Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review of "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert - a MUST READ!

At a recent meeting convened to discuss how best to come alongside Haitian leaders in rebuilding their country, my friend, Andreas Widmer made a strong book recommendation: "When Helping Hurts." Andreas knows more than most people about the pitfalls and victories of reaching out to developing economies and assisting in their sustainable development. He runs The S.E.V.E.N. Fund, which articulates its mission as follows:

"We encourage rigorous researchers to tackle the questions of enterprise solutions to poverty, and find the role models and artists that embody the experience of innovation in the world's poorest countries."

Seven Fund Website

So, when Andreas made the recommendation, I purchased the book and devoured it in a day and a half. I have had an opportunity to observe missionary outreach efforts and NGO relief efforts in a variety of nations, and I have seen the highs and the lows. The authors of this book, from their dual perspectives from academia and the Chalmers Center for Economic Development have done a masterful job of presenting a book that weaves solid biblical theology with insights and lessons from cultural anthropology. The result as a "How to" and "How not to" manual for an individual, church or non-profit that hopes to help alleviate the multiple dimensions of poverty in a healthy, holistic and sustainable way. The subtitle of the book is: "How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself."

The authors define poverty more broadly and differently than most who address this thorny issue. Here is their definition of poverty:

"Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings." (Page 62)

Consequently, their view of poverty alleviation is far from traditional:

"Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation." (Page 78)

There is a significant section of the book that discusses each of these types of deficiencies or poverty, including a "poverty of being" - an existential sickness that impacts even those with more than enough material wealth. So, a winnable and just "war on poverty" involves much more than making sure that people have enough "stuff." In this broader and more holistic view, material poverty alleviation looks like this:

"Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of their work." (Page 78)

Much of the book is taken up in sharing best practices by churches and other organizations, as well as in sharing cautionary tales of well-meaning Americans who went into developing nations (in this book termed "The Majority World") and the impact felt by those being helped was akin to a mouse being asked to dance with an elephant. No matter how gently the elephant dances, the mouse is going to come out a lot worse for wear after the dance.

One very practical suggestion that the authors make for those considering involvement in sort term missions or similar enterprises is to make a commitment to educate themselves before leaving home.

"Make pre-trip learning a requirement, not a suggestion. Simply wanting to go and coming up with the money is not sufficient to qualify somebody to join the team. If people do not want to spend the time to learn before they go on the trip, are they really going to have a learner's mind-set during and after the trip?

Include in the training at least a summary of the basic concepts presented thus far in this book. Emphasize in particular that we are all poor, just in different ways. This content should be offered in addition to the typical training that is offered on team-building, spiritual preparation, and country-specific information, including some basic language skills." (Page 178)

Many churches and individuals are committed to working out their faith in practical ways by helping at home and abroad with poverty alleviation. Praise God! This book is a "must read" for pastors, members of missions committees and boards, short term missionaries, and anyone who wants to help without hurting.

Thank you, Andreas!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Mini-Review of "When Genius Failed" by Roger Lowenstein

"When Genius Failed" is one of the those books that has been "on my list" of books to read for quite some time. I finally read it, and I found it to be a story worth telling of the rise and fall of the hedge fund wunderkinder at Long-Term Capital Management. Roger Lowenstein is a rare financial journalist who understands the power of good story-telling. He delivers a very readable account of the roller-coaster ride experiences by those in and around bond arbitrageur, John Meriwether, as he built Long-Term Capital into a $100 billion juggernaut that came crashing to earth when its overly leverages positions did not survive the perfect storm that hit the world bond and stock markets in the mid 1990's.

The story, as told by Lowenstein, paints a picture of Wall Street (and Greenwich, CT) greed and hubris, and the over-dependence on slick mathematical models develop by Nobel laureate economists.

The description of the last minute maneuverings and machinations involving the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and most of the usual suspects on Wall Street reads like a fast-paced David Mamet play. The New York Times review put it perfectly when it observed that this book is "richly textured and lucid . . . a riveting account that reaches beyond the market landscape to say something universal about risk and triumph, about hubris and failure."

Now, even fifteen years down the road, the lessons to be learned are still timely and relevant.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Framing My Visit to the New "The Art of the Americas Wing" of the MFA

On Saturday, Boston's venerable Museum of Fine Arts flung open its doors to the community to allow neighbors free admission to see the new The Art of the Americas Wing. I went with two friends and we spent three hours wandering the freshly painted hallways and galleries. It was a memorable introduction to the new space, and in some cases it was also a re-introduction to some old familiar friends that are now presented in new settings. We lingered for a long while in the galleries devoted to paintings by Copley, Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Andrew Wyeth, et al. I love the choice that was made to integrate paintings and sculpture with furnishings and decorative art from the same period, often times reproducing whole rooms from period homes. The overall effect is that I felt as if I were wandering through a series of beautifully appointed homes, enjoying the furnishings and private art collections of the hosts.

I kept returning to one painting in particular: "The Passage of the Delaware" painted in 1819 by Thomas Sully. It is by far the largest single painting in the museum, the canvas alone measuring 17x12 feet. One gets the impression that the room housing this painting was built around the masterpiece. What is not displayed in the photo above is the impressive gold frame - about two feet wide - that creates a spectacularly beautiful setting for this depiction of Washington and his troops preparing to cross the Delaware prior to the Battle of Trenton.

The very knowledgeable docent who described the history and provenance of this work of art talked about the fact the the canvas had been stored for many years rolled up. Originally commissioned to be hung in the North Carolina State Capitol, the finished painting proved to be too large for its intended site, and was shipped to Boston where it hung in the now defunct Boston Museum. The frame had been disassembled and lay gathering dust in a forgotten corner of the MFA basement. In preparation for the construction of the new wing, the basement was cleaned out. No one knew what these pieces of wood were supposed to be, until the pieces were measured, and it became clear that they could only fit one painting in the museum's collection. So, the frame was refurbished, re-assembled, re-gilded and "unsullied," and then reunited with Sully's canvas. The opportunity to see this frame alone is worth a visit to the museum.

The mind of The White Rhino cannot help but draw an analogy from the history of the frame recounted above. How many human beings - potential treasures - lie forgotten, disjointed, confined to the musty basement of forgetfulness and neglect and apparently good for nothing? It is not until someone invests the time to properly take their measure that it is revealed just what a treasure lies under the dust, ready to be re-assembled and used for a high purpose.

In Psalm 103, David reflects on the way that God sees us:

"For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."

OK - enough preaching. Look around in the "basement" of your networks of friends and acquaintances and extended family and see if there are some underutilized treasures among those you may have overlooked. Take their measure, and be part of the process of refurbishing, re-gilding and re-framing them for a higher purpose.




Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review of Gunter Grass's latest novel: "The Box - Tales from the Darkroom"

I first learned of Gunter Grass when my high school English teacher, Mr. Henry, treated us to an assignment of reading "The Tin Drum.'

In his latest work of fiction, entitled "The Box - Tales from the Darkroon," Herr Grass reveals some of the secrets behind his personal creative process. Working in an experimental genre, he utilizes the just-barely-fictionalized voices of his eight children - borne to him by four different "strong women" - to explore memories of their childhood spent with a famous writer for a father and a magical box camera. The camera survived disasters that would have disabled lesser machines, and after many mishaps and falls, it is described as having a "screw loose" - enabling it to photograph both the past and the future. But the magic happens only when the Agfa box camera is wielded by the omnipresent Mariechen, companion and muse to the "fictional" father, Gunter.

In my reading of this book, the camera stands for Grass himself - looking at present reality, but seeing the past and the future possibilities which he describes in his writings. Like many of his other works, there is a surrealistic and phantasmagorical cast to the writing, somewhat reminiscent of Bulgakov's iconic "The Master and Margarita." The book feels overly self-indulgent and self-referential to me - citing many of Grass's prior works. He seems to be trying to exorcise demons of his past failings - as a husband and as a father - by forcing his children to air their grievances and memories into a microphone, and then taking the verbal images into the darkroom of his imagination to develop them into a fictionalized picture of family dysfunction.

Fans of Grass will not want to miss this latest work, since he seems to preparing to leave us. In that regard, this book seems to be a last testament. Those not yet familiar with the Grass oeuvre would be better served by banging through "The Tin Drum" to learn the rhythms of his writing and thought patterns.


Review of "If I Get to Five: What Children Have Taught Me about Courage and Character " by Fred Epstein, M.D.

Let me say from the outset that "If I Get to Five" is one of the most moving, inspiring and challenging memoirs I have read. It is an unequivocal "must read" for anyone who is a regular reader of The White Rhino Report. Dr. Fred Epstein, in recounting his career as a pediatric neurosurgeon, tells a story about learning to humanize his approach to treatment and about his introducing holistic principles into a previously techno-centric world. After reading this remarkable little book, my first impulse was to want to meet "Dr. Fred," so I Googled him and learned that he had died of melanoma in 2006. But before his mortal life ended, he ensured a perpetuating legacy at the INN (Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery) at New York's Beth Israel Hospital. He also has immortalized the lives and spirits of the dozens of young patients whose stories he so beautifully recounts in this book.

Several comments on the book's back flap concisely frame the achievement that Dr. Epstein has wrought in writing this book while he himself was recovering from neurosurgery and a 26-day coma following a bicycling accident.

"This book is a testament to the extraordinary depth, power, and resiliency of children's spirits."

"A magnificent tribute to human resiliency and hopefulness."

While Dr. Epstein wrote this book to pay tribute to the children he treated, and to their families, and to his stellar supporting staff, he inadvertently throws a warm light onto his own pilgrimage and transmogrification from a technically proficient automaton to a sensitive and caring physician who learned to treat the whole person rather than just to defeat the tumors that threatened these young and fragile lives.

I read several chapters of this book while sitting at a table in a Boston restaurant. I was grateful for the extra napkins that allowed me to dry my eyes several times during my season of digesting Dr. Fred's vignettes and anecdotes. They were not tears of sadness, but of empathy and appreciation for the poignancy of his journey and the lessons learned along the way that he was wise enough to impart to a broad readership.

I offer several samples of his words and thoughts and story-telling.

Dr. Fred's Rubicon of self-awareness was triggered by a poem that had been written by one of his patients, Chris Lambert. Chris died at the age of 17 of a particularly intransigent brain tumor. Shortly after Chris's death, his mother mailed the following poem to Dr. Fred.

I have for many useless hours contemplated eternity;
I have prayed in the night

By the cold and lonely side of the bed

For the peace and strength of our living God.

And I still wonder: Will I be saved?

I wait with hope in my heart.

I am struggling, O Lord, to stay alive

I am losing my sacred strength

I am living a life of confusion

And death is very near.

I ask you, reader, whoever you may be,

Take my trembling hand and warm it with care and sympathy.

I believe that love is the sole purpose of man's life

And without love life is sterile and without meaning

But with love life has wonder.

With love life has color and beauty.

Dr. Epstein responds: "Reading that poem devastated me. It still does when I read it today. I had failed him. I had done everything I could to save his life, but I had ignored the deepest emotional need - to feel loved. His words haunted me: 'I ask you, reader, whoever you may be, Take my trembling hand and warm it with care and sympathy.' I hadn't heard his plea until it was too late. How many other children had I turned a deaf ear to in their our of need?"
(Pages 14-15)

Dr. Epstein's personal revelation and gradual transformation of his practice lead him to a vision for a whole new way of practicing pediatric neurosurgery. He described the casting of the vision.

"You also need a vision if you want to lead, whether you're in politics, business, or even medicine. If you have a clear vision you can articulate, people will follow you - because everyone wants a piece of vision. We all do. Otherwise, we're just stumbling around in the dark, hoping not to collide with something hard and sharp. When I launched the INN, I didn't try to persuade anyone to come with me. I simply described what I envisioned - a healing environment built around human needs and human talent, rather than mere technology - and a lot of people decided it was a vision they wanted to help breathe life into. That's how fantasies become real: a group of people seize on the same vision and make it their own."
(Page 68)

Chapter 3 is particularly poignant, as Dr. Fred shares his thoughts about overcoming fear - lessons learned from his young patients and from his own struggles as a child and as a successful physician. The chapter opens with this quotation by Ambrose Redmoon:

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." (Page 75)

Dr. Epstein continues, in his transparent self-revelation diagnosing a universal set of symptoms: "Fear is an inescapable part of being alive. What counts is whether or not we let our fears keep us from engaging the toughest challenges or pursuing our most cherished goals. We each fight these battles every day - between our fear of failure and our desire for achievement, between our fear of intimacy and our desire for connection, between our fear of looking foolish and our drive to transcend our limits. We can all look back on our lives and see opportunities that we let get away - in work, in love, in friendships and families - because we lost our nerve." (Pages 75-6)

One of the most inspiring stories that Dr. Fred shares is that of Spenser, a thirteen year-old who has been fighting a recurring brain stem tumor for 11 years. On the heels of having celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, Spenser wrote to Dr. Epstein:

"Dear Dr. Fred,

Love is inside me and its keeps me going. This tumor has never stopped me and it never will. Even though I have a crazy life and I have mixed emotions about it everyday and think it sucks like hell, I also have all these nurses and doctors and machines that help me physical-wise and a huge enormous team of sweet loving and caring people including a brother, 2 dogs, a snake, 2 turtles and a suitcase full of cousins and friends that are like my best pals in the whole wide world.

This crappy tumor really sucks! I mean, like how many MRIs can a kid take? I still get angry and upset a lot, but I have the courage to get better whether it's next week or a year from now. No matter when it is that the day of the miracle in everyone's life comes, it will happen.

To miracles!

Spenser" (Pages 78-9)

Wow! Realism and hope in perfect harmony - as seen through the prescient eyes of a courageous 13 year-old man.

Dr. Epstein ends his musings with this memorable quotation - his way of suturing up the wounds that have been left exposed as the scalpel of his wit and wisdom have laid open the hearts of his readers:

"The question: 'Why do children suffer?' has no answer, unless it's simply. 'To break our hearts.' Once our hearts are broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries." (Page 183)


Read the book - and be prepared to have your heart broken - and softened.

I am thankful that while he walked among us, Dr. Epstein paused long enough to love his patients - and to pass along his hard-earned wisdom to those of us willing to listen and to learn.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Helping Our Vets Find Jobs - An Opportunity and a Challenge

In a recent Facebook posting, LT Rajiv Srinivasan of MyVetwork.com, provides a link to an excellent article by John Zappe that appeared in ere.net: "Employers Think Vets Are Great - They Just Don't Hire Them"

John Zappe article

His major premise is this:

"It’s the inescapable fact that US service men and women are having a harder time finding jobs than the civilian population.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate for veterans who served after 9/11 at 10.6 percent, a full percentage point higher than for the population as a whole. Women vets fare even worse. The unemployment rate for them is 11.9 percent; men are at 10.4 percent."

Based on my observation, there are three basic reasons why employers are not more pro-active in hiring vets. I could write a book on each one, but in this case I will simply sketch out the issue

1) Many employers have an antiquated and stereotypical picture of what military leaders looks like.

They assume that military leaders use autocratic "Command and Control" tactics to get their troops to obey. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the stereotype persists. I still have conversations with HR personnel who say to me: "I hope that you have explained to your candidate that here in the 'real world,' you can't just say 'jump' and expect someone to jump.

2) Most people in the business world do not have a clear picture of what Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines actually do, so they have a hard time picturing their value proposition and qualifications for jobs in the private sector.

A corollary to this problem is that it is the rare veteran who has adequately prepared a resume and cover letter that translate the jargon and acronym of the military world into language that the business world can understand.

3) There is an insidious fear among many non-veterans that they may be hiring a vet who suffers from PTSD and that man or woman may be a ticking time bomb.

In his book, "One Bullet Away," Nate Fick powerfully recounts just such a conversation with a young admissions officers at a business school who wonders if admitting Nate to this school might expose the rest of the student body to danger.

So, we have a number of obstacles to overcome if we are to do a better job of giving our veterans a fair shake in competing for jobs outside the military.

Let me continue with two specific examples. The first comes from Andrew Russo, a combat-test Army veteran who is an entrepreneur. Here is a recent e-mail message that I received from Andrew:


Greetings! I have an employment opportunity if you know of any recently returned vets in need of some management work. Before the advertisement hits the airwaves, the owners of Red Barn Coffee Roasters in Upton are looking to hire NCO level individuals for an operations manager position. The individual would be in charge of a team of 5 individuals and monitor coffee roasting operations and logistics at our roasting facility. I think this would be perfect for the E5/E6 crowd of recently returning veterans, especially if they love coffee.

I am partnering with Red Barn on a new venture and have the ability to strongly influence the final decision. The owner here is a retired Navy CDR and the Roast Master is a Vietnam Vet so we are very veteran friendly.

Feel free to connect me with anyone you feel may be suited for this task. I would be more than happy to speak with them. My best and have an excellent day.


Andrew Russo"

There it is - a veteran wanting to hire other veterans. If you are interested, contact me and I will be glad to put you in touch with Andrew.


Finally, let me offer a brief case study and a challenge, coming from USAF vet and Air Force Academy graduate, Al Feliu. He is in the job market and offers this summary of his value proposition.

"As we conclude observing Veterans Day 2010, we proudly look back to and salute those who've served before us and to the left and right of us to those who currently serve in harm's way today throughout our turbulent world. With thankfulness and gratitude to each and every one of us of those who have the title of US Veteran”, we say a heartfelt “Well done and Godspeed!”. We all look forward together to the days ahead of us to a brighter future for our families, our communities and our Nation!

One person that is looking forward optimistically, even in these times of trying economic turmoil is Albert Feliu – USAFA Class of 1984. Albert, who currently lives in Atlanta, GA, completed a successful 13 year career with BellSouth/AT&T as a senior project manager with specialties in business process improvement, large business case management and project management training. He has managed teams as large as 30 people, budgets in the tens of millions of dollars and has had accountability at the highest levels of division/corporate leadership.

He is now looking forward to his next business opportunity in 2011 with a motivated company focusing on achieving higher market growth and leading business excellence. Albert's completed and extensive business profile can accessed @


Or feel free to contact him directly at alfeliu@bellsouth.net .

Once again, to all my fellow vets “thank you for your service to all of us and to our Nation. It is a pleasure to have served with you all!”

I challenge you to reach out to Albert Feliu and his brothers and sisters in moving concretely and intentionally to help him find the next place where he will be able to make a contribution.

Al Chase

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Helpful Book for Coaches and Managers: "Quiet Leadership" by David Rock

Rock, CEO of Results Coaching System, has written a coaching book that draws on recent discoveries in neuroscience and behavioral science to offer insights into the most effective ways to lead people to make positive changes in their behavior. I found the book very helpful in thinking about the ways in which I work with executives and emerging leaders to encourage them to achieve maximum performance. At times, Rock's methodology feels a bit too "touchy-feely" for my tatses, but the overall good of the book outweighs any negatives.

According to Rock, a leader's job "should be to help people make their own connections." The subtitles of the book reinforce this assertion: "Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work; Help People Think Better - Don't Tell Them What to Do!"

He details the six steps for encouraging growth:

Think About Thinking - let people think things through without telling them what to do, while remaining "solutions-focused"

Listen for Potential - be a sounding board for employees and those you are coaching

Speak with Intent - clarify and streamline conversation

Dance Toward Insight - communicate in ways that promote other people's insights

CREATE New Thinking - which stands for Current Reality, Explore Alternatives and Tap Their Energy, an acronym about "helping people turn their insights into habits"

Follow Up - to ensure ongoing improved performance.

In the section in which he lays out the Six Steps, Rock offers insight into why it is so rare in our culture to offer truly helpful and constructive feedback.

"As a society we not only want to be comfortable, we also have an unspoken conspiracy about not wanting to make anyone else uncomfortable, physically, mentally or emotionally. We're worried about losing friends, about upsetting people, about lawsuits. We'd much rather leave the status quo as it is. It's no wonder it's hard for leaders to improve performance, given this requires people to feel uncomfortable. It's almost on the level of a cultural taboo." (Page 54)

In discussing how to break that taboo, Rock offers some helpful suggestions that echoes some of the best advice I was ever given about reinforcing positive behavior: "When you 'catch' someone doing something right, elaborately and publicly praise them very specifically for the positive thing they have accomplished."

This is the way that rock expresses the same truth:

"If we want to transform people's performance we need to master the skill of acknowledgment. This means building new mental wiring around seeing what people are doing well. It means watching out for how people are challenging themselves, growing, learning, and developing. And it means noticing the new wiring others are developing, and being able to feed back what we see in ways that make a difference." (Page 62)

Let me end by sharing two quotations that Rock uses to reinforce his main points:

"The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious." Ted Leavitt, circa 1990 (Page 72)

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) (Page 159)

In this book, Rock encourages readers to see possibilities on others become they become obvious to others, and to encourage those they are leading and coaching to think in new ways that creatively exploring alternatives. This is a book I will give as a gift to others who seek to shape leaders.



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Purple Heart Homes - Wounded Warriors Helping The Generations Who Have Gone Before

On this Veterans' Day, I am proud to make the readers of The White Rhino Report aware of a unique organization called Purple Heart Homes.

Two Gen X Injured Iraq Veterans Provide Home Modifications for Viet Nam Baby Boomers and Korean War and WWII members from the Silent Generation

STATESVILLE, NC….As Veterans Day approaches Thursday, November 11 two Injured Iraq war veterans Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty (age 32) and SPC John Gallina (age 31) co-founders of Purple Heart Homes both representatives from generation X do not consider themselves heroes and are now making life a little easier for older veterans.

Purple Heart Homes website

Dale Beatty and John Gallina through the non-profit organization they founded in 2009 – Purple Heart Homes - have reached across generational lines to help make life easier for older veterans that have aged in place in their homes. “As they have aged; injuries they experienced fighting for our country have made it more difficult for older veterans to climb steps without pain, or they are bound to a wheel chair in their older homes with narrow doors and hallways.” said co-founder John Gallina.

Purple Heart Homes mission is to provide housing for disabled veterans substantial in function, design and quality. “We do that by assessing the needs in older veterans existing homes and make the necessary modifications to provide a safe and accessible barrier free environment,” said Gallina.

While they appreciate being thanked for their service and sacrifice both Beatty and Gallina want communities thank all veterans for their service that include Viet Nam Veterans or members from the baby boom in addition to Korean War and World War II Veterans from the Silent Generation.

“Why should we be singled out and thanked for our service and sacrifice in Iraq?” asked Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty, “I volunteered to serve and knew the consequences,” he added. “The guys that served in Viet Nam had no choice in the matter - they were drafted. The WWII and Korean War Veterans fought for our nations freedom and had our backs just like all veterans who serve our country,” said Beatty.

Purple Heart Homes wants to adapt more homes for veterans and needs lots of help including interested volunteers, professional trades people and donations of materials and money. To learn how you can help go to www.phhnc.org or call 704-838-4044

Both Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty and SPC John Gallina were on a mission near Bayji, Iraq when the vehicle they were riding in hit an anti tank mine that exploded leaving Beatty a double amputee below the knees and SPC John Gallina suffering from serious head and back injuries. Both were members of the North Carolina National Guard - 30th BCT- and served with Charlie Battery 1st Bn 113th FA, stationed in Statesville, NC.

About Purple Heart Homes

Purple Heart Homes was co-founded in 2008 by Dale Beatty and John Gallina. Their mission is dedicated to providing housing adaptations that is substantial in function, design and quality that is fit to welcome home and thank the fighting men and women of America – no matter where or when they served.

I encourage you, as a concrete act on this Veterans' Day, to reach out to Purple Heart Homes or others veterans' organization you are aware of with contributions of time or funds.


A Veterans' Day Tribute - A Word of Thanks

First, a belated birthday wish to all of my friends who are Marines. The USMC celebrated its 235th birthday yesterday. Semper Fi!

(If you did not see my series this summer on my visit to Quantico, here is a link the the three part series):

Quantico Series

More generally, I offer my thanks to all those in my network - and beyond - who have served our nation as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, or coast guard. We owe you a great deal.

To the families of those whose have given sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers or fathers in service to our nation, know that your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed nor has it been forgotten.

I had coffee this morning with a good friend whose father fired at Japanese planes as they flew over Schofield Barracks as they flew towards Pearl Harbor. He later fought in the battle of Guadalcanal. My own father served in Burma with the Army Air Corps. He never talked much about his service, so I missed out on hearing from him directly what is time of service was like.

The generation who are returning to us from Iraq and Afghanistan are less hesitant than my father's generation had been to talk about their experiences. Those of us who have not been warriors are in a position to hear from them what it was like - if we ask sensitive and intelligent questions. And we are in a position to thank them - with our words, with offers of help in finding a job, with acts of kindness and generosity to our Wounded Warriors.

Help me to celebrate Veterans' Day this year by reaching out in this way.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review of "A Place of Healing" by Joni Eareckson Tada

I have known about the life and ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada since she published her first book, Joni, almost 40 years ago. As a teenage girl in Maryland, she was injured in a diving accident and has lived as a quadriplegic all of this time. She founded a ministry, Joni and Friends, to reach out to those across the globe with a wide variety of handicaps and challenges. She is a gifted singer, writer, painter (holding a brush between her teeth), and speaker. I have been privileged to meet her on a number of occasions, and have been blessed, challenged and encouraged by her ministry over the years.

In this latest book, she writes in the midst of a storm of overwhelming physical pain. She writes to gain perspective for herself - and to offer to her readers a chance to form their own perspective - in response to the question: "Where is God in the midst of persistent pain and suffering?" Her wrestling with these difficult issues is honest, transparent and lacking in cant or simplistic "Sunday School" solutions. She writes from a place of deep searching and experience. She shares the highs and lows of her own journey - beset with many pot holes, and she shares the journeys of others she has come to know who wrestle with the same demons.

She shares a wonderful story that resonated with me because it involves one of my favorite musicians, Yitzhak Perlman, the virtuoso who was afflicted with polio as a child.

"Instead of arranging to be seated on the stage at the beginning of his performance, he chooses to walk across the stage methodically and slowly until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, bends down, picks up the violin, nods to the conductor, and proceeds to play. As [columnist Jack] Reimer describes it, there is a certain majesty in this ritual.

During a 1995 concert, a string on Perlman's violin suddenly snapped, and everyone in the audience could hear it. The great virtuoso stopped and gazed at the broken string as those in the audience that night wondered what he would do. Perlman closed his eyes, and after a moment of reflection, signaled the conductor to begin again.

Though anyone who knows music understands that it's impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings, Perlman was undaunted. Apparently you could see this superb artist actually recomposing the piece in his head as he went along, inventing new fingering positions to coax never-before-heard sounds from his three-string violin.

The sophisticated New York audience watched and listened in awe, knowing they were witnessing a truly groundbreaking performance. when the piece was over, they exploded in appreciative applause. Mr. Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and said in a soft, reverent tone, 'You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.'

That's another truth that keeps me going. Whatever strings are broken in our lives - if we concentrate, if we apply what we know - we can still play beautiful music with what we have left. In fact, it will be music that no one else can play in the same way." (Pages 100-1)

I had chills just reading these words. What truth - what inspiration!

Let me share one more excerpt that ties together - of all things - the Cuban Missile Crisis and Joni's ministry of providing wheelchairs to children and adults around the world. The scene is set as the U.S. and Russia are poised on the brink of nuclear war, and Cuba fears an impending bombardment by U.S. forces.

"The Castro government put out an alert, and there was a mad rush to evacuate many buildings, including hospitals. At that very unhappy moment in Havana, Jesús was being born. All the nurses had to leave the floor, but the soon-to-be-mother just couldn't leave. She had to deliver her own baby with no one to assist. In the process, her tiny infant fell to the floor and landed on his head - causing permanent brain damage. You can imagine the hurt and resentment Jesús' mother and father harbored against America ever since then.

But there we were, over forty-six years later - fifteen of us Americans - presenting Jesús and his mother and father with a new wheelchair, as well as the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that gospel brought healing, help, and hope to this little Cuban family. Jesús was so excited. His father, in tears, said to us, 'Now I will be able to take my son outside for walks in his wheelchair.'" (Page 174).

This wonderful book is filled with these kinds of stories and reflections. If you are struggling with any kind of pain - physical, spiritual, emotional - which one of us is not? - this is a book that will warm your heart and challenge your soul.

Joni and Friends Website


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Always on Our Minds: LT Srinivasan - and NPR - Remember SPC Jenkins

In a little over a week many of us will pause to honor our veterans. Even a week before the formal Veterans' Day ceremonies, my mind is very much on our men and women who have serve - and who continue to serve. I will be spending some time this evening at Harvard Business School with the Armed Forces Alumni Association. They will be holding their fall Career Fair, and have asked me to be among a small group who will share our thoughts about the challenges of transitioning from leadership in the military to being a business school student preparing for leadership in the business world.

I just read a recent Blog positing by my good friend, LT Rajiv Srinivasan. He poignantly shares his remembrance of a young soldier who briefly crossed his path in Afghanistan.

For the full effect, I suggest you read Rajiv's posting, then follow the link to the NPR transcript and then listen to the brief broadcast of SPC's memorial service

Rajiv's Blog

Thank, Rajiv, for reminding us that there are real individuals behind the numbing casualty statistics that we occasionally glance at when we read the paper.