Cecil Health Update

03.07.13 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[0]

Boeing-787

Written 12 hours ago

Medical update:  I try to post a new blog on Friday but the last few days have been pretty hectic and a little disconcerting.  First, we have a very close family member who is in hospice with end-stage mesothelioma.  That's a major concern for the entire family.  Friday night my ICD fired again - a bad one - and it took the rest of the weekend to feel better physically and psychologically.  The doctors thought it may have been caused by a medication change made earlier in the day but it could also just be the ongong effects of heart failure.

On the positive side, two more patients got hearts in the last week.  They're both doing well in recovery and their prognosis is good.  Also, the Democrat and Chronicle ran an article Sunday that focused on the heart transplant program at Strong and the "poker guys".  It was a very well-done piece.  If you're interested you can find it on their website - I think the title is "The 7 of Hearts" - and it's also available as an iPad app.

Thank you for your continued prayers for us, the doctors and staff and the donor's family, whoever they may be.  God is at work and we just press on day by day.

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James McNerney is in a very difficult position.  After a successful two-decade executive career running the aircraft engine division at General Electric, he was tapped to be CEO of 3M.  In 2005 he left 3M to become CEO of The Boeing Company.  The biggest reason he was hired was to manage the Boeing 787 program.  You probably saw stories about the Dreamliner several weeks ago when in the course of several days it made its commercial debut, experienced serious technical problems and was grounded by the FAA.  Several hundred were sold to airlines around the world but only fifty were in service when the plane was grounded.  There is no scheduled date to return the planes to the air.

McNerney had a reputation for managing costs while expediting the roll out of new products.  Boeing had already spent over a billion dollars in developing the 787 but the most significant aspect of the project wasn’t its state of the art design or the materials it was built with.  What made it groundbreaking was that Boeing built only 30% of the plane.  The rest was doled out to subcontractors around the world.

It used to be that components were designed and built by Boeing and a small group of vendors, some of whom had worked with the aerospace company since the Second World War.  But in the case of the 787, the subcontracted parts, whole sections of the airplane, were designed and built around the world and shipped to Boeing’s Everett, Washington plant for assembly.  However, frequent project management changes, redesigns, retooling and a host of other problems pushed the launch date back nearly four years and increased the cost per plane to over $200 million dollars.  Today, ten billion dollars worth of airplanes are sitting on the tarmac around the world.

The expected gains – cost savings, diversification of risk, and a faster delivery schedule – turned instead into higher costs, a loss of control over the subcontractors and repeated delays.  Many concerns remain – design and manufacturing issues must be resolved and the FAA must recertify the plane; investors will not see returns from anticipated sales this year which will affect the stock price.  Additionally, the cost savings Boeing hoped to realize will be lost to delivery penalties and ultimately, the bad press could have at least a short-term negative impact on the public’s comfort level with the planes. 

Why did a company that had been a stalwart in the aviation industry for decades – that created the B-29 Superfortress bomber, the 707 jetliner and the 747, the world’s first wide-body aircraft  – relinquish its role in the design and manufacture of this next generation plane?  Because American business has become so risk averse that innovation is no longer considered worthwhile.  The tolerance for risk in many corporations is outweighed by the fear associated with it. 

We have allowed our competitive edge to be dulled by the mindset that playing it safe and keeping the status quo is more important than encouraging the competitive spirit that made the U.S. a world leader for generations.  Corporate-speak isn’t about product development; it’s more like “We have to keep Wall Street happy” and “If earnings are off by more than two cents a share this quarter, (insert gloom and doom consequence)”.  Profits are essential but so is innovation.  Playing it safe with small, incremental change can end up costing us more in the long run.  R&D departments are in budget strangleholds while CEOs assure the markets that they’re getting close to “the next big thing”. 

There’s a parallel to this story that has nothing to do with business or the airline industry.  The underlying reasons for Boeing’s troubles could also be applied to the contemporary American church.  Four areas stand out:  losing focus on the core business, an aversion to taking risks, the lack of innovation and the downside of outsourcing.

Here’s what I mean.  The church of Jesus Christ is a unique entity because it is a living body; it is not a denomination or particular brand of theology.  There is one God, one Savior, one Lord and we are grafted into the tree of life by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.  Beyond that you can debate doctrinal positions and methodology but our foundation, our hope is in Christ alone.

As Boeing used to design, manufacture and build airplanes so the essentials of the faith have always been the core business of the church.  But in many ways the church has moved beyond the simple proclamation of the gospel to include mindsets and agendas that, even if they are not in conflict with the gospel (and I would question that in many areas), they are extra-biblical. 

Church has become synonymous with daycare, marriage and financial counseling, Boy Scouts, thinly-veiled political activism, youth groups and a host of other things that have nothing to do with its core message. 

Another factor in the Boeing situation was the unwillingness to assume risk.  The board of directors and senior management were very concerned about how stockholders would respond if the company assumed all the billions of dollars of financial responsibility.  So they spread the risk around and with it the potency of the normal procedures and controls.  If a subcontractor experienced delays for several months, Boeing had no choice but to wait.  If costs rose and sometimes they did, as much as 400%, Boeing paid the price. 

Along with the church’s move away from its core business, its aversion to risk is another problem.  What risk?  Start with the consequences of standing for truth.  I’m not referring to a legalistic, monolithic stance against society or change.  But truth does not change.  It cannot be smoothed over to meet the whims of the culture.  The more we minimize the horrific nature of Christ’s sacrifice in order to make it palatable the less value the world places on it.  When we present a ‘best-friend’ Jesus we devalue his divinity.  He is a friend “who sticks closer than a brother” but he is also holy and righteous and expects no less from us.    We are at great peril as are those we speak to if we present a lesser Christ.        

Then there’s the church’s lack of innovation and creativity in expressing faith.  Boeing’s problem was symptomatic of a nationwide trend – in attempting to satisfy shareholders and avoid risk they abdicated their leadership position within their industry.  The same is true in many churches.  Innovation is more than having a state-of-the-art multimedia setup, a trendy worship band and a hip, casual setting.  For centuries the church was the leader in the arts – writing, art, music, architecture, thought.  Look at the great cathedrals of Europe or the churches built in the U.S. in the last two centuries.  Artisans created them from a vision and craftsmen built them to the glory of God.  They themselves were an act of worship.  Today?  Our first concern is the budget.  Then we need to make it a multi-purpose facility.  Function has overtaken form.  Most churches look bland and predictable like chain stores and restaurants.  Drive through any American city and you’ll see Pizza Hut, Holiday Inn Express, Applebee’s, Best Buy, Wal Mart, oh, and look – there’s First Methodist Church.  Just like First Baptist in Albuquerque.  And First Assembly in Madison.  Where’s the uniqueness and creativity that should come from people whose lives have been touched by the spirit of the living God?       

Lastly, what about outsourcing?  Boeing believed that having 70% of the most technologically advanced plane it had ever introduced built by outside companies would save money and simplify its role.  In reality the opposite proved true.  We have a kind of outsourcing in the church as well.  From Sunday school material to study guides that accompany the latest books from top Christian authors; from being a “Proverbs 31” woman or a “Promise Keepers” man to conferences and DVD teaching series, the church outsources its primary role, to teach God’s Word.  These things are all well-intended but at the same time they pull us away from the basics - God’s word, well-studied, rightly divided and clearly understood.  Why is Biblical illiteracy such a problem?  Because by outsourcing we grow people who know a lot about the Bible but they don’t know the Bible.

Will the 787 get back in the air?  Eventually, yes.  What lessons will American business learn from the problems Boeing encountered?  That remains to be seen.  What do the parallels between Boeing’s experience and the church mean for the future? 

By its very nature truth has a hard edge.  If you soften it what you are representing is no longer truth.  But while truth is our focal point and the basis for our actions we must realize that the world has changed and continues to whether we like it or not.  As much as the Christian faith played a central role in the history of our nation, today it is joined by many more voices at the table of public discourse.  The 1870s and 1950s and 1980s are gone forever.  The myopic vision of America being a “Christian nation” is no longer true.  So rather than wasting our time mourning its passing or trying to recreate it, why don’t we assess the situation, lose the distractions and refocus on the simple truth of God’s Word?

Seeing where there is common ground does not compromise the essentials of the faith.  But it does require a more open and less fixed mindset.  We cannot continue to use litmus tests as qualifiers for inclusion.   We must accept that our beliefs and values will be found offensive by some.  We need to embrace failure as something normal on the path to success.  And I hope by now we’ve learned that we can’t use political means to achieve spiritual ends.  Fear of taking risks reflects a lack of trust in God.  Backing away from our core message, outsourcing and losing our creative influence are all indicators that our focus is off and our efforts are misdirected.  Unless we allow risk, unleash innovation, rely on common sense and employ civility in our churches, we will continue to be marginalized – and have only ourselves to blame. 

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