Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti, Conan, and Other Random Thoughts

- In an update to the letter to the congregation, I still have not heard any news regarding the well-being of the Haitian Methodist pastors who were with the UMCOR staff people (two of whom, Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb, both tragically died) in the now destroyed Montana Hotel. The Methodist Church of the Carribean does not have a functioning website and the United Methodist news outlets have said nothing. I'm guessing that in time we'll know what's going on, but like every else in Port Au Prince right now, the situation is chaos. Your prayers for our Haitian Methodist pastors are appreciated.

- I can't say I knew Sam Dixon all that well. While Sam was reportedly instrumental in getting Ginghamsburg (UM) Church involved in the Sudan (which has been an overwhelming success) Sam also initially worked with us to try to link Shawnee UMC with the Methodist Church of Haiti. Three years ago I flew to the GBGM/UMCOR offices in New York City to meet with Sam, other UMCOR staff people, and a key staff person from the MCofHaiti leadership team. I did this because I can remember Sam saying on the phone that lots of churches offer to help UMCOR but few turn out to be serious, and that if someone from our church showed up at this already-scheduled meeting, they'd know that we were "in".

Long story short... I showed, but UMCOR unded up short. Two of their staff people missed the meeting sick and the Haitian representative didn't show. Ended up just being me and Sam.

In any event, after that fiasco, Sam offered to share a car to LaGuardia Airport he had already arranged for himself, with me. Once there, he slipped me in the "Delta Preferred Customers" line at security, and then got me into Delta's private lounge (Sam probably had a million miles on Delta - couldn't help but think of him while watching "Up In The Air" with Aimee last weekend... good flick, by the way). We talked for about three hours while we both waited for our flights home. It was through Sam that for me the general agencies of the denomination for the first time seemed less impersonal, and actually impassioned about reaching the world for Jesus one bowl of soup and one bible verse at a time. A good guy with a big heart for the church and the poor, this ordained pastor from North Carolina will be sorely missed. RIP Sam.

- Through friends of friends on the ground a picture is beginning to emerge regarding the situation in Port Au Prince. The airport is a madhouse now controled by the United States Military. Because military and UN flights are being given priority, relief organizations, primarily medical ones, are diverting flights that can't land to the DR, and more recently to an airfield just south of town that has opened up. The port just reopened yesterday meaning now freight can be unloaded in massive quanitites, but the lack of supplies for mission organizations has made emergency medical care in PAP a nightmare.

For over a week now we've been trying to get a team of surgeons from the area into the country to absolutely no avail. While the need for docs, primarily orthopedic docs (of which we have three) is off the charts, places for them work and supplies for them to work with have been almost non-existant. Medical people in the north are now seeing those initially treated in PAP, and are not describing the quality of medical work their seeing in glowing terms. The infamous news story on CNN where a doc talks about sterlizing a tools and a patient who is about to face an amputation with vodka has become a bellweather for what medical personnel in the north are now seeing.... lots of infection from initial surgery done under difficult conditions that is resulting in the need for further surgery. Hence, I believe our docs will get in soon, its just they could very well be correcting work already done. Just another sad story in this great tragedy.

- Shawnee has been active on the ground in Haiti. A caravan of thirty buses from CAP to PAP to help move more than a thousand homeless people to help and hope was sponsored by SUMC a couple of days ago. We just sent thousands of dollars of medical supplies to our partner on the ground, Living Hope Mission, to be used by docs at the General Hospital in CapHaitian (a government owned hospital that is woefully underfunded, understaffed, and now, under supplied) and a British Methodist clinic in the south.

The church is also helping coordinate the transporting of thousands of health kits (click here if you'd like to make a kit or donate to the effort) from churches across the West Ohio Conference to our Sager-Brown Warehouse in Louisiana. A med team already scheduled to go to CAP will leave in about four weeks, and still we work to get surgical teams on the ground to work with those in need. A donation will be going to Living Water to fix wells across the country that were broken during the earthquake, and much more will be happening in the days to come. Click our church website for details.

- In non-Haiti related thoughts (which I've needed to engage in order to stay sane) I've been amazed at the zoo that has been NBC. Many of you who read this are too young to remember "New Coke" - Coca-Cola's ill-fated attempt to replace the original formula with something that tasted a lot like Pepsi - but I can't help but think this is the early 21st Century version of New Coke. NBC tried to remake network television by putting Jay Leno in prime-time, which was less a revolution and more a return to the early days of TV when variety shows ruled the day. In attempting to change the ball game however, NBC...

1) damaged the reputation of a loyal soldier and ratings winner Jay Leno, whose 10pm show can only be labeled a colossal failure.
2) destroyed their primetime lineup to the point that NBC is in danger of falling to fifth place behind Telemundo/Univision, a spanish-only channel popular among Hispanics.
3) lost a talent, Conan O'Brien, who they have been investing in for seventeen years, and lost him to the point that he's openly hostile on the air toward the network
4) created a ready-made competitor in Conan O'Brien who will surface at 11pm on Fox this September, further beating up NBC's bottom line.
5) upset all the affilitates by providing horrible lead-in numbers for the local news, which is the cash cow upon which affililiate revenue is based.

Let's just put it this way... if you messed up like this in your job, you'd be fired. No ifs, ands or buts. Just a train wreck of epic commerical proportions.

The genesis of this whole mess though is the demise of the system and culture that made the major networks. It should not be overlooked that as this whole mess at NBC unfolded, Time-Warner Cable capitulated to paying a fee to Fox to air its network programming. Cable has never had to do this before. The networks always had the necessary cash flow to meet their bottom line and turn a profit. Now, with seventy-gazillion options to watch (and still not much on worth watching), the networks are getting pummeled. I'm sure they miss the good ol days when you either when the only competition to the NBC, CBS, and ABC was the local PBS station and a UHF station that played continuous re-runs of Hogan's Heroes (you know, before we found out Bob Crane was such a sicko). Under the old system I watched Happy Days every week. Under the new one, my kids have never followed a network show... and don't really care.

Those days, my friends, are gone forever, and so the question is do the networks slowly die with the old "we're the only game in town" model that's obsolete, or risk the kind of disaster that comes from reinvention we've just witnessed from NBC?

- Speaking as a United Methodist pastor, let me say this... if the other networks follow NBC's lead in the same clumsy manner, Lord help them. Mainline denominational churches have had the same dilemna thrown at them the last twenty-five years - "stay put and die" v. "change a risk a severe beating" - and few have fared well. For every success story like a Ginghamsburg, there are hundreds of horror stories of churches now dying or pastors who got beat with sticks as they tried to re-invent individual congregations. Re-invention, particularly as it relates to people who like the ways things have always been, is a painful experience. I've three different friends in the ministry all who lead churches thought to have largely re-invented themselves successfully, who are on sabbaticals because they are exhausted. They're all still stuck fighting battles between what was, and what will be.

That's why so many of the nationally lauded churches - Willow Creek, Saddleback, Mars Hill, Life Church - are less than thirty years old. They didn't have the baggage of one-hundred years to deal with as an organization. They can still make it up as they go along on the fly because nobody's memory or feelings are getting stepped on. Why do you think right now all the emphasis in mainline denominational circles is on new church starts? You don't have to get a tounge lashing from someone who wants to know why hymns aren't being sung anymore because you never owned a hymnal.

Long story short, there won't four major networks standing in ten years. One or more will either fold or become a full-blown cable channel.

- Watched the LeBrons last night. You don't realize how important Mo Williams is until he's gone. Heal quickly good sir. There's no way the Cavs win the title without him (or without Delonte West, their talented-yet-troubled guard).

That's it. Gotta go. Have a nice weekend.

1 comment:

BrotherEsq said...

So how does this work... I bug you every month or two and then you get around to a new post???