Thursday, October 28, 2010

Favre and Stanford: "The Cure for the Chronic Life": Is it "purpose-driven"?

Authors: Deanna Favre and Shane Stanford, foreword by Max Lucado

Title: "The Cure for the Chronic Life: Overcoming the Hopelessness that Holds You Back"

Publication: Nashville: Abingdon Press, hardcover, 204 pages. (The dust jacket has a rear view of a very fit looking youth jumping into (baptismal) water, curious indeed. ) ISBN 978-1-4267-1001-8

First, a note about the authors: Deanne Favre is wife of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and breast cancer survivor; Shane Stanford is pastor of Gulf Breezes United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL, and himself has lived years as HIV-positive having been infected by a blood transfusion related to hemophilia.

A few personal anecdotes come to mind to tie into this book. In my own coming of age period, I knew a contemporary, already in a second marriage to a wife who had been married to a pro football player. In 1971 or so, that had seemed like a distant connection to celebrity (no so any more). Much more to the point, I recall an incident in 2004, shortly after I had start substitute teaching. I had taken an assignment in a special education setting without understanding what it meant or the situations that it could set up. The classes, though nominally high school, were for profoundly disabled teens. Then I was moved to another class, that was going on a “field trip”. The unremarkable male teacher, himself in gym clothes, asked me if he could count on me for help in the locker room and then to man the deep end of the swimming pool. Well, I never had learned to swim very well (now we hear that African Americans {I am not} are not learning this skill at all). Furthermore at the time, I was a 61 year old male who would have felt humiliated to be seen by any student in swimming trunks. Now, on p 131, Deanna talks about “what would cause people to hide themselves from others.” Funny, because in 2004 I perceived this as infringement on my right to consent.

I can spin other tales of both wonder and misunderstanding. In 1979, I was on a gay camping trip in the prairies of West Texas with MCC Dallas and we were going to have a midnight service. There was some intrigue about a booklet I wanted to deliver to a particular friend. At midnight we are ought in front of a pyre when this other member puts his arm around me and speaks about me as if I were partially disabled, even retarded. I was certainly misunderstood. Then a violent thunderstorm came up immediately and drove us back to the bunk houses before he could finish his “prayer”. Later the same person would invite me to brunch at a controversial Dallas restaurant at the time, the Lucas B&B, and want to talk to me about God. Then, a few weeks later, in August, on a Sunday night, someone who had been paralyzed for ten years really would get up and walk for the first time while my “other” friend sang “He’s Alive” with his guitar.

I go back into my long-term memory bank for a third anecdote. When I was a patient at NIH in 1962 (I explain all this in my first book and on the “BillBoushka” blog posting Nov. 28, 2006), I did befriend a couple of the more “intact” male patients, but there were a particular female patient who would wake up in the middle of the night screaming about why we “can’t love everybody.”

What I’m getting at here is something about “autonomy.” Some of us are indeed “different” and can accomplish unique things if left to our own devices and we follow through and work hard. Yet we find that others press us to conform , to join in the group, and support the causes defined by others.

I have to say that a lot of evangelical thinking, even from relatively liberal pastors and denominations, supports this “joining in” mentality.

On p 10, Shane mentions Pastor Rick Warren (at Obama’s inauguration) and his concept of “The Purpose-Driven Life” (a best selling 2002 book (from Zondervan), but takes it further; it is not (just) a common or shared social purpose (as in the idea of the “Natural Family” from Carlson and Mero) but a purpose given by God himself.

In the last pages, the book, speaking of “selfless views of life, God, and God’s people” says (p 185), “The chronic life seems to make it all about us.” He gives an example of a young woman who is not a bad person but who “is constantly focuses on her own needs.”

The book gives a 40-day recipe for curing the “Chronic Life”, which seems to center more around compulsiveness in managing relationships than anything else (as the authors describe it). He starts out by categorizing the Seven Worries of Living in Christ – as if anxiety itself were the grand pathology of (psychologically feminine) self-indulgence. The grand acronym is the “CURE”, with the four temperaments: “Compassion, Understanding, Response, Encouragement”. (Yup, kids, be able to name these on a test.) Each day there is a four-step process: “Discover, Deepen, Deploy, Discern.”

His concept of “Understanding” is interesting (and reminds me of Dan Fry’s group in Arizona in the 1970s). He says that teaching is not about imparting knowledge (the way college professors handle it when they lecture), but about personally engaging students in the process of learning. I’m reminded here of the “knowledge of good and evil” problem.

Shane does give a good account of the HIV panic of the 1980s, which extended to all those infected, not just to MSM’s.

At a certain level, the books seems like a call to introverts for social conformity. I can say from my own live that my desire to “leverage” by differences were motivated in large part by the humiliation of competitive battles centered around the expectations of gender-related social conformity. (The “competition” aspect of this presents a certain paradox.) No doubt, others can raise existential questions if I try to stand out without responding to “real needs” of others for me to join in with them. But, sometimes, to accomplish anything, you just have to be left alone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bob Woodward: "Obama's Wars" (review)

Author: Bob Woodward

Title: "Obama’s Wars"

Publication: New York, Simon & Schuster, 2010; hardcover, 439 pages, indexed, 33 unnamed chapters, Amazon link.

I was in the Army myself, stationed at Fort Eustis, VA during the 1968 election, and in 1969 when Nixon took office from LBJ. In fact, I was in “special training” in Basic when LBJ made his famous March 31 speech that he would not run or accept, and heard the speech on a radio in the barracks tent. My Army experience took a turn for the better almost immediately.

But we all know that Johnson’s war became Nixon’s war, even though most soldiers expected that personally they had a better chance of surviving exposure to Vietnam if Nixon won. Nixon did get us out (and would end the draft), but not soon enough for many people, and it was Nixon who would take such offence at some of the dissent from the privileged.

I remember another personal circumstance, in December 1990, when on an “Adventuring hike”, when there was a discussion of the Persian Gulf situation among some gay men on a West Virginia retreat, over a great dinner, and some of them (that is, us, including me) were so hawkish. We could already imagine that the Persian Gulf situation could naturally lead to openly challenging the ban on gays in the military.

Remember how William Westmorland kept demanding more troops during Johnson’s war, and how long they stayed under Nixon? That was scary when we had a draft.

Today, Obama has indeed rightfully shifted the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, but in many ways the liberal Democrat sounds as determined to see “War on Terror” through as was Bush, even if his intellectual focus is much more abstract. That’s true even though there was a much ballyhooed schism between a hawkish side (Gates, a Republican whom Obama kept as Secretary of Defense to keep continuity, and Hillary Clinton, probably a little more “conservative” than Obama) and Joe Biden. Obama took a middle road, but his commitment of large amounts of troops continues, even as there is now a definitely announced end. On p 309-310 Woodward outlines Biden’s approach. On pp 395-390, Woodward reproduces Obama’s final orders.

Much has been made in the media of Woodward’s conversations with the president about our nations’ ability to withstand terrorist attacks. We’re stronger, he says. But the government did a paper war game that assumed that Indianapolis was struck by a suitcase nuke. The exercise assumed a second nuke existed and maybe more. Woodward feels that the exercise just scratched the surface as to what would happen, and Obama talks as if that could be a game changer. Again, for me, this strikes a personal coincidence; I spent a summer in Indianapolis in 1970 on my first career job with RCA.

Woodward gives some discussion of the incidents on Christmas Day and then May 1, and discusses the Tehrik-al-Taliban (TTP).

The Washington Post has a YouTube video from Bob Woodward on tips for investigative journalism.

Some have criticized Woodward for disclosing "so much"in the book (given the WikiLeaks scandal and the questions being asked about the right to publish "leaked" information), but here the president and vice-president can lawfully release anything they want (discussion on CNN, Spitzer's program, Dec. 23).