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Monthly Archives: June 2009

How To Fail


Read this article on my blog.

Jim Collins’ latest book, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, is his best yet. His data-driven approach to business analysis is refreshing in a genre dominated by anecdotal, “common sense” approaches. Collins identifies five stages in the fall of once great companies, and as in his previous studies, he compares the fallen companies to similar companies in the same industry that did not fall, effectively demonstrating that decline was due to choices made by the business leaders, not to market forces outside their control.

Rather than summarize the five stages and fail to do them justice, I will just say this: Read this book. Anyone who leads an organization can benefit from its insights. The biggest surprise was finding that companies rarely fall from doing nothing. Instead they enter a period of frenetic activity characterized by innovation, restructuring, re-inventing, and loss of connection to core values. The key seems to be the loss of cohesive vision. A company that recovers its vision can often pull out of its dive and return to greatness.


Guns in Church


Pastor Ken Pagano’s invitation to his congregation to bring their guns to church made the New York Times. It apparently made the news in other countries as well. Great. Conservative Christians are gun-toting sociopaths. Liberal Christians are peace-loving and reasonable, like Jesus.

Only Jesus wasn’t. He told his followers that they would have enemies everywhere. He told them he came to bring division and strife. “A man’s enemies,” he said, “will be members of his own household.” He told his followers to bring swords for protection, even though he planned to give himself up. He deliberately broke the law to call attention to its oppressiveness, and he openly challenged the authorities of his day. He died a convicted felon.

If you want to invoke a role-model for peace and respectability, Jesus is not your best bet.

I think Pastor Pagano’s stunt is ill-advised and unwise but Constitutionally protected. Minnesota had a law for a while requiring businesses and institutions to post a sign if they banned guns. Our church dutifully complied: “The Harbor Church bans guns on these premises.” So did our local YMCA and several community colleges. It sort of made sense in the Twin Cities. The law eventually fell to legal challenges.

(When I was teaching at a local community college, I was told first that I could not carry a gun anywhere on school property,  even if I had a permit. A few weeks later, the policy was amended. I could bring a gun to school as long as it remained unloaded and locked away in my car. I own an ancient shotgun that my dad gave me years ago to hunt pheasant. I don’t consider a gun my best protection against armed criminals or an overreaching government, but that could be because I am not very proficient with a gun and can’t imagine actually shooting someone with one.)

But rural Minnesota is famed for its prime hunting lands. I’ve heard of places where the kids bring their guns to school so they don’t have to go home before going out to hunt. Of course, the guns are hunting rifles, and they are locked up during the day, and the kids are all well-versed in gun safety. But I can’t imagine a school in the Cities giving the go-ahead for such a scheme.

The Constitutional right to bear arms is based on the premise that arming our government without retaining the right of the citizens to arm themselves could lead to the collapse of our democracy. Armed citizens are a check on overreaching government. The history of the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s demonstrates the limitations of pitting armed citizens against an armed government. While the federal government effectively demonstrated its authority, the army was unable to enforce the whiskey tax, and it was repealed in 1803. Both sides could claim a victory.

A lot of NRA members and other gun enthusiasts still consider the right of citizens to bear arms as a protection against the government. That’s why they don’t want a ban on assault weapons. A group of guys with shotguns and hunting rifles would not last long against a trained military force armed with M1s and 50-caliber machine guns. It’s not that they expect the government to turn on them any time soon; it’s a matter of principle. They want to be ready if the government gets out of hand.

For a lot of Democrats the NRA stance borders on insanity. Not only does the NRA oppose restrictions on gun ownership, but they regard the government as a potential enemy. For those accustomed to thinking of the government as the solution to their problems, it’s hard to conceive of people who consider the government to be the source of theirs.

I doubt Jesus would advocate on either side of the gun debate. He always seemed more interested in personal responsibility than in questions of policy, unless the policies were unjust to the poor. When his critics tried to embroil him in the hot-button issues of his day, he always refocused on our obligations before God: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He would remind gun advocates that God told us not to kill but to lay down our lives. He would also call the gun opponents to repentance.


Obama Antichrist


Around our house we joke that Obama is the Antichrist.

“Did you hear the news?” my wife will say. “Obama was at some foreign conference, and everybody loved him. He must be the Antichrist.” (For those unfamiliar with New Testament eschatology as commonly understood by many evangelical Christians, read the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Very entertaining, I’m told. There’s also a series of DVDs, of which viewing the first was enough to keep me from watching any more.)

I have an interest in Obama not being the Antichrist because before he was elected, I wrote that he was not. If it turns out that he is, then I will have to eat crow.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” I say. “Lot’s of presidents have been popular.”

“Name five,” she says.

We are, perhaps, a little uncharitable.

I like Obama. (“See? He’s drawing you in, too.”) I like listening to him. He sounds intelligent, which is a big improvement. He seems careful and deliberate, which is another change for the better. I hate some of his policies. I hated some of Bush’s policies. I guess I’m one of those people you can’t please all of all the time.

People have notoriously bad memories. Look back at news articles from 2002. Bush was immensely popular. The nation was still reeling from 9/11, and Bush seemed like someone we could trust to save us. Even in 2004, when he was re-elected, he was still riding that wave of popularity. Now Obama is our current savior, helping us out of our fiscal disasters. Wait until 2016. If he is still as popular seven years in the future as he is now, I really will eat crow (properly prepared, of course, roasted over charcoal, slathered with barbecue sauce, and served with grilled vegetables).