11.24.10

35

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:31 pm by Administrator

i’ve gone through so much and given up so many things over the past six months that i’m sometimes tempted to believe that i’ve made it. i’m really living now. but i know, in my heart of hearts, that this is not true. i’m no more alive than i was five years ago. the only thing that has changed is that a part of me is dying—and this process of death is more evident than ever before. in truth, i’m no better for it. if i’m honest with myself, i’ll recognize that the truly loathsome thing within me that i’ve begun to contend with has only been partially revealed. i have only begun to realize the extent of its wickedness.

at the same time, i see hope, on account of the few things i’ve begun to embrace. community, however fragile and imperfect it is, is life-giving. i can live without the creature comforts i was once addicted to. i can change. these realizations are enabling me to live my life one day at a time with some freedom from the prison of my mind. increasingly, i’m sensing God-consciousness, the life outside of myself which is the continual source of the life within me. increasingly, my desire is to break the barrier between my self and my God, and to escape the enemy within me by becoming Him who conquers it.

in this self-dissipation, i have found the real cure to my chronic depression. when i look back at what i have struggled with, i see that so much of my angst and unhappiness in those troubled years of late adolescence and early adulthood was rooted in a need to accept what i was. now that i have realized that i cannot accept what i am, i feel free to relinquish myself in favor of an alternate identity. i can let go of my failures and mistakes; i can laugh at my shortcomings; i can experience communion with God not simply by struggling with Him but also by taking on His identity. the cure to my depression has been self-loss; my hope lies in the consummation of my absorption into God-consciousness.

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35

the clouds moved with such vigor
that i had to laugh at their abandon.
aren’t they supposed to be subtle?

it was as if the world had finally
grown weary of this game,
weary of its soft steps and whispers

around our meetings and processions.
here i am, said the cloud, and i too
must get somewhere, and i do not care

whether you see me move, change,
or cast a tear.
i live too, said the cloud.

i stopped to watch for a while,
later realizing that i’d forgotten
where i was going

Alcohol, Michael Vick

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:06 am by Administrator

i read a couple news items on the web today that i found noteworthy.

the press has just broken the results of a new medical study demonstrating the biochemical effects of alcohol on the remodeling of coronary arteries. the results suggest a physiological mechanism to explain the findings of prior observational studies that have defined a health benefit to moderate alcohol consumption. overall, there is a strong case to be made that moderate alcohol consumption extends life and protects cardiovascular health.

on one level, i intuitively recognize the truth of what these results suggest. alcohol in many respects is good for the body. it tempers neurological activation, thus alleviating stress and decreasing sympathetic tone; it triggers diuresis and vasodilation, lowering blood pressure; and now it apparently seems to interfere with the molecular signaling that causes arterial hypertrophy. i’ve always believed that alcohol was good for the body; in fact, this was sometimes the main rationalization i provided myself for my drinking behaviors.

on another level, i feel angered by the study, because i know that it is not merely presenting a fact. these medical findings will be used to encourage a lifestyle of alcohol consumption. doctors will be advising their patients to drink. alcoholics will appeal to reason to justify their behavior. but the reality is that alcohol causes so much destruction that there is truly no argument for alcohol from the standpoint of social welfare. i feel that the proponents of alcohol consumption miss the forest for the trees. we are dealing here with a substance with so much potential to warp, distort, corrupt, and kill.

with that being said, i would never be a prohibitionist. but i feel pressed to fight back against a scientific rationale for alcohol with the darker facts of the lives lost to alcoholism, drunk driving, and self-destructive decisions made in the context of inebriation. i must fight back because i feel the need to protect myself, and to defend the decision i have made. there is within me that part of myself that so desires to return to a lifestyle of regular alcohol consumption, and that side of me seizes upon the findings of this study. i have to contend with myself in order to overcome this temptation. i have to insist that it actually doesn’t matter how long i live or how healthy my body might be; it matters how well i live.

others can drink in good conscience. i have proven that i cannot. this is the difference. and i must adhere to this wisdom, if i am to survive.

the second noteworthy news item was an article by a sportswriter on Michael Vick, which i’ve linked here:

http://outofbounds.nbcsports.com/2010/11/22/despite-success-past-misdeeds-continue-to-dog-vick

i’m sure your eyes, like mine, were drawn to the word “unforgivable”. was Michael Vick’s offense of dog-fighting and dog-torturing truly an “unforgivable” offense?

to be honest, i’m quite surprised that this sportswriter still has a job as a sportswriter. how exactly does one maintain this line of work when his moral sense compels him to publicly judge and then outright dismiss a sports player who has been accorded the legal right to compete on the field. we have sports players who have dealt drugs, abused women, fathered children out of wedlock, and even assaulted other players on the field. these men continue to play sports; and sportswriters continue to demonstrate interest in their achievements. i don’t understand where this particular sportswriter feels compelled to draw the line. perhaps his particular affection for dogs gives him the right to represent their interests in a civil case against Michael Vick?

i left my particular thoughts for the author in the comments section. i’ll admit that i don’t rate the abuse of animals as anything akin to an injury committed against people. in fact, i find the American obsession with pet dogs to be amusing, if not very strange, given that dogs are eaten just like cows and pigs in many parts of the world. i feel that dog-fighting is a cruel activity, but many legal activities in life are equally cruel. Vick deserved punishment because he broke the law. he served his time. the dogs that he killed and tortured cannot be repaid in any other way. he has been cleared by the law to return to civilian life, and now he is trying to salvage what is left of his sports career in the best way that he can. the Eagles are my team, and i hope that they win. beyond this, i harbor no special affection or ill will for Vick. he is just another imperfect man, and he’s making his own way through life.

11.22.10

The Vision Quest

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:05 am by Administrator

the six of us who lead the men’s ministry got together on saturday night for dinner and for some time to recap the season in progress.

i don’t think there’s any doubt in our minds that the growth of the men’s ministry has surpassed our expectations. a year ago, the MM was just seven men at our church and a concept developed by Hearn focused on developing a deeper level of conversation about the personal spiritual walk. now, the MM has multiplied 3-fold, with 21 men divided among 3 groups. many of them are experiencing true psychological and spiritual breakthroughs for the first times in their lives. many of the brothers simply cannot believe that they’ve never before been part of such an experience in the church.

it hasn’t been coincidental that with the explosion of this ministry, the six of us who have groomed it have undergone a considerable onslaught of testing over the past six to twelve months. i suffered a crisis of depression, thereafter losing my job; but i count my sufferings as trivial compared to what some of the other brothers have experienced. as a group, we’ve dealt with humiliation in the workplace; the severe debility of our children; intense conflict with our wives; financial quandary; self-doubt; and frank alcoholism. i can veritably say that the troubles we have shared have brought us to our knees. there have been so many times when each of us must have considered dropping our commitments to one another and just walking away.

but we did not. we met on Saturday night with that sort of hungry anticipation that i imagine war veterans from a combat unit must feel when they are reunited. the sense of connection that we had even as we sat down for dinner was uncanny.

we did an exercise after dinner called the Labyrinth. it was Hearn’s idea, a way of bringing the leaders back to a point of freedom from responsibility and utter self-awareness. the concept of the Labyrinth is rooted in its physicality; it is a maze that each participant must navigate on his own, at his own pace, for the purpose of self-scrutiny and meditation. our Labyrinth was a winding path imprinted on a large hexagonal mat, which we laid out on the sanctuary floor. it was already nightfall when we began; we were the only ones in the church building.

i was the first to embark on the Labyrinth. to be honest, i didn’t know what i was supposed to be experiencing during the exercise, so i didn’t know how to prepare myself for it. i saw the other guys praying or just thinking, and i didn’t want to do either, so i just started walking.

the moment i stepped onto the maze, i felt alone. distinctly alone. navigating through the winding path made me even more aware that i was the only one on the mat zig-zagging my way toward the center, the ultimate destination. for some reason, i became suddenly aware that the center of the mat for me represented death, and the path that i was walking was my life. this did not make me walk any slower. in fact, it only increased the desperate sense i had that i simply needed to get to the middle.

when i got to the middle, i sat down, and i began to comfort myself regarding the life that i have lived. i told myself that it does not matter whether i succeed or fail; this is in fact a statement that i’ve previously blogged. but as that idea hung in the air, i realized that it was only a rationalization, and in that moment it was an empty reassurance. i realized that it does matter whether i succeed or fail. so i told myself that i cannot fail.

but after a few minutes, i realized that i can fail. i need only to think of the people who so depend on me—my wife and my son, for instance—and failure in its various forms is not hard to imagine at all. so i clarified: “i won’t fail”.

and in my moment of meditation, when i realized how much my tenuous life really hangs in the balance, i heard another voice. i call it “God”. it remarked, “you really are connected, aren’t you?” and i replied, “yes, i’m connected—to so many people. for the first time in my life, i’m really connected to people.”

“enjoy that,” the voice said.

i pondered how short-lived are all of these relationships that i so care about, and instead of feeling sad about that, i realized what a gift it is, to share this time with my wife, with my son, with my mother, and with my friends. for thirty minutes, i could not stop crying. i cried so much that i was wet from my face to my hands and all the way down to my pants.

when i left the Labyrinth, i sat with the other six as they finished the maze. in the context of what i had just heard, i felt the depth of my fellowship with them. it was profound. i enjoyed it. i so thoroughly enjoyed it, that in that moment i felt i had a glimpse of how pleasing their lives really were to our God.

there were intense commonalities in the accounts that we shared afterwards, when we related what we had found on our way to the center of the Labyrinth. strangely, as i was listening to them share, i found myself both listening and simultaneously working around a very weird and unrelated scenario. in this fantastic scenario, my wife, my son, and several other people were behind me; in front of me, there were four wild dogs that looked like Dobermans. they were barking and salivating. it was an alleyway, and we were hemmed in against a brick wall.

as i wrestled with this image, i could feel the hair spring up all over my body. in my vision, i got down on all fours. i pawed the air in front of me, and out of the hand that i cast out sprang claws. the shirt on my back ripped apart, like something out of the Incredible Hulk, as it stretched across hypertrophying muscles. i screamed, but it came out as a roar. i felt the mane on my neck; i felt the fangs poking out of my snarling mouth.

one of the dogs leaped at me. i tore apart its neck in midair with one paw; as it landed, i sank my teeth into its face and ripped off its flesh, which i flung at the other dogs. another dog ran up, and then suddenly braked onto its haunches. i slapped it in the face with a back-hand, and the dog’s body sailed through the air, crashing against a wall and then falling lifeless to the ground. the other two dogs saw this and fled down the alley. i tasted blood in my mouth. i was the lion.

in some Native American cultures, young men would embark on a vision quest as a rite of passage. it was a solitary experience in the wild, during which a man would discover a mystical connection to something in the natural world that would forever symbolize the essence of his identity. this vision quest is the only analogy i can think of to describe what i experienced when i exited the Labyrinth, here on the very brink of my 35th birthday.

“a lion for my people”. i used these words to describe myself once, but it was merely a metaphor borrowed from scripture, meant to connect myself to something that symbolized my desire to fight for and to protect my community. but among the fellowship of the five men who have come to mean so much to me, i believe that God gave me both the sensation of connectedness and the vision of myself as the unconquerable beast, so that i might be confirmed among my brothers.

in the midst of our troubles, i believe that we are experiencing a quickening of a kind. in the fruits that we have borne, we have discovered in a new way the raw power of the spirit we have been given. it is an incredible thing to behold; it is revival, and more than revival. i believe that for the first time in my life, i have come to see in the fellowship of these six men a sense of the church for what it really could be. it is a vision that gives me great pride; it is a vision that fills me with insurmountable zeal for my Father’s house

11.19.10

men’s group

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:31 pm by Administrator

this particular season of men’s group has turned out to be something extraordinary, i believe. we’ve broken through to new levels; we’ve taken previous conversations and stretched them; we’ve come to new understandings of ourselves and of our community. i think of our men’s group with great pride. it’s one of the true bright spots of my experience in the church.

in our discussion about money, for instance, we began by talking about materialism and control, but as men shared deeply from their own experiences, this became a discussion of our experience of true loneliness within the church. in our discussion about sex, we began by talking about our individual struggles with marital dissatisfaction, lust, and pornography; but this evolved into a truly groundbreaking discussion on the very nature of sanctification.

last night, we talked about discipleship. as each man shared from his own experiences of having experienced or (more often) not having experienced real discipleship, it became clear that we had all given up on a programmatic, individualized sense of indoctrination. all of us craved it at some point: this idea of discipleship as a system by which we could become true spiritual supermen. what we have encountered instead is the idea that discipleship is a process of “sharing life”; it is the outgrowth of a deep, sincere commitment to the growth of a community.

the men in our group have had grievances with our church (and the church in general) because of failures of discipleship. they have felt disconnected, isolated, alienated, and even betrayed. yet, they continue to cleave themselves to this sort of religious community because they believe that God has intended for it to be a part of their lives. last night, we explored our common sense of frustration. we did more than explore; we bathed in it. i think we passed the level of personal frustration. we began to embrace a sense of real indignation.

discipleship, i believe, is the intentionality within relationships that results from a deep ambition for the self-realization and glorification of the church. it need not be structured, doctrinal, or directed to a goal. but it is grounded in the idea that each of us must hope in one another; it is rooted in the conviction that we are gifted with visions for one another, for fruitfulness and greatness. in heaven, i think that this idea of discipleship will be manifest in the godly sense of community that we come to behold. there, each man will not be judged on account of his deeds; in fact, he will be revealed for his impact, either good or bad, on every person who was given into his care. as the prophets and kings were defined by their genealogies and their offspring, so will we be defined by the disciples that we trained, and by the communities that sprang from our lives of faith. every one of us will attest to the ones who cared for us; and every one of us will receive the testimonies of those whose lives were saved on account of our faithfulness and devotion. these are the crowns of life.

i have challenged my men’s group to have ambitions, not for themselves but for others. i’ve challenged them not to be discouraged by the state of things in the present but rather to be bold in surpassing these struggles, in the hope of miraculous transformation. i think that we really wrestled with this last night, and i saw in their eyes real faith in the idea of a kingdom of God. for me, it was discipleship we experienced in that moment. it made all the struggle i have experienced suddenly worthwhile. it made “church” more than a building or a concept; it reminded me that church is something that i can love and devote myself to for a lifetime

11.18.10

the doctor, the believer, and the one in between

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:52 pm by Administrator

to dovetail on the last entry, i think that one of the manifestations of my anti-establishment tendencies is the tension between my professional and spiritual identities.

not all doctors are individualistic humanists, but many of them are. after one has seen a significant spectrum of human maladies and vices, many doctors don’t find the “moral high ground” to be very relevant to their daily practice. and because much of a physician’s journey is very solitary, if not isolating, many physicians get comfortable with a very autonomous idea of themselves; doctors are notoriously difficult to organize and standardize. they do their own thing. they are their own authorities.

i count myself similar to most doctors in these respects. and yet i can acknowledge that there is tension between this aspect of my identity and the side of myself which feels bound to God and to the idea of a transcendent community.

there are perhaps three things which best capture this tension, and i would use the following words to describe those aspects.

1) Condoms

Christians do not privilege realities; they concern themselves with subjectivities. in fact, they will assume that the facts are often reflections of fallennness. thus, rather than adjust to realities, they will marginalize or resist realities, in favor of idealized alternatives. doctors on the other hand are bound to realities, and they adjust themselves and their patients to these realities. they do not feel obliged to question the moral underpinnings of these realities, except in specific situations such as obvious abuse.

Condoms capture this tension quite well. i offer condoms and i advise safe sex. i do it routinely, because i assume that my patients are average members of society; moreover, i make it my aim to make them feel that i do not expect any “more” of them. i do not however offer condoms in church, even though i feel it to be an equally valid place within which to teach safe sex. Christian culture is not about adapting to realities; in embracing the idealized alternative, believers find it necessary to avoid participation in a culture with conflicting moral imperatives.

2) Confession

believers and non-believers alike practice confession. non-believers confess to their doctors and their therapists, while believers use both resources in addition to their pastors and priests. within church, confession is practiced as part of a process of repentance, but within the examining room, confession is practiced in order to illuminate hidden facts. in the latter case, these facts can help to guide a therapy or intervention. in both cases, confession is practiced to improve self-health, and in both cases, confession is protected by rules of confidentiality.

i feel that physicians often ignore the therapeutic and cathartic effect of confession for the sake of confession. in the examining room, i’m often struck by the fact that i’m only allocated 10 minutes to see a patient who needs not only therapeutic advice but also a therapeutic relationship with me. most doctors reject this role and relegate it to mental health professionals, which i believe to be a major betrayal of their calling as physicians. but as our practices are structured, it is in our interest as physicians to curtail the routine practice of confession within the exam room, in order to save time and improve productivity.

3) Consensus

Consensus means very little to pastors and believers, as the provision of spiritual care is not an evidence-based endeavor, and as the service of God is considered a very anti-mainstream pursuit. in the medical profession, doing what most other doctors would do is the very definition of standard of care. doctors justify themselves by the guidelines erected on the basis of study data and professional opinions, even when the validity of the data and of the professional opinions is often questionable.

the danger within the contemporary church is that the prevailing and mystical sense of exceptionalism among spiritual leaders creates division and widely ranging opinions on matters of doctrine. if such were the case in medicine, then i as a patient would be horrified and unwilling to trust my doctors as a whole. such disorganization and variance is accepted within the Christian community because of the general sense that the differences are of a subjective nature and hence impossible to resolve. this attests to the generally low opinion that believers have of truth itself and of Christ, supposedly the single and unifying head of the church.

while the ignorance of consensus within the church irks me, i find the obsession with consensus in the medical profession to be at times ridiculous. such weight has been placed on the statistical significance that an entire enterprise has been created to tweak data, tell stories, and also debunk stories by contesting the validity of data. where there are answers to unasked questions, these answers are routinely ignored when there is no financial or career advantage to those in a position to generate consensus.

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many of these aspects of tension get at the root question of what is really true. what should i really embrace as true, and how should i apply it? as a doctor and as a spiritual leader in training, i realize that i don’t really like the answers that either camp has posited.

i want to acknowledge and even accept realities that disagree with my own sensibilities. specifically, i’d like to do away with the idea of “deviant” sexuality and openly recognize the fact that some people were created gay, bisexual, pedophilic, heterosexual, hypersexual, and even asexual. i’d like to see Christians stop trying to adjudicate which of these possibilities are right or wrong and focus a bit more on how to adapt to these realities, for the health and restoration of those who ascribe themselves to any of these equally conflict-laden identities. here is where my physician identity informs me most.

and yet, i’d also like to look at confession, sacrificial giving, and service not as exceptional or “charitable” activities but rather as the mundane activities which should permeate every walk of life, whether in or outside the walls of religious institutions. i find it reprehensible that “professionalism” in America increasingly means the exclusion of the “personal”; and i find it tragic that “work ethic” has come to mean self-automation, to the depletion of the spiritual self. doctors are increasingly envisioning themselves as privileged data analysts, which is a displacement of responsibility.

11.16.10

the color of anger

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:25 pm by Administrator

it strikes me as an important realization for me that when i undergo prolonged circumstances that cause me frustration, my anger begins to color everything in my life. and when this happens, a variety of underlying issues tend to resurface on a recurrent basis. with time, i’m coming to recognize patterns to these issues—and also evolution.

there are issues that used to resurface during periods of anger but no longer do. my relationship with my father and the hurtful things he has told me no longer resurface. the justice of God and specifically my sense of feeling manipulated by Him used to be a recurring sentiment aggravated by periods of anger, but I no longer struggle with these feelings. regarding my earthly father and my heavenly father, i believe that i have experienced real resolution concerning who they are and how they operate.

there are issues that continue to resurface. i have recurrent negativity directed against religious people, specifically against people who consider themselves Christian, convey stubborn confidence in their particular readings of the Bible, and impose their paradigms on others. in periods of vulnerability, i am inclined to loathe this particular set of people; i would liken it to hatred.

and perhaps because my anger tends to be provoked within a work environment, i tend to have recurrent frustrations with systems and organizations within which individual people fall prey to the whims of their superiors. in the context of smaller communities (i.e. families), i feel most opposed to passive-aggressive authority figures, as passive-aggression is the number one quality i most loathe in a leader. in macro environments, i rail against systems or philosophies which oppress people (i.e. military-industrial complexes, global capitalism).

linking these two groups together, i think it is obvious that a deep and consistent vein in my life is a certain resistance to authority. the more inconsistent and patently unjust that authority is, the more powerful my sentiment becomes manifest. many of my long-standing issues with God for instance stemmed from my misinformed perception that God is an arbitrary, unjust, and cruel authority. many of my current issues with corporations and societies is that i continue to find more and more evidence for my beliefs that the structures of which i am a part (church, company, nation) suffer from corrupt leadership, corrupt principles, and corrupt practices.

realizing these things helps me to understand why i have been so conflicted on a fundamental spiritual level for much of my life. my faith prompts me to invest myself in community, to the degree of self-denial. but my intuitive sense of communities and their leaders is so profoundly negative that i prefer to be disconnected and alone. hence, many of my identity struggles.

God has been convincing me that I must reconcile myself in many of these areas of conflict by submitting to the same process by which I became reconciled to Him. in this latter process, i came to understand God better by receiving His efforts to empathize with me; instead of containing Him to the Biblical narrative, i allowed Him to express Himself in my relationships and struggles. in this present-day and active context, God’s revelation to me was far more full. He was able to prove His faithfulness and attributes in ways that my reading of the Bible was completely unable to accomplish.

in the same way, i know that i must recognize that the people that i judge and struggle against do live and operate in contexts outside of the ones in which i customaril interact with them. they have families of origin; they have values which they have inherited from others; they have other arenas in their lives into which they pour their passion and their energies. when i judge them solely on the basis of how they behave in front of me, i cheapen their journeys and narratives, and more importantly i fail to recognize the real message at the root of their behaviors.

i’ve had some personal experiences which have proven to me the importance of really getting to know my enemies on a deeper level. for instance, i once had a teaching pastor whom i considered to be a fairly terrible teacher from the pulpit. by no means did i consider him my enemy; but he became a source of frustration for me, and he interrupted my sense of community with his disorganization, tangential thought processes, and frequent breaches of grammatical convention. i wrote him off as a failed teacher. as time passed though, i got to know his family, how he had received his calling, and how much he struggled in the pulpit. it gradually transformed my understanding of his calling and vocation. at some point thereafter, he delivered a sermon that i considered one of the most impacting teachings i have ever received.

i am the sort of person who reacts out of pure feeling to categorically judge those that i consider to be oppressors and hypocrites. God is beginning to teach me that i need to reevaluate the foundations upon which i make these judgments. it is not simply that God wants me to be more forgiving to my leaders; He wishes me to judge them fairly, because only when i do this can i properly support them. He wishes me to judge them fairly, because increasingly i will be applying this lens to myself as i assume leadership responsibilities.

the color of anger is an overwhelming color—a veritable stain. i’m recognizing with time that it is the job of my eyes to look again, again, and again, until i see the truth for what evaded me at my first perception. my anger, i realize, will always cast this color. what i must learn is how to expect that color, how to compensate for it, and how to compel my heart and mind to persevere past the point of feeling, so that i might recognize what God sees at the root of a situation.

11.15.10

do the right thing

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:31 pm by Administrator

last week was one of the hardest weeks i can ever remember having. interpersonal issues that i had to mediate at work, a difficult presentation to the boss, angry and sick patients, conflicts at church, long hours at the office, fatigue, and a personal meltdown in front of my wife and son. the sheer amount of profanity i issued rivals my output from residency days.

even after a fairly restful weekend, i feel drained.

as the dust is settling, i realize that one of many difficult moments that i forgot in this mess of activity was perhaps the most disturbing of them all. it was a conversation that i had with a younger believer at my church about the scripture.

i don’t want to go on a theology rant, and really this is not about hermaneutics or theology at all. but i simply cannot stand it when i have a severe disagreement with other believers about the Bible. and it happens frequently because 1) the Bible is the only concrete experience that all Christians share, and 2) the Bible opens itself to interpretation and reinterpretation.

my particular disagreement with this friend stemmed from a decision that he made to leave his wife for a couple of days. they’d had a disagreement about his role in the church, and essentially he felt it to be his right to rebuke and discipline her by leaving the home. when i called him out on this action, he quoted scripture to support his assertions that “man, not woman, was made in the image of God”, that “man is the spiritual leader of the household”, and that a man “must not allow his wife under any circumstances to obstruct the work of God in his life”. i was so thoroughly enraged by his implications that i had to cut off the conversation. we haven’t talked since.

there is a part of me that would like to work deftly around the matter of his warped interpretation of scripture, by gently suggesting that perhaps there is sufficient context in scripture to call into question his particular view of hierarchy within the household. however, i will readily admit that a straightforward reading of the scripture provides more than enough evidence for an egocentric, male chauvinistic viewpoint like that embraced by my brother. so instead of engaging in the usual tap-dance of context and hermaneutics, what i really wanted to do is just tell him that the Bible is misleading. because it is. the Bible is complicated, oddly and arbitrarily organized, of nuanced intention, and inconsistently self-referential. more succinctly, the Bible was never clearly intended to become what it has become—the single unifing, and uncontestable basis for the entire logos of the Christian faith. but it has become this, because every nation needs a flag, and every faith needs its inviolable foundation upon which it can stake its claim to truth and influence. and because there is no longer any faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and its expressed purpose of unifying and informing the Church, a book is all we’ve got. and the book, as awkward, cumbersome, and self-defeating as it often is, does not speak for itself.

thus, we have guys like this brother, who use the Bible to assert the primacy of man in his household, the sort of primacy that allows him to leave his home and subject his wife to anxiety and whatever other torture he deems appropriate—simply because it is his God-given domain. men like this have similarly used the Bible to castigate homosexuals, justify institutionalized slavery, assert stultifying orthodoxy, execute heretics, and colonialize other nations in the name of evangelism. take the assembled scriptures from these people, and they have no leg to stand on. give them the weight and authority of “The Bible” and suddenly these men are self-appointed gods. their religion and their Bible sicken me.

but this puts me on a track that i’ve been on before, one which seemingly leads me against the very validity of the Bible. now God has never specifically dissuaded me from the veracity of this trajectory, but then again He has repeatedly urged me to redirect my energies in other directions. i believe this is because it is potentially damaging to the mission and unity of the Church to deconstruct the Bible, even if the Bible itself has become a gruesome and imperfect construct for the church of modern times. i believe it is also because God does not wish me to contest the principle that the Bible has come to represent, which is the abiding, consistent, and eternal nature of God Himself. such a thing was never intended to be conveyed by canonization, but as we will have it, Westerners will only lend credence to something that is codified, certified, and justified. thus, “the Bible”.

but back to the real point. whatever grievance i have concerning the Bible is not really about the actual scriptures themselves; my grievance is concerning how the Bible is perceived and how the Bible is used to create systems of dominion and oppression. these systems exist in personal relationships, families, and communities. these systems demote and destroy authentic spiritual lives, even as they serve as tools for self-empowerment by those who are unequipped with any spiritual inspiration whatsoever by which to properly interpret what is true about the heralded document they have made. and though i am tempted to say at times that i despise the Bible, it is in fact the defamation of God through the interpretation of the Bible which most galls me. because in truth, most everything written in the canonized scriptures strikes me as true, and i delight in them. i see truth in them not because i assume the biblical letters and accounts to be true; rather i delight in the biblical writings because the conscience and spirit with which i have been endowed allows me sufficient context within which to own the truth that is revealed in the biblical accounts.

i can argue further with my brother that his interpretation of scripture is terribly misguided and destructive, but i do not believe that a satisfying argument can be made. scripture does not speak for itself, nor does it guard against its own potential to be misinterpreted. a literal reading of the Bible cannot be convincingly countered. either one must agree to that viewpoint—as warped as it is—or one must deconstruct the Bible upon which that misreading of God is based. i realize now that i would rather choose the latter. what i really want to tell my brother is that i do not believe the Bible to be inerrant and authoritative in the way that he does. and to go further, i would like to tell him that if he really believes in the literal truth of his Bible, then he does not know God. this is a complex and difficult thing to say. but there is no other way to say it.

the Bible is the great stumbling block for my peers in faith. either we do not read it, or we read it through the eyes and ears of a teacher. if this teacher is misguided, then everything in the Bible becomes a vessel for destruction. if this teacher is the Spirit Himself, then the content of the Bible serves to confirm what conscience and revelation have already made clear. either way, the Bible is not autonomous, and it cannot engender authentic faith. it can contextualize but not create the experience of God. the great fallacy of our generation is the idea that we require a perfect code to represent a perfect God. such was the failing of Israel. this too is our tragic downfall.

11.11.10

slow down

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:53 pm by Administrator

i’ve been in a crazed state of mind for the past 72 hours. sick patients, altercating staff, and nervous breakdowns—i’ve had to manage all of it in the past three days. so many interpersonal problems in my work environment have suddenly come to my attention that i’ve been stretched to the point of acute stress. on top of pulling 13 hour days for the past three days, i’ve been losing sleep at night and having to rush to keep appointments and deadlines. last night on the way home from work, my emotions and thoughts were in such chaotic disarray that i nearly caused two car accidents.

this morning on my way to a corporate meeting, i intentionally ran a red light in order to get to the headquarters on time. halfway through the intersection, my car got painted with flashes from a red light camera, and i realized that i was caught red-handed and due for a sizable fine. that just compounded my rage; my hands were still sore from slamming them on the dashboard last night, but i had enough of a voice left to repeatedly drop the F bomb in hearty tenor for the remainder of my commute. “if only i hadn’t run that red light,” i was thinking to myself.

after the meeting, i realized that something in my situation was majorly wrong. my thoughts drifted back to the red light camera that i was so angry about this morning. i realized that the ticket was just one of many things that i feel incredibly disappointed about right now. but of all these things, the ticket is the one thing that best captures why i’m missing out on life.

in so many ways, i have been in crisis mode for the past several weeks, taking care of one unpleasant situation after another. it has gotten to the point that i have lost the ability to be sensitive to certain people in my life. there’s a guy at my church for instance who complains a lot about his situation at the church. he’s contemplating leaving the church (for the umpteenth time), and halfway through my last conversation with him, i just had to cut him off. part of me just wanted to say LEAVE, and leave me the F alone. this state of mind very much reminds me of the way that i was during my residency training. i feel little capacity to handle the sufferings of others, much less my own.

after i got the ticket this morning, i put the brakes on all of this chaos. i remembered again that no one is forcing me to do my job or the things that i have assumed in my other arenas. i have chosen to do these things, and moreover i find satisfaction in the idea that God has given me these things to do. the demands of these responsibilities do not justify to any degree my sense of entitlement, my willingness to break laws, my general anger at humanity. and when i observe these things about myself, i recognize that these circumstances combined with the laws that i am given work together to push me toward fuller repentance and a deeper knowledge of Christ.

the ticket, like many of the rules of my universe, reflects a law that i must abide by. it is not THE LAW in any Toranic sense, but it is a law nonetheless. i often believe laws to be arbitrary and punitive, but i realized that this red light camera represents a law that i cannot ignore. and when i thought about it further, i realized that as much as i don’t want to go to driving school, i really do have to pay the full consequences for this breach of the law. i need it, because if i don’t pay the consequences, then i won’t fully learn the value of that law. the real enemy in my life, the real obstacle to my fulfillment, is myself. the law enables me to contend with myself; it empower me to bring accountability to bear upon the side of myself that is committed to rebellion. it quickens in me the self-loathing and indignation so essential to my sanctification. like crisis, it bifurcates my sense of identity, so that i might discern the opposed trajectories so ingrained in my being.

i realize when i think of scripture that my concept of law has been shaped by the primitive individualism inherent to the culture of our times. we read Paul and come to the strange conclusion that the Law was meant to bind and to destroy people, when in fact the goodness of the Law was exemplified in the fruit that it engendered. Law, in its various forms, forces us to slow down; it forces us to contend with the parts of ourselves that are sold over to sinful entitlements. and even when, over the generations, we trade one form of the law for another, we do so because we need law at work in our beings to facilitate our personal process of self-death.

if Christ had given us law, we would follow it, would we not? if He had said that all things in the Torah could be disregarded save for the stipulations on eating pork, then without question we would avoid pork, regardless of the spirit of our age. in fact, Paul gave his peers a law—not a substitute for the teachings of Christ or a translated Torah, but nevertheless a clear code for conduct that was situationally specific and meant to facilitate the unity of the community. we in our generation also need law; we need laws about running red lights, we need laws about how to treat one another in community, and we need laws about how to take care of our bodies and minds. these are not laws that will save us, but they are laws that will enable us to cleave our hearts to the saving grace that is ours through Christ.

Paul’s laws were never intended for us in the present age, but this does not mean that we are to eschew law, as if this were a Christian principle. i think that at times we must be bold enough to state a truth regarding behavior and stand by it, as law. if it is clear to the conscience of the modern-day prophet that failing to recycle plastics is a true offense against God, then perhaps it is his calling to preach such a thing and urge his local community of believers to act likewise. every community within every generation has its law. to discern such a thing requires wisdom and great faith. to disregard such a thing is to rob ourselves not merely of communal morality but more critically a means by which we can unite and minister to one another effectively.

right now, i submit myself to the law of my city and my country, which i find to be a good and useful law, and one which i believe mirrors a deeper spiritual law as well. i must slow down. i must measure my hours. i must be thankful for the opportunities i am given to do what is good. i must refuse to be driven by the prerogatives and the values of the world that i work in and instead bow to the one God, to whom i belong. i must slow down and worship. this is my life, from one day to the next, and i must wrest this day away so that in this day and in this day alone, i might find Him and please Him in every way possible

11.10.10

a people, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:07 pm by Administrator

two months ago, i wrote an entry on peoplehood, which captured what i believe to be a watershed moment in my life. since that time, i have been engaged in a steady, daily process of situating myself within various communities and allowing them to define me. it is a process which has “taxed” me incredibly. it is also a process by which i have begun to learn in essential terms how to place myself second to others. it hasn’t merely been a matter of unlearning my habitual selfishness; it has been a matter of “losing myself” in my all-absorbing God.

yesterday, i was at a leadership function where several employees were awarded for performance. the awards were $5000 each; this was not a trivial affair. i happened to be looking right at one of the awardees when it became clear that she was one of the nominees who would win. her face immediately transformed. a look of total vulnerability came over her; she began crying. it was as if she had instantaneously lost all self-control over her carefully controlled exterior.

as she took the steps up to the podium to personally receive an embrace and the award from the chief executive officer, i took note of everything: her bowed head, the visible emotion on her face, her inability to look the CEO in the eye, the careful and almost childlike steps that she took. she was the picture of humility, in that moment of recognition. i did not know this woman, but i was so moved by what i saw that i began to cry.

what struck me so powerfully is that this woman’s experience captures what every single person in this world wants to experience. they want to be recognized for what they are; they want to be appreciated for their strengths; they want to be justified by what they achieve through toil and perseverance. but more than this, they want to receive grace, which includes all of this and more. they want to receive the sort of love that even their greatest actions cannot earn them. this woman had worked so hard for what she had gained for the organization; but what struck her most in the end is that she received personal affirmation that was beyond her entitlement.

this is what it will look like, at the judgment seat of Christ. on that day, the sufferings and humiliations that we once disguised will be our pride; the sacrifices that God enabled us to make will be to our glory. on that day, the One who knows us completely will shower us with complete love; i do not think that there is anything that can prepare us for that sense of total adoration. it is beyond justification. it is heaven.

being a people is the outgrowth of this yearning. when we recognize how deeply God wishes His bride to be clothed and made beautiful, we recognize that God desires for all of us to advance up to that podium not as individuals but as one body, worthy of adornment and glorification. such a vision should rightly engender within us a profound sense of humility. it should also trigger in us an indignation, in the here and now. because in this world, the people of God are constantly being put to shame, and they are continually being convinced by their enemies that they are lesser than what they are. to preserve the godly sense of what we are, we must fight vigorously and constantly to reassert what we are as a holy people. our understand of what we are meant to become should drive us in the present to true zeal for our unity and transformation.

there is in the lives of the interceding saints this balance between shame and indignation. it is a righteous balance, by which we are reminded both of our capacity for betrayal but also the excellence to which we are called. these are the sentiments by which we become defined as the representatives of our people; these are the cardinal characteristics of those who have chosen to identify themselves with God and thus beome known by His name

11.08.10

fantasy sports

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:39 pm by Administrator

you might assume that i’m quitting fantasy sports, since i’ve recently had a pattern of permanently giving up the very activity mentioned in the title of a post. this will not entirely be the case with fantasy sports.

my fantasy career began in 2000 with Yahoo fantasy basketball, mainly because my friend won ho needed one more guy to fill a league that he was playing with some of his co-missionary friends in China. i found it very two-dimensional in the beginning, as i had no real taste for sports-related statistics at the time. but fantasy tapped into my deep relish for competition as well as my penchant for optimizing systems and processes. i found the activity of “owning” and “managing” a virtual sports team to be fascinating, and the long professional sports seasons lent to the activity a sort of continuity and capacity for growth. i became addicted right away.

i started my own basketball league in 2001 with dan cho, paul min, and won ho kim, a league which has subsequently evolved over 9 seasons into a fairly stable virtual community. fantasy basketball of course begot other fantasy involvements, and at my peak level of play three years ago, i was involved in four fantasy football leagues, a baseball league, and two basketball leagues, not to mention annual March Madness brackets (which i had a keen habit of winning for a good 6 or 7 year stretch). for the past three years, i’ve won at least two of my leagues; last year, i won my extremely competitive basketball league for the first time, which i consider my crowning accomplishment in fantasy sports.

but there is the dark side of fantasy sporting. the highs of winning, particularly in football, are indomitable; but the utter hollowness of the Sunday performance come-up-short is sometimes too anguishing to bear with. after my most recent 4-week losing streak in fantasy football, i’ve come to terms with the fact that all the stat study, box score reloads, and daily poring over of sports news is largely a pointless venture that does not edify my life. what i seek through fantasy sporting is vicarious competition, the thrill of bragging rights. what i reap is thousands upon thousands of hours of lost time.

but there is more to the sickness of fantasy sporting than merely wasted time and effort. there’s a certain link or relationship that one develops with the players he owns, especially if he owns them in multiple leagues. one stakes his reputation, his acumen, his concept of his own sporting genius on the performance of a man whose season could go any which way, for a variety of factors that no one can control. success in fantasy sports is a little about research but a lot about luck. and the experience of continually experiencing success as a by-product of uncertainties creates certain expectancies of fate. you start to get addicted to the sensation of riding a chance wave or getting kissed by lady luck. in short, fantasy sporting to some degree simulates the most capricious, unpredictable aspects of the professional sporting experience; it breeds superstitionality and artificial entitlement.

for me, my consistent successes in outplaying my competition have taken this sense to the extreme. i’ve built a whole way of life around courting chance. fantasy in fact was a gateway into outright sports betting for a while, because it breeded in me a yen for more immediate risks and rewards. two years ago, i had to recognize how self-destructive this venture could become for me, if i let it get out of control. in the past year, i’ve given up sports betting entirely, and i’ve also closed up my involvement in more than half of the leagues i was once involved in. i’m only in 2 football leagues and my long-standing basketball league now, and i persist in those primarily because i’ve found something of a community in these leagues, as primitive as that might sound.

i’ll acknowledge that it would be a dream job for me to own and manage a major sports franchise of my own, through which i could channel my competitive urges and my narcissistic pursuit of destiny. but as i approach 35, i realize that regardless of whatever wins and losses i’ve picked up along the way, the real thrill of victory is not only fleeting but also empty. and by extension, i’ve discovered that my vicarious experience of “rooting” for philadelphia teams has brought me similar disillusionment. after years of philadelphia futility, i thought that the thrill of watching the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 would change me forever. the elation lasted about three days. in retrospect, i’m surprised it even lasted that long.

beyond the obvious misgivings i have about the behavior of sports stars, the amounts of money that they make, and the idolization that they experience, i think i wonder whether “winning” in sports carries any real substance for me whatsoever. yes, the Maryland Terps NCAA basketball championship and the Redskins’ Super Bowls were huge memories for me, and they’ve connected me to other people. but as i change, those memories fade; they don’t evolve along with me. in this way, i feel that championships are like pop songs. they help to situate time and place in the realm of memory; but they can do little to help identify or inform the self.

one of my favorite movies of all time is “Hoosiers”. it’s as close to a perfect movie as anything i’ve ever seen. the movie captures what i love about sports: the rise from ruin, the nobility of conquering one’s own weaknesses, the beauty of consummated teamwork, and the affirmation that one can receive through achievement. but to me, the most poignant scene of the movie is the very last, long after the team’s state championship, when the camera rests on a faded photo of the team in the school gym. it’s poignant, because it implies that the moment of victory was ephemeral; it’s gone now, just the stuff of imagination.

the constant rhythm of starting and ending a season, hoping and having to give up, or winning and then forgetting the win—this oddly feels like all of life, in microcosm. it’s getting tiring. i honestly believe that i have perhaps two or three more seasons in me at most, before i hang up the Yahoo profile and look for something new. i’m looking for things that i can build over longer and longer intervals of time; things that mean more because they rely more on commitment and less on chance; things that say more about me because they’re the unique outgrowths of my vision and my personality. i do want to compete, and i do want to win. i want to prove myself in some way; it’s what keeps me moving forward in life. but i’m realizing as time goes on that what i must decide is what i’m competing for and what i’m competing against; what is worth winning and how i must go about winning it. these are terribly difficult questions without intuitive answers. men find short-cuts to these answers every day. but i think that the men who are happiest are the ones who ultimately discover that life is not defined by competition, even if competition—and the self-doubt that it breeds—is what hones their sense of what is worth living for

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