are blessed to live in this nation. 
But here is the conundrum for We the Christian; true we live under the weight and protection of the Constitution but we also have God's clear Word on certain principles with one of those being the definition of marriage between one woman and one man.  Pastors across this land will now face a choice; marry gay people or face legal action or leave the ministry and we are seeing hoards of ministers doing exactly that.  I predict the anvil the Government will use and will soon be forthcoming with be the elimination of the 501C3 tax deductible giving for church tithes and offerings further seeking to choke the life out of organized churches seeking to maintain adherence to God's laws. The pressure churches and church leaders will be in the near term will be overwhelming and litigation lawyers will make it a gold mine as they always do.
For what it is worth, for all the warnings of pastors for a century, the warnings are now here. So what will We the Christians do; shirk and run or stand and remain vigilant to God's Word. As for me and my house, We will Serve the Lord. I pray for church leaders across this land as they face the alligator swamps now opened as flood gates. 
I know many people that claim and are quite proud to be called gay. I respect them as people, and many of my former students fall in this group.  But I cannot imagine what resides across the horizon that is going to be best for my grandchildren; my legacy.  Values are birthed and cultivated in the home with the husband and wife; not Mike and Chuck with adopted children or artificially inseminated women. It is the child and that generation I am deeply concerned with and about.
So the battle cry is up, the Christian flag unfurled so how do we stay true to our Christian call while still remaining good citizens knowing the Bible tells us you cannot serve two masters for either you will serve and hate the other? That is a powerful ? mark for each of us.  I just have this sick revulsion in my belly in seeing my nation where it resides and the leadership is aiming it at even greater depths.   We face a troubled future but then when have Christians ever faced a joyous future on this earth, right? Our true joy resides when with Christ in our eternal home.  We will get through this but not unscathed for this hoopla is in direct violation of God's clear Word! He will have the final say so with that, my stomach feels less sick.
Feel free to pass this along to whomever you wish, male, female, LGBT, astronauts, etc etc.  As for me and my house We will SERVE the Lord. That has never been more true.  I wish each of you  a great weekend and never forget, we are Special!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Miracle of Charleston --- Looking Ahead

Perhaps it was because I was in Charleston a few weeks ago and took one of the horse drawn town tours and the tour passed by the church where the massacre took place. Perhaps it is because I am from the South and have realized in these days post massacre just what all the symbols of the Confederacy truly stood for meaning fighting to maintain enslavement of a human being for economic purposes. That does not alter my love for the South and the vast heritage that that infers. But perhaps find myself in a FB firestorm of supporters of my contention that the Confederate flag needs to go the way of a museum artifact only to be swooped up in to some really acidic push back was quite surprising and exhausting to me.  I realized something glaringly through the two days of the rhetoric that the heritage of the South, while colorful and deep, still resounds in many corners with the same sentiment that led to the Civil War in the first place. One commenter posted .."all we want is to be left alone.."  That is precisely what the Southern states wanted in the lead up to the War and then and only then did the issue of slavery, " in the South rebellion states" and not the slave holding Northern states become at issue. In other words indentured servants was sea to shining sea in that early 1800 lets we forget.
But another staggering reality was borne on the wings of history; it is 2015, a Civil War was fought affirming the strength of the Constitution meaning there was and is a Federal system and umbrella over all the States that supersedes State laws and regulations.  So the surprise for me was in reading comment after comment in essence rejecting that core reality of a democracy to just "leave us alone."  That would led to absolute chaos on a grander scale than we have witnessed thus far.
Given this as the backdrop, I am pasting in a wonderful article by Peggy Noonan of the WSJ that has captured perfectly the real story with the real essence of what real Christian people reacting to a disaster should react in  Christ-like manner. It is past time to keep fighting the War for that War, thankfully, is over, fought honorable, a winner and a loser was declared. The relic of the defeated should not be the core of angst in 2015 but that is exactly what has erupted across this nation.  The pendulum swing of over reaction has been seen clearly but that is more normal than not. 
Read this wonderful blog:

Two Miracles in Charleston

A stunning demonstration of Christian faith helps resolve a bitter decades-long argument.

A rally at the South Carolina State House in Columbia calls for the confederate flags removal on June 23. ENLARGE
A rally at the South Carolina State House in Columbia calls for the confederate flags removal on June 23. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis
I know there’s a lot going on, but I think we witnessed two miracles this week, and public miracles are pretty rare and must be named. These two especially should be noted and remembered because they suggest a way out of the ongoing morass.

The first miracle is now nationally famous. It is that scene of amazing, other-worldy forgiveness shown at the bail hearing for the Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect. You have heard what the victims’ relatives said, but it should be underscored that their words were spontaneous, unscripted, and flowed like water pouring from deep wells. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance, 70, was killed: “You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you. . . . You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you and I forgive you.” Alana Simmons, whose grandfather the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. was killed, told the New York Times she didn’t plan to speak at the hearing but found herself inspired by Ms. Collier. “We are here to combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions,” she said. “And that is what we want to get out of the world.”

Those of us lucky to watch live, who didn’t know what was coming, got to experience the full force of the event. To me most moving was what Bethane Middleton-Brown said of her murdered sister: “She taught me that we are the family love built. We have no room for hating.”

That was the first miracle, the amazing grace that pierced the hearers’ hearts—in America, in 2015, at an alleged murderer’s bail hearing in a plain, homely courtroom. Christian churches and their believers are used to being patronized or mocked as silly, ignorant or hypocritical. They often don’t mind, often laugh along with the joke. But these were public statements that laid out the essence of Christianity, unedited and undiluted, and you couldn’t laugh or scoff. You could only feel awe and ask yourself: “If I were that person in those circumstances, would I be great too?”

Within days, something else wholly unexpected happened. A tough old knot became untied. Something people had been fighting about for a long time was suddenly about to be resolved. The murders at the church, and what was said by the relatives of the dead, prompted the rejection of the Confederate battle flag in gentle, kindly, heartfelt words.

The tableau at the South Carolina Capitol surrounding Gov. Nikki Haley was itself moving—both parties, all colors, the Indian-American governor flanked by the African-American U.S. senator, Tim Scott.

Ms. Haley said that immediately after the shootings, “we were hurt and broken and we needed to heal.” South Carolinians began “not by talking about issues that divide us, but by holding vigils, by hugging neighbors, by honoring those we lost and by falling to our knees in prayer.” She spoke of the victims’ relatives: “Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.”

“On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history,” she acknowledged. “We all know that. Many of us have seen it in our own lives—in the lives of our parents and our grandparents. We don’t need reminders.” She turned to the subject of the banner that flies on the statehouse grounds. “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble—traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry.” But “for many others . . . the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.” The state can “survive” as home to both viewpoints: “We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.”

“But the statehouse is different and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way. . . . Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.”

And that was that. Within 48 hours the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, ordered the flag removed from the statehouse grounds there, and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said his state’s flag, which incorporates the Confederate design, should be altered. Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said they’d do away with vanity license plates that include the banner.
It hardly needs be said American politics doesn’t usually work like this. Our political culture tends to be mean-spirited, shouty, full of moral posing and pointed fingers. In this case, everyone seemed to be laying down arms. This was a miracle not of “justice” but of “mercy.” Justice can be argued about forever, but mercy is just what it is, as the people who spoke at the bail hearing know.

It’s hard to imagine the Confederate battle flag is going to be given prominence on statehouse grounds in the future. Something big changed in this old argument, and it won’t change back.
When I first watched the hearing, I hoped the mourning people of South Carolina would not have political debates forced on them while their throats were full of tears. But as Ms. Haley implied, they went forward on their own, as Southerners and South Carolinians, and made the decision while their throats were full of tears.

This was the South talking to the South.

And it was Christians talking to Christians about what Christianity is.
In Christianity Today, writer Michael Wear, who headed President Obama’s faith outreach efforts in the 2012 campaign, had a strong piece with a strong headline: “Stop Explaining Away Black Forgiveness.” Mr. Weir bluntly rejected recent essays arguing that the relatives who spoke at the bail hearing were acting out the traditions or survival mechanisms of their race. That, he argued, is an elitist, racist view. The “confounding forgiveness” given voice at the bail hearing, the “radical love” contained in the statements, was not cultural, sociological or political, it was theological. It was about Jesus Christ. “They did not forgive to express the values of their race or to represent the character of their country, but to be faithful to their God.” Black people, he added, have “equal access to Jesus,” and the survivors could forgive “because they believe that fateful night in the upper room of Mother Emanuel was not the end of their loved ones’ stories.” They believed the dead are as they were, “in the Kingdom of God, beloved by him, their greatest longings realized.” He asked: “What other American community today displays less shame, less reservation . . . about proclaiming the Christian faith?”

That is exactly what I thought as I watched the hearing.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee, if they know it, have some new nominees: the relatives of the dead who offered the mercy that relaxed the hands of those who’d been holding, too tight, to a flag.
Everyone thinks progress depends on indignation, accusation, aggression, demonstration, marching. But we just saw anger lose to love. It’s a huge moment.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Symbols Change Meaning Over Time

We live in a world of symbols for symbols take on a life of their own wrapped with emotion and evolving into heritage that creates the telling of stories, folklore and beliefs.  This week in the wake of the horrific slayings in South Carolina, symbols have again floated to the top of the hurt and disbelief that must be ultimately addressed nationally; which means every American.  Let me give a little biography of myself before my comments ..
I was born and reared in Alabama being born in 1948. My great grand father fought for the South at Gettysburg as did his two brothers. There is family blood on that hallowed field that changed the course of history. I attended a junior high school and a senior high school both named for "Confederate" heroes and our athletic teams were the Emma Sansom Rebels.  History is important to Southerners and I am certainly not exempt from that hunger and lure. 
Our nation today is at a fever pitch racially; a scale I have not seen since the 1960's which was my teenage decade I remember oh so well. The colored water fountains and bathrooms, back door entrances to doctor's offices for the black; all of that was real, unquestioned, cultural. But that never made it right and surely not today.  Yes, I believe the balance, racially, has shifted for too wide on the pendulum of change as is evidenced in a myriad of ways we can witness on TV and movies and music every moment of every day.  But the fervor and fever of hate has been astonishing to me and how it has now venomously manifested itself in targeting police as the enemy and targets of assassination all in the name of some gibberish that hearkens to the Black Panthers, NAACP, SNCC of the 60s. I say all of that is window dressing for a much deeper cancer is metastasizing all too rapidly.  It is my belief that the ascendancy of Obama to the White House and his behaviors and that of his wife and the legislative process has augmented  and accelerated this racial hate that is perhaps too far heated to be brought under control thus chaos potentially reigns ahead. But then there are the black families in South Carolina that are a blessing to any and all that are witnessing their faith in action!
But to my point! The Confederate flag is a  symbol. At one time a symbol of honor and sacred to so many a hundred years ago.  That same flag has become the symbol of red necks driving rusted pick up trucks with gun racks in the back window. As a Southern man, and proud of it, living in the North for almost three decades now, when I see that flag on some redneck vehicle and the perspective of the person driving, I am appalled and dismayed for the symbol is not worth of what it once met.  The Confederate flag is a blaring reminder of a time gone by, a harsh, and deep scar on the American national landscape with nearly a million soldiers killed under the auspices of what that flag stood for.  Seeing that flag on the South Carolina Capital in 2015 in the midst of the hate crime by a twenty-one year old probably deranged young man proudly being pictured with his red neck license plate was, for me, sickening to my stomach and brought a sense of why this flag is nationally allowed to still be flown. For what, for what purpose, for what end?  A symbol that has surpassed its usefulness and now is symbol of hate and gasoline on a aging cause is just plain irresponsible. This symbol needs to GO AWAY NOW. I doubt there are very many South Vietnamese flags to be found waving in the breeze of Vietnam today and yes, it is the same parallel.
The second artery now surfaced after each mass shooting is gun laws. I have fired many weapons in my life but am not a member of the NRA but I cannot fathom how an organization like the NRA could in good conscience stand and defend gun use in this nation.  We have the highest, by far, gun death and incident numbers in the world.  Fiddling with legislation with Congress fueled by the dazzling funds flowing from NRA members into political coffers means that will never be corrected.  For me, at this stage, the symbol of Second Amendment rights has been prostituted beyond recognition of what the Founders intended. I believe guns should go the way of the Confederate flag which is complete surrendering and destruction and that gun manufacturers face the same scrutiny as cigarette manufacturers are making their business model unprofitable.
People, WE ARE OUR OWN WORST ENEMY and these two arteries are front and center of the cancer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Epistle on Cleveland Culture of Losing

No doubt my comments will not make everyone in this region happy but I have some distinct thoughts underscored after watching every game of the now concluded NBA finals with Golden State clearly the better team.  Let me first say that I played a great deal of basketball in my life and understand the game, the rules, the logic of team-based sports and will add that the ability of each of these men are beyond belief from my personal perspective.  LeBron James is a superman no doubt but what I watched closely was the he is not a team-based player. We saw it in Miami and we have just witnessed it in the GS series.
Yes, some key Cleveland players were MIA thus more of the load fell on Mr. James but he is perfectly capable of shouldering that load and did admirably. However, when Mr Naismith invented this game of basketball and its evolution to 2015, team-based means just that, it is TEAM that wins championships and the Cavs did not display much semblance of grasping this golden ring of reality; no pun intended.  GS outgunned, out manned, out played and played as a cohesive band of brothers was my scouting report of the six games.  The shooting skills were astounding but not only of Curry but several others. They were a team of hustle, class, driven, take no prisoners and I loved that for that is basketball in its purest form. The MVP Award for the series was absolutely correct with Mr. Igloudala as the recipient.
Cleveland's offense was, well, LBJ; period. He controlled the ball far too much for far too long and in far too many instances.  Mr Smith will undeniably and rightly will be traded for his performance was sketchy at best and his appearance of attitude was a downer.  The Big Russian center, for me who played center, was wonderful to watch. Big, strong, agile, tough, driven, soft shooter; he was my personal hero on the Cavs.  The Cavs not only lost; they were beaten but I think they pretty much beat themselves for not utilizing all the tools in the bag thus relying far too heavily on Mr. James.
So this season is over, thankfully, and there will be much trading, whining finger pointing in the three weeks before the 2016 season starts (smile.) but fact it, to me, what we witnessed was a capsule of the Cleveland sports culture be it football, baseball, basketball, badminton or horseshoes; there is not a culture of winning.
Culture is defined as the sum total of the behaviors. Given that, one would say the issue and focus of my epistle is that the behaviors that exude themselves in Cleveland sports for whatever the reason does not spell or smell WINNER. Remembering that there is no change until there is a measurable change in behavior, then behavior is the culprit, right?
The sad part for me is I have never seen a more avid, hungry, desirous fan base that want and deserve to be satiated with a championship in something but year after year after painful year the season ends with ducked heads and angst.
I will close with the fact that Golden State absolutely deserved to win that championship for every Warrior that took the floor played not for themselves but selflessly to make the team look cohesive. The shooting skills I saw were beyond amazing surpassed only by the passing skills of each of the players; that is team-based sport at its best.  And to add to the joy I feel for GS to know Steph Curry is a publicly open professing Christian only adds to my savor of that great championship team.  We got to watch class and classic professional basketball in Golden State that soundly beat a weaker, hurting, too-LBJ dependent enterprise.
In other words, to change a culture, behaviors must change dramatically beginning at the top and it works its way down to the floor operator. Mind you I am speaking to the Cleveland professional sports enterprise; it is broken and has been far, far too long!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

He's Still Working on Me

Many of you will remember this song from the late 1970' s by the Hemphills; a simple, profound. toe tapping song. Read the lyrics:

He's Still Working on Me

He's still working on me
                                      To make me what I ought to be
                                                It took Him just a week
                                         To make the moon and stars
                                 Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars
                                  How loving and patient He must be
                                            He's still working on me

There really ought to be
                                                    A sign upon the heart
                                                        Don't judge me yet
                                              There's an unfinished part
                                                    But I'll be perfect just
                                                    According to His plan
                                       Fashioned by the Master's loving hands

In the mirror of His Word
                                                        Reflections that I see
                                                          Make me wonder why
                                             He never gave up on me
                                                       He loves me as I am
                                                  And helps me when I pray
                                          Remember He's the Potter, I'm the clay
This is one of my mornings when my brain is in gear with so many thoughts rumbling the the attic of my brain.  I will be singing this song among others twice today.  When you read the lyrics, the profoundness of the words really cascade over my soul.  As a sixty-seven year old man, I find the essence of this song to be as applicable to me today as they did when I was ten.  See, I believe that for God's children, as long as we have life, a gift from God, that we have a work to do and likewise, God will continue to work on us.  I personally can testify this morning morning that I sense God's crafting in me each day I am given; what a blessing that is!
Just this morning I awoke with the thoughts of a young jail inmate I met a few weeks ago and was impressed with what I saw. I cannot begin to count the times that sense has touched me when meeting a jail inmate during a chapel service. There is just that inexplicable something that touches my heart.  I found that inmate on FB and wrote a brief message of encouragement; at 4 am this morning.  I immediately got a response indicating that that person needed that word of encouragement and I invited, begged that that inmate come to my church Sunday. That, for me, is part of the miracle of God's timing of events for His children.
There are so many that will read this that are facing some really tangible, painful circumstance and in many, not all, cases, the circumstance of the pain is self induced thus reaping the harvest of consequences for poor choices.  But from that pain, chastening is a right word here, God is doing His work in each of some. Another song I sing has a lyric that says;
Sometimes He calms the storm, Sometimes He calms me, Sometimes the storm rages but but I feel the sweetest peace
That is a perfect description of the Christ centered walk I believe.  None of us like the storm but we all learn from the storm for there is a next new storm on the horizon.  I want my blog this morning to be a pearl of encouragement for whoever reads this this day.  I feel such a closeness to my family all of which are still asleep. My twleve year old grandson is on a mission trip in Panama City Beach, FL and my prayer has been that God would use that trip to reveal some spiritual realities for his young life. I meet people everyday that are simply amazing to me and many are in their own storm so my hope and my prayer is that God can use me to lift them from the fears and worries usually via somgs I get to sing. I love that ministry in song for it is I that stands most blessed.
I will close simply by stating that God is never done with us until He takes us home. We live in a world of chaos and angst on a scale I could have never imagined.  But through all of that I can rest assured that, yes, God is still working on me to MAKE ME WHAT I OUGHT TO BE.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Benchmarks Along the Journey

June 5 .... for me, as with all of us, there are dates that are speed bumps along our interstate. Filling those special and unique dates are memories, hopes, disappointments; the spectrum of emotion and each of you reading this are thinking of some of your speed bumps just seeing this.  I have several special dates in my hard drive such as my wedding anniversary, our children's birthdays, my first grandson's birthday of Oct 1 that forever changed my life.  I remember the dates of my salvation experience of August 15, 1960 vividly as if it was yesterday.  But June 5 is and always will be special to me for there is a major component of my life, the military, that I rarely have opportunity to speak about but will briefly here.
June 5, 1970 was the first day of Basic Combat Training at Fort Bragg, NC. I was older than most of my fellow recruits. I chose to join the Army even though the draft was alive and well but the decision for me to join the Army, the National Guard to be more specific, was founded more on a need to fill a gap that began with my dad; a World War II combat veteran.  Like most little boys then, we played Army every day and each day, Monday through Friday at noon, a band of us would gather at George French's den to watch war movies on Channel 13 out of Birmingham.  America always won thus that was as it should be; America Wins! Most days we would retire to the battlefields of Norris and Hill Avenues, break up in the Americans and Germans, hide, and initiate combat operations with china berries being the ammunition of choice. It amazes me I can actually see this screen and not have been blinded by the hard green berries but I made it.  The War would last a couple of hours or until our mothers would beckon us home but we would fight another day valiantly ... but the Americans won.  I bought with grass cutting money I earned Army surplus insignia, canteen belts, back packs, would have bought grenades but they were out that day; SMILE. Americans won!!!!
As the years crept up on me and I had friends going off to some place, Asia, where ever that was and then I would hear my best friend was killed by a booby trapped child. I could not register what that meant. Then there was another and then another; boys I had known well but no more. Then I had friends that came back from there acting, well, much differently. I thought it was me that had somehow changed and did for many years.  But reality hit me that it was Vietnam and America was not winning apparently.  But way down deep in my being I yearned to be there, to be part of it, to contribute to the freedom that America represented.  I saw the impact of WWII on my father that came in the form of alcoholism; a terrible, heinous addiction that is made even more terrible with the generational scarring that is burned into the family living through that. I will leave that point here for there are still deeply rooted scars I have buried so do not care to unearth but many of you know exactly what I am talking about for far too many of us lived it.
But I wanted to be part of making America a winner; badly did I want that. But during that time I was wanting to get my college education. The lottery clearly indicated being drafted would not happen and while there were many thrilled about that for themselves, I was actually quite disappointed deep in my gut.  But I wanted to be part of making America win.  I was actually asked to join an Armor battalion NG unit, the same on my father had been in that mobilized into WWII.  I jumped at the chance and June 5, 1970 was a day in infamy for me as I unloaded a truck inside Bragg along with twenty other young boys when these men in these strange campaign hats upended my life beginning with twenty five push ups while still on the truck with five others jammed next to me doing the same thing. And there was the new colorized language that was frightening and filled with words and profanity I had not heard before. I thought I had turned right instead of left. But I knew where I was and found myself loving the structure, the marching, the competitiveness and the order of things; loved it! That was BCT and America won. That story goes on but I want to jump three years ahead to June 5, 1973!
In 1957 an Officer Candidate School for Army National Guard was established in Alabama called the Alabama Military Academy that after a one year stint of very structured, very educational and very high expectations to be met, you were commissioned an officer in the US Army!  I served under several of the men that graduated from AMA and was asked on several occasions to choose to attend the Academy. As a newly wed and building a career, and wanting to finish my degree, it was a major decision but I made it and June 5, 1973 as a Sergeant E5, life changed for me once more. I will paste in a paragraph I put into the AMA FB site earlier today to give you a flavor as again I was the oldest member of my AMA class which made the physical issues more challenging but worth it:
At exactly this time 43 years ago at Fort McClellan, AL, George Bowdoin was speaking sweetly in to my right ear and Bob Tanner even sweeter into my left ear and Al Golden was poking my left ear gently with his swagger stick and blue senior cadet helmet liners were buzzing around like wild coyotes howling; welcome to AMA Cadet Williams. Thus begin a 13 month journey ending 20 July 1974 to create the happiest, most humbled, hyper excited men to make that journey to my butter bar pinning. Having had many experiences in my life before, during and since that journey, the AMA experience has positively impacted my life in more ways that any other venture I experienced. Great family of officers I share a brotherhood / sisterhood with around this world. The values of AMA are unswerving and Forever the Bond ... meaning just that! What a blessing to count myself part of that amazing fraternity and COL Alton R Barnes and his legacy will go on and on. Just wanted to share my anniversary that so many have trod! And yes, IT SHALL BE DONE! AMA 18.
I will close with the reality that life for a set of choices that lead to the speed bumps on the interstate of life.  The military component of my life was, is and will continue to be a major portion of my life for it has fingerprints on every decision I make to this very day.  Attaining accelerated rank and command positions in some tough units with some tough guys made me tough and resilient and caring and knowing that with the right focus and drive, mountains can be moved and yes, America can win!  A highlight of my life was in 1981 when my unit I was commanding, the 31st Armored Cavalry Troop was awarded the esteemed Draper Armor Leadership Award. It was the first NG unit in the southeastern US to ever win that Award for it was an Award for 143 men and our machines of war that worked harder, fought harder to be the best than any other group of  men in my life. I was so honored by the Award I could not stop crying from joy for days after. 
So June 5, for me, is a day the Americans won!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Americans; What do we want to be, really?

This is an excellent WSJ piece by the always excellent Peggy Noonan and I highly recommend reading the entire piece.  I have frequently watched intention Mr Bremmer many times on various interview talk shows and always find him a bit cocky a big big extremely intelligent and well researched for his research, like the NYT Tom Friedman, is done on the ground where things are really happening.  I absolutely believe the thesis of the WSJ piece is spot on meaning we are at a cross road in so many avenues politically, societally and diplomatically.  At the center of this journey to somewhere resides the most inept national leadership I have witnessed in my lifetime.  I will just let the Noonan piece tell the story but I challenge each of you to devour it, read it again, ponder it and reread it, please.

Choosing a Path in the World Ahead

A strategic thinker considers three different futures for America.

Photo: Martin Kozlowski
Presidential candidates have begun to nibble around the edges of the most important question of 2016, which is what approach we should take toward the world in the 21st century. This of course is not only an international-affairs question. Foreign-policy decisions bring domestic repercussions and effects. Sometimes they are dramatic and sometimes long-lasting.

The political scientist and global risk strategist Ian Bremmer, a foreign-affairs columnist at Time, has written a book asking Americans themselves to decide what our policy should be, and offering what he sees as three central options.

“America,” he writes, “will remain the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future. But what sort of superpower should it be? What role should America play in the world? What role do you want America to play?”

The world is in flux, its tectonic plates shifting: Old settlements and dispensations are falling away, new ones are having rough births. No one knows what comes next. No American consensus has emerged. President Obama himself has never chosen or declared a foreign-policy vision, which has made nothing better and some things worse.

The worst choice now, says Mr. Bremmer, is to refuse to choose. We can’t just continue improvising—that has become dangerously confusing to our allies, our rivals and ourselves.
So what way do we want to go?

Mr. Bremmer calls the first option “Independent America.” We can’t be the world’s policeman; we’re not Superman. We must “declare independence from the need to solve other people’s problems and . . . finally realize our country’s enormous untapped potential by focusing our attentions at home.” We spend too much on the military, which not only adds to our debt but guarantees our weapons will be used: “Policymakers will find uses for them to justify their expense,” which will “implicate us in crises that are none of our business.”

In this view, our national-security bureaucracy threatens our own freedoms and strains relations with allies. The hidden costs of war include individual anguish, cultural stress and a demand for secrecy that “poisons American democracy.” Drones seem neat and effective, but their use is dangerous: “Our actions in the Middle East and South Asia make us more vulnerable at home, by persuading a new generation of Pakistanis, Yemenis, and others that it’s better to attack Americans who aren’t wearing state-of-the-art body armor.” Not every country wants democracy. “For all the damage a foolish foreign policy inflicts on US interests abroad, the greatest damage is done in the United States.” It follows that we must reorient our thinking: “It is not power that makes America exceptional. It is freedom.”

Is “Independent America” a pleasant term for isolationism? That charge, Mr. Bremmer argues, “is not meant to shed light but to close conversation”—to dismiss “every legitimate reservation that ordinary Americans have” about U.S. foreign-policy excesses and miscalculations. The best way to promote our values around the world is by “perfecting democracy at home.” Among the priorities: protect the U.S. from a terrorist attack “that might push America permanently off course,” protect our borders and infrastructure, clean up and invest in public education, put more money back in taxpayers’ pockets. Stronger at home will mean stronger in the world, which will note our renewal.

The second choice, according to Mr. Bremmer, is “Moneyball America.” The job of U.S. foreign policy is to make the U.S. safer and more prosperous, full stop. Some things must be done in the world, and “it’s in America’s interest for Americans to do them.” But we are not Hercules, and our resources are finite. We must focus our attentions “where they are best able to promise U.S. national security and economic opportunity.”

We should lead international efforts against terrorism, join coalitions of the willing, build partnerships—“Never walk alone”—do more with less, keep our eye on the bottom line. Our military should be state-of-the-art, but we should look to make the arms race into a trade race. Look to America’s value, not its values. There is no bias toward projecting strength; the U.S. should get over its obsession with looking weak. “Those who make American foreign policy and those who implement it must be guided by both discretion and humility.”

At the end of the day, Mr. Bremmer says of the world, “everyone . . . is playing Moneyball.”
The third choice he calls “Indispensable America.” This involves a burly, all-in commitment to international leadership. It has practical and idealistic aspects; it is a long-term project but one consonant with our greatness as a nation. “America can never establish lasting security and prosperity in the interconnected modern world until we have helped others win their freedom.” We are called to “promote and protect” American values globally. “No one else will fill this breach.” We are the world’s only indispensable nation because only we have the means and will to stabilize international politics and the world economy. America is exceptional, and its work is not finished. “America must now think bigger and in more ambitious terms” than ever before. “We must build an entirely new foreign policy” based on the insight that in a globalized world “we can’t succeed unless others succeed too.” Get over ideas like peacetime and wartime: “We live in a world of permanent tension.” We can’t solve every problem, “but this does not excuse us from the responsibility to solve the ones we can.” As to cost, “the United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” At the end of the day the dollar will still be the world’s reserve currency—still the safest port in the world economic storm.

As I read, I found myself wondering how a politician would react. I think he’d find it all both too abstract and too concrete. He would want one from column A (independence of action and a shown concern for the home front), one from column B (of course safety and prosperity are paramount) and one from column C (a known willingness to use unquestioned military power can be a handy thing in the world).

Politicians hate to speak about their vision of America’s immediate place and role in the world for several reasons. They have risen in the ad hoc, provisional, moment-to-moment world of daily politics. That life teaches you long-term plans don’t have to be part of your long-term plan. In foreign policy especially, declaring a clear stand wins you committed enemies and tentative friends. Best to dummy up and speak in generalities.

But at a certain point all the candidates for president, even Hillary Clinton, will have to give a sense of what’s in their heads. They hope to guide U.S. foreign policy for the next eight years. It isn’t asking too much to that they speak about where we are and where we ought to be going.
Mr. Bremmer gave his choice at the end of the book. It seemed to me surprising from one who appears to have thrived in the heart of the foreign-policy establishment. He felt the tug of each course but in the end came down for Independent America, and for interesting reasons. Candidates especially could get the book and find out what they are.