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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Veiled Freedom by Jeannette Windle!

Jeannette Windle's attention to detail and impeccable research make her story a fascinating read! She has written an important book for our time and done an excellent job blending fact and fiction.


and the book:


Veiled Freedom

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles,and mountains of Columbia, now guerilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty, including Afghanistan. She has more than a dozen books in print, including the political/suspense best-seller CrossFire and Betrayed.

Visit the author's website.



Buy the book here!

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

Kabul
November 13, 2001
“Land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The radio’s static-spattered fanfare filtered through the compound wall. Beyond its shattered gate, a trio of small boys kicked a bundle of knotted rags around the dirt courtyard. Had they any idea those foreign harmonies were paying homage to their country’s latest invaders?

Or liberators, if the rumors and the pirated satellite television broadcasts were true.

Scrambling the final meters to the top of the hill, he stood up against a chill wind that tugged at his light wool vest and baggy tunic and trousers. Bracing himself, he turned in a slow, stunned revolution.

From this windswept knoll, war’s demolition stretched as far as his eye could see. Bombs and rockets had left only heaps of mud-brick hovels and compound walls. The front of an apartment complex was sheared off, exposing the cement cubicles of living quarters. The collapse of an office building left its floors layered like a stack of naan bread. Rubble and broken pavement turned the streets into obstacle courses.

But it wasn’t the devastation that held him spellbound. So it was all true—the foreign newscasts, the exultant summons that had brought him back, his father’s dream. Kabul was free!

The proof was in the dancing crowds below. After five long years of silence, Hindi pop and Persian ballads drifted up the hillside. Atop a bombed-out bus, a group of young men gyrated wildly. Even a handful of women in blue burqas swayed to the rhythms as they bravely crossed the street with no male escort in sight.

Nor was blue the only color making a comeback against winter’s brown. To his far right, a yellow wing fluttered skyward. There was an orange one. A red. Scrambling on top a broken-down tank, two boys tossed aloft a blotch of green and purple.

Kites had returned to the skies above Kabul.

Another tank moved slowly down the boulevard. Behind it came a parade of pickups and army jeeps, machine guns mounted in their beds. A staccato rat-tat-tat momentarily drowned out the music. But the gunfire was celebratory. The dancing mobs were not shrinking back but tossing flowers and confetti, screaming their elation above the noise.

He shouted with them, the fierceness of his response catching him by surprise. He’d hardly thought of this place in long years, the warm, fertile plains of Pakistan far more a home now than this barren wasteland. Yet joy welled up to squeeze his chest, the watering of his eyes no longer from wind and dust.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave.” Down the hillside behind him, the radio blasted a Dari-language commentary. But the words of that foreign music still played in his mind. The sacred anthem his American instructors had taught their small English-language students in the Pakistani refugee camps.

As they’d taught of their homeland, America. A land where brave and honorable warriors guarded peace-loving and welcoming citizens who lived freely among great cities of shining towers and immense wealth. A land of wheat and rice and fruit trees, grape arbors and herds of livestock that offered to all an abundance of food. The very paradise the Quran promised to the faithful.

And Afghanistan? Land of his birth, his home? Brave, yes. No one had ever questioned the courage of the Afghan tribes. Not the Americans and Russians who were history’s most recent invaders. Nor in turn the British, Mongols, Persians, Arabs, all the way back to Alexander the Great, whose armies were the first to learn that Afghanistan could be taken with enough weapons and spilled blood but never held.

But free?

He blinked away the sudden blurring of his vision. When had Afghanistan ever truly known freedom? Not under all those centuries of alternating occupations. Certainly not when the mujahedeen had finally brought the Soviet empire to its knees because then they—and the Taliban after them—had turned on each other. The rockets of their warring factions had rained down on Kabul in such destruction that his family was driven at last to exile.

“Have faith,” his father had whispered into his ear. “Someday Afghanistan will be like America. A land of freedom as well as courage. Someday we will go home.”

Even then he’d known the difference between wishes and painful reality. And yet, unbelievably, there it was below him. Today the liberators’ anthem, his father’s dream had come true at last for his own country.

Yes, his country.

His people.

His home.

He’d missed dawn’s first call to prayer. Now he stripped his vest to spread it over the dirt. Prostrating himself, rising sun at his back, he began the daily salat: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

The memorized Arabic prayers were rote, but when he finished, he whispered his own passionate plea against the ground, “Please let it be true this time. My father’s dream. His prayers. Let my people know freedom as well as courage.”

Standing up, he shook out his vest. Beyond shattered towers of the city’s business center and compounds of the poor lay a quiet, green oasis. The Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to Kabul’s upper class. Its high walls, spacious villas, and paved streets looked hardly touched by war.

His sandaled feet slipped and twisted in his haste down the hillside. At street level, his old neighborhood proved less untouched than he’d thought. The walls were scarred by rocket blasts, sidewalks broken, poplar trees lining these streets in his memory now only stumps.

He headed toward the largest compound on the street, its two-story villa built around an inner courtyard. A brightly patterned jinga truck indicated the others had already arrived. The property differed so little from childhood memory he might have stepped back a decade. Even the peacock blue house and compound walls showed fresh paint. The Taliban officials who’d commandeered his home had at least cared for their stolen lodging. Or perhaps it had been his family’s faithful chowkidar who’d stayed when his employers fled.

Music and cheerful voices drifted over walls along with a hot, oily aroma that brought water to his mouth. Frying boulani pastries. He quickened his steps. He’d be home in time for the midday meal.

At first he thought this gunfire too was celebratory, but when the unmistakable explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade shook the ground, he broke into a run. A mound of rubble offered cover as he reached the final T-junction.

His mind reeled. Surely he’d seen this victory convoy from the hilltop. But why were they firing on his home?

Even as he crouched in bewildered horror, the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a Kalashnikov rifle crackled back from a second-story window. Down the street a fighter rose from behind a jeep, an RPG launcher raised to his shoulder. A single blast. Then a limp shape slid forward over the windowsill and toppled from view.

The action unfroze his muscles, and he sprinted toward his home. A shout, the whine of a bullet overhead told him he’d been spotted. Apple trees edging the property wall offered hand and foot holds.

His feet touched brick, then ground on the other side. The acridity of gunfire and explosives burned his nostrils as he raced forward. He stumbled across the first limp shape facedown on the lawn. Turning the body over, he fruitlessly tried to stem a red sea spreading across white robes. Their faithful caretaker would never again tend these gardens or paint these walls.

An explosion rocked him as he raced around the side of the villa. Just inside the main entrance, the painted wooden frame of the jinga truck was burning. Behind it, the blast had blown the metal gates from their hinges. Invaders poured through the breach.

But he only had eyes for another huddled shape on the mosaic tiles of the courtyard and a third sprawled across marbled front steps. The second-story gunman had fallen across a grape arbor. Through tears of smoke fumes and grief, he noticed the Kalashnikov rifle dropped from a dangling, bloodied hand.

Before he could snatch it up, a boot kicked the AK-47 out of reach. Another smashed his face into the grass. Hot metal ground into his temple. He closed his eyes. Allah, let it be quick!

“Don’t shoot! We need live prisoners. Here, you, get up!”

As the gun barrel dropped away, he struggled to his knees. Except for the poorly accented Dari and a shoulder patch of red, white, and blue, the flat wool cap, dark beard, hard, gray gaze, tattered scarf over camouflage flak jacket could have been as Afghan as the mujahid whose weapon was still leveled at his head. He knew immediately who this tall, powerfully built foreigner was. For weeks Pakistani news had been covering the American elite warriors fighting alongside the mujahedeen Northern Alliance.

Our liberators! His mouth twisted with bitter pain.

“Where are your commanders? Mullah Mohammed Omar? Osama bin Laden?” The American must have taken his blank stare for incomprehension because he turned to his companion, shifting to English. “Ask him: where are the Taliban who had their headquarters here? And if any of these—” a nod took in the sprawled bodies—“are bin Laden or Mohammed Omar. Tell him he just might save his own neck if he cooperates.”

“There are no Taliban here!” he said in English. He pushed himself to his feet and wiped a sleeve to clear dampness from his face and eyes. It came away with a scarlet that wasn’t his own. “This is a private home! And you have just murdered my family! Why? The fighting was over. You were supposed to bring peace.”

“Your home? With a house full of armed combatants?” The American’s boot nudged the Kalashnikov rifle now fallen to the grass. “You were firing on our troops.”

“They were defending our home. They weren’t soldiers. Just my father and brothers and our caretaker and his sons.”

“You lie!” A blow rocked his head back as the mujahedeen translator snapped in rapid Dari. “You speak to me! I will translate!”

“I am not lying!” He spat out blood with his defiant English. “This has been my family’s home for generations. Any neighbor can tell you. Yes, the Taliban stole it from us, but they have been gone for days. We only came back from Pakistan this very day.”

He threw a desperate glance around. The last pretense of fighting was over, the mujahedeen drifting off except for those making a neat, terrible heap like laundry sacks near the broken gate. Wailing rose from a huddle of burqas and small children being herded out into the street. Were his mother and sister among them? Or had caution left them behind in Pakistan?

Then his gaze fell on a face he knew. A mujahid in full battle fatigues instead of the mismatched outfits of the others. The mujahid turned and stared at him indifferently.

Yes, it was he. Older, gray streaking beard and hair. But it was the family friend who’d supplied his father’s business with imported goods. Who’d been in this home countless times before their exile. Who’d brought him and his siblings small gifts and strange foreign sweets.

“Ask him. He will tell you who I am. He knows my family. He bought and sold for my father when I was a child.”

“Who? The muj commander?” For the first time he saw a crack in the American’s disbelief.

The family friend walked over. His cold, measuring appraisal held no recognition as the translator intercepted him for a brief conversation. Then, unbelievably, he swung around and marched up the marble steps into the villa.

The translator spread out his hands to the American. “The commander says he knows neither this youth nor his family. And it is well known that all in this house have served the Taliban.”

“No, it isn’t true! Maybe he does not recognize me. I was only a child when we left. But he knows this house and my family. Please, I must speak to him myself.”

Another foreign warrior emerged from the villa, clipped yellow hair and icy blue eyes shouting his nationality louder than curt English. “All clear. Body count’s six male combatants. Minimal damage except the gate. This one’s the only survivor minus a handful of female dependants and kids. From what the muj told us, I expected more bodies on the ground. They must have been tipped off.”

“Maybe. Or the muj were fed some bad intel.” The foreign soldiers moved away, and he missed the rest of their low-voice exchange.

Then the yellow-haired American waved a hand. “We followed the rules of engagement. They were armed and shooting.”

“A handful of AK-47s. The kid’s right—that’s practically home protection around here. And the prisoner; he’s no combatant. I saw him come over that wall. Should I turn him loose?”

“You know better than that. The interrogators are screaming for live ones up at Baghram. Besides, you’ve no idea what else he might know. If he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll sort it out and let him go.”

A radio on the yellow-haired American’s belt sputtered to life. “Willie? Phil? Either of you available? We’ve got brass touching down at the airport. They need an escort to the embassy.”

“Okay, we’re out. The muj will finish here and deliver the prisoner. They’ve got a load of Arab fighters and al-Qaeda types heading to Baghram this afternoon.”

The translator snapped his fingers, and a knot of mujahedeen stepped forward to take his place. The translator hurried after the yellow-haired American, now marching toward the gate.

But the other foreign warrior hesitated. “Be there in a minute.”

He braced himself as the first American walked over. He didn’t allow himself to imagine sympathy in the foreigner’s gray eyes.

“Look, I’ve got no choice but to send you up to Baghram with the other battlefield detainees. But if you aren’t al-Qaeda or Taliban, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. We don’t shoot prisoners. And the muj commander’s a stand-up guy. If there’s been an intel error, he’ll make things right.

“I can at least report that you arrived after the fighting was over and never raised a weapon. If I can find something to write on.” The American dug through the interior pockets of his flak jacket and pulled out an envelope, removing a folded note paper, then what looked like a snapshot of a yellow-haired young female surrounded by too many children to be her own.

A tiny, olive-colored volume fell into the American’s palm. Western script read New Testament. “I wondered what I was supposed to do with this.” Taking out a pen, he scribbled inside the cover. “Here. I’ve explained what I witnessed and given my contact info if Baghram needs confirmation. It might at least make a difference in where you end up. If you’re telling the truth.” The foreign soldier dared to offer a smile with the book.

Fury and hate rose in an acid flood to his throat. With a scream of rage, he struck at the outstretched hand. “You think this makes up for murdering my family? once again stealing our home? You call this freedom? How are you any better than the Taliban or the Russians?”

A rifle butt slammed him again to his knees. The blow scattered not only the olive-colored volume but the envelope and its other contents. The folded note fell into a sticky puddle, white rapidly soaking to scarlet.

The American made no attempt to retrieve it but scooped up the envelope, snapshot, and book. Above the dark beard, his mouth was hard and grim as he tucked the small volume into the prisoner’s vest. “I really am sorry.” Then he too headed toward the gate.

The foreigner was hardly out of sight when a bearded figure in battle fatigues emerged from the villa’s columned entryway, an honor guard of mujahedeen at his heels. The one-time family friend strolled over. This time his survey was no longer indifferent or unrecognizing. But nothing in the unpleasantness of that smile, the merciless black eyes above it renewed hope.

“So you are the offspring of—” His father’s name splashed in spittle across his feet. “You’ve grown tall since you abandoned your people. And now you think you can simply return to claim this place?” The mujahedeen commander pulled free the American’s offering. Its pages drifted in shreds to the grass. Then a rifle butt slammed into the prisoner. No one called for it to stop.

He closed his eyes, his body curved in supplication, forehead touching the ground. But this time he didn’t bother to pray. His father had been wrong. The dream was over. It would take far more than dreams, a few impassioned prayers to Allah, before his homeland could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.

***

“So who’s the blonde chick? Picking them a little young, hey, Willie?”

The two Americans had commandeered one of the convoy’s pickups and a jeep for the airport run along with a volunteer posse of mujahedeen. Their translator was at the wheel of the jeep. Willie, the only name by which their local allies knew the twenty-two-year-old Special Forces sergeant, and his companion clambered in behind to brace themselves behind the roll bar.

Willie glanced down at the retrieved correspondence still clutched in his hand. The girl who’d drawn his teammate’s suggestive leer did indeed look very young, a pack of preschoolers crowded around her. “Nah, just some kid Sunday school teacher who pulled my name out of a hat. Like we don’t have enough to do looking for bin Laden and taking out Taliban, we’ve got to answer fan mail.”

“Why do you think I don’t bother picking mine up?” As the jeep engine roared to life, his companion plucked away the photo for a clinical scrutiny. “Though maybe I should. Cute kid. How about I take this one off your hands? The way things are shaping up over here, she’ll be old enough to date before we rotate home. So what’s she got to say?”

Willie didn’t bother explaining. But the accompanying note had been brief enough he had no problem recalling its contents:

Dear Sergeant Willie:

My Sunday school class picked your name to pray for. We’re so fortunate to be living here safe in the land of the free and home of the brave, and we’re so proud of how you all are fighting to bring freedom to the people over there. I’m enclosing a class picture and a New Testament if you don’t have one already. Someday when the fighting’s over, I’d like to go to Afghanistan to help make the kind of difference you are. But since I’m only sixteen, I guess I’ll stick to praying and writing for now. Anyway, we’re praying for you to be safe and that you’ll win this war soon so Afghanistan can be as free as we are.

The jeep jolted out onto the street. Willie turned his long body to run a swift appraisal over the rest of their convoy. The mujahedeen volunteers were still scrambling on board as the pickups moved into line behind the jeep. They didn’t look like men who’d reached the finale of a brutal military campaign. They were laughing as they jostled playfully for a position at the mounted machine guns, flower garlands from the morning’s victory parade draped across bandoliers, wrapped around rifle barrels, even tucked behind ears.

But Willie had witnessed these local allies charging suicidally into enemy entrenchments, even with American bombs crashing down all around them. If he was so sick of this war after a few weeks, what had it been like for them to live decades, for many an entire lifetime, of unrelenting fighting and death? Simply to have survived in this country required courage and fortitude seldom required of Willie’s own compatriots.

Freedom was another matter.

Catching Willie’s eye, a fighter barely into his teens raised a flower-festooned AK-47 from the next pickup. “Is it not glorious? We have won! We are free!”

Willie had divested himself of sentimentality before he’d ever made it through basic training. So it had to be the cold winter breeze that stung his eyes, dust gritting in his teeth that made him swallow. Willie had never doubted the value of his current mission. Nor even its ultimate success. Serving his country was a privilege, spreading freedom an honor worth these last difficult weeks.

But not even his rigorous training had prepared him for the brutality and ugliness of combat. The ragged chunks of flesh and bone that had once been human beings. Even worse, the screams from broken bodies that still held life. Too many of them his own comrades.

Yet scarcely two months since plane-shaped missiles had slammed into the heart of his own homeland, the people of Afghanistan were taking to these very streets to celebrate their liberation. Even now his countrymen were touching down to raise the flag over Kabul’s long-abandoned U.S. embassy compound. Okay, so everything hadn’t run as smoothly as their mission training. Maybe there’d been mistakes. Maybe even today. But at least those raucous dancing mobs with their music and kites, the battle-wearied fighters in the pickups behind him finally had a chance for real freedom.

A chance he’d helped to give them.

You can tell your kids their prayers have been answered, Willie composed a mental reply to that bright smiling young face. It’s all over but the mopping up.

The thought prompted him to lean forward, tapping the driver on the shoulder. “You’re heading back over here after the embassy run, right? Do me a favor and check on that kid for me. Make sure whoever’s hauling them up to Baghram delivers him in one piece. Some of the muj are a little trigger-happy.”

The translator turned his head after he maneuvered between rubble heap and a pothole. “I am sure the commander will have given orders for anything you have asked. He is very happy with you.”

“Happy?”

“But of course! Because of the property you have secured for him. The finest residence in the Wazir Akbar Khan. The commander has desired it for his own possession since before the Taliban. And now because of your weapons, it is his at last. We will move our headquarters here this very day.”

Willie went rigid in furious comprehension.

“Hey, easy, man!” The blond soldier’s arm was an iron-hard barrier, his voice low and warning. “Back off. It’s not his doing.”

Willie’s grip tightened to white knuckles on his M-4 assault rifle. “We’ve been had!”

“Hey, it’s not the first time, and around here it sure won’t be the last. Are you that naive? This is war. Their war. We’re only advisors, remember? And that doesn’t include refereeing property disputes.”

That his teammate was right didn’t temper Willie’s mood. The crinkle of paper reminded him his fist wasn’t empty. The envelope was a crumpled mess, and only now did he notice the rusty smudge blurring what had been a return address. He wouldn’t be answering this fan mail. Which was just as well.

Willie tossed the wad of paper over the side of the jeep, the adrenaline rush of this morning’s victory draining to intense weariness, his earlier elation as acrid in his mouth as the smoke rising from a burning truck just inside the wrecked gates. It was going to take a whole lot more than wishes and a few kids’ prayers before Afghanistan could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.






Chapter One

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan
Present Day
A day from the past.

No, a day for the future.

The farmer stood proud, tall as he shuffled down the crowd-lined drive. A switch in his hand urged forward the mule pulling a cart piled high with huge, swollen tubers. They looked like nothing edible, but their tough, brown hide held sweetness beyond the sucrose to be squeezed from their pulp. The firstfruits of Baghlan’s revitalized sugar beet industry.

In a long-forgotten past, when the irrigated fields stretching to high, snow-capped mountains were not known best for landmines and opium, the farmer had worked his family’s sugar beet crop. He’d earned his bride price stirring huge vats of syrup in the sugar factory, Afghanistan’s only refinery and pride of the Baghlan community. Until the Soviets came and Baghlan became a war zone. For a generation of fighting, the sugar factory had been an abandoned shell.

But now past had become future.

The massive concrete structure gleamed with fresh paint, the conveyor belt shiny and unrusted, smokestacks once more breathing life. By the throngs packing both sides of the drive, the entire province had turned out to celebrate the factory’s reopening. In front of the main entrance was a dais, destination of farmer and cart.

The token harvest followed on the stately tread of regional dignitaries making their way toward the dais. Students, neat in blue tunics, offered pink and white and red roses to the distinguished arrivals. Among them the farmer spotted his grandson. No smile, only the flicker of a glance, a further straightening of posture, conveyed his pride. Too many sons and brothers and kinsmen had died in the war years. But for his remaining grandson, this day presaged a very different future.

On the dais, the factory manager stood at a microphone. Behind him, chairs held the mayor, regional governor, officials arrived from Kabul for the inauguration ceremony. “The government has pledged purchase of all sugar beet. Our foreign partners pledge equipment to any farmer who will replace current crops. So why plant seed that produces harvests only of violence? On this day, I entreat you to choose the seed of peace, of a future for our community and our children.”

The procession had now reached the dais. But it wasn’t the dignitaries’ arrival that broke off the factory manager’s speech. The roar of a helicopter passing low overhead drew every eye upward. Circling around, the Soviet-made Mi-8 Hind hovered down until skids touched pavement. Crowds scattered back, first from the wind of its landing, then as the rotors shut down, to open passage.

The government minister who stepped out was followed by foreigners, the allies who’d funded the refinery project designed to entice Baghlan farmers from opium poppies to sugar beet. The newcomers leisurely moved through the parted crowd. The minister paused to speak to his foreign associates, then turned back toward the helicopter.

The explosion blasted through the factory, blowing out every window and door. A fireball erupting from the open entrance enveloped the dais. A panicked swerve of the mule placed the heavy cart between farmer and blast, saving his life but burying him in splinters of wood and beet. He could not breathe nor see nor hear. Only when the screams began did he realize he was still alive.

Pushing through the debris, he staggered to his feet. Shrapnel had ripped through the crowd where the fireball had not reached, and what lay between dais and shattered cart was a broken, bleeding chaos. Those uninjured enough to rise were scattering in panic. The farmer ran too but in the opposite direction. Ignoring moans and beseeching hands, he scrabbled through the rubble. Then with a cry of anguish he dropped to his knees.

The school uniform was still blue and clean, a single white rose fallen from an outflung hand. The farmer cradled the limp form, his wails rising to join the communal lament. For his grandson, for so many others, the future this day had promised would never come.

***

Kabul International Airport
“Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.”

Steve Wilson barely avoided treading on heels as the file of deplaned passengers ground to a sudden halt. A glance down the line identified the obstruction. In pausing to look around, a female passenger had knocked a briefcase flying.

The young woman was tall enough—five foot seven by Steve’s calculation—to look down on her victim and attractive enough that the balding, overweight Western businessman waved away her apology. Platinum blonde hair spilled in a fine, straight curtain across her face as she scrambled for the briefcase. A T-shirt and jeans did nothing to disguise the tautly muscled, if definitely female, physique of a Scandinavian Olympic skier. Though that accent was 100 percent American.

Steve had already noted the woman several rows ahead of him on the plane. With only a handful of female passengers, all discreetly draped in head shawl or full-body chador, her bright head had been hard to miss, face glued to the window as the Ariana Airlines 727 descended through rugged, brown foothills into the arid mountain basin that was Kabul.

Now as she handed the briefcase back, Steve caught his first clear glimpse of her features. It was a transparently open face, hazel eyes wide and interested under startlingly dark lashes and eyebrows. The candid interplay of eagerness, apprehension, and dismay as she turned again to take in her surroundings roused in Steve nothing but irritation. Wipe that look off your face or Afghanistan will do it for you.

As the line moved forward, Steve stepped out of it to make his own survey. Next to a small, dingy terminal only one runway was in service. Down the runway, a red-and-white-striped concrete barrier cordoned off hangers and prefabricated buildings housing ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Dust gusted across the runway, filling Steve’s nostrils, narrowing his gaze even behind wraparound sunglasses. He’d forgotten the choking, muddy taste of that dust.

The taste of Afghanistan.

Beyond the 727, a guard detail was uploading passengers into a white and blue UN prop plane. Steve recognized the bear paw and rifle scope logo on their gear. Private security contractors. He’d done contracts for that company, and if he dug binoculars from his backpack, he’d likely spot guys he knew. But the wind was picking up, the other passengers disappearing inside the terminal, so instead Steve lengthened his stride.

He needn’t have hurried. The immigration line was excruciatingly slow, the Afghan official scrutinizing each passport as though he’d never seen one before. The single baggage conveyor was broken, its handlers dumping suitcases onto the concrete floor with complete disregard for their contents. Air-conditioning was broken as well, the lighting dim enough Steve pushed sunglasses to his forehead.

But Steve had endured far worse. Besides, he was already on the company clock, so it wasn’t his loss if he wasted half the morning in here. With a shrug, he peeled a trail mix bar from his pack and settled himself to wait.

“Worse than Nairobi, isn’t it?”

Steve swung around on his heel. “Maybe. But it sure beats Sierra Leone.”

The man offering a handshake sported the same safari-style clothing Steve was wearing. There resemblance ended. Half a foot shorter and twice the circumference of Steve’s own lean frame, he was bald, by razor rather than nature from the luxuriance of that graying red beard, a powerful build sagging to fat.

Though there was nothing soft in his grip. Nor in the small, shrewd eyes summing up Steve in turn. Cop’s eyes. Steve could read their assessment. Caucasian male. Six-foot-one. Dark hair. Gray eyes. Tanned. Physically fit.

“Craig Laube, logistics manager, Condor Security. Call me Cougar. And you’re Steve Wilson, security chief for our new PSD contract.” The file with attached photo in his hand explained why his statement included no question mark. “If you’ll come with me, our fixer’s made arrangements to fast-track your team. The rest came in on the New Delhi flight. They’ve already left for the team house.”

The fixer evidently referred to the Afghan in suit and tie who plucked Steve’s passport from his hand, tucking a local currency note inside before moving to the front of the line. On the nearest wall, a sign advised passengers to report any requests for bribes to airport security. Not that Steve suffered any qualms of conscience at following on the fixer’s heels. In his book, a bribe involved paying someone to break the law. Tipping local bureaucracy to speed up what they should be doing anyway was a survival tactic in every Third World country he’d known.

At least fast-track was no exaggeration. The line had barely inched forward when they left the security area, entry stamp in hand. The scene was repeated at Customs, where Steve’s two action packers and duffel bag were waved through without a glance. A grin tugged at Steve’s mouth as he took in a bright head still far back in the first line. The woman from the plane looked frustrated, one small boot tapping impatiently, by her expression only too conscious of the stares her wardrobe choices were attracting.

Dismissing the hapless blonde from thought, Steve followed Cougar across a parking area to a black armored Suburban. The Afghan driver already had the engine running. Though an unnecessary swarm of porters had accompanied the baggage trolley, Steve counted out a bill into each outstretched hand. “Tashakor.”

Steve’s thank you engendered beard-splitting grins as the porters scattered.

Pulling his head from inside the Suburban, Cougar raised bushy red eyebrows. “So you speak Dari. I’d understood this was your first contract in Afghanistan.”

“It is.” Steve sliced into one of the action packers. The tactical vest he strapped on was not the screaming obvious black of a private security detail, where you wanted unfriendlies to know you were on alert, but a discreet utility vest style. “But I was in Kabul during liberation. And after. Picked up a fair amount of Dari and Pashto along the way. I assumed you knew that’s why I pulled this contract.”

“Sure, your bio says Special Forces. So you were Task Force Dagger, first boots on the ground, all that. That must have been a trip.” Cougar studied his taller companion’s clipped dark hair and deep tan. “Your coloring, I’ll bet you pass as a native if you grow a beard. Gotta be useful in these parts. So when did you make the jump to the private sector?”

“I was in Afghanistan about eighteen months. Got tired of being shot at so switched to a Blackwater private security detail. Then ArmorGroup embassy detail. Back to PSDs. Most recently Basra in southern Iraq. That was Condor Security, so when this came up, they gave me a call.”

Steve could have added, “And you?” But his contact info had included a bio. Craig “Cougar” Laube had done an army stint a lifetime ago, then put in twenty years with NYPD, more of them behind a desk than on the street. A second career as a security guard hadn’t proved lucrative enough to support an ex-wife and three kids because he’d jumped at the post 9/11 boom in the private security industry.

Strapping on his own tactical vest, Cougar retrieved M-4s and Glock 19 pistols for both from the back of the Suburban before handing Steve a manila envelope. So the guy had his priorities right.

The SUV’s air-conditioned interior was a far more comfortable ride into Kabul than the dust and jolting of an army convoy. As the Afghan driver eased past a mounted Soviet Mig fighter jet that marked the airport entrance, Steve rifled through the manila envelope. Mini-Bradt Kabul guide. Dari-English phrase book. List of embassy-cleared restaurants and lodging. An invite to an open house Thursday evening at the UN guesthouse. It was a welcome packet! Underneath were some blueprints and a city map.

“The diagrams are your two primary security zones.” Cougar carried his M-4 unslung, looking out the double-paned windows as he spoke. “How much did they fill you in?”

Steve stuffed the material back into its envelope, retaining the blueprints and a personnel data printout. “Just that CS picked up a private security detail for some Afghan cabinet minister, and they want me to pull together a team ASAP. So who is this guy, and what’s the big rush?”

“Our principal’s the new Minister of Interior. He figures he’s got a bull’s-eye painted on his back. Which isn’t such a stretch when you consider what happened to his predecessor.”

“You’re talking the sugar factory bombing.” Steve straightened up with sudden alertness. Bombings had become a dime a dozen lately in Afghanistan, but that incident had been significant enough to make international news. Reopening a sugar factory in the northeastern province of Baghlan was the crown jewel in an alternative development program intended to soften the impact of the US counter-narcotics campaign against Afghanistan’s proliferation of opium poppy. Any number of dignitaries had been on hand when a bomb went off inside the factory. With more than fifty killed and hundreds wounded, it had been the largest single-incident civilian death toll since liberation.

“Sure, I saw the Minister of Interior on the list of VIP casualties. And weren’t there Americans involved too? But that was more than two weeks ago.”

“It’s taken this long to get all the ducks in a row. There weren’t any American casualties, but a helicopter load that included embassy and DEA reps had just touched down for the ribbon cutting when the bomb went off, one reason the incident got so much international press. In fact, the chopper belongs to the current minister. If he hadn’t forgotten his briefcase in the chopper and just happened to turn back, there’d be two dead ministers instead of one.

“What makes this more interesting is that the late MOI had just been in office a couple months himself, appointed when his predecessor was removed for gross corruption and incompetence. Only after plenty of pressure from the West, I might add. The MOI’s by far the most powerful cabinet seat short of the president himself. It oversees the Afghan National Police, counternarcotics, the country’s internal security, and provincial administration. Which includes appointing the governors and regional law enforcement officials.”

Steve let out a low whistle. “So what’s left for the president?”

“There’s a reason they call our friend in the Presidential Palace the Mayor of Kabul. Not that anyone really runs the provinces except the provinces themselves. A lot of people point to MOI for Afghanistan’s current security failings. Not that there isn’t plenty of blame to go around, but the Afghan National Police are a joke, and too many provincial officials are former warlords up to their own ears in drug trafficking. Our late MOI had made it his mission to clean house and rein in the regional warlords.”

That drew Steve’s sharp glance from the data sheets. “You don’t think—”

“The sugar factory bombing could be payback—or just the local opium cartels trying to stamp out competition. But the new MOI’s taking it personally. He asked for a personal security detail as soon as he nailed the promotion. No local bodyguards either. They might be infiltrated. Western. And since Khalid’s a former muj commander—”

“Khalid!” Steve interrupted. “Khalid Sayef?”

“That’s right.” Cougar looked at Steve. “Hey, come to think of it, Khalid was part of the coalition that took Kabul. Any chance you ran across him?”

“Yes,” Steve responded. “Though when I left Afghanistan, Khalid was up to his neck in local politics, nothing like this.”

“Khalid’s still governor of his home district up in Baghlan. But like most of the muj commanders, he picked up a cabinet seat when the new government was signed in. But when the Minister of Counternarcotics threw in the towel a couple years back, it seemed like Khalid was in the right place to move up. Instead they brought in a complete outsider. Minister of Commerce originally. Moved up to Counternarcotics Minister a couple years ago. Since counternarcotics is the biggest piece of MOI, everyone figured Khalid would take over when his boss got the boot. Instead . . . outsider.”

Cougar’s shoulders hunched under his tactical vest. “Well, Khalid’s got the job now, and it’s our responsibility to keep the guy alive. The contract’s a Level One three-month renewable personal security detail. We should have on hand most equipment you’ll need. Ditto, transport. Scrambling a team wasn’t as easy on such short notice. But the bunch that flew in this morning are pretty decent. Their bios are in that packet. All Special Ops, all with security detail experience. Navy SEAL. Ranger. Delta. SAS.”

Steve’s attention shifted from data sheets to the windshield as the militarized airport zone gave way outside to bustling streets. Kabul had changed since he’d last passed this way—and it hadn’t. Steve wasn’t sure which was worse.

The biggest change was congestion. Vehicle traffic must have multiplied ten times over without a corresponding expansion of the street system. If there were traffic lanes or even sidewalks, no one was taking them seriously. Toyota Corollas, wood-framed trucks, motorcycles, and mule carts oozed through swarming pedestrians and street venders. Late-model SUVs, mostly white, bore acronyms on doors and roofs. Agency vehicles of the numerous Western government and aid organizations now making Kabul their home.

“The two security zones are Khalid’s personal residence and the Ministry of Interior,” Cougar continued. “The residence’s already in a high security district, but the MOI building’s smack downtown.”

City limits too now crawled much farther up the mountain flanks. Construction was still largely mud brick, but the glitter of Kabul’s new business skyline thrust itself like misplaced jewels above a haze of dust and smog. The Mashal Business Center, all futuristic blue glass and chrome. The five-star Serena Hotel rising like a sultan’s palace on a busy intersection. The Safi Landmark shopping mall where, according the welcome packet, any number of trendy restaurants offered foreign cuisine and forbidden alcohol.

Who in this dirt pile has disposable income to support this kind of infrastructure?

Cougar pointed at another new glass and brick department store. “Kabul isn’t the hardship post you all rolled into. Anything you want, some Afghan will have started an import outlet. The expat social scene’s pretty decent too. Mostly in what we call the green zone, Wazir Akbar Khan, Shahr-e-Nau and Sherpur districts where security’s tight enough you don’t have to worry about locals crashing the party. Or some mullah screaming over Jack Daniels or bikinis. Stay here awhile with all those burqas, and you won’t believe how good any woman in a bikini starts to look.”

Steve grunted. Astonishingly, the burqas hadn’t changed. He spotted many headscarfs, many of them expatriates by their features, as well as the more enveloping black chador. But the burqa remained the female norm, flitting like silent white or pale blue ghosts through an overwhelmingly male pedestrian mob, the face panels thrown triumphantly back when he’d last been in these streets now firmly in place.

The commercial district wasn’t the only construction boom. Steve counted the third rounded dome and tall minaret the SUV had passed in the space of five minutes. This one was a massive complex, gleaming with sparkling new mosaic tile. Behind it rose a series of five-story buildings Steve had assumed to be a housing development until he saw that the mosque’s perimeter wall enclosed them.

Cougar caught his stare. “Really something, isn’t it? That’s a new Shiite madrassa built by Iran. Bigger than the university. New mosques have been going up all over Kabul, mostly donations from other Muslim governments.”

“Useful outlay of aid funds,” Steve commented sardonically.

Cougar shrugged. “We build malls; they build mosques.”

For all the city’s new infrastructure, the acute poverty Steve remembered seemed little diminished either. They’d passed miles of hovels clinging to hillsides like human-size termite cells. How did people live without running water, sewage, or electricity? As for that apartment complex mujahedeen rockets had ripped open, Steve could swear it hadn’t been touched in all these years. Then he spotted plywood and plastic tacked down across a concrete cubicle, a burqa hauling a bucket up a shattered staircase. People were living in that ruin!

Beggars remained everywhere. Men missing limbs squatted on sidewalks or negotiated traffic on wheelchairs crafted from bicycle tires. Women in burqas exposed a cupped palm at intersections, small, ragged children at their skirts. Nor in the glut of automatic weapons and armed vehicles did Steve see any indication of a country at rest from war. It wasn’t just the ISAF convoys with their armored Humvees and turret guns. A dozen different uniforms belonging to the Afghan police, army, or hired security firms roamed sidewalks, stood guard at intersections and outside buildings, and crouched behind sandbags on the tops of walls.

And I thought we’d freed this place.

Just what did those war victims in their wheelschairs and burqas scrabbling for a daily food ration, the shopkeepers and street venders with their watchful eyes think of the new Afghanistan he’d helped create? Or of the Westerners flooding their city with new cars and shining towers and shopping malls and restaurants few Afghans could ever afford to enter? For that matter, of those equally ostentatious new domes and minarets that did nothing to put food on their tables?

Steve felt a sudden weariness that was not from jet lag. Why did I come back here?

Because it’s safer than Iraq, and the money’s even better. I was tired of being shot at, remember? After all, who was Steve to sneer when his own latest contract would net him five times what he’d ever earned as a proud member of his nation’s Special Operations Command?




Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove - Highly Recommended!

I can't say enough about this fabulous book. I can't believe it's her first novel. Delicious prose, real earthy characters, I was totally sucked into the story. It's been a long time since I stayed up way past my bedtime with a good book. I can hardly wait for her next release!


and her book:


Talking to the Dead

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Bonnie Grove started writing when her parents bought a typewriter, and she hasn’t stopped since. Trained in Christian Counseling (Emmanuel Bible College, Kitchener, ON), and secular psychology (University of Alberta), she developed and wrote social programs for families at risk while landing articles and stories in anthologies. She is the author of Working Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You; Talking to the Dead is her first novel. Grove and her pastor husband, Steve, have two children; they live in Saskatchewan.

Author website: www.davidccook.com – www.bonniegrove.com

Visit the author's website.

Buy the book here

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn’t go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn’t feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing.


Funerals exist so we can close doors we’d rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake? I refused to pick at dainties and sip hot drinks. Instead, I wandered into the back yard.


I knew if I turned my head I’d see my mother’s back as she guarded the patio doors. Mom would let no one pass. As a recent widow herself, she knew my need to stare into my loss alone.


I sat on the porch swing and closed my eyes, letting the June sun warm my bare arms. Instead of closing the door on my pain, I wanted it to swing from its hinges so the searing winds of grief could scorch my face and body. Maybe I hoped to die from exposure.


Kevin had been dead three hours before I had arrived at the hospital. A long time for my husband to be dead without me knowing. He was so altered, so permanently changed without my being aware.


I had stood in the emergency room, surrounded by faded blue cotton curtains, looking at the naked remains of my husband while nurses talked in hushed tones around me. A sheet covered Kevin from his hips to his knees. Tubes, which had either carried something into or away from his body, hung disconnected and useless from his arms. The twisted remains of what I assumed to be some sort of breathing mask lay on the floor. “What happened?” I said in a whisper so faint I knew no one could hear. Maybe I never said it at all. A short doctor with a pronounced lisp and quiet manner told me Kevin’s heart killed him. He used difficult phrases; medical terms I didn’t know, couldn’t understand. He called it an episode and said it was massive. When he said the word massive, spit flew from his mouth, landing on my jacket’s lapel. We had both stared at it.


When my mother and sister, Heather, arrived at the hospital, they gazed speechlessly at Kevin for a time, and then took me home. Heather had whispered with the doctor, their heads close together, before taking a firm hold on my arm and walking me out to her car. We drove in silence to my house. The three of us sat around my kitchen table looking at each other.


Several times my mother opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Our words had turned to cotton, thick and dry. We couldn’t work them out of our throats. I had no words for my abandonment. Like everything I knew to be true had slipped out the back door when I wasn’t looking.


“What happened?” I said again. This time I knew I had said it out loud. My voice echoed back to me off the kitchen table.


“Remember how John Ritter died? His heart, remember?” This from Heather, my younger, smarter sister. Kevin had died a celebrity’s death.


From the moment I had received the call from the hospital until now, I had allowed other people to make all of my bereavement decisions. My mother and mother-in-law chose the casket and placed the obituary in the paper. Kevin’s boss at the bank, Donna Walsh, arranged for the funeral parlor and even called the pastor from the church that Kevin had attended until he was sixteen to come and speak. Heather silently held my hand through it all. I didn’t feel grateful for their help.


I sat on the porch swing, and my right foot rocked on the grass, pushing and pulling the swing. My head hurt. I tipped it back and rested it on the cold, inflexible metal that made up the frame for the swing. It dug into my skull. I invited the pain. I sat with it; supped with it.


I opened my eyes and looked up into the early June sky. The clouds were an unmade bed. Layers of white moved rumpled and languid past the azure heavens. Their shapes morphed and faded before my eyes. A Pegasus with the face of a dog; a veiled woman fleeing; a villain; an elf. The shapes were strange and unreliable, like dreams. A monster, a baby—I wanted to reach up to touch its soft, wrinkled face. I was too tired. Everything was gone, lost, emptied out.


I had arrived home from the hospital empty handed. No Kevin. No car—we left it in the hospital parking lot for my sister to pick up later. “No condition to drive,” my mother had said. She meant me.


Empty handed. The thought, incomplete and vague, crept closer to consciousness. There should have been something. I should have brought his things home with me. Where were his clothes? His wallet? Watch? Somehow, they’d fled the scene.


“How far could they have gotten?” I said to myself. Without realizing it, I had stood and walked to the patio doors. “Mom?” I said as I walked into the house.


She turned quickly, but said nothing. My mother didn’t just understand what was happening to me. She knew. She knew it like the ticking of a clock, the wind through the windows, like everything a person gets used to in life. It had only been eight months since Dad died. She knew there was little to be said. Little that should be said. Once, after Dad’s funeral, she looked at Heather and me and said, “Don’t talk. Everyone has said enough words to last for eternity.”


I noticed how tall and straight she stood in her black dress and sensible shoes. How long must the dead be buried before you can stand straight again? “What happened to Kevin’s stuff?” Mom glanced around as if checking to see if a guest had made off with the silverware.


I swallowed hard and clarified. “At the hospital. He was naked.” A picture of him lying motionless, breathless on the white sheets filled my mind. “They never gave me his things. His, whatever, belongings. Effects.”


“I don’t know, Kate,” she said. Like it didn’t matter. Like I should stop thinking about it. I moved past her, careful not to touch her, and went in search of my sister.


Heather sat on my secondhand couch in my living room, a two seater with the pattern of autumn leaves. She held an empty cup and a napkin; dark crumbs tumbling off onto the carpet. Her long brown hair, usually left down, was pulled up into a bun. She looked pretty and sad. She saw me coming, her brown eyes widening in recognition. Recognition that she should do something. Meet my needs, help me, make time stand still. She quickly ended the conversation she was having with Kevin’s boss, and met me in the middle of the living room.


“Hey,” she said, touching my arm. I took a small step back, avoiding her warm fingers.


“Where would his stuff go?” I blurted out. Heather’s eyebrows snapped together in confusion. “Kevin’s things,” I said. “They never gave me his things. I want to go and get them. Will you come?”


Heather stood very still for a moment, straight backed like she was made of wood, then relaxed. “You mean at the hospital. Right, Kate? Kevin’s things at the hospital?” Tears welled in my eyes. “There was nothing. You were there. When we left, they never gave e anything of his.” I realized I was trembling.


Heather bit her lower lip, and looked into my eyes. “Let me do that for you. I’ll call the hospital—” I stood on my tiptoes and opened my mouth. “I’ll go,” she corrected before I could say anything. “I’ll go and ask around. I’ll get his stuff and bring it here.”


“I need his things.”


Heather cupped my elbow with her hand. “You need to lie down. Let me get you upstairs, and as soon as you’re settled, I’ll go to the hospital and find out what happened to Kevin’s clothes, okay?”


Fatigue filled the small spaces between my bones. “Okay.” She led me upstairs. I crawled under the covers as Heather closed the door, blocking the sounds of the people below.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna!

George Barna and the book: The Seven Faith Tribes BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)

This is a very interesting look our culture and structure of society - -where it's been and where it's going. A must read for every American.

In this groundbreaking new book, acclaimed researcher and author George Barna identifies, describes, and analyzes seven major “faith tribes” in America—documenting who they are, what they believe, how they vote, and what they are passionate about. Barna provides helpful insight into how these groups influence our economy, politics, and values—and what their potential is to change America. Through his in-depth study of all seven tribes, Barna has identified potential strategies that faith tribes—if they choose to—could employ to facilitate healing and restoration in American culture, and cultures across the world.

The seven tribes are as follows: Captive Christians, Casual Christians, Jews, Mormons, Pantheists, Muslims, and Skeptics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


George Barna is the author or coauthor of more than forty books, including best sellers such as The Frog in the Kettle, The Power of Vision, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Revolution, and Pagan Christianity. He has had more than one hundred articles published in magazines and other periodicals and writes the bimonthly report The Barna Update, which is read by more than a million people each year.

He is the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a company that provides primary research and resources related to cultural analysis, faith dynamics, and transformation. Through The Barna Group, he has served hundreds of clients as varied as the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, CBN, the Walt Disney Company, Ford Motor Company, Visa USA, and the United States Navy.

He has taught at several universities and seminaries and has served as the teaching pastor of a large, multiethnic church. Barna currently leads a house church. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College and has graduate degrees from Rutgers University and Dallas Baptist University.

He has been married to his wife, Nancy, since 1978, and they live with their three daughters in southern California.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324049
ISBN-13: 978-1414324043

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


America Is on the Path to Self-Destruction


PERHAPS you have had the heart-wrenching experience of watching helplessly as a loved one—a parent, grandparent, sibling, or close friend—has wasted away due to a debilitating disease or accident. Maybe you have worked for a company that was once vibrant, profitable, and charging into the future—only to lose its way and go out of business.

The United States is in one of those moments. Unless we, the people, can rally to restore health to this once proud and mighty nation, we have a long and disturbing decline to look forward to.

Does it surprise you to hear that our greatest enemy is not al Qaeda or the oil cartel, but America itself? Such an audacious argument is possible, however, because we have steadily and incrementally abandoned what made us a great nation.

The elements that combined to establish the United States as perhaps the most unique and enviable nation in modern history can be restored—but only if we are wise enough, collectively,

to focus on pursuing the good of society, not mere individual self-interest. It is this widespread drive to elevate self over community that has triggered our decline.

Some historians have examined the United States and concluded that it rose to prominence because of its world-class statesmen, foresighted Constitution, military might, abundant natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit. Indisputably, such factors have significantly contributed to the establishment of a great nation. But such elements, alone, could never sustain it—especially for two-hundred-plus years!

A democracy, such as that in the United States, achieves greatness and retains its strength on the basis of the values and beliefs that fuel people’s choices. Every society adopts a body of principles that defines the national ethos and fosters its ability to withstand various challenges. Only those nations that have moral and spiritual depth, clarity of purpose and process, and nobility of heart and mind are able to persevere and triumph.1

Achieving a state of internal equilibrium that generates forward movement is no small task. It has certainly eluded hundreds upon hundreds of nations and cultures over the course of time. A walk through world history underscores the difficulty of building and sustaining national greatness. Whether we examine the stories of ancient Rome and Greece, more modern examples such as the Soviet Union, Red China, the British Empire, and post-British India, or fascist experiments such as those in Germany and Italy, the outcomes are identical. After initial excitement and cooperation, each of these nations staggered into a dramatic decline, lacking the moral and spiritual fortitude to right themselves.

Among the lessons we learn from observing the demise of formidable countries and cultures are that a nation self-destructs when

• its people cannot hold a civil conversation over matters of disagreement because they are overly possessive of their values and beliefs and too unyielding of their preferences;

• public officials and cultural leaders insist upon positioning and posturing at the expense of their opponents after the exchange of competing ideas—even though those opponents are fellow citizens with an assumed similar interest in sustaining the health of the nation;

• the public cannot agree on what constitutes goodness, morality, generosity, kindness, ethics, or beauty;

• a significant share of the electorate refuses to support legally elected officials who are faithfully upholding the Constitution and diligently pursuing the best interests of the nation;

• people lose respect for others and refuse to grant them the measure of dignity that every human being innately deserves;

• the population embraces the notion that citizens are accountable solely to themselves for their moral and ethical choices because there are no universal standards and moral leaders.


Do these descriptions strike fear in your heart? They should. Increasingly, these are attributes of twenty-first-century America. Such qualities have pushed the world’s greatest democracy to the precipice of self-annihilation. No amount of global trade or technological innovation will compensate for the loss of common vision and values that are required to bolster a mighty nation.

The dominant lifestyle patterns of Americans are a direct outgrowth of our beliefs. Operating within the boundaries of our self-determined cultural parameters, Americans live in ways that are the natural and tangible applications of what we believe to be true, appropriate, right, and valuable.

Therefore, we may not be pleased, but we ought not be surprised by the cultural chaos and moral disintegration we see and experience every day. Such conditions are the inevitable outcomes of the choices we have made that are designed to satisfy our self-interest instead of our shared interests.

For instance, when we abandon sound financial principles and take on personal debt in order to satisfy our desires for more material goods, we undermine society’s best interests. When we allow our children to absorb countless hours of morally promiscuous media content rather than limit their exposure and insist on better programming, we fail to protect our children and society’s best interests. When we create a burgeoning industry of assisted living for our elderly relatives we don’t have the time or inclination to care for, we redefine family and negate a fundamental strength of our society. When we donate less than 3 percent of our income to causes that enhance the quality and sustainability of life, our lack of generosity affects the future of our society. When we permit the blogosphere to become a rat hole of deceit, rudeness, and visual garbage, we forfeit part of the soul of our culture. When we allow “no fault” divorce to become the law of the land, as if nobody had any responsibilities in the demise of a marriage, we foster the demise of our society. When we choose to place our children in day care and prekindergarten programs for more hours than we share with them, we have made a definitive statement about what matters in our world.

Do we need to continue citing examples? Realize that all of those choices, and hundreds of others, reflect our true beliefs—not necessarily the beliefs to which we give lip service, but those to which we give behavioral support. And as we experience the hardships of a culture in transition from strength to weakness, we are merely reaping the harvest of our choices.

What has redirected us from what could be a pleasant and stable existence to one that produces widespread stress and flirts with the edge of disaster from day to day?


INSTITUTIONAL RECALIBRATION

A country as large and complex as the United States relies upon the development of various institutions to help make sense of reality and maintain a semblance of order and purpose. For many decades, our institutions served us well. They operated in synchronization, helping to keep balance in our society while advancing our common ends.

But during the past half century many of our pivotal institutions have reeled from the effects of dramatic change. Briefly, consider the following.

• The family unit has always been the fundamental building block of American society. But the family has been severely challenged by divorce (the United States has the highest divorce rate in the developed world); cohabitation (resulting in a decline in marriage, a rise in divorce, extramarital sexual episodes, extensive physical abuse, and heightened numbers of births outside of marriage); abortions; increasing numbers of unwed mothers; and challenges to the very definition of family and marriage brought about by the demands of the homosexual population and the involvement of activist judges.

• The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American society. But research shows that churches have very limited impact on people’s lives these days.2 The loss of influence can be attributed to the confluence of many factors. These include the erosion of public confidence due to moral crises (e.g., sex scandals among Catholic priests, financial failings among TV preachers); the paucity of vision-driven leadership; growing doubts about the veracity and reliability of the Bible; a nearly universal reliance upon vacuous indicators of ministry impact (i.e., attendance, fundraising, breadth of programs, number of employees, size of buildings and facilities); ministry methods and models that hinder effective learning and interpersonal connections; innocuous and irregular calls to action; and counterproductive competition among churches as well as parachurch ministries. Fewer and fewer Americans think of themselves as members of a churchbased faith community, as followers of a specific deity or faith, or as fully committed to being models of the faith they embrace.

• Public schools have transitioned from training children to possess good character and strong academic skills to producing young people who score well on standardized achievement tests and thereby satisfy government funding criteria. In the process, we have been exposed to values-free education, values-clarification training, and other educational approaches that promote a group of divergent worldviews as if they all possessed equal merit. In the meantime, our students have lost out on learning how to communicate effectively, and they consistently trail students from other countries in academic fundamentals such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

• Government agencies have facilitated the acceleration of cultural dissonance. An example is the values-neutral admittance of millions of immigrants. Historically, immigration has been one of the greatest reflections of the openness of America to embrace and work alongside people who share the fundamental ideals of our democracy and are eager to assimilate into the dominant American culture. Over the past quarter century, however, a larger share of the immigrants seeking to make the United States their homeland has come ashore with a different agenda: living a more comfortable and secure life without having to surrender their native culture (e.g., language, values, beliefs, customs, relationships, or behaviors). Rather than adopting the fundamentals that made America strong as part of their assimilation and naturalization process, growing numbers of them expect America to accept their desire to retain that which they personally feel most comfortable with, even though it is at odds with the mainstream experience that produced the nation to which they were attracted.3


Our institutions have been further challenged by other cultural realities. For instance, digital technology—computers, mobile phones, the Internet, digital cameras, video recorders, and the like—has created an opinionated population that has become more narrow-minded and isolated even in the midst of an avalanche of information and relational connections.4 That same technology has fostered an unprecedented degree of global awareness and interactivity within generations, while at the same time birthing new forms of discrimination and marginalization.


Even the nation’s economic transformation, moving from a world-class manufacturing nation to a country that consumes imported products and demands personal services, has altered our self-perceptions, national agenda, and global role.


ENTER THE NEW VALUES

The weakening of our institutions has freed the public to seize upon a revised assortment of values. An examination of the entire cluster gives a pretty sobering perspective on the new American mentality. As you will quickly realize, most of the elements in the emerging values set lead to the new focal point for America: self.

Consider the values transitions described below, along with the shifts in behavior that accompany the newly embraced perspectives, and ask yourself if any of them ring true.


From voluntary accountability to belligerent autonomy

Freedom traditionally implied that we were responsible to those whom we placed in authority—although we still had abundant opportunities to express our views and concerns, and to replace those whose leadership failed to live up to our expectations. In recent years, however, our perspectives on authority and accountability have changed to the point where many of us consider ourselves to be free agents, responsible only to ourselves. We resent others—individuals, family, public officials, organizations, society—who place restrictions and limitations upon us, no matter how reasonable or necessary they may be. When people agree to be held accountable these days, such interaction is not so much about being held to predetermined standards as it is about providing explanations and justifications for the behavior in question, in order to produce absolution. Anyone who gets in the way of our autonomy runs the risk of being called out for such audacity and being cited for offenses such as censorship, fundamentalism, prudishness, narrow-mindedness, or intolerance.


From responsibilities to rights

From the earliest days of the republic, our nation’s leaders accepted the notion that the freedom we fought for in the establishment of the nation could only be maintained if people were willing to accept the responsibilities and duties required to extend such freedom. Consequently, for many decades Americans have carried out the obligations of good citizens: obeying the law, supporting social institutions and leaders, mutually sacrificing, committing to the common good, exercising personal virtue and morality, and the like. To advance freedom, the health of the society must supersede the desires of the individual. But things have changed dramatically. People’s concern these days is ensuring

that they receive the benefits of the rights they perceive to be theirs. Standing in the way of such rights brings on threats of legal action; a lawsuit is now the default response to conditions that limit one’s experiences. Ensuring the exercise of personal rights is the primary concern; exercising and protecting community rights are of secondary consideration.


From respect and dignity to incivility and arrogance

Historically, we have maintained that every person is worthy of respect and dignity. In contrast, increasing numbers of Americans these days are more likely to treat people with suspicion, indifference,

or impatience. Americans have long had an international reputation for rudeness, but our levels of impolite behavior have escalated substantially in recent years. Beyond discourtesy, we have become a society that is frequently and quickly critical of others. Rather than searching for the goodness in people, we are quick to point out their flaws and weaknesses. We have little patience with those who fail to live up to our expectations, and we have no hesitation in expressing our disapproval, regardless of the circumstances.


From discernment to tolerance

One of the most undesirable labels in our society is that of being judgmental. To avoid that critique, we have moved to the opposite extreme, allowing people to do whatever they please, as long as their choices do not put us directly in harm’s way. In essence, we have abandoned discernment in favor of a self-protective permissiveness.


This practice, of course, pushes us to the brink of anarchy, made all the more possible by our adoption of belligerent autonomy.


From pride in production to the joy of consumption

For decades, American citizens derived great satisfaction from the fruit of their labors and extolled the virtues of productivity. However, the source of pride now is in what we own or lease—the material goods that define our station in life and reflect our capacity to consume. In the past, a job was something that allowed us to add value to society and to participate in the work of a unified team. Now, growing numbers of people perceive their job to be a necessary evil, little more than a means to the end of acquiring the tangible items that may bring pleasure or prestige. As a result, the quality of our work efforts is seen as being less important than the rewards generated by those efforts. The hallowed concept of excellence has been left in the dust in our haste to embrace “adequacy” as the new standard for performance.


From contribution and sacrifice to comfort and fulfillment

Most Americans now perceive the ultimate purpose of life to be enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while possessing a positive self image and a sense of fulfillment. The nature of one’s contribution to society—i.e., what we do to advance the good of society—is thought of as a bonus, if any such contribution is made at all.

People rarely consider it necessary—or even the mark of a good citizen—to sacrifice personal benefits or resources for the good of their community or nation, whether that is practiced through political involvement, environmentalism, financial responsibility, child-rearing practices, or other means. Unless such practices produce personal comfort and fulfillment, they are considered strictly optional behavior.


From trust to skepticism

Knowing that truth is not always considered a virtue and that truth is now widely assumed to be whatever the speaker defines it to be—regardless of the facts—Americans are more cautious and caustic these days. What used to be called healthy skepticism has now blossomed into full-blown doubt. Incapable of placing complete confidence in what we are told, we are reticent to trust others. Their motives (selfish) and words (misleading) must now be run through a filter that prevents us from taking

things at face value, resulting in constant tension about who and what to believe. Rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, the default position is to reserve our right to remain skeptical. That same degree of mistrust has even diminished our willingness to believe religious teachings, whether from “reliable sources” such as the Bible or from other authorities.


From intellect and character to fame and image

Who were the heroes in years past? Often they were people whose intellect and commitment to improving the human condition produced value for our society: scientists, engineers, theorists,

doctors, professors, and the like. Those people introduced lifechanging innovations and solutions to our culture. They were joined in the winner’s circle by parents, who were celebrated for their commitment to raising moral children and honorable citizens whose firm foundations of goodness would ensure the

strength of the nation for years to come. Today these heroes have been unceremoniously replaced by a revolving door of simpleminded celebrities whose partying exploits, marital failures, materialistic excesses, relational squabbles, and fashion faux pas capture the attention of the tabloids and paparazzi.

We have traded substance for superficiality, intelligence for style, and hard work for merely showing up at hip locations. Celebrities hire image consultants to ensure that the appeal of their public personae extends their fifteen minutes of fame. They influence the gullible public to pursue unreasonable body shapes

and expensive clothing, use incorrect or inappropriate language, and embrace dubious ideas about life. In the process, edginess, extravagance, and national recognition have trumped the values of character and intelligence.


From moral absolutes to moral relativism

Apparently, when Jesus Christ told people to “let your ‘ Yes’ be ‘ Yes,’ and your ‘ No,’ ‘No,’ ”5 that was not what He really meant—at least, according to contemporary Americans. During the past quarter century there has been a massive shift away from the acceptance of moral absolutes (i.e., things are right or wrong, regardless of the situation) to acceptance of moral relativism (i.e., there are no absolute moral standards, so everything depends on what we each decide is right or wrong based on our own personal convictions and current situations). This has affected judicial decisions, government policies, business strategies, personal relationships, financial dealings—in short, everything imaginable. There are fewer and fewer situations in which conventional morality prevails. Life is now more anxiety ridden

because there is no predictability or consistency regarding right and wrong.

Remember, we act out what we believe. Values form the core of our actionable perspectives. The evolution of American society is thus a reflection of this morphing of our values, changing everything about what we believe to be acceptable, valuable, desirable, and even holy.


THE NEW GOALS

This movement in our thinking and behavior has even affected our aspirations. As we dream of the future we will pursue, we’ve adopted a new set of life goals.

As recently as the 1970s, Americans were dedicated to becoming good citizens; raising children with proper character and morals; knowing and living according to accepted moral truths; experiencing and appreciating beauty in art and nature; living with integrity; supporting family members in all dimensions of life; and performing all tasks and responsibilities with excellence. The notion of living the good life centered on fitting into one’s world as a productive, reliable member of a caring society.6

If that profile seems anachronistic to you, it’s because our notion of the good life received a serious makeover. The dominant goals of Americans these days are achieving a comfortable lifestyle; having as many exciting or unique experiences as possible; feeling good about oneself; having ample options from which to choose in all dimensions of life; being able to participate in everything that is personally meaningful or appealing; developing and maintaining a positive public image; and avoiding

pain or sacrifice.

You don’t need an advanced degree to notice that the focus of our goals has taken a 180-degree turn. We are less interested in the good of society than in the promotion and protection of self. We are not as committed to making a societal contribution as we are to ensuring personal comfort and satisfaction. We would like to do well at our assigned or necessary tasks, but we are more committed to having great experiences and adventures than to fulfilling our responsibilities with certifiable excellence.

If you doubt the reality of this shift, talk to anyone who has owned a business for the past thirty years about the change in the dedication and quality standards of the workforce. Or you could speak to veteran teachers about the motivations of students. Try questioning marriage counselors about the nature of the conversations they have with adults whose marriages are on the rocks. Professionals whose work gives them insight into the nature of our culture will confirm the data that describe the reshaping of the mind and heart of America.

Another vantage point regarding who we have become—and are still becoming—is offered by people outside of the American experience. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see it clearly; more objective perceptions are best provided by observers who are more physically removed from the situation. That’s exactly what is provided by global surveys of attitudes. Several recent international research projects provided an outsider’s view of American society. While the views of such people include various biases and assumptions—e.g., predispositions about Americans, our government, and our cultural preferences, all filtered through the survey respondent’s own predispositions and preferences—the perceived decline in America’s character comes through loud and clear. Europeans, South Americans, Asians, and Africans generally see us as insensitive, materialistic, self-absorbed, and superficially religious.7


THE WORLDVIEW REVOLUTION

Certainly, we have changed in meaningful ways. But no cultural transformation happens in a vacuum, and it is implausible that a national redefinition of this magnitude could have happened without some foundations being monumentally altered. In this case, the floodgates of our cultural transformation were pried open by our willingness to entertain—and eventually to adopt—alternative worldviews.

A worldview is simply the mental and emotional filter that each person embraces and uses to make sense of and respond to the world. Everyone has a worldview. Few have thought much about it

or where it comes from, and even fewer can articulate the contents of their own worldview. But every person’s life is a result of his or her worldview. And every nation’s character is a product of the cumulative worldviews possessed and incarnated by its people.

In the 1950s and earlier, the dominant worldview in the United States might be characterized as Judeo-Christian. Most of the moral standards of the nation were based on Judeo-Christian principles

regarding matters such as purpose, fairness, justice, value, goodness, beauty, relationships, family, generosity, evil, authority, compassion, and faith. While our nation has always had a multitude of faith groups and life philosophies resident within its shores, the past forty years in particular have seen the influx and acceptance of a variety of worldviews that are at odds with the historical foundations on which the country was built.

Because our worldviews direct our words and actions, this national transformation of our worldviews has changed life as we know it. Or, more correctly, knew it.

With the social upheaval that was ushered in during the sixties, everything was up for grabs—including the national sense of morality, spirituality, values, traditions, and lifestyle habits. To this day we are still experimenting and tinkering with our worldview: it remains a work in progress. But enough change has occurred that we can now see—and every day we encounter—the implications of this seismic shift in how we experience, interpret, and react to our world.

The bottom line is simply this: the substitution of alternative worldviews for the traditional Judeo-Christian version is responsible for America incrementally destroying itself. Gone are the

days in which consensus was respected or personal views were maintained within the context of a different dominant worldview. Increasingly, we demand that the world embrace the worldview we possess or we respond in hostile ways: public criticism, nasty blogs and text messages, lawsuits, angry letters to public officials or professional associations, confrontational letters to the editor, damage to property, or other means of retaliation.

The element that facilitated a stable, consensual worldview in the past was the consistency of the religious beliefs of Americans. For more than two centuries, Americans generally held to some form of a Judeo-Christian perspective. Those who did not share such a perspective understood that while they could hold their divergent worldviews, theirs would remain a respected minority view. There was a recognized cultural accommodation in which the majority and minority allowed each other their space and respective social and political standing.

But even though four out of five Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, the prevailing accommodation has been scrapped as the proponents of each alternative worldview have battled for supremacy. Our long-held worldview moorings have been assaulted and have lost ground to alternative perspectives. The problem is not that a general lack of faith or absence of personal theology has undermined the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The underlying issue is that those who normally would have defended and advanced the predominant worldview have succumbed to the lure of alternative perspectives that promise greater freedom and fewer restrictions.

This nation’s spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and morphing. At this moment in time, the fundamental beliefs on which the nation was founded are no longer the central tenets on which our country operates.8 As we will see in subsequent chapters, basic ideals about God have been radically challenged, to the point where people no longer know what to believe and are warned not to speak in public about “Him/Her/Them/It.” The idea of something being sacred—whether it be in reference to books (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon), beings (e.g., Jesus, Buddha), or places (e.g., Jerusalem, Mecca)—has been reduced from the extraordinary to the ordinary. The importance of following through on spiritual commitments, whether to God or to one’s faith community, typically takes a backseat to other, more pressing commitments.


THE FAITH MIX: SEVEN TRIBES

To get a good understanding of the existing and evolving worldview mosaic, we must take a serious look at the dominant spiritual groups in America. I will refer to these as our faith tribes, based on the fact that the religious history of most Americans—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons—describes the various segments of each faith as tribes. A tribe, after all, is a group of people who are united by common beliefs, customs, and traditions; who follow a common leader; and who consider themselves to be a community based on these shared realities.

Religious beliefs and convictions provide the central spectrum of ideas from which our worldview is developed. Getting inside the mind and heart of the major faith tribes will provide the necessary insight into how our existing worldviews came about, why we cling to them, and where they are headed.

Based on extensive segmentation analysis of the spiritual beliefs and practices of more than thirty thousand U.S. adults whom The Barna Group interviewed, we concluded that the United States is home to more than two hundred different religious faiths and denominations but is dominated by seven faith tribes. Naturally, each tribe has distinct segments within it that deviate from the dominant ways of thinking and acting, but these tribes, by and large, are cohesive masses. They range in size from several million to tens of millions of people.

A large majority of Americans are Casual Christians. These are people who profess to be Christian but are notably lax in their beliefs and practices. Casuals represent two-thirds of all American adults. There are variations within this sizable spiritual class, but overall the segment is surprisingly consistent in numerous dimensions of spirituality and in their attitudes and lifestyle choices.

Their counterpart are the Captive Christians—those whose consistently biblical beliefs and Christlike behavior validate their commitment to being followers of Christ. Captives constitute one-sixth of the adult population. They are characterized by a deeper, more intentional devotion to the principles and practices they embrace from the Bible. They are the segment within Christianity that is most likely to be caricatured by the media and by politicians, two groups that greatly misunderstand the motivations and objectives of Captives.

The rest of the nation is divided into five other faith tribes. Jewish people make up roughly 2 percent of the adult public. The percentage of Mormons is slightly smaller than that, though its adherents are strikingly unified in their ideology and practice. Pantheists—a combination of adherents to Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.), along with those who have adopted the American hybrid we think of as New Age beliefs—are also slightly less than 2 percent of the public. Muslims, while growing in number, make up considerably less than one percent of the American population, but they represent a significant, if controversial, point of view on the faith spectrum. That leaves the largest of the non-Christian tribes: the Skeptics. These folks, nearly 11 percent strong, are atheists or agnostics. They are, in essence, religiously irreligious.

We will explore each of these tribes in relation to key dimensions—demographics, religious beliefs and behaviors, self-image, attitudes and perceptions, lifestyle routines, morals, family realities, and political perspectives and patterns. These insights will enable us to delve into the various worldviews that Americans possess and then discuss how we can restore health to our republic. The required solutions are not political or economic. We need spiritual wisdom backed by a mutual commitment to live up to the chief aims of our respective faith perspectives.


BEYOND THE BEHEMOTH

You may be wondering what there is to talk about if one tribe alone—the Casual Christians—represents two out of every three Americans. By dwarfing all other tribes, isn’t a book about the effect of faith in America really just a book about the Casuals?

Yes and no.

By sheer weight of numbers, the Casuals define the status quo. This group is, in a very real sense, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla that establishes the standards of the moral and spiritual life of the United States. In every respect, until something happens to intentionally alter matters, theirs is the default condition for the country.

To use a more familiar analogy, the Casuals are akin to the place of the Caucasian population in the United States. Each currently represents two-thirds of the population. Both groups are so numerous and familiar to everyone that they largely go unnoticed, but their significance is felt every moment of every day, whether we are conscious of it or not.

But in keeping with this analogy, recognize that they also represent a moving target for the smaller segments whose demographics, dreams, and desires are different from those of the behemoth. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other ethnic and racial populations may be

dwarfed by the Caucasian constituency, but they are never rendered irrelevant or powerless simply by being outnumbered. They simply have to try harder to get recognition, power, and favor in a country where they are minorities. And as our history shows, that is difficult but doable.

Is it truly possible for tribes that represent as little as one half of one percent of this massive country (i.e., Muslims) to overcome the standing of the group that encompasses 66 percent of the public? Absolutely! There are four significant reasons why small tribes have the potential to do so.

First, in a true democracy, everyone has a say. Sometimes even the tiniest voice speaks truths that others resonate with. With the prolific access to vehicles of communication in this country, and given the energetic defense of the freedom to express one’s views, every tribe has the opportunity to make its case.

Second, influence is often magnified through dynamic partnerships in which multiple minor players coordinate their efforts to exert impact that transcends their numbers. The mosaic of our population is increasingly characterized by connections across lines—racial, political, economic, religious, and geographic. It is common these days to see coalitions of groups that have never before worked together to break through preexisting barriers to jointly pursue outcomes that are important to all of them.

Third, one of the most powerful ways of influencing today’s population is through modeling. People learn by example. Habits and predispositions are challenged by example. Trends are ignited by a relative handful of people who do something that grabs attention and generates interest.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, never underestimate the power of passion. Groups pursuing outcomes that they are willing to fight for with every resource they can muster often generate

results far beyond the expectations of those who observe their battle with indifference or amusement.

For example, if it were up to the white majority during the middle of the last century, the African American community would still be living in segregated neighborhoods and dealing with a network of isolated social institutions, working for substandard pay in untenable conditions. During the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies, the African American population was a mere one out of every ten Americans. In terms of raw numbers, they had little hope of changing the mores of this nation.

But because the United States is a democracy whose Constitution promises all people specific rights that give them a place at the table and the right to pursue their dreams, African Americans had a chance to change the larger social context. Through the strategic deployment of various legal means—such as peaceful demonstrations, political lobbying, media influence, boycotts, and prayer—they were able to make their case to the public and to work through the political system. They created viable partnerships with a broad coalition of external groups—churches, other minority populations, various political groups, and associations—to advance their cause. And they were able to defeat overwhelming odds, and endure great injustices en route, to gain ground. African Americans stood firmly behind their

leaders and refused to back down, even when it meant physical pain or other personal hardships. Their unflagging passion, directed by brilliant leaders and channeled through the sacrificial participation of a relative handful of African American people, enabled them to rewrite the well-established norms of a

global superpower.

A current example of how a minuscule group can have a big voice in a cacophonous society is the experience of the gay community. Although gay people are no more than 3 percent to 5 per cent of the adult population, the nation is in tumult over their demands for marriage rights and other changes in policies that affect their lives. Taking a page from the playbook of the civil rights movement, the gay population has used the freedoms and rights provided by the Constitution to its advantage, enabling its members to get the public’s attention and persuade an increasingly sympathetic society to see things their way. Tens of millions of Americans who will never engage in or even consider embracing homosexual behaviors are nevertheless leaning toward or fully supportive of an array of new laws and policies that will satisfy the desires of the gay movement.

Sometimes the giant is vulnerable to the midget. The giant takes such great comfort in its size that it ignores or dismisses things that will eventually return to haunt it. And sometimes the same magnitude that has given the giant reason for comfort becomes the very attribute that disables the behemoth from responding in a timely, strategic, or otherwise effective manner.


THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

An inescapable fact of our society is that the vast majority of Americans are connected to Christianity to some degree. And yet, as further testimony to the fact that size is not everything, one of the disturbing conditions in present-day America is that no tribe—not even the Casual or Captive Christians—is allowed to freely pursue its faith without undue interference.

Like all faith tribes, Christian-based tribes must satisfy certain cultural requirements in order to live in a Christlike manner, which is their core spiritual mandate. Among those are to consistently worship their God, to obey His commands as outlined in the Bible, to serve God and people in meaningful ways, and to generously give and receive love. The nation’s democracy was supposed to provide such opportunities to the Christians who sacrificed so much to establish the United States. The desire to experience such freedoms was one of the precipitating motivations for establishing independence from British rule.

Some readers will be surprised to hear that the Christian based tribes in the United States do not currently have those freedoms and abilities. Similarly, in a country that is predicated upon delivering specified rights and their attendant freedoms to all of its citizens, other faith tribes suffer the indignity and injustice of being prevented from exercising those rights as their faith would lead them to.

If you doubt this, please read the biology textbooks used in many government-funded (i.e., public) schools, which make no bones about critiquing Christianity, eliminating faith-based views in favor of science-based explanations, or promoting “safe sex” rather than the biblical alternative of sexual abstinence. Consider the implications of laws that diminish the value of human life or redefine the biblical standard of marriage. Take note of government threats to, or restrictions on, families that homeschool their children for moral or religious reasons. Think about the implication of laws requiring Christian ministries to hire employees who reject their beliefs or who practice lifestyles that visibly and unapologetically conflict with the moral convictions of the ministry. Talk to Christian graduate students around the nation and discover how many of them jeopardize their advanced degrees or scholarly careers if they admit to believing in creationism. How many high school graduation speeches were altered this year by laws preventing students from incorporating their religious beliefs into their remarks? In certain states, Bibles are not allowed in the public school classroom.

These are but a handful of the incendiary examples of how the religious freedoms of just one of the tribes are trampled in the alleged interest of freedom. How we handle these issues has consistently divided the tribes within our country.


NOT SEEKING A THEOCRACY

Please do not miss where I’m headed with this argument. America was not meant to be a theocracy—that is, ruled by a given religious tribe. The dominant spiritual classes in our society should neither possess nor expect to have the final say on all legal and moral matters. In fact, our research consistently shows that Christians in America appreciate their neighbors who belong to other faith tribes; they simply do not want their own ability to serve their God limited by the discomfort or desires of those other tribes any more than the minority tribes want their freedoms to be limited or negated by the larger tribal groups.

In an odd way we have reached a stalemate. Significantly, our research indicates that the United States is presently a nation in which

• none of our faith tribes feel they are able to freely practice their faith without breaking laws or upsetting members of other tribes;

• each tribe feels that the other tribes do not understand what their faith is about and that they cannot get other tribes to give them a fair hearing;

• the freedoms of tribes to practice their faith and hold their particular beliefs are being eliminated by whichever tribe outmaneuvers the others within the political and legal arenas;

• tribal leadership has become more about political prowess exercised in the public domain than about the provision of spiritual and moral guidance within the confines of the tribe;

• people’s inability to experience the religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution is causing them to feel as if the nation is losing its heart and soul, and along with that, its greatness.


The problem facing America is not the presence of divergent faith tribes. For many years, the United States has had a diverse spiritual palette—and has been one of the most revered and successful

nations on earth because of it. The experience of other nations further confirms that being home to multiple faith tribes is not necessarily an issue. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that it is healthy to have a variety of faith perspectives resident in the same marketplace of ideas and lifestyles.

Faith tribes need not be adversarial; religious conflict is not so much an inevitable product of the differing principles of each tribe as it is a reflection of other values and factors driving the mother culture.

As we witness the deterioration of America, we have to ask the tough questions regarding why a once proud, stable, mighty country is now succumbing to shrill internecine battles over matters that could be creatively and amicably resolved. Based on an extensive examination of data and other cultural information, I’d like to offer a perspective for your consideration.


WORLDVIEWS AND VALUES

Everyone has some type of religious faith. That faith shapes our worldviews. Those worldviews dictate the values we embrace. These values influence the choices we make and the lives we lead.

The United States is a land in which there are competing worldviews and values, which produce diverse lifestyles and expectations. The breadth of worldviews and values that reside within the nation are partly responsible for the variety that has enabled the country to continue to play a major role on the world stage.

But that variety can sometimes create a gulf between what makes for a strong and cohesive nation and one that is satisfied simply to feel good in the moment. America is faced with this dilemma today: should we demonstrate restraint and invest in cross-tribal relationships in order to remain a strong and vibrant nation over the long run, or should we give in to our desire to take the road that demands less now but will likely lead to our demise in the future?

Human history shows that sometimes we forget that what is possible and what is fruitful are two different things. America appears to be at a juncture in history where we have to clarify the shared values that are advantageous and the divergent viewpoints that could ultimately harm the nation.


A WORD ABOUT THE RESEARCH

This book addresses what some of my friends have characterized as a “big idea.” I want you to know that it is not simply a thought that has germinated in my mind for a while before I decided to commit

it to paper. The concepts presented in these pages were borne from more than one million dollars’ worth of research.

For the past quarter century, I have been studying the role of faith in American society. From the nationwide surveys investigating people’s faith that my company regularly conducts with representative samples of one thousand or more adults, I have developed an extensive sense of what makes Americans tick. Each of our surveys includes a standard battery of theolographic questions—inquiries regarding what they believe, how they practice their faith, the role of faith, how it becomes integrated into their daily experience, and so forth.

For this book, I combined the results from a number of surveys, using the common theolographic questions as the foundation through which to filter a very wide range of attitudes, behaviors, values, and perceptions expressed in the various surveys. In total, I had the opportunity to slice and dice the population in relation to more than 500 different measurement criteria (576 distinct variables, to be exact). Using various statistical techniques, I found that Americans’ faith can be categorized into a series of segments, which we will refer to as the seven tribes. And it is on the basis

of the information related to each tribe that I will be describing what is happening in our society today. Please note that this is not a book of personal opinions but a compilation of thousands of opinions culled from the people being profiled. I realize that not every member of any tribe thinks or behaves in exactly the same way. However, by providing an overview of each faith group, I believe we can come to a better understanding of what unites us. (For more information about the procedures used, read appendix 4, which describes our research methodology.)


ROAD MAP

Having made the argument that America is on a crash course for self-destruction, we can either sit back and watch, complicit in the collapse, or we can strategically attempt to revitalize the nation. Toward the latter course of action, let’s take a strategic journey into the following areas.


Stage one

Identify and study the faith tribes: who they are, what they believe, how they live, and what they are passionate about. From this exploration we will be able to better identify and understand the core values that drive the nation—and may serve as the route to a better future.


Stage two

Identify and examine the prevalent worldviews that America’s faith tribes embrace and determine what each body of beliefs and convictions adds to the American condition. Given our philosophical

leanings, we can then identify common values and principles that satisfy the views of the seven tribes. Acknowledging and pursuing those shared values can facilitate the healing and restoration of our nation. The necessary dialogue that must occur could revolve around our shared commitment to these ideals.


Stage three

Explore the reasons behind the failure of American leaders and institutions—political, religious, and family—to unite the nation around a set of shared values and goals. Consider why they’ve been unable to maintain a healthy and robust dialogue around the critical dimensions of modern life. Beyond such analysis, though, we will consider action steps that each of those critical entities could take to move America toward restoration.


Stage four

Americans are fighting wars on many fronts: financial, moral, religious, educational, military, familial, and so forth. We will end this journey with a challenge to adopt a common view of where we, as a nation, can go in unison. Accepting and mastering the challenge will then allow us to become better world citizens. The United States will face continued crises and challenges, but if the people of this republic can learn to share a set of values and goals that resonate with our most deeply held convictions, we will be better equipped to handle the trials and exploit the opportunities that arise.


THERE IS NO TIME TO LOSE

Hundreds of once-great societies have risen and collapsed in the face of similar challenges. From history, we can learn how to sidestep the tribulations that led to their demise. It is a multifaceted challenge that requires everyone, not just our best and our brightest, to participate in the solution. Greatness never comes by the government or charismatic leaders coercing the people to get in line. Cultural endurance is not the result of endless experimentation and self-indulgence. A satisfied citizenry does not emerge from being pampered and spared the hard work of investing in and sustaining democratic principles and practices.

If the United States is to enter its fourth century as a strong and enduring nation, it must embrace and embody the selfless values that carried the country through its first two-plus centuries of freedom and fulfillment. We are indeed a resilient nation, but if we insist on shedding communal sensibilities in favor of personal liberty and self-satisfaction, we will experience an agonizing demise. If, however, we remember that there is a greater good, indeed a higher calling, that we can collectively achieve, we can effectively contribute to making our nation and the entire world a better place.

Faith, shared values, compassionate and empathetic dialogue, visionary leadership, healthy families—these are the components of restoration that must be harnessed for the common good. We have the capacity. Will we use it?