Three Worlds Diary

10th Annual Patty Awards: Top 10 Books of 2015

It's time for the 10th Annual Patty Awards, where I give out the awards for the best books I've read in 2015.  All of the big stars are walking onto the Red Carpet.  Is that Meeno Pelucci of "Voyagers" fame?  Look, it's Don Rickles and Sally Struthers!  And there's Nancy McKeon of "the Facts of Life."  Truly an astonishing Red Carpet Crowd.  

Well, it was a very eclectic reading year full of really good books.  There was no real theme this year, it was a hodgepodge of things with an attempt on my part to read more fiction.  And so we begin:

10)  The Terror by Dan Simmons.  A novel about a maritime Arctic expedition that goes horribly wrong in the mid-1800's.  Based on real experiences of arctic explorers, this is a novel about a supernatural enemy, and even more frightening, the unbelievable hardship caused by being stranded in Arctic conditions for years aboard a foul ship.  Very entertaining and surprisingly educational about life at sea.  The amount of suffering these sailors endured in those voyages is amazing.    

9) Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davies (408 pages):  A classic rock biography of the life and decadent times of Led Zeppelin.   Obviously for hard-core Zep fans only, and even then, proceed with caution. 

8)  China's Second Continent:  How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa by Howard W. French (269 pages).  An extremely well-done look at Chinese investment in African resources, land, and infrastructure.  By traveling to various parts of Africa, French fleshes out how the new Chinese influence and "colonization" looks very different from region to region and country to country.  Excellent in its balanced and nuanced view of China's influence in Africa. Both the positive sides and the negative sides of China's influence are exposed. A crackin' read!

7) A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison (Kindle version).  The largest global survey of Islamic people groups and their mass conversions to Christianity.  Garrison shares true stories from every part of the Islamic World of Muslims turning to Christianity at an unprecedented rate.  The number of conversions and Islamic people groups choosing Christianity over Islam has been exploding since 9/11.  A highly-recommended overview of something you never hear about:  The growth of Christianity and the shrinking of Islam in the Muslim world.

6)  The Epic of Eden by Sandra L. Richter (259 pages). The Old Testament in the Bible is very misunderstood, misinterpreted, and complicated.  Much of this is due to the fact that this is Ancient Hebrew literature which is concerned with the issues, styles, language, and genres of Hebrew Literature, not Western-style literature.  This is a Freshman-level introductory book to the Old Testament that does an excellent job of introducing the main themes of the Old Testament in a way that is very easy to understand and helps it to all make sense.  

5)  The Sicilian by Mario Puzo (Kindle version).  A story that takes place between "The Godfather I" and "The Godfather II" while Michael Corleone is hiding in Sicily after avenging his father's shooting.  The story revolves around a Robin Hood-like bandit causing trouble for the Sicilian Mafia in the 1940's.  Full of action, but also a fascinating look at the very unique Sicilian culture. Sicily is colorful and mysterious, and this book is a great way to learn about it.

4)  The Almost Absolutely Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth (393 pages).  I absolutely loved this book that seeks to find whether the Socialist, Democratic Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland) are really as great as people think. Booth is a British journalist that lives in Denmark who is not only a great writer but also very funny.  The book shows the good sides and the dark sides of each country, but overall---yes, life in Scandinavia is very good compared to the vast majority of the world's nations.  What is remarkable is not only how similar each country is, but how very different they are as well.  How history, culture, and geography shape a nation is a subject that always fascinate me, and Booth does his homework.  While he doesn't shy away from their problems:  high cost of living, divorce rates, immigration issues, etc.,--the overall picture that emerges is of societies that try very hard to provide the most important services for their people so that they are free to pursue their own goals. Everything I hoped the book would be!

3)  The Cartel by Don Winslow (Kindle version).  The sequel to one of my favorite novels of all time, "the Power of the Dog" which tracks the rise of the U.S. War on Drugs in Mexico.  An angry DEA agent and a rising drug lord face off again, but this time in an era of globalized drug trade, Los Zetas, and the anarchy of a Mexican state dominated by competing cartels.  Just as good as the first novel and based on real events that are taking place now.  It shows you what  mess the drug war is.  

2)  A Kim Jong -Il Production:  The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power" by Paul Fischer (Kindle version). Super-riveting true story of how South Korea's most famous Director and Actress were both kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il to jump start North Korea's fledgling movie industry.  As is true with any book about North Korea, reality inside the Hermit Kingdom is as bizarre as humanly possible.  The portrait of their life inside North Korea and their desire to escape is a total page-turner.  It is often hilarious to read about how absolutely poorly made North Koreans films were.  It is also tragic and frightening and, well...utterly insane. This came so close to being number one.  

AND THE WINNER IS....

1)  The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD (Kindle version). Finally, a book that explains why your extended family is so screwed up and why your Uncle is crazy.  This is a must-read for anyone from a dysfunctional family, anyone who has struggled with depression, anxiety or trauma, or anyone wanting to understand where psychotherapy is headed.   Trauma could be anything from divorce, being fired at a job, or more severely sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, war,  rape, car accidents, abandonment or other life-changing traumatic moments.  Van der Kolk began studying trauma by looking at Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder in Vietnam veterans.  This led him on a journey to understand how traumatic events in our lives affect us psychologically and physiologically.  He explains the ways that our bodies act out under stress and how disorders develop.  He also chronicles the various ways that medics have tried to deal with this from the rise of antidepressants and SSRI's like Xanax and Prozac, to EMDR therapy, Yoga, and many other techniques.  Each chapter is divided into smaller sections so it is not a difficult book to read.  The author makes complicated subjects regarding neurology and neuroscience very easy to read.  This is a book that will give you a ton of "aha!" moments and explain a lot about you, your family, your friends, and the world we live in. I can't recommend it highly enough--especially to those that have endured significant trauma in their lives or work closely with people that have.    

Honorable Mention: 

Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Gann (383 pages):  Memoir by a pilot who worked during the rise of the airline industry when planes were just being understood and crashes were not at all uncommon.  Gann flies people, mail, and war supplies in the 1940's and sees a huge majority of his fellow pilots and co-pilots die. He has near-disaster after near-disaster as the science of aviation has not been perfected and you learn as you go.   It's a reminder that the extremely safe air travel we have today came at a huge cost.  Many accidents happened and many people died in order for corrections to be made that now enable us to fly almost without fear of anything going wrong.  

The Beast:  Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Oscar Martinez (Kindle version).  A journalist from El Salvador hangs out with Central Americans trying to get smuggled across the U.S. border.  The journey is extremely deadly as human-trafficking, drug-violence, and robbery and rape threaten migrants at every turn of the trip.  Unlike what Donald Trump suggests, the border is already extremely hard to cross and getting more difficult every year.  These true stories of people's attempts to escape the violence in their homelands is tragic.  

Biggest Disappointment:

Matterhorn:  A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Malantes.  A much acclaimed novel about young soldiers fighting in Vietnam and all the complex realities they have to quickly figure out in order to survive.  Technically, it's great and educational, but I just found that I didn't care about hardly any of the characters.  

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Abridger Institute.  Also very acclaimed, this books is about the importance of creating an organizational culture that has a high E.Q (emotional intelligence), which we intentionally try to do at Three Worlds here in Europe/Middle East.  I thought the book sucked however, because the whole book is based on a fictitious company that is already full of high E.Q. employees and they are trying to help their new low E.Q. employee.  This is not helpful since the vast majority of companies and organizations are filled to the brim with low E.Q. employees and bosses.  So if the point is just to say E.Q. is important organizationally, okay.  But if this book is somehow supposed to help the poor sod stuck in a low E.Q. environment, forget it.  The question is how to get the power to change it.  That is much more difficult.  

Next Year:

Well, that's it.  The big stars are heading home and the limousines are pulling out.  We'll be back next year for some more book reviews.  Up next year:  A two volume biography of Elvis Presley, a journalists look inside the NFL, A biography of Christopher Columbus, A Christian novel about a Roman Centurion, a Novel of the Civil War, and books on Russian history.  Thanks for joining us at the Patty's.  See you next time!

 

 

3W Seminars: Children and Family Ministry

This month, Three Worlds is excited to host a team from County Line Church (Auburn, Indiana) to lead seminars in Paris and Rome on Children and Family Ministry.  The team includes Nathan Tatman, 3W Roundtable participant and Mission Advancement Pastor, will be joined by Mary Ellen Rayle who is County Line’s Kids Ministry Pastor, and Chelsea Buckwaler who is the Kids Ministry Assistant.  The team will present the seminar at the Church of God congregation (Eglise de Dios) in Paris on March 21-22, and then again for Italian Church of God congregations in Ostia on March 28-29.

 

Joining the presentations in Paris will be Ken and Keli Oldham, 3W Middle East.  The EDD in Paris was planted by Michel Fegali, a Lebanese graduate of the Mediterranean Bible College, and it consists largely of believers from Lebanese, Egyptian, and other Arabic speaking backgrounds.  The congregation worships in French and Arabic each week, but their children’s ministry is offered only in French.  The EDD pastoral ministries have recently been handed over to a young Lebanese born believer, Samir Salibi.  The Oldhams have been getting to know and encouraging Samir via Skype video conferences over the last year.  With the work the Oldhams are doing with congregations in Egypt and Lebanon, and the weekly children’s ministry program they offer to Egyptian children in English, this is a great opportunity to begin creating relationships for future partnership and mutual support between the Church of God in France and the Middle East.

 

We asked each of the County Line team to answer a question about the upcoming seminars for this post; here are their questions and answers.

 

Nathan, as a Missions Advancement Pastor who has been actively supportive of the approach of 3W in Europe and Middle East, what excites you most about the future of the Church in our region?

"I am very excited for this next season of ministry and church life within the Europe and Middle East Region. Over the last four years I have seen exponential increase in connectivity amongst churches and leaders, a hunger for partnerships with pastors and churches in Europe, Middle East, and North America, the next generation of leaders adding a voice to the local church, and health beginning to permeate in these congregations. The church in North America must take notice of what is happening as we are in the midst of seeing God do some amazing work in and through His people and the local churches. I believe the foundation has now been laid for these next years to see these once struggling churches and isolated leaders to flourish in the gifts, abilities, and ministries that God has designed for them." 

 

Mary Ellen, your approach to Children's Ministry is family-centered; what are one or two things you hope to encourage or inspire the congregations in France and Italy to do as they minister to the next generations?

"One of the best opportunities the Church has to reach more people for Christ is through children and families. I am looking forward to meeting with the congregations in France and Italy to share my passion about the great power we have when the family and church unite in shaping  faith development and nurturing spiritual growth.  I want to encourage them to think about creative and meaningful ways to include children in their worship and church life.  I hope leaders will consider prioritizing ministry to children and families in their planning with the potential of impacting more people for Christ.  And ....we hope it is fun!  We are bringing some engaging ideas for Bible stories, memory projects, crafts and games that will help all of us, kids and adults, learn to look with fresh eyes and listen with understanding ears."


Chelsea, you are the youngest on the team presenting next week; what are you most looking forward to experiencing as you interact with Christians in these different cultures?

"I am so excited for this opportunity and eager to see how God brings everything together. I can’t wait to meet and build relationships with the people in France and Italy. God has placed on our hearts Bible stories, activities, and teaching methods to share about Children’s Ministry. Although we are coming to share with other church leaders from different cultures, I know that we will be learning from them how they do ministry and interact with each other.  I am very thankful and honored to be a part of this workshop and look forward to sharing my heart for family and children. I have grown already through preparation and prayer over the last several months. God is amazing and doing great things and I can only hope to be a light to the people we meet in Europe." 

 

Three Worlds is so thankful for the partnership and support offered by congregations like County Line.  We are hopeful for the seminars in the next two weeks, and we want to invite you to pray with us for the equipping and inspiration that will take place in each location.  Pray also for the Church throughout the region to intentionally, creatively, and powerfully work to pass the faith on to the next generations.

Racism Around the World

From Facebook:  Three Worlds Is the USA very racist? As a minority, I've always argued that the answer is a strong "no." Race relations in the United States are far better than they are in other places around the world. I used to live in South Korea--and there, all minorities were discriminated against, including me. Many other countries are the same way. Even in brown-skinned countries, a lot of time the prejudice is against darker brown-skinned people. The lighter the brown skin, the better off you are. Racism is a human problem.

Now a survey has been done exposing the racial intolerance of countries. Notice that most of Europe looks good and the US and Canada are very tolerant. India scores very poorly, so does South Korea, and some Arab States. Homogenous populations (S. Korea, Japan), places of ethnic tension (Nigeria, India), and Confucian societies are pretty intolerant.

Societies that have a lot of mixed ethnicity (Brazil, Columbia) or a strong belief in liberal democracy (Canada, UK, Sweden) and/or a Christian heritage that emphasized the value of all human beings did well (the big exception being France).

You could definitely pick through these. For instance, Brazil does have a lot of prejudice against blacks, but people are fine living next to each other (which is the question that was asked in the survey to illicit responses that gauge discomfort with people from other races.

This is not to say that the USA and Europe are perfect (Ukraine and Poland come to mind), but most Western societies are very OPEN about their race problems which makes them seem more concrete. This is particularly true of the USA. On the flipside, there has never been a Korean Martin Luther King critiquing racism in Korea. Racism is not a moral issue in some societies. It is understood to be natural and right. "We ______ are the superior people in the world." The same goes for many other countries. A true movement against racism has been absent in many countries around the world.

I do think that the Christian value of the individual has been internalized in many countries around the world because of the Gospel impacting culture--even if the culture moved away from the Gospel.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2325502/Map-shows-worlds-racist-countries-answers-surprise-you.html

Financial Support: The 3W Way

At Three Worlds we support a variety of project throughout the Middle East region.  Donors can give to the Cedar Home Orphanage in Lebanon, the new Church plants in Russia, assist the church in Egypt during these difficult days, help the Church of God in Athens, Greece as it helps the less fortunate during the worst crisis since the 1930's,  or support the Next Generation of leaders in our region (and our interns from around the world) through the NextGen Fund.  These are just some examples of projects we have open in the region.

Some Problems with Money on the Mission-Field

In general, however, 3W is careful with money because missions and money don't often go together well.  It's very easy to create dependencies--where churches or countries don't grow on their own. Instead they just wait for the next check from the U.S.  Because the Christian culture is a high-trust culture, it's easy to have people in the system that abuse that trust and not use money as donors intended.  It's also easy for people to think that money will solve all of their problems, when often it just compounds them in new more divisive ways.  It is also a problem when things are constructed (such as buildings or schools) and there's no one there to really manage the property adequately.  Many countries can become extremely unhealthy very quickly if the floodgates are opened and money just pours in from North America.  Power battles can ensue, a sense of entitlement can be formed, and the church's mission can be more about sustaining its facilities and remittances than it is about actually doing evangelism.  Unfortunately, we have seen this too often.

Real Relationship First

At Three Worlds, we do not think the flow of funds from North America to Europe/Middle East should be our core purpose.  That, in fact, is low on the list.  We do not have many projects in the region on purpose.  New project proposals must meet certain requirements and we are only willing to open two a year for the entire region, and even that is not guaranteed.  We prefer to spend our time ministering in churches, training, encouraging and empowering the next generation of leaders, as well as reaching out to the young, and creating a regional sense of unity and purpose.  Relationship and ministry comes first.  The flow of funds from North America to our region is the lowest priority.  We have seen time and time again (especially in the Church of God), the more money a mission-field gets over the years, the less ministry you see happening.  While those countries that learn to do with what they have, tend to stay focused and grow in a healthier manner.

There is a place for financial support.  Often certain projects need to be kick-started, or an infusion of cash can help a ministry come to life or survive a turbulent time.  Or assistance for a pastor can help a church plant to get launched.  But these should be taken on a case by case basis and the deeper, structural realities should always be examined before the checkbook is pulled out.  A need is not enough.  There needs to be health underlying that need. 

At 3W, we go by an internal plan that we call "RAISE NUT (R-A-I-S-E-N-U-T).  The "Raise"principal comes from Jonathan Martin's "Giving Wisely."  However, those principles are pretty common-sensical.  Why was that book such a hit? It's because the Church of God in North America got so careless, that it started violating even those common-sense principles in their support for missions. Many people got burned time and time again.

WHAT IS RAISE-NUT?

R=Relationship First:   This means that it's vital to have a real relationship first that's based on friendship and partnership in ministry, not just an arrangement to enter into a financial agreement to transfer funds from North America to some country overseas.

A=Accountability:  There obviously needs to be some pro-active oversight over the funds with the recipients demonstrating clearly that they are using the funds as designated.  The missionaries and mission-agency must be very transparent in how they are delivering the funds.

IS=Indigenous Sustainability: The funds given should enable the mission-field to continue operating on its own and not create dependence on foreign funds.  It something new is starting, there should be a clear explanation of how this ministry will be funded without outside help in the near future.

E=Equity:  The money must not be distributed in a manner that is unequal (one village church gets a lot, the other village church gets nothing), or which begins to separate the recipient from the living standards of those they work with and serve.

At Three Worlds, we also added three more key pieces in 2011 based on our observation that these things can also be problems:

N=Next Generation.  Is the country empowering the next generation?  Are they putting emerging leaders into positions of influence? Are they doing the things that it will take to make sure that the country will have churches 20 years from now?  In some cases, leaders intentionally block young people from leadership (and by younger I mean under 50 even)!. We are very intentional about partnering with countries that are serious about reaching young people and having a future, not just preserving and protecting the past.

U=Unity:  Does the project bring unity to the country or the churches?  Or does it cause division?  Furthermore, if a country is already suffering from a lot of division and divisive behavior, we are highly unlikely to start a project there, which will only exacerbate the problems.  There's no reason countries or churches should get money when they have no interest in being united in fellowship with each other.  We only work with countries and churches that are committed to unity or willing to work toward unity in humility.

T=Timeline:  We want a concrete time-line that tells us when the project will end.  We have phased out open-ended projects because it becomes too tempting for mission-fields or churches to become dependent on those funds.  In special circumstances, the project may be extended, but only after a careful review; and that review will happen with someone on the OUTSIDE of 3W to give us better perspective and objectivity.

Of course none of these guiding principles mean anything if they are not taken seriously or enforced.  A non-profit organization must have standards that it insists on if it is to protect its donors, not create dysfunction on the mission-field, and stay on the right side of the law.  But it's easy to get wobbly in the knees when people are making personal pleas.  There's a place for compassion, but there's also the need to be fair, ethical, and not become enablers.

For 3W, having standards that we all agree on (donor, missionary, national) makes things run far more smoothly.  All of us must be challenged to some extent and reigned in at times.  A system designed to do that is going to work better than a purely subjective, unplanned process.  Ultimately the thing we value most at Three Worlds is health, because once you lose that, it really damages your witness.

We're happy to be working in this region and happy to see that we are all doing our part in a healthy, accountable way.

 

Another Time to Laugh: Charity

I'm back from a whirlwind trip to the USA where I had 3W presentations to make in Ohio and New York City.  Both of them went very well and the trip was so worth it.  I was on the move constantly, and greatly enjoyed catching up to some of the 3W boys (Kelley Philips, Daniel Kihm, and Zach Langford) in Columbus.  We had a lot of good laughs, and as always there's great chemistry and synergy.  My drive took me past the homes of some friends in Connecticut and New Jersey.  And because of the jet-lag, I didn't drive later than 6PM at night, so I made Pittsburgh my stopping place. As you two diary readers know, I absolutely love Pittsburgh.  This time I saw new areas I hadn't seen before, and fell in love with it even more.  I had one evening to myself just walking across the bridges of the city.  It was so relaxing.  So many parts of the United States are just so beautiful.  The Southwest, New England, Pacific Northwest, amazing California, and the hills of Pennsylvania.  And then there was the joy of driving through downtown Manhattan as I used to in the old days when we lived in Connecticut.  The city looked wonderful.

And then there was that fatty American food!!!  So delicious.  Congratulate me as I only drank water on the trip.  And tea.  Unsweetened except for once.  And I'm glad to see that a lot of the healthy stuff on the restaurant menus is actually getting really good.  I really like Applebees lemon shrimp and rice dish.  Oh America....you are such a delicious, saucy, tart.

Now I'm back and jet-lagged (which seems to get worse with age), so before I get to writing on the diary again, here's one more laugh.  A video poking fun at Millenial charity works.  Enjoy.

Time to Laugh: Sports Mascots

I'm off to the USA for a very short trip.  I have a meeting in New York City and a meeting in Columbus, Ohio.  I'll be flying into NYC, picking up a rental car, and then driving back and forth.  Since I have friends in Connecticut and New Jersey, just outside of NYC, I hope to get to see them this week.  It's been quite a while. Meanwhile this week, I will be meeting up with 3 of the 3W gang of boys (Kelley Philips 3W-Berlin, Zach Langford 3W-Liverpool, and Daniel Kihm 3W-The Netherlands.  Should be a great time as we kick it South-Central Style.....in Central Ohio.

Well, it's time to laugh again.  The other day Marco was asking me why sports mascots are so stupid?  I don't know, but here they are being stupid. Enjoy and take time to laugh.

 

 

 

 

Porn Really is Dangerous!

I posted a comment about an incident involving porn over on my personal Facebook page.  I did it because I thought it was important to share, so I am posting it over here at the 3W Diary as well. Feel free to "friends" me over at Facebook:  Patrick Nachtigall

Remember 3W is also on Facebook and is the best place to hear what is currently happening in the region:  Three Worlds.

We are also on Twitter:  3WCHOG

(From my Facebook page)

Well, it happened. A 10-year old friend of Marco tried to show him pornography when they were having a play-date. Marco has never seen porn before, but we had told him about pictures of girls on the internet that should not be seen. So he said to his friend he wasn't interested and told him to stop. He went to the other side of his room, but his friend just thought it was funny and kept trying to find images. Fortunately, his friend couldn't get the images to come up on the screen. Marco came home and immediately reported it to us. We knew that the average age for children today to be exposed to porn for the first time is 10, so that's why we had told him some basics. But now it was time to have THE porn-talk, which I've been dreading.

While it's natural for boys and girls to be curious about sex, today's internet pornography is extremely dangerous--particularly for children who have not reached a sexual age and for teenagers. The abundance of images now available in private is dangerous to the brain. That's not religious, puritanical talk. It's science (and the TED talk below goes into details).

Marco and I had a special father-son talk. I wanted him to understand a little bit about addiction and the dangers of being exposed to internet porn. I wanted to talk about the re-wiring issues (dopamine/brain malleability issues) that scientists are identifying, so I used a computer cord as an example. I showed him a plug on the wall with two sockets and said that one was a normal plug that was good. It's natural to be curious, sexuality is human, and puberty is a fact of life etc. But what internet porn can do to children, or teens (or anyone) is plug the cord into the wrong socket and it can be extremely addictive and difficult to fix. Maybe that sounds silly, but Marco and I have already talked about drug addiction and alcoholism (and watched episodes of Dog the Bounty Hunter to emphasize the point), so he's familiar with that concept and the plug was a visual tool to solidify it. (I don't know what I'm doing here folks!!! Just a first-time parent with one child in a world of triple X porn available on cell phones!!).

Of course we also talked about the moral/spiritual problems and how inappropriate it is to objectify women. But, I wondered if there was a video that would explain the science in a way he would understand--since Marco likes science. I found this TED talk which is excellent and I recommend everyone watch it. So many of my Facebook Friends have children between the ages of 5 and 15, and they are growing up in a world of excessive sexual iopportunities that no generation of humans has ever had to deal with. Is it normal? No. Is the human body wired for this kind of excessive sexual imagery? No. Should this issue be taken seriously be parents of children that are under the age of 10? Absolutely. So I'm posting this to help others.

I don't have the answers. I'm humbled by all of this. Maybe I've already gotten some things wrong. I'm just trying to navigate this new world as a parent. I'm not interested in preaching fear and condemnation to my son. I want him to alway feel free to share with his parents and to know that they will respect him and provide a safe place to process life's challenges. I want him to avoid these things, but also have compassion for people. Most of all, I love him and want him to know I'm here no matter what.

As for Marco's friend--it's not one of his close friends at all, but I'm worried about this kid. It's not about being judgmental or acting self-righteous. As the video shows, it's a mental health issue. I know I have friends on Facebook from all 6 continents, different faiths, atheists, agnostics, different world-views, cultures, and such. I respect that. You know I do. But I really worry about our teenagers and children, and some of the biggest problem areas are in countries and communities where you wouldn't expect it. Feel free to post comments, criticisms, suggestions, or experiences you have had talking with your kids. Just be respectful of others in your comments. We're all trying to make our way through this complicated thing called life; imperfectly, but sincerely.

PS--I'm not really comfortable talking about this on Facebook (or anywhere), but maybe it will help some people out there. And maybe the video can be a helpful teaching tool. Oh, and yes, I am proud of my Son.

Check out the Great Porn Experiment: Ted Talk.

PS--3W's Audrey Langford (Liverpool) adds this article--"This is your brain on porn:"  http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/29332-this-is-your-brain-on-porn

Are Muslims LESS Violent Than Other Religions?

Over at Facebook:  Three Worlds we've opened a discussion about this article by Juan Cole. Professor Cole of the University of Michigan argues that Muslims are no more violent (and in fact less violent in the 20th Century) than any other religion.  Cole is a well-known apologist for Islam and the Middle East, but he also has a lot of important things to say, and gets things right quite often.  He states:

I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than a 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame.

Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II– though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia– and millions more in colonial wars.)

No, I do not completely agree with Professor Cole, but... 
First of all, I like the article (but have issues with it) because Muslim violence is exaggerated in the Western media.  There are about 1.6 Billion Muslims and many of them live in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Senegal, Niger, Kenya etc. where they have peacefully lived with their neighbors for years.  These Muslims (that I have met in my travels) are never written about.  They are hospitable, kind, and want to live normal, peaceful lives like everyone else.  Like most human beings, they want to see their children have a better life than they did, as opposed to say, blow them up or strap explosives to them.
Furthermore, many Muslims have a faith that is different from the more militant strands of Islam that we see the terrorists adhere to.  In fact, in many cases, not only might they be from a different major branch of Islam, but they may also have infused their Islam with a lot of local African or Asian folk beliefs.  So they are labeled Muslim, but may actually follow something that has little resemblance to Islam.
And then there are those Muslims who are born into a Muslim country, and get labeled Muslims simply because they were born in a Muslim country.  Much the way people were born "Catholic" in many Latin American countries.  They have not really accepted or rejected Islam but can be called "Muslims."
So there is a peaceful side to Islam that is not written about.  At the same time, Western/Christian violence is often not counted or remembered.  And Cole does a good job of reminding the reader that the 20th Century was filled with Christian religious violence.  And he's right when he suggests that the Nazi's, Franco, and Communism all co-opted the Christian church for their evil deeds and there was much silence from Christian communities.
If we take World War I and II as having happened primarily by "Christian nations" (and to be fair, if it had been Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt leading World War II wouldn't we label it an Islamic problem?), then clearly, the Christian West has been very comfortable with violence.  Even if you argue that these were post-Englightenment, post-Christian societies, you could just go back 300 years in Western history and find that they were still just as violent, just with weaker weapons.  Or if you discount Europe completely (too secular), and just focused on the United States--you would still find a country incredibly comfortable with violence--often at war, invading nations, or settling land with guns at hand.  Truly, the West (and the USA in particular) has always been comfortable with violence. And then in the essay, he outlines examples of political terrorism from non-Muslim religions.
Issues with Professor Cole's Claims: 
So is Professor Cole totally right?  Well, he makes some important points that non-Muslims need to deal with.  However, there are some other things that need to be mentioned.
1)  The size and scale of WWI and WWII were indeed massive, but that was because modern weaponry was becoming more lethal at an exponential pace.  Christian societies through the reformation and then the secular Enlightenment advanced quickly and modernized while many Islamic societies languished.  Cole is right in suggesting that all societies with access to weapons can become violent.  It's a human thing.  But it's also then true that Islam may have been more violent had they had the technology to act out on it.
2) The upheavals of Western Civilization in the past 500 years had a lot to do with the death of Christendom (the mixing of politics and religion in statehood) and the birth of more secular nation-states.  In other words, Christian civilizations seemed to be learning about the limits of religion and what it can achieve politically.  Christianity was going through a reformation that allowed for some secularization.  Islam doesn't seem to have gotten to this point.  It lacks a Martin Luther-like moment, it lacks a secular Enlightenment, and a clear separation of church and state.  It also lacks a state like The United States which models the separation of church and state (though oddly, some Evangelicals wish it weren't that way).  Some are looking toward Turkey to be the first example (or perhaps a second example since Ataturk's Turkey was supposed to be a truly secular state) of a healthy, modern, Islamic country.  But even there, Islamism is making big inroads into Turkey and threatening the most well-rounded economy in the Islamic sphere.  Why?  The reformation has not happened.
3) Another point is that unlike the other religious faiths, Islam's leader was both a religious leader and a military leader.  Born in the very violent cultural atmosphere of 7th Century Arabia, Islam prophet (who is the final prophet) clearly did not agree with Jesus' "turn the other cheek" mentality.  He waged Holy War against idolatry and that included violence.  Islam, unlike Christianity, is far more culturally bound to a specific culture (Bedouin Arab culture) than Christianity or the other major faiths.  This has limited its ability to reject violence.
4) Political violence isn't the only violence problem in Islam. The chances of any of us, or anyone we know, being killed by an Islamic terrorist is remarkably slim.   I'm more concerned about the violence against women and the mass subjugation and the misogynistic tendencies of Islam.  Subjugating half of the population is a stupid idea for any society.  But even worse is when women become treated like property, and violence is allowed, all sanctioned by a religion.  That is something that is being abandoned in most religions of the world.  Islam and Hinduism still struggle in this area quite a bit and to great cost of their societies.  An India or Saudi Arabia that was more empowered by women would be far more advanced than those countries are today.  Yet, Islam, more than anything, holds women back and allows a violent and misogynistic culture to keep Islamic countries underperforming around the globe.
Having said all of that, however, it is important not to paint with broad brushes regarding Muslims.  The vast majority of Muslims in the United States, in Europe, and in other places are peace-loving people, who love their children, like McDonald's, and just want to watch a good movie and eat some popcorn.  It's dishonest to think this is not true.  I've met many Muslims.  I have yet to meet one that was anything but polite and trustworthy.  I can't say the same for the Christians I've met and worked with.
Here is the video that made Professor so Cole that he wrote the article defending Muslims.  In this context, I think Bill Maher in the video definitely gets the better of the argument.  Islam is in a category of its own.
Warning: Some bad language included, but an important argument to hear nonetheless as it relates to this article.

 

Bono: A Sort of Prophet

Some thoughts on U2's Bono... Aside from being a big U2 fan, I've always appreciated lead singer Bono's thoughtful reflections.  He has always been a deep thinker.  As his fame was taking growing, he ditched everything and went to Central America to see the Civil Wars first-hand.  Not many self-absorbed Rock Stars would risk their life to head into mid-1980's Central America.  He was the one who introduced a generation of us to Amnesty International.  After the Live Aid performance in 1985 (which along with Queen's, was the best of the massive extravaganza), he devoted himself to learning more about Ethiopia.  And he didn't do what a lot of celebrities do---hire a publicity firm to put them in good photo-ops, memorize a few key facts, and exploit suffering as a way to build up their image  (their are entire agencies that specialize in doing that for celebrities).

No. Bono, a ridiculously passionate person, became an expert in these subjects.  He became a student, a learner, and an evangelist about the power that people could have to make a difference.  Sometimes it seemed laughable to people---Bono in his black "fly" outfit in some poor village in Africa telling us that we could see infant mortality rates plummet if we would only do our part.  But sure enough, that is what has happened in Africa and other parts of the world.  Bono met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and the head of corporations and tried to make giving to charity cool--which he did.  Bono did the very non-rock star thing of hanging out with George W. Bush and got a pledge for US assistance against the fight with AIDS which has been a serious-game changer.  And he quickly credited Bush with having gotten that right. That took guts.  He put the cause ahead of the coolness, although he always self-consciously points out that he's a "rock star."  "You may be wondering what a Rock Star is doing at a meeting of the G8?" etc.

His band certainly struggled with the amount of charity and long-winded sermons he would give.  They eventually ended up in U2's concerts:  The lights dim and Bono gives some speech about saving the crustaceans instead of launching into a blistering "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Some fans have turned away tired of the pomposity and piety, but most have stayed.

Most remarkably to me, it was Bono, long before any academics wrote about this, predicted that the end of the Cold War would make Berlin a hub of experimental art and freedom, and that the downside would be that society would get lost in virtual reality.  The themes found on the 1993 album Zooropa, which was basically formulated in Berlin during the making of "Achtung Baby," pointed to the world we now live in.  During the first Gulf War in 1991, he discussed the effects technology would have on war and how soldiers could be disconnected from the damage they wrought through new weapons--which today can be exemplified by drones.  In the marvelous book "U2 at the End of the World"  Bono's prophetic thoughts are captured as he camps out in this new unified city of Berlin.  Bono once met John Paul II and the Pope put on Bono's "fly shades."  It was perhaps the most remembered photos of JPII's papacy outside of the assassination attempt.  The Pope and Bono had very similar views of the upcoming 21st century.  Both of them were eager to put the ideological warfare of the Cold War aside, but both harbored skepticism as to whether humans could handle the freedom that would be unleashed through globalization.  They were oddly kindred spirits in many ways.

I think he also put his finger on the "Clash of Civilizations" idea long before Harvard's Samuel Huntington wrote the famous Political Science book which caused so much controversy and, itself, became viewed as prophetic after 9/11.

Although I'm a huge Beatles fan and love John Lennon, Bono is John Lennon 2.0.  He's not a lazy, idealist mostly lost in self-absorption and dysfunction as Lennon was.  He does his homework and his ideas are rooted in reality.  Many of his insights in "U2 at the End of the World" are true, profound, and simply brilliant.

Long before the Post-Christendom emerging movement began taking the stage, Bono was a symbol of what a post-modern Christian could be.  Back in the late 80's, he challenged the church to be less about dogma and more about experience.  Less about concrete theology and more about mysticism ("Mysterious Ways".)  Most of all, he was pretty emphatic that Jesus would have been with the AIDS sufferers and the poor.  This was about 15 years before Evangelical Christians started using this same language.  Perhaps it was because he grew up in Ireland in a Protestant-Catholic environment and he had plenty of time to mull the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of the institutional church in Ireland.  Whatever the reason, one could easily look at interviews from the mid-1980's and find that Bono sounds like a Gen-X preacher talking to Relevant Magazine.  No matter how you cut it, that's pretty remarkable.  It's no coincidence at all that many Gen-X pastors grew up on U2 music.  Perhaps they might have given up if someone like Bono had not talked of a new way, and then mostly walked his talk.

Bono will be the first to tell you he's no saint.  But even that is a pretty big break from where we were in the old days.  Bono has always been fascinated by the concept of Grace "Grace makes beauty out of ugly things," primarily because of what it means for him.  He has once said that this is the reason he doesn't become a follower of other religions:  because he hasn't seen anything like the concept of Christian grace.

Nobody is arguing that Bono should be your pastor or your spiritual hero.  But it's worth noting that in the world of rock n' roll, we've never seen anything like him, and that often, he is worth listening to when he speaks, not just when he sings.

(In this video, Bono discusses an epiphany he had as he watched his father die of cancer):

 

 

One Nation Under Fear? How Dangerous is Terrorism to the USA?

  The images from Boston were horrific.  What could be worse than seeing athletes in their prime have their bodies torn apart for no reason at all.  This is a national tragedy and an important moment in U.S History.  However, over at my twitter account (3WCHOG) I asked the question: "Will the USA experience terrorism fatigue?" By that I mean, is it really possible for us to continue to stay in such paralyzed fear about terrorism in the United States? I wonder if it's psychologically sustainable for a free society to do that for another decade.

One Nation Under Fear?

No matter how dangerous terrorism is, we're going on Year 12 of this hyper-vigilance and climate of fear. It's interesting to compare the USA with European countries (and others) that have sustained much more serious waves of terrorism: The UK, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka etc. After the 2005 7/7 bombings, London continued to flourish without expressing much concern about security in their local psyche.  To be sure security has gotten even tighter in the UK--but the Brit attitude as always was "Keep Calm, Carry On."

I very much admire how London/UK went back to normal after 2006 Bombings. Part of winning against terrorism is not living in constant fear.

Why does America panic so easily? I think its paradoxically because it is a country that has never faced an existential threat like Russia Germany, China, The Koreas, Japan, or the UK. Protected by 2 large Oceans and 2 peaceful, not well-armed neighbors, the US geographically has never faced anything like the Napoleonic Wars or Stalingrad or the air raids over britain. All of which were at the end of centuries of war, threats, and counter-threats. The USA has had it relatively easily--it's wars have been mostly by choice and far from American shores.  Pearl Harbor happened before Hawaii was a state.

The TSA is an example of extreme over-reaction as were the multi-colored threat levels that we lived with for 10 years even though nobody knew which color was what threat level on any given day and I think we were always on only yellow or red.

Yes, it's true that there have been several plots foiled since 9/11 on US soil and some attacks like the Fort Hood incident. But what we've also learned since 9/11 is that terrorist attacks are not easy to pull-off, and they often attract troubled people who don't execute them well.  We have found that normal citizens are often very alert about unusual activity and law enforcement officials in America are very, very good at their jobs (not the TSA, however).  Furthermore, the average human being (that includes Muslims) is just not interested in blowing apart cute children or themselves.  We have greatly over-estimated how many people are evil in this world, and under-estimated how many people are willing to rush toward an explosion in Boston to help the neighbors in need.

In my first two books (Passport of Faith & Faith in the Future), I argued that 9/11 was a truly significant moment and that assymetrical terrorism is a very real threat.  After a decade of seeing the benefits of globalization, 9/11 showed the other-side:  how a newly, globalized world could create networks of global evil.  Threatened by modernization and secularization, fundamentalist groups of all types arose, in what I call the counter-reaction to globalization.  Part of that counter-reaction has been Islamic militancy and a desire for Islamic fascism in parts of the world.  The same innovative technology that is making the world a more connected place, creating longer life expectancies and bringing down poverty rates to levels never seen in human history; will have another side to it.  Assymetrical terrorism will not go away and it will be quite lethal at times.

But as we look closer, there are a few things we must notice.  Not only have the bulk of terrorist attacks been perpetrated by Muslims killing other Muslims in places like Iraq, but terrorism has actually gone down since 9/11 and nothing has spiked terrorist attacks quite like the Iraq War (within Iraq).  The Boston attacks, on the other hand, show us how something like social networks in an organized society like the United States, have the power to quickly corner villains.  An entire nation quickly mobilized on the internet to protect a city.  Suicide bombings may be the only "attractive option" in the future if this is the kind of national mobilization that can take place at a moment's notice.

And then we return to the fact that most people simply don't want to kill themselves.  Most humans, regardless of religion, are afraid of death and their body tries to avoid it at all costs.  As I argued in an article I wrote entitled "the Future is Singapore," I do think that it is possible that in the future assymetrical threats like bio-terrorism, environmental terrorism, and other dangers will create highly-regulated "First world" societies that are pretty cut off from the more anarchic, underdeveloped world. It would be a world in which the wealthy would trade civil liberties for security.  I believe this may happen, however, we are not there yet and when that happens, it may be generated more by a desire to protect wealth than fear of death.  Our current threats are not the ones that get us to that place.

A Tale of Two Explosions

It was jarring to see the destruction in Texas at the same time as the Boston attacks.  One was accidental and seemed to have destroyed an entire town, caused 200 casualties and killed more people. The other one, so far, is had less damage but seemed to be taken as a more symbolic and existential threat--more dangerous.  What was jarring was the huge number of injured and killed in Texas.  We've seen big numbers before 9/11.  More people were killed by the Southern California Quake in Northridge and by the San Francisco Earthquake of 1980 than were killed and injured in Boston.  Then there was Hurricane Katrina which nearly wiped an entire American city off the map!!  Yet Boston may somehow be harder on the American psyche.

The American psyche is not fatalistic.  Neither is it comfortable with the idea that many other cultures have which is that:  "things happen.  If it's your time, it's your time."  America is deeply offended by the idea that something wrong, or someone wrong can take our life.  Death seems far away from America, even though it's not.  Cancer rates are high, rates of people killed by guns (no matter where you stand on the issue) are extremely high daily, and auto fatalities are very high daily.  All of these kill more people annually than a few 9/11's.  Yet it is being attacked by a foreign power (of which there really are none that can truly compete with us--and yes, that includes the radically over-estimated China and the deeply impoverished North Korea), that most disturbs the American psyche.  Once again, this seems to be a complex that comes from a nation that was blessed with a geography and only 2 militarily weak neighbors which have enabled it to live far more peacefully than most every other country in the world.  Nevertheless, the United States spends more than the next Top 10 military powers combined.  We outspend China 6 to 1 and our military hardware is far more advanced than theirs.  So the 6 to 1 ration doesn't even do our military superiority over China justice.  The bulk of China's military spending is to prevent internal rebellions (of which there are more than 100,00 each year), not have show-downs against other world powers.  China has never, in its 5,000 year history showed much of an interest in being a territory expanding global power the way the U.S. has. Even their push for natural resources is not an effort to gain satellites, but to secure raw materials.  The Chinese have alway been quite China-centric;  something that the Founding Fathers of the United States would have applauded fearing excessive foreign entanglements as they did.

The true "Clash of Civilizations" occurring right now is a clash within a civilization:  Islam.  And the other great clash of our time is that of Fundamentalism against modernity.  Elections all over the world show this trend--part of that counter-action I wrote about in 2006.  With 2 long wars winding down, a huge debt, and a lot of domestic challenges, one wonders whether the United States will really be into going into a hyper-vigilant state of alertness against terrorism.  Or will the tide start to turn as Americans realize that some forms of terrorism are here to stay and unless you want to cancel the Super Bowl, stop flying on airplanes, or go outside, some form of risk will be required.

The media has been sensationalistic and irresponsible.  One CNN reporter complained about getting yelled at by a police officer while the officer was trying to do his job to protect the reporter!  The other networks are no better.  Fear sells and we are a society that rewards hype.  Only in the United States could an inane, drama queen like Kim Kardashian become a multi-million dollar industry (not just a millionaire, but an industry with sibling franchises).  But let me make it clear: the law enforcement officials in Boston are stellar.  And this is further reason to have our fear in the USA reduced a notch or two in the coming years.  In the post-9/11 world, America's first responders, different policing agencies, hospitals, and cities and towns are prepared to make difficult judgement calls under duress and provide a rapid response.  We saw this at Sandy Hook.  Americans are prepared for whatever comes our way.  We should feel comforted by how amazingly mobilized our law enforcement officials were, not paralyzed by panic.

The great image of Boston and of 9/11 is not of Americans running in fear from evil madmen.  The great image of both tragedies is of Americans running toward each other to help.  Americans of all sizes, colors, and creeds who care about their neighbors.  That is what the terrorist fear; societies that can skillfully navigate the complicated 21st Century.  They cannot, so they seek to destroy it.  But it's a losing battle.  They are not hardwired to win this battle.

Why should we be afraid of them?  As FDR once said:  "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  Never has that been more true than today.

 

Park Place CHOG and the Colors of Three Worlds

This month, Park Place Church of God in Anderson, Indiana is having a special focus called "The Three Worlds of Park Place."  During this month, they will be examining the three worlds in their neighborhood and how they can reach outside the church walls to touch the people around them.

As part of this month's focus, Pastor Markle is preaching about the Three Worlds of Park Place and some of our 3W team will be speaking as well.  Christy Kihm (3W The Netherlands)  was interviewed this past week in a Sunday Service.  Daniel Kihm (the Netherlands) spoke on 3W yesterday, and Kelley Philips (3W-Berlin) will be speaking soon.

We're grateful to Park Place for their support of 3W team members as well as their support of the NextGen Fund.  And we're thrilled that they are looking at the 3W concept and using it to frame their own local context.

Their sanctuary was decorated with the 3 colors of the Three Worlds logo.  We have a page on our website that explains the colors, but let me refresh your memory.

 

RED: Represents, the Persecuted Church and Evangelism.  This means that our work will entail working in Evangelical efforts and in assisting the persecuted church, which in our region can meet very intentional, dangerous persecution--or more subtle forms of persecution/obstruction as you find in Eastern Europe.  Red is like the fire of danger/persecution and the fire of the Gospel.  3W already works with both these areas, however, we plan on expanding our work helping the persecuted church in the very near future.

GREEN: The Environment and Health.  This refers to work we may do that helps the environment and care for our creation (which the Bible commands us to do in Genesis), and work in the area of health concerns.  Currently, 3W does not work in these 2 areas but when 3W was created in 2010, our aim was to expand into the Red, Green, and Blue between 2010-2016.  We are currently in discussions about possibly beginning to expand our health work.

BLUE: Education, Discipleship, and Business.We have certainly been doing a lot of the blue.  Our internships, our educational ministry trips, and our 3W Seminars are all part of "Education."  Through mentoring of our 3W team-members and our 3W team-members mentoring others, we also do discipleship.  We also support churches in their discipleship work as our new partnership with Italy shows.  Business we hope to expand, but we had one Business as Mission Seminar in Bulgaria in conjunction with County-Line CHOG.

3W was designed to expand, and it is expanding rapidly.  By 2016 we should be working in every area.  After that, we could even have specialists in each area.  The future looks very bright for Three Worlds and we thank you for joining us on our multi-colored journey.  You'll be hearing a lot more about the colors in the coming years.

 

 

 

 

 

Italy 3W Partnership Expands

 

 

I just got back from Rome where I was visiting the Church of God in Ostia.  As always, I had a wonderful time with my friends there.  On this visit, the primary purpose of the trip was to discuss how 3W can continue to support the Italy church-plants in partnership with Ostia.  Both the Ostia church and 3W have been making regular visits to support the Lovaglio family as they launched these 2 new churches in Northern Italy:  Arco and Treviso.  The Ostia CHOG has been sending some of their top leaders to regularly help out--taking the long car drive or train trip up to the North.  And we have taken a 3W intern, the 3W Care-a-Van, and Greg Wiens (State Director of Florida, HGC) to the churches, in addition to numerous visits by Jamie and me.

All of this has been very helpful to the 2 church plants as they go through the challenging first phase.  Now we are wanting to expand our support and bring a higher level of coordination.  So Pastor Daniele Santonocito and I spent quite a bit of time talking about how we can continue the expansion of the Church of God in Italy.  Currently, the Church of God is registered provincially in 3 provinces.  If we get to 4 provinces, then the Church of God can be recognized nationally.  But our main priority is not that, but rather making sure these new churches are not isolated and alone.

We will be unveiling more in the coming year, but these are some 3W-Rome Partnership works coming up that we are all very excited about.

*Arco & Treviso: Global Gathering-Europe:  June 21-23 (with 3W intern Jessica MacDonald).

*Rome: 3W Seminar ("Organization in the Church" led by Rod Stafford of Fairfax Community Church, Washington DC) September 21-22.

*Rome: 3W Italy Expansion Team Celebration:  Nov. 27-Dec. 1

*Rome: First Ever 3W Women's Conference with Christian Women's Connection (Jan/Feb) TBA

That's a lot of stuff, and there's more to come.  We're waiting on board approval for other projects, and we're brain-storming about even more--including a basketball camp in another CHOG country.

The Ostia church has such wonderful people in it.  Thanks to all of you for always making my stay so wonderful!!

Note on Video:  After all the talk about supporting Arco, my plane home happened to fly EXACTLY over Arco, Italy.  I pulled out my phone (and did my usual bad job of filming) and caught the moment.  The snow capped mountains in the center of the picture are on Arco's East Side.  The other side's 3,000 foot cliffs were without snow.  Not very visible in the middle is the northern part of the giant lake where Arco sits.  It was a very special moment considering the time in Rome.  Let's go forward on this!

 

 

Reflections on Ireland 2013

Recently, we went to Ireland on vacation. I had some extra miles that I wanted to use up, and Ireland is a place I've always wanted to take Jamie and Marco.  We invited my mother-in-law Sharon to join us.  A few years ago, we drove around New Zealand together and had a great time.  We thought it would be great to meet her in Ireland, rent a car, and have family time again like that. I was in Ireland back in 1995 and had a wonderful time and a pretty profound spiritual experience at the Cliffs of Moher (pictured above).  For the cliffs alone, I wanted to take Jamie and Marco there.

The Itinerary:  Driving Around Ireland

We decided to rent a car.  I used to come to Europe as a tourist and ride the trains or fly.  I can't tell you how different the experience is when you have a car.  A car gives you great freedom to explore and you see so much more of the amazing landscape of Europe with a car.  It's been very nice traveling across Europe in cars over the past 2 1/2 years that we've lived here.

For Ireland, I basically wanted to show the family a bit of Central Ireland, the West Coast, the Ring of Kerry, the South Coast, and the Wicklow Mountains as well as Dublin.  That makes for a big circle loop of Ireland.  We flew into Dublin, picked up the car and Grandma and headed to Athlone, Ireland in the middle of the country.  Dublin is in the Northeast on the Coast and we were traveling to Galway on the West Coast.  It's a mere 2 hours to cross the whole country.  So we drove half-way around the country and stopped off at Athlone.

 

From Athlone, we went to the lovely city of Galway on the West Coast.  This is a place that I fell in love with in 1995 and I wanted to buy a home there (not that I had the money).  In those days, it was cheap to buy a home in Ireland.  Today, it is outrageous (more on that later).  Athlone is a bit more rustic than a lot of the places we visited, and looks a lot more like the "old Ireland" I remember--the pre-boom Ireland when it was a poor country.  It was good to see Athlone, because so much of the rest of Ireland has changed dramatically that it's hard to see what it was like before globalization 3.0 took off.

 

Galway is a delight to walk around and we enjoyed catching the end of mass at Galway Cathedral--the newest stone cathedral in Europe which only dates back to the 1980's.  Our B & B was cozy and from Galway we were able to head up North to Connemara, Ireland which has a landscape like Scotland.  While there we were able to visit the Kylemore Abbey which sits on a lake in this unique part of Ireland.

We happend to be in Ireland on a sunny week.  So remarkably, we didn't get rained on once the entire trip.  This was great for seeing some of these sights that could easily be fogged in.  However, it was the coldest March they've had in Ireland in 100 years.  Even though it was only about 35 degrees Fahrenheit (or 5 to 10 degrees warmer than our home in Berlin), the wind chill made it pretty cold.

From Galway and Connemara we headed South toward the seaside town of Dingle.  Dingle is a touristy fishing village on the West Coast, but it's a good place to hear live Irish music in a pub.  So that's what we did, although Marco really didn't enjoy being around the drinking, festive people.  Dingle was even smaller than I expected, but once again, we had a lovely B & B within walking distance of the town center.  On the way down, we stopped by the Cliffs of Moher which drop off nearly 800 feet into the Atlantic Ocean and stretch for about 7 miles.  It is called the end of Europe and it certainly does feel like the end of a continent.  Across the way is nothing but ocean until you hit Canada.  It's one of my favorite places in all the Earth--a sacred place to me.

TO SOUTHWEST IRELAND

After Dingle, we drove around the Ring of Kerry and even took a car ferry as we made our way down to the Southeast.  This part of Ireland is much more "Irish."  You see Gaelic everywhere and people still speak the old language.  In fact, in this part of Ireland you can run into people that don't know how to speak English!  It's a more traditional part of Ireland.

We passed through small towns and hills and mountains as we inched our way toward Kilkenny, which surprised me by becoming my favorite stop on the trip.  I had expected Kilkenny to be the most boring of our stops, but I loved it.  The road leading to Kilkenny is part of the beautiful ring of kerry which takes you past mountains and lakes and waterfalls.  And Kilkenny itself is bigger than Dingle and has streets that are fun to walk around.  We stayed at yet another nice B & B there.

By this point, we were getting tired of the greasy Irish food.  People really do love their potatoes.  One guy next to me was eating a giant plate of mashed potatoes, with baked potato, and then french fries covering the top of it.  I guess it's not the Potato famine anymore in Ireland.  It was hard to find stuff that wasn't oily.

 

DRIVING AROUND IRELAND

Driving around Ireland was fun and relaxing.  I never feel like a natural driving on the Left Side of the road.  I've done it in Australia and New Zealand, but this was the first time that it actually started to feel normal.  There were a couple of moments pulling out of a petrol station into the wrong lane, but overall, it all made a lot more sense this time.  I look forward to tackling the U.K. next.

The roads in Ireland have improved dramatically since I was there.  Ireland's known for its bad roads and used to have an extremely poor infrastructure and the highest rate of car accidents in the world (now surpassed by China).  But thanks to all that E.U. Ireland, the post 1990's Ireland has much better highways and wider roads.  There was not much traffic in March and the weather was good for driving.  We brought a whole ton of Irish music CD's to listen to in the car:  Everything from early U2, to Enya, to the Corrs.  But in the end, we preferred to talk and just drive in silence looking out the window.  We never did play a single Irish CD.

The cost of petrol is about $9 a gallon.  Yes, it's awful.  Filling up the tank is about $120.  But the car we were in got such good gas mileage (a diesel actually) and Ireland is so small, it only required 1 tank to do our entire journey. Cars tend to get better mpg in Europe than in the US.  Frankly, I think Americans should pay more and ween themselves off cars more.

NO LONGER "A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY"

It was actually unnerving to see how much Ireland had changed.  It was very hard to find a thatched hut roof--although we did see them.  Instead we saw brand new homes in every corner of the country that we visited.  Of course, Ireland is in severe economic trouble:  one of the so-called "PIIGS" in Europe that is broke and needing a financial bail out.  Ireland is deeply in debt, and a ridiculous property bubble was to blame.  As Ireland's economy opened up, and the country courted international businesses by offering tax-incentives, the economy went up, prices went up, and the Irish went on a spending spree.  It seems everyone bought a house they cannot afford.  Today, many Irish people are in dire straights and owe far more than the value of their home.  It was no coincidence that there were so many B & B's in Ireland.  It's a way for families to earn money on homes they can't afford.

The amount of new-looking, suburban, American-style homes was alarming.  When I was in Ireland, I only remember seeing one street like that on my whole trip.  It was in Galway, and I asked my Irish friend Bartley how much it would cost me to buy that new, looking suburban home.  $80,000 he replied.  Amazing!  Today, that wouldn't get you a thatched hut in Ireland, yet everyone and their brother has a brand new McMansion.  Ireland is only at the beginning of what will be a very long, painful recovery.

Back in the 1990's, the lead character in the Irish film "the Committments" makes the comment:  "We're practically a Third World country."  And that's true.  Ireland was always considered the "poor, sick man of Western Europe."  Crime was high, jobs were scarce, millions were on welfare, there were still lots of hostilities with Northern Ireland, and Ireland was very homogenous.

But all that changed as tech companies and other new corporations relocated to Ireland and sparked an economic boom.  Ireland was labeled "the Celtic Tiger" named after the Asian Tiger economies like Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea.  Ireland had never in its history been wealthy.  Poverty and misery were part of the Irish national identity.  And you got over it through humor, a love of the spoken word, and of literature.  It was a huge shock to the Irish system to suddenly find themselves as the fastest growing economy in Europe.  People bought expensive homes and immigrants from Africa and Poland moved into Ireland to take the lower paying jobs.  Ireland became wealthy and multi-cultural.

But all of that is coming to an end now---yet, like Greece and Italy (which I travel too often), the signs of poverty are not yet visible in the infrastructure the way they once were--and probably will be 20 years from now.

SOUTH AND NORTH TO DUBLIN

From lovely Kilkenny, we headed directly south down to a little seaside town called Kinsale on the Southern coast of Ireland.  Hotel and B & B prices were cheap.  It helped that it was slightly off-season and that there is so much competition now that everyone has a B & B.  While in Kinsale, we actually saw a seal swimming in the water front.   Very cute.  From the South we headed to the Wicklow Mountains where some of the scenes of my favorite movie of all time ("Excalibur") were filmed.  The director John Boorman lives in County Wicklow.  While there, we visited the ruins of an ancient monastic city (Glendalough) that dates back more than 1,000 years. Everywhere we went, we met a lot of funny Irish characters.  All lovely, friendly people, but our B & B host here was a real kick with his thick brogue and naughty sense of humor.

A lot of our hosts were Catholic, but Catholicism has been in a steep decline in Ireland since the 2000's.  There have been so many instances of sexual molestation and abuse by priests and nuns in Ireland that it has greatly disillusioned the Irish.  The sudden wealth of the people also led to secularism as did the way the Vatican and Irish Bishops refused to take responsibility for crimes committed.  Ireland, like Poland, went from being one of Europe's most committed Catholic nations to being just as secular as the other countries.

 

 

We awoke to snowfall on the ground one morning in Kinsale and saw it as we drove around Wicklow.  But the weather stayed clear for us as we headed into Dublin.  We walked to Trinity College and along the River Liffey before heading over toward St. Patrick's Cathedral.  It was Good Friday.  That evening we returned the car and headed to our airport hotel.

It was a wonderful, relaxing trip and it was great to have such focused time with the family.  We all greatly enjoyed having grandma with us and we hope to do a vacation like that again in the near future.  I'll continue to watch Ireland closely.  It's a lovely country with lovely people and it is a shame that the coming years are probably going to be more difficult.  But most of Europe is headed for hard times in the very near future.  I'm glad I'm here at this moment.  I hope we can help.

 

What to Make of North Korea?

North Korea is in the news again as they threaten to nuke American cities and destroy the U.S.  Yes, we have gone through this every year for the last 20 years--since North Korea's famines and floods worsened--and yes, they realized that extortion works if you want to receive food and financial aid.  Is this time any different? It's doubtful, but due to the quick ratcheting up of their threats, as well as their moving missiles into place, it's worth looking at what might be going on this time because this time it is not so obvious.

There are 4 possibilities (in order of probability)

1. Feeling ignored, it's another regular extortion attempt as they face famine and bankruptcy, but it's backfiring.

2. China is actually instigating the turmoil, in order to lower pressure with the US and other East Asian nations.

3. There is a power struggle behind the scenes, and a militant wing is asserting itself.

4. They are in such dire straits or insane that the regime  is prepared to start a war.

Let's look at each one individually.

1. Feeling ignored, it's another regular extortion attempt as they face famine and bankruptcy, but it's backfiring.

This is the most likely.  Since the end of the Kim Il Sung years, North Korea has regularly threatened war.  International mediators are sent in, and a deal is worked out in which North Korea gets foreign aid in exchange for calming the war rhetoric.  It's an old, stupid gambit that worked very well until recently.  In the past few years, U.S. administrations have gotten tired of this old act, as have South Korean politicians, and people mainly view it as a waste of time to have the infamous "six party talks."

Coming out of another miserable winter, it's likely North Korea is in dire straits and desperately needs to extort more money out of its enemies.  But the problem could be that the regime has cried wolf so many times, it's simply run out of ways to do it.  Instead of outflanking its enemies (say, striking a deal with Russia or a Gulf State), it resorts to Dr. Evil-like name calling that comes off as ridiculous and over-the-top.  Much like Saddam Hussein's "Baghdad Bob," the p.r. department for the NK regime just doesn't know how to sound scary and credible, hence they've gotten in over their heads this time.  Both the U.S. and South Korea are responding with a strong show of force.

2. China is actually instigating the turmoil, in order to lower pressure with the US and other East Asian nations.

Another possibility is that North Korea's only friend, China, is asking them to stir up trouble so that China can then come out looking like the hero.  Why would they do this?  Because China is currently caught in a tense relationship with Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations.  China's military (particularly on the sea) has been expanding and they have been making claims on islands that belong to other nations.  All of this has driven these countries more into the hands of the United States and its security apparatus.  Consequently, China is feeling the isolation.  Having their client state NK put on a show that they diffuse, could be an elaborate way of creating a bigger issue that brings the divided parties together.  Chinese Machiavellianism can be something to behold.

3. There is a power struggle behind the scenes, and a militant wing is asserting itself.

I seriously doubt that the 29 year old new dictator Kim Jung Un is behind any of this.  After all, he seems to prefer watching the NBA and hanging out with Dennis Rodman.  This game of high-stakes nuclear poker is something from a Cold War generation of leaders.  This is far beyond his abilities or mentality.  He's a puppet figure dominated by generals and older relatives and is part of an elite class that doesn't want to lose its status in North Korean society.  It's possible that this is an attempt by the puppet masters to make sure NK still has the threat card to play.  Because if they don't, the country is in real trouble.  They desperately need to be feared so that they can be sustained by other countries--particularly China. With so few cards to play, giving up the Dr. Evil shtick really leaves them with nothing but being a source of cheap labor for China.  And they don't like or trust China very much.

4. They are in such dire straits or insane that the regime  is prepared to start a war.  

This is the least likely possibility.  It looks like they have desperately tried to get the Chinese to defuse the situation (the Chinese declined) and they are fully aware that the U.S. and South Korea could utterly destroy them.  However, this is a nation that has been a religious cult (theocracy) for more than 60 years.  It's always possible that one of these poorly educated, mentally ill psychos could have a group of people following them toward destruction. But more realistically, it's a nation of a small group of elites that are addicted to watching foreign movies, doing drugs, and eating expensive caviar.

So how bad would a war be?

First of all, North Korea could probably not successfully launch a nuclear missile.  They have a hard time with basic missiles--they're not accurate, and they don't have great range.  The U.S. also possesses the technology to blow them up before they even leave the silos.

They could launch quite a barrage of artillery over the border at Seoul, but they would be hammered in return and quickly become disorganized and unable to function.

A better approach would be some sort of nuclear hostage drama, such as taking part of the border or claiming to sneak spies into South Korea that are armed with nuclear weapons.  It would be a bluff, most likely.  Even feeding their troops and keeping supplies open would be hard for the most basic military operation.  And I guarantee these will be the most incompetent generals ever to enter into a war.

The dirty secret (or perhaps it's not so secret) is that no one really wants to see a free North Korea.  At this point, North Koreans are incapable of integrating with the modern world.  There would be no lovely integration as there was in Germany between East and West Germany.  This integration would be expensive, messy, and ultimately impossible.  North Koreans have lived in such a bizarre situation for so many decades that they are all brainwashed, traumatized, and/or deathly ill.  A best case scenario would see North Korea having to be kept closed while decades of relief poor into the country.

The more likely "peaceful" outcome would be a massive global intervention of aid and troops that would seem like it is never-ending, as South Korea takes the lead in rebuilding the country.  It will take so long for even the most basic normal society to emerge that Somalia and Syria will look quite functional in comparison.  There will be a day of reckoning for North Korea and it will be unpleasant for the whole world.  This is the one place in the world where a day of nuclear threats is one of the better challenges to face.  And that is truly frightening.

 

 

The USA Will Not Become Socialist, But Wealth Inequality is Real

In a recent article in the USA Today, the point was made that America's youth (the millennials) are innovators and capitalists, but also have a strong social conscience.  They spend their money making corporations rich, and even start their own businesses--but they reward those companies that make society better.  So it looks like the next generation won't be raving, Socialist lunatics, so feel free to not jump off the bridge.  The United States is not going to become a socialist, communist nation, so let's set the panicked hyperbole aside because there is something much more important to talk about. IS THE USA SOCIALIST?

The United States can no more become a Socialist, Communist paradise than I can become the next LeBron James.  It's set in our American DNA.  In the same way that I will never be nearly 7 feet tall and able to physically dominate NBA athletes, the United States will not be able to turn itself into a Socialist nation.  The US is the most individualistic, hyper-capitalistic society in the world.  It has always been this way, and it will always stay this way.  The word "socialism" itself is over-used and used badly and broadly at that.  Sweden is "Socialist."  Germany is "Socialist."  Japan is "Socialist."  They are also all capitalist.  There's always a mix of both socialism and capitalism in a modern, successful economy--the U.S. included. The U.S. Post Office, Medicare, the construction of the freeways and railroads, the power grid and the Homestead Act are examples of when U.S government intervened to make sure things were done and resources distributed fairly, or set up to serve all people using taxpayer money.  Medicare is not left up to Capitalist market forces.  If it were up to true capitalistic market forces, the old in the U.S. get insured in the U.S. even though they should be less insurable because of their age. Somehow, 80 years ago as a society, we decided that this isn't fair.  Both political parties (Democrat and Republican) still want it this way.  Is this Socialism?

One area where the US certainly dabbles in "Socialism" in the broad, sloppy sense is in the high finance industry.  Our tax dollars definitely get distributed to Goldman Sachs to make sure that it continues to exist.  Whether you believe that these banks and investment firms are "too big to fail" is beside the point.  Major corporations receive government subsidies and protection that would be labeled socialist if it were aimed at the common man or lower income regions.  Corporate Welfare is enormous in the United States and very much backed by both parties. States too, are willing to give taxpayer money away to corporations, yet continue to tax the citizens. Is this socialism?

Recently, a story has been floating around the internet about a teacher who wanted to show his students the futility of socialism.  His millennial students believed in some form of wealth distribution, so he started to grade the class cumulatively.  The students had their grades averaged out so that everyone would receive the same grade.  Nobody would receive an "A" and no one would receive an "F."  The first test averaged a "B."  The second test averaged a "D" and the students were upset.  When the third test rolled around, the average was "F."  Of course the students were upset.  The ones that had worked hard suffered low grades, and the ones that didn't work hard had their grades...(sort of) elevated.  The professor seemed quite satisfied that he had proven the idiocy of Socialism to his students.  Well, he would have made a good point...if they were North Koreans.  But since they are American students, he actually did them a disservice by setting the stage incorrectly. It was a false analogy.

Socialism Isn't the Danger. Inequality and Imbalance is:

What is currently happening in the USA is more like this:  A school is filled with some of the top, hardest working students on the planet (time and time again, we see that Americans work longer hours, with less vacation, and have more productivity than just about any nation on earth). Very few of these kids are truly lazy, because they come from a successful neighborhood that has always believed in hard work and has been far more successful than other neighborhoods.  But when these kids get to school, one of the kids is put into a separate classroom than the others.  This lone kid will get the full attention of the teacher, and whether the student learns or not, he is guaranteed an "A+."  The rest of the kids are in a second classroom.  There is a second classroom and the teacher who will lavish his attention on 2 of the 30 students, and those 2 kids will get an "A" because he helps them so much.  For about 23 of the students, they are going to work really, really hard, but will never get above a "C."  Only about 5 students in the class have no pride or concern for their work, because the reality is most people are not hardwired to enjoy being unproductive and a total failure.

In this school system, only a select few even have the potential to get an A or even rarer still, an "A+."  And it is not because of the quality of their work; it is because of privilege.  Somewhere along the line, hard work and studying were no longer rewarded equally.  The class changed its paradigm so that upward grade mobility was no longer as possible.  The teacher's attention belonged only to 2 students.

This has happened in U.S. history before (the Roaring 20's anyone?) and it is happening now.  It is not about Capitalism vs. Socialism.  It is about a deeply Capitalistic society which reaches a tipping point where a super-rich elite class is created to the detriment of the whole country.  The U.S. always changes course and corrects the imbalance when this happens. It does this through government. The Great Depression and World War II brought top tax rates to a high of 99% and 95%.  They were in the high 80's under the Republican Eisenhower.  Even Reagan raised taxes on Capital Gains and raised taxes in 1982 and 1984. So the Patron Saint of Low Taxation Ronald Reagan raised taxes.  So much so, that the business magazine, "Money" (not exactly a Leftist, Socialist, Commie-pinko rag...it's called "Money") wrote:

"Reagan's behavior might not pass muster with those voters today who insist their Congressmen treat every proposed tax increase as poisonous to the republic."

That's an understatement.  Ronald Reagan would have been hung, drawn and quartered by the anti-tax, anti-socialist brigades of today. But U.S. history has never been American's strong-suit.  That is one of the country's strengths and one of it's biggest weaknesses.

The British Magazine The Economist (another Conservative magazine that cares about capitalism...it's called "the Economist") writes about the shorter life-spans of poor Americans being a problem for the wealthy (not just the poor, but the wealthy!):

"One need not be a radical egalitarian to find this picture morally troubling."

Wealth Inequality Should Matter to the Rich

In the same way that hardcore North Korean Socialism is dangerous, destabilizing and soul-erroding, so is hyper-capitalism.  Societies historically fall apart when the rich get too rich and the divide between rich and poor is too great.  This is not a direction any civilization wants to go, for it ushers in its demise.  This is why the United States has always wisely made adjustments to swing back in a more equitable direction when we have reached the point that the Middle Class is no longer upwardly mobile.  A country of extreme rich and poor is dangerous to the wealthy--let alone the poor.

Last week, the crisis in Cyprus illustrated this point.  Like many countries, Cyprus is economically falling apart, and it seized the assets of the rich to survive.  Cyprus as a tax-haven has probably seen its last days.  And there will be others to come making it more difficult for the super rich to store their money because what they are getting away with is untenable.  Many of the rich are Russians happy to not be paying into the new Russia and hoarding their wealth for themselves by living outside of Russia and not paying taxes.  Super capitalist  Mark Faber, (once again, not a commie, pinko socialist, but a very wealthy investment guru) says that this is a growing danger around the world.  The rich (and he doesn't mean you, he means multi-billionaires) are no longer safe:

"The problem is that 92 percent of financial wealth is owned by 5 percent of the population. The majority of people don't own meaningful stock positions and they don't benefit from a rise in the stock market. They are being hurt by a rising cost of living and we all know that the real incomes of median households has been going down for the last few years."

Exactly.  The economy reaches a point where it is like the 2 classrooms I described above.  The wealth becomes so unevenly distributed that it becomes dangerous to all of society.  What people often fail to realize is that Reaganomics and Thatcherism were meant as pragmatic (conservative) corrections in 1980/1981---not as a recipe for all-economics, for all-time.  An inflexible, ideological economic program is against the principles of true conservatism.  Today it's harder to find a true conservative than it is a martian, although they are starting to make a comeback in the U.K.  That is why Reagan and Thatcher would not be welcome amongst "conservatives" today. As much as they reigned in bad economic policies from the 1970's, they would not have advocated extreme ideological economic policies from their own party.  Pragmatism trumps ideology for the true conservative.  Their skepticism about government was matched by a skepticism about ideological solutions.

In my 2008 book "Faith in the Future," I wrote about "the Disappearance of the Third World."  I meant that globalization was creating a new, highly global, educated, and wealthy class of people in most every nation of the world.  No longer would the rich in a country like Russia, Nigeria, or China be laughingstocks compared to the rich in the USA or Europe.  A new superclass was being created.  But as this happens (as in Russia, China, and now in the U.S.), the disparity between rich and poor goes beyond normal boundaries and becomes far too extreme.  (I also discuss the divide between rich and poor in a section entitled "a New Divide Between Rich and Poor," in my book Passport of Faith 2006).

I also pointed out in "Faith in the Future" that the poor are themselves getting richer at a faster rate than at any time in human history.  In underdeveloped and emerging nations, more poor people are being lifted out of poverty than ever before.  This is something I have literally seen with my own two eyes.  A new middle class is emerging globally in countries that did not have a middle class.  But in developed nations like the United States, wages are stagnating and the middle class is shrinking as the underclass grows and the super-elite pull far way from the pack playing on another field entirely.

What Happens Now?

The millennials are showing us what will happen.  In a healthy society (like the United States), a major correction will take place.  Just as there was a swing toward hyper-capitalism in the 1980's which resulted in a new wave of globalization--but, alas,  also with a credit bubble, there will be a swing toward equality over the next 20 years.  The truth is that the era of fast economic growth (1980-2008) did not really happen as it was perceived.  It could not have existed without massive debt and bubbles. So attempts to replicate it in the same way will not work.  More modest and balanced growth is the only course for the future.

In countries like China, the nouveaux riche and the income inequality will eventually get challenged by a revolution from the middle or lower classes, or the rich will abandon the country completely as they take their wealth to places like Australia, The USA, and New Zealand.  The United States has the opportunity to not have such a messy adjustment as some of these other nations.

Morally, all of the world's major religions teach the need for materialism to be tempered and some wealth to be distributed: that is not solely a Marxist idea.  It's possible to desire prosperity and value hard work without turning into a religious Darwinian materialist.  Jesus preaches far more about the dangers of money than he does about the dangers of over-sharing.

The coming re-balance will be slow and painful.  It will take a full generation to enact and not without more economic pain as we climb out of an unsustainable bubble that lasted a full generation, but the United States will come out stronger.  That is why it is time to abandon the extreme rhetoric about socialism.  The real danger that lies before us is not of being hostage to Marxist Socialism (which is far too boring for Americans), but of being slaves to an unrealistic expectation of material wealth at the expense of others.

To see the imbalance, please watch the video based on Michael I. Norton's Harvard Study.