10.27.10

God—Person, Principle, or Projection

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:19 pm by Administrator

there are days when i do wonder whether “God” is in fact a person, a principle, or a projection.

this is not to say that i doubt the existence of God. i believe in it quite deeply. but my concept of God is evolving, and it makes me wonder at times whether this exploration of the God concept is not the point of my faith in God.

i once believed God was a person. what i mean by this is that i once took the biblical depiction of God fairly literally, in its anthropomorphization of his behaviors, feelings, and attributes. i took it for granted that when God “talked” to someone, He actually spoke in audible words; when God “walked” with someone, He actually walked in physical juxtaposition to that person; and when God was “angry”, He was actually fuming, in some discrete space in the universe, as he surveyed the actions of mankind in real-time.

Christ certainly was a person, in this manner. but then Christ distinguished Himself from God the Father, whom He referred to in language that was decidedly impersonal. even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ prayed for deliverance, or on the cross, when He prayed for the forgiveness of His oppressors, was it really clear that He was appealing to a person rather than reaffirming his commitment to an idea? in the accounts of Christ, God was “personified” in parables, but in direct conversations Christ never posited God as one capable of interpersonal interaction. one might read the Gospels and justifiably come to the conclusion that God is better described as a “surrogate conscience”.

by blurring the distinction between Christ the man and God the Father, the apostle Paul perhaps suggested that God the Father might be the projection of the enlightened spiritual experience. certainly this is not the usual conclusion one comes to, but i find it difficult not to see this as a possible interpretation of the epistles.

i wonder though if it really matters whether God is person, principle, or projection. whatever way you look at it, a true believer is one who takes on God’s nature and demonstrates godliness within himself. as it was with Christ, the distinction between self and God is not meant to be reinforced but rather transcended. whether or not God exists as a separate consciousness outside of the lives and imaginations of his believers is perhaps contestable; and to meditate on this question might make a certain impact on how Christian believers process and experience “God”.

for example, everyone likes to blame God for misfortunes, as He is the creator of all things and hence ultimately responsible for the pain and suffering in the world. but if we understand God not as a separate, self-aware entity but rather as the consummate spiritual identity of mankind, then the idea of blaming God for a bad world suddenly becomes both impossible and unnecessary. God is not responsible for our destructive world; rather He is emergent from it, as the hope and longing of mankind.

for another thing, most believers would admit that they simply don’t experience God the person, and the question is whether or not we should be fixated on this idea of the personal mystical experience. does God really give answers to our questions? does God really talk to people? does God really walk among us as an invisible entity, privy to our inner thoughts? does He lurk among us, responsible for the knowledge He has but refuses to act on?

perhaps, these same believers would nonetheless admit that they experience God the principle or God the projection—the idea of God as true and boundless life, free from the constraints and evils of the world, with genuine power to do good and with the capacity for eternal persistence. when they pray, they do not pray to an agent who will intervene at their behest; they pray so as to express themselves as both the architects and actors of divine will. they receive what they pray for, because their prayers reflect the certainty of what they have already apprehended to be actual.

if God is projection, then what was Christ? herein lies a powerful mystery. Christ never defined Himself as God, and yet we, like Paul, intuitively understand Him as such. is it possible that by partaking of Him, we join in Christ’s experience of demonstrating God as a projection of self?

i know that this could be a very controversial way of conceptualizing God. my counterargument however is that we too often go to the other extreme, anthropomorphizing God to the point that we constrain Him and hold Him accountable to human prerogatives and demands. here is the truth we must face though: as humanized as he is in the Bible, God is decidedly not human. and though we were created in his image, we cannot infer that the human identity captures the essential parameters of God’s own identity. is God a person? i think that this is truly valid question. the corollary to this question is whether we—the church, the spiritual pinnacle of humanity–actually define God, by comprising His identity and making Him real to one another.

10.25.10

God continues the digging. I reel—and rejoice

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:07 pm by Administrator

it was a striking weekend for me, for a couple of reasons.

first, sandy and i went to a wedding this past weekend, and it was my first “dry” wedding in more than ten years. in some ways, it was the most difficult test i’ve recently endured. i was surrounded by strangers, i was faced with the prospect of several hours of belabored conversation, and i was presented with the opportunity of plentiful free alcohol. against all my natural instincts, i adhered to the resolution i’ve made. danny told me he was proud of what i was doing. at a critical point in the evening, i felt that this helped me to persevere.

second, i experienced something that profoundly tested one of my most central core values. sandy and her siblings decided late last week that they were going to begin contributing fairly significant sums of money to their parents, beginning with their mother’s birthday this past weekend. when sandy told me late on thursday night what sum of money they were planning to give their parents (not only as a one-time gift but as an annual contribution), i went into crisis mode and felt that i was veritably fighting for my life.

many issues came into play. my own parents do not ask me for this kind of money, so why should i be giving it to sandy’s parents? sure, this is a korean custom, but i don’t consider myself culturally korean, nor do i have any interest in becoming “more Korean”. so many people in this world are suffering for true lack of money; why should i give this money out of obligation to people who don’t actually need it?

i realized over the course of the day on Friday that many of these questions were tangential to the real issue i was struggling with. the real issue i was experiencing about this birthday gift was more fundamental: what right does anyone have to my money? what right does anyone have to consider me in their debt?

it’s “indebtedness” that i struggle with, because i feel extraordinarily guilty about my own perceived debt to my parents, a debt that i do not believe i can repay.

when i really think about it, i feel like a dismal failure as a son. never mind that my father has called me a failure as a son or that he has threatened to disown me. even without the memory of these statements, i do feel i have failed my parents. for one thing, i moved away from them two years ago, a move that separated them from myself and from their grandchild. for another thing, i haven’t given them a cent of money, though they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into my livelihood and education. on top of this, i’ve never really honored them in any public manner, in a way that they could attest to among their peers. i’m simply the child who took everything and never gave anything back.

to see myself in this light is not false, i believe. it captures something about what i am. yes, i have many extraordinary strengths as a person. i do not believe it immodest to admit that i have some incredible giftings. but i am a very selfish person. i think of myself first, before i think of others. i disregard the priorities and cares of other people. when i’m placed in leadership, i consider it a burden, and i feel inconvenienced by people who depend on me. and i have viewed myself as a person entitled to the loyalty, love, and largesse of my parents, rather than as a son who has benefited incredibly from their support and protection.

in my heart of hearts, i do feel extraordinarily indebted to my parents, and i deal with this guilt by suppressing it or rejecting it outright. it is anathema for me to put myself in a situation of vulnerability. this is why the korean tradition of giving regularly and sacrificially to one’s parents is so difficult for me to handle. it’s not merely because of my American acculturation; it’s my personality.

all of this processing has forced me to rethink the manner in which i have regarded my own parents. even though they don’t need my money, i feel like i should give them money so that they might understand that i am thinking of them. even though my visits with my Dad are often fraught with emotional tension and discomfort, i feel like i should look at these visits from his point of view, not my own. my father hasn’t seen me or his grandson in more than two years, and i feel that this is a terrible shame that i must bear full responsibility for. i have been so engrossed in my own life that i have failed to recognize the crucial opportunities for love and reconciliation that i am losing.

i will never be a Korean son on account of how i was raised, but this does not mean that i have to be a bad son for the rest of my life. i have an opportunity now to change the way that i view myself and what i own; i have this chance to prove that my God is real, by doing what is contrary to my nature, and by giving of myself in ways that defy conventional wisdom. i do not want to accede to tradition. i want to transcend tradition and demonstrate a goodness that culture cannot capture. i want to be more than the small vessel that i once was.

it strikes me that much of God’s digging over the past decade has been directed toward this particular point in my journey, so that this particular crisis would have a maximal effect in transforming my core attitudes about God’s community. it feels devastating to me; it also curries within me a certain urgency to undo the relational damages that i have caused. i reel in the midst of God’s onslaught, because He knows precisely where i am vulnerable. but i rejoice, because in the acuity of my pain i feel the promise of an inward revolution, and this reminds me that my life is valuable to my Lord

10.20.10

Reset

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:25 pm by Administrator

much of the time, life feels like a personal process of acclimating to larger processes. as complex and demanding as these processes are, it often takes individuals decades to come to this point of relative mastery. once they’ve reached this point, they might come to the conclusion that the processes that came to define them were largely meaningless—which inevitably leads to a “mid-life crisis” of some sort.

a lot of my friends in their mid 30s have complained of mid-life crises, and i think there’s truth to this idea. i’ve had several mid-life crises already because of my inability to reconcile myself to various processes that overtook my life in my late 20s. for my contemporaries and myself, these processes are captured in various ideas: that marriage should embody true love, that one’s career should be the outgrowth of one’s inner identity, that raising children should be not only satisfying but also self-defining, and that one has the capacity for progressive growth and even greatness. these were all delusions that i once held. my mid-life crisis came at a time when all four of these beliefs were simultaneously disrupted. in a sense, i am still putting the pieces back together.

this is not to say that these four areas represents categories of failure for me. in fact, my wife is my best friend, and i love her more than ever before; i adore my son profoundly; my current job is fascinating to me; and i am recognizing within myself positive and at times even impressive changes. but i can make these observations while acknowledging that not one of these admissions resembles the expectations i once had for these aspects of my life. i want, as i have always wanted, for my life to be something like the idealized sexual experience: spontaneous, wild, unrestrained, and ecstatic. the processes of becoming a husband, father, breadwinner, and man have muted, not potentiated, this kind of energy. i remain a man constantly self-repressed and essentially unreconciled to himself.

this is why i sometimes crave a “reset”—a chance to forget what i was, to unlearn my socialization, to undo my moral indoctrination, and to start fresh. i realize that much of what makes me unhappy is no longer external, as it was when i was a child; my unhappiness now stems from the core values that i adopted in my childhood and adolescence, those ideas of self that i cannot simply extricate or transcend. the well itself is poisoned, so to speak. i cannot find what i’m looking for unless i can, in some way, really start over. this is why i sometimes hope that heaven is not the continuation or even fulfillment of my present earthly existence but rather a total rejection of this earthly existence, through an instantaneous transformation.

in our bible study last night, we looked at Psalm 51. one thing that strikes me about Ps 51 is that David so loathed himself at his moment of sin that he was incapable of viewing his soul as redeemable; his own life was unlivable to him. in Psalm 51, he seems to embrace a self-concept that is positively Pauline in nature: a dual self, comprised of his sinning half and the consecrated half. for David, what is required is an entirely new identity—a clean heart newly created by God, with no connection whatsoever to the sins associated with David’s former identity. it is the schizophrenic self-concept so often associated with the apostle Paul, who, like David, could not reconcile himself to a murderous past.

it strikes me that when we are in moments of absolute crisis, we come to see ourselves in a new way, as two halves pitted against each other. such a self-concept is difficult if not impossible for me to maintain when i am not in crisis; after all, i generally hold a unified concept of self, as my daily social experiences affirm that i am singular and not dual. but when i am profoundly remorseful or depressed, i am confronted with the self-concept of David and Paul within which my sinful nature and my godly nature are distinct entities, the latter of which promises me an entirely and radically new way of looking at life and my world.

yes, i am craving a reset. David termed it “blotting out his transgressions”; i term it “blotting out me”. i wish that i could reverse the processes that brought me here to this point, but i know this to be an impossibility. so i dwell in the theological construct that i am in fact living two parallel lives, one which i am invested in to my inevitable demise, the other of which is a mystery yet to be revealed.

10.18.10

Thomas, the Really Useful Engine

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:11 pm by Administrator

my son is obsessed with Thomas the train. his favorite activity of the day is watching Thomas videos on Youtube. i’m ambivalent about this particular exposure, though i have to admit that the experience has significantly enhanced his vocabulary and his performance sense. regarding the latter, he’s quite adept now at embellishing his self-play with dialogue, narration, and a musical soundtrack. he’s a one-man show.

a year ago, my wife mentioned something she’d read on-line about the values and social constructs inherent to the Thomas narratives. usefulness is a central concept in the Thomas stories; specifically, for many of the trains, the personal quest for a defined role in the hierarchy of responsibility is a recurring and important theme. i imagine that one might argue that there is some degree of socialization that the Thomas architects are trying to effect through their work. children, like trains, should derive personal satisfaction from being useful to others.

i can’t deny that i’ve recently discovered some spiritual truth in this narrative angle. the very worst times in my life were not the times when my responsibilities were difficult but rather the times when my responsibilities were either unstructured or minimal—for example during my first year in fellowship research or during much of my last job. in contrast, i’ve done fairly well in extremely stressful and demanding situations because i found profound satisfaction in being “useful”. at times, i’m tempted to believe that my identity is entirely defined by how useful i am and in what context.

honestly, i feel unsure of whether this fixation is healthy or unhealthy. on the one hand, like i’ve written recently, there is life inherent to a more collective sense of spiritual identity, within which one might recognize his/her discrete role in the church. one’s life in the church should rightly be fulfilling on a level that a mere personal mysticism simply cannot attain. moreover, it is clear that the God of the Bible is unimpressed with a religion of personal purity and mysticism; He intends and calls for genuine believers to connect intimately and self-sacrificially to one another and to manifest His nature by investing themselves fully in community.

on the other hand, i feel that it is dangerous to hinge one’s entire identity on a corporate identification. human organizations of all kinds, including local church bodies, are governed by hidden agendas and agencies. when they rise and fall, are the lives within their ranks simply destined to rise and fall with them? in this life, are we simply intended to gravitate toward one collective body or another, to be absorbed into them as automatons?

the philosophical question is this: am i defined by my society, or shall i identify my society in light of myself? is the fate of my organization more important than my fate within the organization?

should i take pride in being a “really useful engine”? or should i take pride in the enterprise to which i belong, this pride then manifesting itself in a desire to be useful to it? this is a question at the root of “The Remains of the Day”. in a way, it’s been a question i’ve been struggling with my whole life.

as involved as i might become in various organizations, i do feel uncomfortable with the natural satisfaction i find in simply belonging to them. after all, i’ve been a part of churches that have failed; these are churches i would not want to be a part of again. i once took pride in simple things like being a member of my school or of my country; in retrospect, i find these identifications arbitrary if not frankly unfortunate. much of my life has been about belonging and then retracting my loyalties, a process of trying to belong and then discovering that i really should not.

perhaps i’d best summarize it like this: i know that i cannot feel meaningful without a corporate identity, but within a corporation i discover my true potential for meaninglessness. i would never want to be alienated and alone; and yet the more deeply i give myself to others, the less substantive my existence really feels. there is this strange tension between self-revelation and self-loss.

10.14.10

a book

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:22 pm by Administrator

i recently finished reading “The Remains of the Day” and was powerfully struck by the perfection of the novel. i proceeded to watch the movie adaptation, which, despite its excellent cast and its many awards, failed the vision of the novel.

there were a few things that were truly fascinating about Ishiguro’s novel. first, he takes full advantage of the first-person narrative to develop the voice of the central character. he does this so consummately well that the novel would have succeeded no matter what direction the plot actually took, whether toward “sentimental romance”, or comedic drama, et cetera. second, and perhaps just as importantly, the voice of the character captures something essential about a generation—so distinctly recognizable that it is nearly caricaturish, but not so stereotypical that there isn’t room for the surprising revelation of the character’s genuine humanity. third, the conclusions that the character comes to in the end represent the outcome of an extraordinary, yet understated, personal struggle against the confines of society.

in these three respects, Ishiguro’s novel touched a chord that for me has only resounded for a few choice pieces of literature. whether or not most would term them “classics”, or “iconic literature”, they are for me more than books; they capture something that people identify with so deeply that they will remember the characters and in fact use the characters to express their own stories. i think of elizabeth bennet, huckleberry finn, holden caulfield, and anne frank, among many others. the great novels are the ones that capture the spirit of the age without consciously claiming to, almost as if by the most reluctant of chance discoveries; they are the ones that essentialize this spirit in the troubles and decisions of one unlikely, very ordinary, and inevitably memorable character.

about a year ago, maybe, i wrote about how i’ve had difficulty identifying this sort of a book—a defining novel of our age—over the past ten years. the world has changed so dramatically since 9/11; in particular, a whole generation of young “non-ethnicized” Americans, already fairly marginalized and self-loathing to begin with, has decided in this span to disengage. their politic is a quiet cynicism; their outlook is guarded, even pessimistic; their central passion is frustration, in various forms; and their culture is organic, even as it strives for efficiency. while talk of “nation”, “progress”, and “reform” continue to be the plaguing obsession of their elders, the post-9/11 Gen Xers cannot even navigate a sentence without picking through a minefield of false and disturbing terms. their individualism is the sort that Emerson perhaps fantasized of; but it’s an individualism built on the foundation of a spiritually corrosive alienation. we do not boast about being free thinkers, because even our own thinking is reminiscent of society’s general futility.

this is not to say that i haven’t been engaged by the literature of our times. ethnic and immigrant literature continues to challenge the dominant paradigms, even as they pretend at their own very modernist ideas of progress and morality. i’ve been happy to dive into “magical realist” literature, like that being written by Zafon and Murakami, though i must say that these works don’t elaborate a voice as much as they disrupt conventional ones. this is a period of rebellion and ambivalent imitation, in contemporary literature. as confused as Gen X is spiritually, it refuses itself a unifying voice of conscience. we recycle the old forms in novel ways, in the hopes that we can redeem something fallen instead of having to carry the onerous burden of inventing a new world for ourselves.

this is of course always on my mind, even as i meditate on beginning the fifth story i’ve contemplated writing in five years. here’s the trouble. each of these stories is a good story, but the central character of each story is a see-through archetype. i really should be writing about myself, but i can’t see myself as a representative of my kind. i’ve been a maverick in so many ways that i don’t see myself as a useful character in my own novel; i can’t imagine that anyone will be able to relate to me.

and perhaps that’s where i need to focus my general energies, not only as a writer but as a spiritual man. am i or am i not one of my people? as i take on leadership responsibilities, i find myself in various ways struggling to invest myself fully in the identity that i feel is being imposed on me. am i really a doctor? am i really a manager? am i really a lay leader? am i really a visionary? if i think hard enough about any of these questions, i find these to be false identities. assuming these roles for me connotes some degree of self-deception, oddly.

and thus onwards, to the crux of the matter. in my writing, i have been very much alone. i fail, because i need someone to spur me on, to validate not only myself but the characters i’m writing. i need an objective voice to see the bridges that i unconsciously build between myself and my characters, to test the truth of those bridges, and to push me toward a deeper and truer relationship with what i’m writing. essentially, i need a 2nd pair of eyes, to afford me insight and accountability. but above and beyond this, i think that what i need in order to become a writer is a mentor. i need a figure i respect, who can help me overcome the small things, who can help me develop a respect for the big things, and who can give me insight into how i can properly train and discipline myself to overcome the big things.

i need this in a general, spiritual sense as well. yes, i’ve written about this many many times before. in the model of American religion that i grew up within, the practice of religion is supposed to be an intensely personal thing. mentorship is for the public sorts of things. this division between the public and private is a core feature of American life, and the tension between these two elements is what defines the American working man or woman. work-life balance is the operative term, as if life cannot encompass work, and as if work is the violation of life. for me, this simply does not hold true. i cannot do work that does not bring me life; and i’m coming to find in both my writing and my spirituality that unless i am connected to others and ultimately to the Other, i cannot find any sort of fulfillment in what i am undertaking.

once, i tried collaborating with two men i respect a great deal: Tom and Yemi. but we were finnicky, and uncommitted. if i could design my perfect mentor, it would not be a professional teacher but rather a talented writer in his own right who took interest in my potential. obviously, my ideal mentor would be more than an artistic guide but also something of a “life mentor” as well—someone whose advice on any number of matters would be invaluable to me. honestly, i cannot identify a single person i know of this calibre. it troubles me. but then again, it shouldn’t surprise me. what i’m looking for is an older, more accomplished version of myself. but admittedly, i am so singular in many ways that this is a veritably impossible expectation.

i am preparing myself for the possibility that i will never find the support, mentorship, or instruction that i’m looking for, and that as a result i will never write the novel i feel i wanted to write. scarier still, i am aware of the possibility that i may never become the man that i really want to become, for lack of real discipleship and personal wisdom. yes, it frightens me, though it would be narcissistic to believe this to be an unnecessary tragedy. many of the saints that have preceded me have lived lives that they themselves would have considered a “sad waste”, as Stevens put it in “The Remains of the Day”. it is obvious that God, regardless of what we desire for ourselves, does consign the vast majority of us to live lives that are largely trivial, unfulfilled, and unmemorable to the rest of us. the countless millions who die in the womb or shortly after birth, the ones who die unnecessary deaths of malnutrition or preventable disease before the age of one, the young men who die in wars that accomplish nothing but mass murder—these are the things i think of. i am a part of this world. i too may die, my ideas for myself utterly confounded.

all of this being said, i would still like to write a novel, something that even i would consider extraordinary. i think among the many things i hope for myself—having a church someday, or running a 4-hour marathon, or seeing the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl—i would like to get this thing out of my being, see it in a hardback publication, and be finished with it. i’d like to crack it open by a cloudy afternoon’s window and dote on a line, then laugh at myself for a strange thought i had, and then toss the book onto the ground as if it were nothing. there are many things i’d like to do before i die, and i think the real odd thing about life is that the best part isn’t accomplishing these things but actually imagining that they are meaningful enough to be done

10.11.10

alive

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:11 pm by Administrator

yesterday while we were out at lunch, a friend asked sandy and me what we do when we feel disconnected or “unwell” in a spiritual sense. it sparked a discussion that took on theological overtones. i contended that this sort of sensation is inherent to our intrinsic rhythms; periods of “wandering” and doubt are necessary seasons. for us to propose habit or structure in order to impose artificial “stability” on our subjectivities seems false to me. this is not to say that the quality of our relations with God should vary with the weather. rather, what i mean to say is that we are all inevitably gravitating to what we love, regardless of where we are circling in our relative orbits. we are creatures of compulsion. our challenge in life is not to change what we are but to be fully self-revealed—the godly unto life, the ungodly unto death. to trust in God for our eventual justification is to acknowledge the temporality of our frustrations and to invest ourselves in a sense of self that transcends these vicissitudes. i call this faith.

nonetheless, one cannot ignore that certain of our sensations are almost intolerably difficult to bear with. deadness in its various forms. boredom. the anguish of loss. loneliness of the most bitter variety. intractable physical pain. one can wax philosophical and call these things the stuff of nature. but these are the things that have no clear answer. these are the things that, if protracted and unresolved, can disrupt convenient beliefs, engender cynicism, and alienate the soul. certainly one cannot stand idly by and passively permit such realities to corrode the person.

having survived the torment of depression but not having experienced any other real suffering of note (i.e. chronic illness, chronic pain, disability, terminal illness, intimate loss, or genuine psychologicacl trauma), i am loathe to speculate on what i can and cannot tolerate. i will say that my concept of what feeling “alive” is has undergone considerable contraction over the years, to the degree that i consider real joy a transient and very precious sensation, one which we have no right to consider an entitlement, and one which by nature eludes habituation, proving itself ultimately unsustainable for anyone who lives long enough to understand how trivial, gruesome, or tragically short their lives really are.

i don’t mean to be morbid. i mean to express that i once believed the point of my religion to be the sustenance of joy, a fullness in living, but over the years of observing the experiences of both the religious and the unreligious, myself included, i see that there is no difference between the fundamental pleasures of the godly and ungodly. we have too much in common in our innate frailties and limitations to be fundamentally unlike with regard to our subjective experience.

no, i would contend that the point of my religion is to acknowledge the limitation of subjectivity and empathy in elucidating real truth. the point of my spirituality is to properly contextualize the self with respect to the Divine Other, to transcend the self in favor of unity with the divine, and to marginalize the inevitably failing self-concept in the pursuit of extraordinary sensation. in other words, i cannot expect faith in Christ to deliver to me a transformation of my biochemical wiring, my emotional construction. i will be depressive or sad; i will suffer loss and be angry; i will fall ill and die in agony. faith in Christ will not change anything fundamental about such things. it will, however, argue on my behalf that these experiences are not all that will define me, in the end.

i think we must give ourselves permission to be human. if God wished for us superhuman life, He would have created us differently. faith, this invisible, frustrating, and often unfulfilling experience of yearning, was tailored for humans who through their blindness, impatience, and unfulfilled yearning elaborate an experience that i would call worship. it is not for stability, predictability, and subliminality that our earthly existence was designed. and if we can admit, for all our prayer, will, and godly activity, that we are still profoundly unhappy and alone, then i think we do credit to the design by which we were assembled. it does God no disservice to admit that much of this life is an unexplainable agony, a terrible misery that we would prefer to forget, a chapter in a book that must have future chapters and epilogues in order to find real meaning

10.10.10

The Urgency of Living

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:36 pm by Administrator

Over the past week or so, I’ve been falling back into my predictable pattern of self-absorption and morbid reflection. In that funk, I was beginning to feel burned out in my various roles, frustrated in my inability to reap real pleasure or inspiration from my interactions. The question i was beginning to entertain was whether i was losing focus because my personal devotional life was falling into disrepair.

i met a brother in the Men’s Ministry early this morning for breakfast and quite unexpectedly experienced revival as a result of the encounter. for the majority of our time together, the brother was sharing about recent hardships he’s experienced. the hardships were profound and far-reaching, rooted in financial issues but affecting every interpersonal relationship in his life. i was stunned by some of the things that had befallen him, even within the past week. perhaps even more stunning though was our mutual realization that his incredible struggles would become the foundation for our upcoming session of the Men’s Ministry, which is starting this week. we are about to showcase his personal humiliations and struggles, for the sake of breaking down barriers to intimacy and celebrating the idea of intimate, transformational, and Christ-focused fellowship.

once one has seen his personal failure become a catalyst for authentic community, he never suffers in the same way again. i would argue that this is because he comes to view God and himself in a radically different way. once upon a time, i used to pray for “fixes”: quick solutions to my own problems and the problems of people i care about. but the patterns i have observed in the lives of believers that i respect has convinced me that the purpose of struggle, humiliation, and failure within the church is often not the “fix”, by which faith is justified. rather, the purpose of these things is to create the sort of relationships shaped by interdependence, humility, and a craving for deliverance—the sort of relationships that are core to Christ’s vision of the church.

my brother’s pains transformed me this morning; they became a part of my own life, while reinforcing the power and authenticity of the narrative that we’ve been weaving together for more than a year. as i encounter his life, i am reminded that i live not only my life but his life, and the life of the church, as well. in this journey, there is no space or time to be stuck in a personal rut; there are thousands of lives of which we are a part, with which we are interlinked, and the shortness of our lives and the hope with which we have been invested lends to us an utmost urgency in life. indeed, i am not burning out; i am burning unceasingly with the passion of the saints that have preceded me and the saints that are my contemporaries. in our collective struggles, we remind ourselves that our home is not here; we strain upwards, taking hold of one another and rising together, because gravity and the resurrection are constantly working against each other, separating us from what we were and driving us toward what we were meant to become.

the key to my restoration was not a quiet time. it was the experience of the Word, given me by my brother in struggle, so that we might be enjoined and mutually encouraged toward perseverance and genuine worship. this was my morning devotional—my every thought, feeling, and desire expressed in a relationship, first with my brother, ultimately with my God. i remember today that the time is short, that we must press on, that there is rest and reward, perhaps partly in this life but mostly after it’s done

10.08.10

Leisure Time, Designing Childhood

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:56 pm by Administrator

i’ve cut Facebook, television, alcohol, sports gambling, and internet gaming out of my life, which means that i’ve totally given up my recreational life as i’ve previously known it. sandy and i still watch movies on occasion when we can get babysitting, but the movies have been hit or miss.

it’s made me wonder, yet again, about “leisure time”. what’s fun? what’s good? what’s godly? what’s edifying? the more i think about it, the more i conjecture that perhaps what we do in our leisure time best expresses what we are, underneath it all.

computer/video gaming used to be my favorite recreation, going as far back as 3rd or 4th grade. the appeal of video gaming isn’t hard to recognize. it offers instant gratification; visual stimulation; channels for competition; and outlets for aggression. at more sophisticated levels, video gaming potentiates creativity as well, which can empower and even enlighten players. the latter aspect is what i loved about Starcraft for many years. on-line gamers were constantly innovating new approaches, which required more sophisticated counter-strategies. the give-and-take forced gamers to create new rules and new universes within the framework of the gaming module.

the reason i ultimately found video gaming unsatisfying is that it challenges only my intellect and my capacity for hand-eye coordination. 99% of my corporeal existence is entirely unengaged when i game. that leads to problems of various kinds: ergonomical problems, atrophy, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, etc. moreover, the intellectual self-expression has very limited emotional scope; beyond what one can convey in in-game instant messaging, there is no direct expression of feeling or personality. the video gaming experience is remarkably self-constrictive. in this way, it is not much different from book-reading or television viewing.

a starkly contrasting experience is social dancing. i used to enjoy social dancing a great deal. dancing allows for both bodily and intellectual self-expression, in a fairly balanced manner. depending on what sort of dancing one is doing, one has to be creative, responsive to one’s partner, and capable of remembering basic moves and rules of leading or following.

the trouble with social dancing for me is the experience of constantly adjusting expectations. some people like that challenge, but for me it feels disruptive. one can’t merely enjoy the music or the experience of movement; one has to continually adjust to the requirements and expectations of new or unfamiliar partners. some partners might be heavy, or awkward, or very sweaty. and if, on the other hand, one dances exclusively with one partner (i.e. a spouse) or even alone, then the challenge is also one of expectations, though it has a different manifestation. it’s boring to do the same moves over and over. one has to introduce variety in order to sustain interest. one way to do this is to introduce alcohol, which erases inhibitions and introduces artificial spontaneity. but having to rely on alcohol to make an experience pleasurable is the best way to ultimately rob that activity of its real appeal.

i love watching a good movie, because it can inspire creativity, reflection, and good discussion. but the limitation of the experience is that one really cannot interact with the movie as it is being shown. it’s a static presentation; it cannot be altered. if there were a way to shape the story as it is being told, then perhaps watching a movie could accomplish some of the things that a video game cannot; it could challenge a viewer to develop narrative. ideally, i could watch a movie and then change it right away, to modify it to my liking. every movie could be an opportunity to tailor its story. the viewing room would be the editing room. but motion picture entertainment isn’t designed for this sort of experience. it’s designed to be consumptive, like eating a meal.

all of these frustrations come to bear on my ideas about isaac, as i contemplate what i’d like to do with him on a totally free Friday night. i’d like to watch him create something, something grander than simply a new Thomas the train racecourse or a new pile of Legos. i’d like to watch him take on a new art form, like dance, and make it a vessel of self-expression. i’d love to see him not only watch a YouTube video but then create his own version. i’m looking for recreation that is not simply self-stimulatory but also self-revelatory. habitually passive entertainment stuns the soul into submission. i’m looking for recreation that essentializes the very godly process of creation.

which leads me to another point, which is tangential to the subject of discussion but intimately related in my eyes. Sunday church services strike me as a terribly distorted representation of “worship”. first, they’re stereotyped in their ritualism; generally, the services are rigidly structured and without any interactive activity. second, the apex of the service—the pulpit preaching—simulates the didactic activities of schooling that we have all come to view as both compulsory and disciplinary in nature. third, there’s almost no outward display of energy; most of the Sunday service is an exercise in total self-constraint. even in Pentecostal services where people are falling, writhing, or laughing, the energy is inwardly focused and intended for the internalization of an ideal, not the outward projection of personality.

it’s hard for me to believe that God the creator intended to create people and systems that are decidedly un-creative and un-fun. but both church and society, the way i see it, offer forms of worship and recreation that are anything but transcendental and sublimative.

which brings me back to the original question: what are we doing tonight, on our Friday evening? i still have no clue. But i think it is worth thinking about

10.06.10

temps et contretemps

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:47 pm by Administrator

i dive in. submerged, i am joined with the world; it buoys me.

but outside the pool, the clinging water delimits me. in fact, i’m freezing. i am agonizingly self-aware.

there are always two trajectories powerfully at work in my being. one is the sexual trajectory. it is the energy that instinctively binds me to others, regardless of their essence, simply because there is pleasure in intimacy. religious ritual, social ritual, mating ritual—these are all manifestations of that sexual energy. i am best realized through an interaction, not through self-definition.

the other trajectory is the survival trajectory. this is the innate drive within me to resist dissipation, to resist the total submission of self. the survivor in me views relationships as collaborative, not as self-abnegative. he holds to himself a personal sense of identity that is inviolable.

as i am stretched and challenged to realize myself in a communal identity, i find that there is both union and incredible tension between these trajectories. it’s a spiritual crisis, in a sense. the deeper i get into people’s lives, the less confident i feel in my ability to influence them for the better—and the less i enjoy being in that situation. this week, a lot of people came to me in crisis, hoping for my intervention. in the beginning, i thought i had the answers. later, i realized i had no fixes. and then, as the disappointed expectations steadily mounted, i fell into fatigue and dejection. it is not fun to be a shepherd. it destroys the self. the moments of gratification are overwhelmed by the frustrations of countless others. the world is constantly a losing battle.

my co-director and i were brainstorming over the format of a magazine ad that we’re putting out. he wanted me to suggest something catchy, something that would reach the hearts and minds of the people who need to get tested for HIV. in the context of my fatigue and sudden helplessness, i felt myself in their shoes; i imagined myself a 25 year-old gay Hispanic man, with transient friends, a family that’s disowned me, and not much in the way of money. i imagined myself flipping through a magazine, bewildered by life and not sure of what i was looking for, torn by vague insecurities. sitting there, i remembered the motto of the Holocaust survivors, and it rang true to me—both the vicarious me, and the me that was trying to imagine. i adapted it: “never afraid, never alone”.

the sexual man aims to overcome isolation; the survivor seeks to overcome death. i am like many of the people i doctor: my desire for one thing puts me at risk of the other. half of me distinctly does not want to “belong to God and to belong to others”—my church’s mission statement—because the concerns and sufferings of other people are insidious, overwhelming, and incesssant. but the other half of me that i’m only now beginning to appreciate is the side that needs to be conjoined with others, regardless of the cost, because it is what i was designed for. i see both elements at work in my spiritual formation, and i’m realizing that neither is right or wrong. i was made an individual, but i was intended to become more than an individual. i was made with limitations, but i was meant to overcome these limitations and achieve transcendence.

i see no solution to my quandary. i have to forget about the bad days; i have to put the frustrations behind me. i have to wake up new, and commit myself fully and again. this is the cross. it is not merely selflessness. it is self-realization

10.05.10

the Body of Christ

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:17 pm by Administrator

as i struggle to meet my new responsibilities at church and work, i’ve been experiencing incredible internal stretching. here’s an interesting thing i’ve discovered. the really emotive and mystical times of prayer i once experienced regularly have dried up; they have been replaced by words of truth delivered through the body of Christ. i feel that there is real truth in this trajectory. yes, God can speak to individuals through personal manifestations like “tongues”; this i would liken to milk—the nutrition given to infants. but God ultimately desires that we speak His truth to one another, in the form of a living, interconnected body by which we fully demonstrate the character of God.

take for example this email my mom sent me this morning:

“today’s God’s word for you.

Romans 12;1-2
Therefore, i urge you,brothers,in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,but be transformed by the reniewing of your mind.Then you will be able to test
and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

beautiful changing is from my kingdom to God’s kingdom and from me to others, from my glory to God’s glory, from my value to God’s value system. that is your’ coming out ‘ beautiful story from your daily life . keep on and persevere to live for His Glory.
you are a big vessel. i love you. God bless you. mom”

i’m sure brother Mark will forgive me for pasting below the incredibly encouraging email that i also received from him this morning:

“From your last e-mail it sounds like things are bit hectic in your life right now; I can imagine it seems pretty fragmented and harried. A few things I want to share with you:

1) Your ability to lead at work I imagine will bear fruit down the road if not already. Coming into complex leadership positions where people look to you to solve their problems and the system isn’t the most gracious and patient setting for leaders. You have great people and problem-solving skills that will (if it hasn’t already done so) benefit that situation greatly,

2) Your ability to process and communicate will/has serve you and others well in ministry at our church. I was impressed once again by your ability to communicate the crux of what Men’s Ministry and the actual men in our group has become for you with clarity and passion, this especially in light of the craziness of your past week and how it affected your ability to organize things as well as you would have liked. You have a gift of thought and speech that can be used with or w/o a lot of organization (are you a “P” on the Meyers-Briggs?).

3) Finally, to do all of this in the midst of a huge personal change is nothing short of amazing and honorable. More than anything in your leadership positions, I hope this bout with giving up alcohol will bring you to more wholeness and fullness of life, and even that much closer in your relationships. You are better for being aware of these things in your life and for willing to address them. I’m pulling and praying for you brother.”

i’m reminded today that we struggle so that we can support one another. the words i receive from others are far better than the words i can give myself. and on days like this, when i have no words either for myself or for anyone else, the words i hang onto are the ones God gives me through my friends. to me, they are not merely words; they are the Word.

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