09.27.10

etoh

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:35 pm by Administrator

after about a day of contemplation, i think i have made the decision to abstain from alcohol—forever.

if i knew that i had hep C, it’d be an easy decision. alcohol dramatically increases the progression of Hep C liver disease, and i routinely counsel all my Hep C patients to abstain completely from alcohol. and who knows? maybe i do have Hep C from one of the half-dozen needle sticks i’ve suffered in medicine.

but as far as i know, i don’t have hep C. what i do have is something that is perhaps no less dangerous: an innate capacity to tolerate, benefit from, and enjoy alcohol.

i didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until my senior year in high school—and that was a glass of Reunite that i shared with my dad maybe once a month. he’d been “prescribed” red wine by his doc to alleviate his stress and improve his health. he hated it; one sip made him sweat and flush. i didn’t love it either, but for different reasons. the alcohol made me feel hazy. i couldn’t concentrate as well on my homework. but wine didn’t make me feel sick; and i quickly realized that i could go through a glass and feel that hazy feeling evolve into a pleasant fuzzy feeling, especially if i took it slow and with food.

i made it a point in college not to drink until i was 21, and even then i drank rarely and in moderation. perhaps it helped that all of my roommates were grossly intolerant of alcohol. the cambridge bar scene was pathetic to me. freshman guys were always trying to sneak into the Crimson or get into senior parties, and all the prattling about who got plastered and what stupid things they did in their inebriation seemed to me both senseless and self-destructive. i never “got” it; and even when i was legal, i couldn’t understand why losing inhibitions, losing sleep, and then waking up with a hangover really made for a pleasant night. for me, wine with a good meal was supposed to be an aesthetic sort of pleasure, something that required both discernment and self-control; and as i was groomed in upper-crust sensibilities in college, i pretended at being knowledgeable and particular about wine. in truth, i never had any idea what i was drinking.

it wasn’t until i was twenty-six, a first-year resident at hopkins, that my whole relationship with alcohol changed. up until that point, i’d never been drunk in my life; i’d never really enjoyed the feeling of the 2nd glass of wine. during my internship year, something changed in me, spiritually. i became a genuinely dark person. i spent my days and nights with sick, ugly people, and the manipulative heroin addicts of East Baltimore convinced me that humanity at its root is perfectly evil. i stopped perceiving my profession as one which relieved suffering; i began to enjoy the side of medicine that enabled a doctor to reduce a patient to numbers and concepts that he could control. i enjoyed the ICU in particular, that place where my patients were silent and utterly submitted to every procedure that i subjected them to. i loathed my patients; and i hated myself for feeling that way.

this was a terrible place for me spiritually. i didn’t drink for amusement or for socializing; i drank alone, so that i could forget about my life. by mid-year, i was drinking at least one or two beers every night, without fail.

intern year was also the year that i began binge drinking, on top of my chronic self-medication. i drank heavily with any opportunity for free liquor—weddings, holiday parties, family gatherings. this pattern continued well after my training was completed. once i had a corporate box seat for a basketball game and cleaned off a bottle of wine, three shots of whiskey, and two beers by half-time. it was a noon game, and i was wrecked for the rest of the day.

when i look at what happens to me when i drink, i can make a few interesting observations. first, my thinking slows, but in many ways it feels far more lucid, simply because my thinking and feeling are less inhibited. second, i feel like i am more truly myself the more i drink; i feel more comfortable with who i am, i’m happier, and i find it easier to relate to other people. third, i always feel like i’m approaching bliss but never quite there. one more drink is always a good idea.

it’s the latter factor that most frightens me when i think about it. it’s not simply that i lose control when i drink heavily; i can’t trust myself to recognize when i’m losing control. i can’t weigh the pros and cons, and i can’t judge myself properly. drinking always puts me on a path that leads to more drinking, even if it just starts with sipping someone else’s beer. i can’t stop.

in many ways, medicine has destroyed my life. it precipitated my depression, it traumatized me, and it forever darkened my general view of humanity. it has also revealed within me a certain propensity for alcoholism, and as much as i’d like to argue that i’m not even close to that sort of pathology, i wonder if i can even trust myself to make that judgment.

at the same time, i’ve recognized along the way that there is something truly incredible about the experience of inebriation. for me, the total loss of inhibition and sadness is the closest thing to heaven that i’ve ever experienced; no other experience so powerfully relieves my chronic sadness, my self-loathing, my anger. perhaps it’s much like the ring, from Lord of the Rings. once one has worn that ring, he is forever cursed by it; he can never return to being the person that he once was.

i’ve realized that i can’t moderate my consumption; i just have to stop it, and stop it completely. perhaps it is not a surprise that this revelation is coming to me at a time in my life when i’m recognizing the spiritual idea of self-death in totally transformative ways. downing a beer while watching Sunday football used to be a central feature of my life. now, i’m giving up both television and alcohol. my Sunday afternoons are suddenly and frighteningly quiet and full of boding. it’s like an empty page, demanding its story. yesterday, on Sunday, i lay down and i thought about that. i thought about that for a long, long time

thoughts before the week

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:50 am by Administrator

i delivered a scatterbrained announcement to the congregation today about the inauguration of our small-group and men’s ministries. at one point, i paused and realized that i was veritably sermonizing and essentially on the verge of issuing an angry tirade about our culture of individualism and flakiness. fortunately, people laughed at all the parts when i was most worked up, which reassured me that i had not yet reached the point of no return.

reminder to self: do not issue announcements when you are tired and frustrated. it may be fatal.

a moment for myself, to celebrate the good:
1) 3 months without television: i’ve done remarkably well without television. i’m reading more and listening to more music, and i couldn’t be happier with the results. i don’t know how my wife and son are faring, but they really don’t seem to be missing it much either.
2) the end of starcraft: it’s not just starcraft. i’ve really nearly stopped player Cities and Knights, and because i’ve made it a point to skip out on Sunday and Monday NFL games, i’ve essentially lost interest in fantasy football as well. i thought i’d go into withdrawal; but i don’t miss these things at all.
3) going to bed early: i’ve been making it a point to be in bed before 10 PM every night (most workday nights by 9:30) which means i’m getting an early start on the next day. the most impressive thing to me is that i’m not phase-delaying myself on weekends, to compensate for my shorter nights. i really feel no motivation to stay up late anymore.
4) living today: on a daily basis, i really have begun to marginalize the concepts of past and future. i’ve stopped checking my account balance; i’ve stopped thinking about my retirement; i’ve stopped thinking about how we will make ends meet if i leave whatever job i’m doing at the moment. i’m beginning to relish the idea that the lesser things take their proper shape when the bigger things are properly defined.

a moment now, to contemplate where i need to change:
1) anger: i still have recurrent and unforgiving sentiments toward a colleague i parted ways with several months ago. i’d like to forgive—in the fullest sense of forgiveness, even though i know that the two of us will not talk or interact ever again.
2) alcohol: i have seasons where i drink little, but then i have seasons where i drink every day. and when alcohol is free, i have difficultly cutting myself off. the strange thing is that my extremely high tolerance makes it very difficult to recognize when i have had too much to drink. at a work function on friday, i had three glasses of Scotch (probably a shot and a half per glass?) and a tall glass of a red wine over the course of two hours, most of that on an empty stomach, and i honestly can’t say that i stayed tipsy after the initial buzz. i’ve been “drunk” by my own admission perhaps five times in my life, although i’m sure i’ve been over the “legal limit” on innumerable occasions. i’m contemplating a fast–and perhaps even total abstinence from alcohol, with perhaps choice exceptions (weddings).
3) a second child: i’ll be honest. for the past several weeks, i’ve been finding ways to either fall asleep quickly or stay out of bed, mainly to avoid conceiving a second child. i’m really going back and forth on this, and i want to figure this out for sure. the idea of raising a second baby is just not sitting well with me, and i really don’t want to go through the pregnancy, the birthing process, and that first year of life all over again. i mean, if we were guaranteed a daughter—and a healthy, devoted daughter at that—then i’d make the sacrifice. call it selfishness. or call it realism! i don’t care what you call it. i’m still very conflicted about whether i want any more children, and this internal conflict is beginning to disrupt my lifestyle.
4) writing: despite the extraordinary direction my life in community has taken, i still do feel a deep desire to write creatively. this blog isn’t good enough for me, in that regard. it’s the curse of every writer who has deemed himself a novelist; he is doomed to consider himself a failure until he has completed that first perfect novel. i am on my 3rd idea in the past year, but really i’m beginning to doubt more than simply my capacity to sit down and write; i’m beginning to wonder if i should do away with the dream entirely.
5) my weight: yes, i have some neurosis about my weight. i want to lose another 8 pounds. here is another area where i need either to get it done by properly restricting my diet or to do away with this expectation and stop feeling guilty about the carbs i consume.

09.22.10

burnout, other reflections

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:39 pm by Administrator

on my last job, i was routinely finished with work around 1 or 2 PM and constantly trying to figure out what to do with myself for much of my afternoons. for a month or two the incredible “flexibility” (as my colleagues termed it) was very pleasant; eventually it became tremendously demoralizing, as the uselessness i felt at work eventually permeated the rest of my life, progressively transforming me into a listless wreck over a period of two years.

the challenge nowadays is a bit different. i’m in 10 hours of meetings and 30 hours of fairly intense clinic, managing or in close daily contact with at least twenty other staff. every lunch is either a meeting, an “in-service”, or a planning session. in my first six weeks on the job, i’ve been in about half-dozen “brainstorming” sessions focused on the future of my organization. in the midst of this, i’ve already had to handle an operations restructuring, two resignations, and a physician termination.

and that’s just work.

i’ve been logging at least 6-10 hours every week planning for, thinking about, or discussing the themes and curricula for our church’s small group ministry (undergoing overhaul) and the men’s ministry (rapidly growing). within the next two weeks, both ministries will be kicking off, meaning that two evenings of my week will be wholly absorbed in ministry activity, along with two other nights a month for monthly debrief concerning each of these ministries.

when i was languishing in a terribly unsuitable and solitary job last year, my primary outlets were also solitary: watching football, playing computer games. now, i don’t play computer games and we don’t even have television service anymore. my outlets have become social. as relational as my roles at work and church have become, my necessity for quality interactions has only increased; i need socializing, not solitude, for relief from stress.

the signs of stress are already beginning to become manifest. i’m waking up at 1 in the morning and finding myself unable to go back to sleep. if i’m not managing my sleep, diet, and exercise closely, then i’m finding myself terribly exhausted by week’s end. i’m forgetting things unless i write them down. i’m having headaches.

i like the intense sense of engagement; it’s new for me. but i’m also aware that i’m being stretched, to the point of physical malady. i sometimes worry that i’m on the verge of throwing out my back again. i’m beginning to wonder if i’m headed for burnout. and i don’t know what i should do if i sense it happening. in the Men’s Ministry, i have plenty of support, but this is not the case with the Small Group ministry or with my clinic; if i start to underperform in those arenas, no one will pick up the slack for me.

i have begun to realize that the same situation exists for me at home, perhaps to an even greater extent. my sense of responsibility in work and church has perhaps sensitized me to the incredible responsibility i have with respect to my son. if i fail as a father, there will be few who will notice, until it is too late; and there will be no one to take on my responsibility.

but here’s an odd thing i also recognize. for the first time in my life, i welcome the incredible responsibility, and i am allowing it to define me. because the alternative i have experienced is the emptiness that leads to depression. i believe that i will never long for the solitary life ever again.

i think more than ever before that i need a restorative relationship, perhaps even a mentorship. interestingly, i’ve found myself cultivating my wife for that role, in the hope that she can be my primary discipler and guide. it’s not a role that she’s willing to embrace, however. it’s not that she views herself as beneath me in any way; we strive toward total egalitarianism in the home. i think it’s just that this is not where her gifting is. she doesn’t want to make plans for my life, hold me accountable to a vision, or correct me. our fellowship is restorative because our companionship is enjoyable; but i’m looking for something different in a mentor.

i will admit though that my track record proves that my expectations of a mentor are incredibly high. i want a mentor who is not only discerning but also very interested in developing my potential as a person. honestly, i can’t think of anyone right now. i believe that this is the challenge that lies before me: i must find someone to lead me, or i will fail as a leader.

09.20.10

reincarnation

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:14 pm by Administrator

we are reincarnated after death, some say;
Gandhi said he was reborn every day;
today my spirit was supposed to awaken
with the rest of me, but it went another way.

it goes to show that there is no math for change;
no equation of causes and effects we can arrange;
only the bewilderment of finding, when past is gone,
in mourning’s reflection, someone strange

09.16.10

death

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 pm by Administrator

a doctor got shot at hopkins yesterday, on a unit that i rotated through during my 2nd and 3rd years. a patient’s family member shot the doc, then killed the patient and himself. the doctor is alive but in critical condition.

aside from being attacked by one of my patients there, i generally felt safe at hopkins, with just a few exceptions. my worst personal experience at hopkins was a needle stick, which for more than a year haunted me with visions of my impending death from either cirrhosis or AIDS. of course i saw death in its various forms happen to others; it was sometimes quiet and predictable, but more often than not it was agonizing, protracted, and terrifying to observe. i saw several of my patients die right in front of me. i will never forget the look of death.

recently, i talked to a woman who went through a terrible experience with one of my friends. they’ve both suffered a lot as a result of a relationship gone sour. my friend for his part is going through something of a private hell; i described it to his ex-girlfriend as something approaching death. instead of having the desired effect of conveying the depth of his misery, the word triggered a very unusual response. “we ALL have to die!” she exclaimed, as if it were a self-evident truth.

i hear a lot of sermons about death. i write about figurative “death” all the time. but the irony of it is that no one alive really knows anything about death. for Christians, “death” is a convenient way of describing one sort of spiritual truth. but i wonder if we trivialize the idea of death when we talk about it so flippantly, as if it were just a fact of life.

the conversation i had shocked me deeply, and it’s made me wonder whether in fact much of our theorizing, preaching, and teaching on the idea of spiritual death is actually misguided. my recent journey has led me to believe that my own fixation with death was not only morbid but also rooted in a very solitary idea of the spiritual walk. i now find myself extremely embarrassed that i’ve used death to describe my own experiences of humiliation and failure, because truly that is such exaggeration. even if, from the third-person perspective, i could describe my process of self-loss as “death”, i think that this is only metaphor, at best. i’ve seen real death. i can honestly attest that i have never experienced anything like it in my life.

i am hopeful that the doctor will come out of this okay. i remember Baltimore, and all the death i saw there, and i remember that i am not equipped to explain death or really understand it. i hate death, and i fear it. and no matter what i go through in life, i hope that i will always be able to admit this.

09.15.10

ko rean am erican

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:42 pm by Administrator

isaac woke up vomiting around 4, and since i couldn’t go back to sleep i saw the netflix movie that arrived: west 32nd.

i don’t know why reading or watching anything created about my particular ethnic subculture really gives me the willies. characters seem fake and they don’t come off the page; the acting’s always weak and the roles are too sterile. west 32nd for example was about korean gangsters in new york city. i found myself cringing, because the RS (room salon) scene is a fairly uninteresting backdrop for an already hardly believable premise of organized KA gang activity. we’ve seen movies about Asian gangs, mainly focused on the HK Triads and the Yakuza. they’re only interesting when they’re set in Asia. in America, authentic gang stories generally fall into one of three categories: Italian Mafia, L.A. Mexican, and inner-city black American.

i think that what troubles me about Korean-Am pop culture is that it tries so hard to put an arbitrarily Korean flavor on mainstream American elements. take “K Town”; it appears to be a blatant rip-off of Jersey Shore. take “Free Food”, a book about up-and-comers in Manhattan. the “Korean” flavor is the backdrop of sullen immigrant parents and their black-haired overachieving children. these are slight variations on a fairly pedestrian theme. in these cases, ethnicity is a belabored and ultimately false overtone that actually detracts from the believability of the characters.

the trouble for me is that i find it difficult to essentialize Korean-american culture. i’ve written about this before. the community has a few distinctive characteristics: inner-city grocery stores and laundromats, fanatical churches, high scores on standardized tests, and pickled cabbage. that’s about it. otherwise, i find it difficult to culturally distinguish Korean-Am’s from their Caucasian and Jewish peers, many of whom also have working-class parents, church or synagogue backgrounds, a personal history of overachievement due to parental pressure, and a taste for spicy cuisine. as a result, i find it hard to imagine that there ever could be a “Korean-American novel”, in the way that Woman Warrior and Joy Luck Club were Chinese-American feminist novels, or in the way that Kite Runner could represent a uniquely Afghani-American experience. i have yet to experience something “Korean-American” in art or literature which i’ve found to be authentic or personally meaningful.

maybe if i read or saw something that was essentially an immigrant story—light on blatant stereotypes, more focused on the idiosyncrasies of personal narrative—then perhaps i wouldn’t feel so clubbed over the head by the incidentally Korean-american characters. or if an artist/writer did happen to capture something essential, then i think that might be exciting. i haven’t yet run across a story about the korean-american church, which could certainly make for some good stories given that the korean-american church is both weird and cross-cultural.

my wife is actually interested in studying korean-american literature, and we recently discussed a documentary she saw which was focused on the American adoption of Korean orphans in the post-Korean War period. in so many words, she described the filmmaker’s position as anti-American, as the premise of the documentary was that the adoption of Korean children was rooted in America’s imperial ambitions for Korea. i’m not sure if the filmmaker was korean-Am, but i think it’s a potential stance for Korean-Am self-definition, as it interposes the korean-american in a discrete position between two nations with a problematic relationship. the trouble for me with this stance is that it could only be reasonably justified by a fairly rigorous analysis of the political history of Korea since the Korean War. if anything, i believe that the evidence is much stronger for the view that America has facilitated South Korea’s unique sense of sovereignty rather than simply casting South Korea as a subservient vassal state.

we are left with the possibility that Korean-ams have been effectively assimilated into mainstream American culture and that S. Korea has been a model of national independence and growth within the auspices of an American era. i don’t much subscribe to these cut-and-dry judgments, but on the other hand i’d argue that it’s difficult to create a political or cultural case for ethnic ambivalence, resistance, or diversion from the dominant culture. does this make the korean-american experience intrinsically less interesting? i don’t think that it has to; but as long as our art/literature continues to harp on the false premise that we are as conflicted as our immigrant peers, we may continue to find ourselves frustrated as niche artists.

09.12.10

prayer time

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:48 pm by Administrator

on my run this morning, i told God that i couldn’t take it anymore. another firing; another relationship gone wrong; another character flaw exposed. “i’ve had enough,” i told God. “enough humiliation. i’d rather not try than to try and fail.”

and God had something to say.

“perhaps you’ve been ’saved’ for a long time. was the word useful for you?” i thought about it. “perhaps it was useful to you,” He continued. “but being saved didn’t change what you were. because when you struggled, you struggled alone. when you strived, you strived for yourself. your spirituality was a rudimentary spirituality. were you ’saved’? did it matter? you were just like everyone else who didn’t know God. you just used a different vernacular to describe your experience.”

harsh, i thought. but perhaps true.

“there is a difference between those who struggle alone and those who struggle within the body,” He said. “those who struggle alone experience struggle as the foreshadowing of death. but those who identify with Christ—those who are incorporated into His body—experience struggle as the actualization of life. until i presented Christ to you through Dave Silver, through that quote from B.B. Warfield, you were perhaps ’saved’ in your own eyes; but you didn’t know Christ. all of your struggles were humiliating to you; they crushed your spirit and made you crave death.”

“it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or fail,” He told me. “it matters whether or not the body of Christ comes together for the glory of God. if you can recognize this, then you know what it means to carry your cross; to live in Christ; to live a thousand lives. if you can recognize this, then death is not the story of your life; your resurrection has already begun.”

09.10.10

9/11 remembered, again

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:29 pm by Administrator

9/11—the worst day of my entire life. we’re now sufficiently removed from the experience that the day is coming to mean many different things to many different people.

there are a lot of people who are still angry and frustrated about the perceived instigators of the 9/11 plot. others believe we’ve gone “the wrong way” as a result of misguided anger. in every thread that i’m reading by Americans, there’s still a strong sense of what 9/11 means specifically to members of the U.S. nation. even Obama stated today that we must remember we are “one nation under God”, even if we have different ideas about what “God” means. it’s the most perplexing post-modern political take on the pledge of allegiance that i’ve ever heard.

i remember a lot of things about 9/11.

the horror when i saw the towers crumble apart. i didn’t expect that at all. i just thought there would be a bad fire on the upper floors. when the towers fell, i thought about the incredible amount of death i must have just witnessed.

anger that i felt against Muslims. a desire to hurt Arabs.

rage that i felt against a native Korean friend of mine, who expressed the idea that “America deserved it”. we were at a restaurant, and i was virtually yelling at her across the table. that was a day when i felt American, not “Korean-American”. the hyphenated identity has become nearly meaningless to me in the aftermath of 9/11.

it was such a gorgeous day that day, wasn’t it? 70 degrees, clear skies, dry and crisp.

self-loathing. i experienced so much self-loathing in the months that followed 9/11. eventually that led me to overcompensate for my anti-Arabic sentiments. i nearly got an Arabic tattoo; i read part of the Qur’an; i vociferously opposed the Afghani and Iraq Wars.

one day, if i become an old man, my grandchildren will interview me about my experience with 9/11, and i’ll tell them that it was the most bewildering time in my whole life. but i continue to believe that the most amazing aspect of that experience was the instantaneous transformation of my identity. i became mortal. and then i became American—in the most patriotic and bellicose manner imaginable. and then i became anti-American. and then i became human, in a very isolated, complicated, and painful way.

here where i am now, i look at what i was after 9/11, and i am grateful that i was not in a position to teach or inflict upon others what i believed at the time. i experienced a lot of hatred and anger in those years, some of which i’m still coming to grips with even now. a part of me has remained a willing participant in the scripted battle of good versus evil. i’ll hear about a bad man killed by a drone in Waziristan or a Talibani assassinated in Afghanistan and i’ll feel better about my world. but then, i’ll remind myself that nothing good has come of this; and this is not my war; and in fact, this is not my country, not anymore.

Paul was a Roman citizen, but he gave his political allegiance to the other king he had come to discover. i’m an American citizen, and like Paul, i’ve had to evaluate what this citizenship really means. i recognize the benefits of my citizenship, and yet i question the real value of my nationality. i’ve come to believe that to take any measure of pride in my nationality is to give to Caesar far more than he deserves. like every other nation in the world’s history, the United States will have its rise and fall; in many respects, it will prove itself just as fallen as every empire that has come before it.

there are some things i really love about this country: its history, its rule of law, the separation of church and state, the free press, the open criticism of our political leaders, the rugged beauty of its land, the ideals of civil rights and personal entitlements expressed in its culture. but i love these things like an outsider looking in; i feel no investment in the durability of this nation or its traditions. i see it as a point of reference for an era. and within this era, there is a real people to which i belong, but their identities are hidden from me. i long to see my real nation manifest. instead, i find that we’re asleep; we’re obscured from one another; we masquerade as participants in the cultural forms which, despite their structures and declarations, defy the truth.

9/11 reminds me that nations and national boundaries highlight the inevitable curse of our civilization—our incessant need to identify with an arbitrary tribe, to conquer our oppressors, and to enjoy the fruits of oppressing others. periodically, we’ll endow one tribe with the means to conquer the others; later, retribution will be enacted, and the balance of power shall shift. new nations will arise from the old ones; skin colors will evolve; languages will blend; and new forms of hegemony will emerge. it is a tiring pattern. 9/11 once made me angry. now it makes me weary.

i will have a moment of silence on 9/11. i will remember the dead. i will think of peoplehood, and how impossible it is. i will pray, when oh when God do your people get to rise up and quash poverty and war, to do away with our childish and regrettable ways, and to make way for the new heaven and the new earth that you promised to us so long ago. have you forgotten us, God? remember us, in our time. remember us, and bring us back from exile, to the land you promised our forefathers

09.09.10

manhood

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:48 pm by Administrator

i jokingly told my wife a couple nights ago that my last entry was indeed my “magnum opus”. it captures so much of what i have felt and struggled with over the past three years that it is possibly the most “essential” thing i’ve written. i almost feel like i can now take a break from blogging—for years.

but of course i won’t.

a few developments i’m pleased with:
1) we discontinued cable TV three months ago (which means we have no television service whatsoever). my wife misses the Food network; my son occasionally asks about his old favorite programs; but i miss nothing. the NFL season is about to kick off tonight, and i WON’T be watching. i consider this perhaps the most notable evidence of personal growth that i’ve observed in years.
2) since Starcraft 2 was released, i haven’t given a thought to purchasing it or playing it. in fact, i’ve committed myself to never getting back into PC gaming of that variety ever again.
3) i’ve been finishing an average of a book a week—which is particularly impressive to me given that for the six years that i was in baltimore, i read perhaps a dozen books over that entire span.
4) i’ve been going to bed before 11 PM every night—even on weekends—-and making it a point to wake up before 7 AM even when i don’t have to. the quiet mornings have been worshipful, even when i don’t engage in the formulaic ritual of “quiet time”.

now, to manhood.

i’ve experienced a lot of humiliation over my past dozen years in medicine. oftentimes, i still think about the path i’ve taken as a regrettable one, as i’ve never really enjoyed being a doctor, nor have i considered the profession as one which enables my best qualities. during my time in baltimore, i tried to look at my travails as a character-building exercise. now, i just realize that i was a misfit; i reaped pain and dissatisfaction because i was doing something that i was ill-suited for.

i’m graduating from a belief that humiliation is a precondition for humility. for me, this idea has been a way of rationalizing an ongoing pattern of bad decisions and the difficult consequences of those decisions. for example, it was a bad decision for me to go to medical school. i have rightly reaped the natural consequences of trying to be something i am ill-suited for. it was a bad decision for me to keep moving from one city to the next, over and over; i have reaped the terrible consequences of failing to be rooted in community. it was a bad decision for me to ignore the emergence of my depression during my 20s. had i recognized it for what it was, i could have taken ownership of my life at a younger age. i could have prevented all the wasted years that have since transpired.

this is not to say that my journey has not offered me unique opportunities in the present. but i believe that it is self-deceptive for me to say that all things have turned out for my good. in fact, i have reaped a lot of suffering for mistakes that i have made in my career path and lifestyle, and i regret these mistakes. i must own up to these failures, so that i will not make these same mistakes ever again.

for years, i held to the obstinate belief that my growing sense of failure was the necessary foundation for genuine humility. in fact, the effect was the opposite. my growing sense of failure birthed a black hole of depression which could not be filled; i was so patently and deeply hurt that i was unable to give anything to others except my own pain. when the pain was unbearable, i felt the injustice of it, and this solidified my isolated and narcissistic sense of self. i was humiliated, but i was not humble. i was broken, but this did not make me more submitted.

i do believe that humiliation and suffering can facilitate self-awareness, but i do not believe these experiences to be necessary and sufficient to personal growth. in fact, the effect of humiliation can be quite the opposite; for every saint who grew from suffering, there are ten tyrants who learned the wrong lessons from their pain. the difference between the saint and the tyrant is the grace of God. we cannot mold our own path to sanctification. God has to give us the spirit to grow.

i am no longer a child. i was still a child when i was thirty; but i am not a child anymore. nor am i a victim; i’m able to admit now that i have reaped the fair consequences for my own very bad decisions. even in situations where i was inflicted for reasons beyond my control, i recognize the decisions i made in the aftermath of infliction that lent power to my oppressors. God does not wish for me more of this kind of humiliation. He wants me to advance in truth, and to embrace the vision of a people of God, so that in my lifetime i may experience glory. whole generations come and go without ever witnessing this kind of glory. God wants me to step out in faith and find it with others, so that our generation will not suffer like those of the unfaithful kings.

manhood lies in this: recognizing what i am meant for, and pursuing it with the force of my desire and ambition. my manhood is defined by the peoplehood toward which i strive. i want to see it in my time. before the lampstand is moved from us, i want to stand in that light with my kind and know the awesome thing we were meant to become

09.07.10

a people

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:44 am by Administrator

Collins’ “Good to Great”—a book published in 2001 which captured the results of a research study on the characteristics which distinguished major American ‘breakout’ companies from their competitors—is a must-read for business students and aspiring entrepreneurs. it would not appear to be a must-read for someone like me, who harbors some disdain for profiteering and capitalism in general. how funny, then, that God put this book in my life at just the right time, at just the right place. having just finished it in the space of four hours on a plane trip back from pittsburgh, i am now convinced that this is possibly the most important book i’ve ever read in my life. i daresay that it will change the way i see everything, from here on.

first, some background.

from my prior entries, one can easily gather that i have a certain intense need to contextualize Paul, in order to reconcile myself to the implications of his epistles. on the one hand, i really admire Paul for his intellect and his attentiveness to scriptural study; on the other hand, i find his treatment of behavioral morality—specifically homosexuality, heterosexuality, gender roles, and propriety in worship—as outdated. time after time, i’ve been encouraged toward the prevailing Evangelical view that Paul’s moral teachings represent logical trajectories of Old Testament principles. but, as i’ve written previously, i do not believe that there are logical trajectories for the biblical teachings on behavior. time after time—as in the transition after the Fall, then after Noah, then after Moses, and then after Christ—there are simply new covenants which supplant the old. the customs surrounding how we eat and marry don’t gradually evolve; they periodically transform.

Paul’s attitude toward the moral laws of the O.T. suggests discontinuity, not adaptation. beyond simply dismissing the law as a failed vehicle for personal redemption, Paul rejects the ongoing relevance of the vast majority of Torah stipulations. aside from a few choice references, Paul depicts the moral laws of the Jews as a faded tradition and then goes on to advise an entirely new praxis for the believers in the new covenant. this he does according to wisdom and not explicitly by revelation.

in contrast to his treatment of morality, Paul defines his theological presentation of Christ as both revelatory and inspired; rather than marginalize the Old Testament in the explication of Christ, Paul rigorously situates the contemporary vision of Christ within the paradigm and prophecies of the Old Testament. on this matter, Paul establishes himself as nothing short of an authority.

i’ve written about all of this before, obviously. the concern that remains is this: if there is a distinction to be made between Paul’s theological and behavioral teachings, and if his teachings on behavior were culturally-specific, then what is to prevent the inevitable relativization of morality by the church? my answer is that this question itself demonstrates the very attitude that Paul sought to oppose so vigorously. it is not a new law which will bind the church to enduring faithfulness. it continues to be the conscience, endowed by the Spirit and confirmed by the pattern of the saints, which discerns situational morality; it is proper judgment which Paul recommends to his disciple Timothy. it is the Spirit, the perfect counselor, by which Paul received every revelation that he delivered to his generation. to erect Paul’s moral teachings as the timeless guide to the proper behavior of women, slaves, homosexuals, and acolytes is to make the same mistake that the Pharisees committed with respect to the codes of their forefathers.

when one can put aside the false conception of Paul as a strict translator of the Jewish moral law, then one might see where Paul’s real focus lay: in submitting personal morality to the idea of an endowed, covenantal, and collective morality. the clear thrust of Paul’s teachings is the idea that the Gentiles have been ingrafted into the nation of Israel; they can now experience the true divine intent for themselves as part of a holy people. when Paul issued instruction regarding moral behavior, it was with this purpose in mind—to guard the church against divisive internal conflict and potentially threatening cultural changes. it was a “utilitarian morality” derived primarily from spiritual discernment and not from a dutiful translation of the mosaic law.

a week ago i bought N.T. Wright’s “What Paul Really Said”—my first read of the Anglican bishop—and found myself experiencing for the first time almost total resonance with a contemporary evaluation of the apostle Paul. i’d known about Wright’s specific stance on justification; what i hadn’t anticipated was his grander emphasis on the Pauline concept of Israeli nationhood. many of the ideas i’ve written about previously—specifically the Messianic nature of Christ, the Evangelical devaluation of authentic Christian community—were elaborated by N.T. Wright in the book, albeit in a much more cohesive and purposeful discussion. granted, Wright would probably take issue with my treatment of Paul’s moral teachings and particularly with my stance on homosexual union. but overall, N.T. Wright’s rubric for ecclesiology is one which captures the essence of where i’m moving personally and theologically.

here is the real question though. even if we can debunk the Evangelical myth of Christianity as a religion of personal morality, even if we can embrace the idea that the thrust of the Gospel is the realization of “peoplehood”, what exactly would covenantal “peoplehood” really look like?

my recent speculation over the past week has brought me to the sense that the answer to this question lies in the metaphysical question of identity. if identity, and specifically the eternal aspect of identity, truly does consist in the discrete unit of the individual consciousness, then peoplehood will always be derived from poly-individuality. in other words, the heavenly experience will be the outgrowth of the individual experience of ecstacy. to me, this idea goes against the grain of every concept of identity advanced in both testaments of scripture. as i previously wrote, the forefathers in faith never received blessing primarily in the context of an individual experience; rather, our forefathers were blessed through the promise of progeny—and not simply progeny, but a blessed people. identity is not presented by God as the individual consciousness. identity is defined as something that transcends the individual. identity and peoplehood are two biblical concepts that are intimately intertwined.

enter jim collins. jim collins discovered a number of very interesting things in his study on what turned some average companies into stellar organizations over the last three decades. what were his primary findings? i’d summarize them as follows. great companies knew what they could do best and how to get it done (the hedgehog concept) and they had level 5 leadership in pivotal positions of authority. collins defined the level 5 leaders as having a unique combination of two traits: personal humility and fanatical ambition for their organization. when i pondered collins’ insistence on separating these traits, i realized that the relationship between the two qualities is quite clear. the level 5 leader is the individual who so strongly identifies with the company as a whole that he fundamentally views himself as an extension of the company; he has no separate self-identity worth promoting.

in the secular arena, i would call this an unhealthy self-abnegation. never mind collins’ assertion that the level 5 CEOs maintained healthy and happy personal lives on the side; i strongly doubt that the level 5 CEOs were any more or less slaves of their work than their level 4 counterparts. but in the kingdom of God, this concept is anything but unhealthy. it is in fact the core of Christian belief: the death of self, and the life of Christ through the building of His body. in the business world, this concept translates to enormous productivity and passionate participation on the part of its employees. in the kingdom of God, this concept is what creates “peoplehood”—the fundamental unit of Christian identity, the body of Christ, the means by which we experience God, and the vessel by which God demonstrates the fervor, the force, and the fantastic fullness of His divine nature.

Christians who understand God in light of personal identity attempt to create in their own lives the sort of fruit that can only be experienced in community. they use personal spiritual disciplines, fellowship with other believers, and discipleship as means to expand their personal boundaries and emulate God-like nature. but believers who understand God in light of His desire for a holy people do something far more radical. they destroy barriers; they reconcile themselves to others; and they measure themselves by the quality of the communities that they build. they regard personal morality as important only insofar as it promotes unity and facilitates the expression of love. they do these things because they regard the body of Christ as their primary fixation; they lose themselves, as they become incorporated.

the executives and employees of Collins’ breakout companies seemed to have tremendous satisfaction and pleasure in seeing the ever-growing influence of their products. even Philip Morris, the tobacco company, was populated in its highest ranks by executives who embraced the company’s products, smoked with passion and defiance, and believed strongly in the aesthetic value of the culture that they promoted in advertisement. if Philip Morris’s executives could feel this way about a product that kills people, how can people of the church who testify to the awesomeness and beauty of an all-powerful God not exceed this fanatical commitment to synergistic community? how can people of the church not view the church as their primary identity, the ascription by which they are known and within which they work for the redemption of the world?

i realize that it is no accident that God has now placed me in situations of significant authority, both within my church and at my workplace. He is challenging me to move forward into a new understanding of His testament to man. ironically, as i grow in influence, i believe that what i will personally experience inwardly is quite the opposite: the death of self, the magnification of Christ. and in this trajectory, i see that my life can become something much different from anything i’ve previously conceptualized. once, i envisioned myself an old man, free at last from responsibility in a blessed retirement, free to associate with who i wanted and free to explore whatever i pleased. now, i see this idea as a terrible tragedy. if i do live to be an old man, i would hope that i would be one who belongs to others, to the rejection of self. i would hope that i am working harder than ever before to celebrate the name of God by enlightening people around the world to the idea that true peoplehood is within their grasp. my hope is that the closer i come to death, the more i’m experiencing the foreshadowing of the heavenly experience of consummated peoplehood—the loss of self, the beginnings of a divine and limitless consciousness

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