02.25.11

leadership

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:28 pm by Administrator

yesterday, i broke. something in me shut down. the frustration and anger punched a hole in my heart, and it all came out in a torrent of emotion. in my own words, i could hear what i’ve come to believe; that my role is futile, that things at work are getting worse and not better, that my style of leadership has merely enabled more incompetence, and that i am no longer motivated to lead.

this week, on top of the steadily building pile of admin work, there were three separate incidents when my staff members broke down crying in front of me. one was in a general staff meeting; two had stepped into my office for unannounced visits. the three people all had the same general complaint, even if the nuances of their situations were different. the work environment has become too hostile for them to function within. they’re feeling alone, alienated, and depressed. they’re in conflicts with peers that are not getting resolved. they’re finding it harder and harder to come to work every day. perhaps i didn’t fully realize the extent of the cultural sickness pervading our unit until i came face to face with this degree of emotionality. it struck me deeply; it was overwhelming.

this morning i was dropping off the outgoing mail before driving off to work when i suddenly began to cry. i was thinking about what these three employees were going through as they were getting ready for work; i was thinking about what all the people in my division were experiencing on this Friday morning. i felt thoroughly demoralized because i knew that all of these people were bringing pain, fear, and depression into their offices this morning.

my clinic is not a monolith. it is made up of people. and the people at my clinic are suffering because they are inflicting suffering on one another or because they are unwilling or unable to help manage one another’s suffering. my clinic is full of hurting staff because it is not a supportive environment, because it is cliquish and divided by unarticulated boundaries, driven it has been by a culture steeped in artificial formality, entitlement, and a history of unfulfilled expectations.

it strikes me that as i’m growing more intimately involved in the life of my clinic, i cannot escape this pall of darkness. once, i had plans and events drawn up to make things better for my staff. now, i cannot see what is happening in terms of x’s and o’s, matrices and diagrams. there are immovable obstacles, because within the hearts of my staff are unchanging realities. i have tried to transfer, fire, or otherwise move several dysfunctional individuals since i have arrived, but i have been prevented from doing so. the message from corporate has been clear: turn it around but work with what you have. day after day, i come into a situation which strikes me as hopeless.

i’ve been learning Spanish in order to communicate fluently with my patients and to become a part of this community. i realize that i’ve learned many words that convey success: “lograr”, “tener exito”, “alcanzar”. but i’ve not yet learned the verbs that express what i feel: to fail, to ruminate, to languish. it is the same with our corporate jargon. we talk about the proverbial “bus”: who should be on it, who shouldn’t be, who has learning agility, who has upward mobility, etc. i feel that the reality is that we cannot effect a facelift here without cutting off the previous face and remolding the bones. and because i have been unable to do this, i feel like a bad cosmetician. i feel futile.

i’m going away next week, and i have many things to think about. i’m not merely burned out; i’ve lost any real sense of vision for my work. it comes down to people—people who don’t want to work, people who want to work but can’t, people who are disabled and need help—and i feel powerless to make the substantive changes in their lives that are necessary to make them well. it’s not supposed to be my job; but i can’t do my job unless these things happen. i don’t know where to turn. the bridges have burned, and i am alone on my island with hungry people who are struggling to survive

02.22.11

Thoughts at the start of the week

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:26 pm by Administrator

i’m preparing for a few meetings i’m having this morning—the first workday of the week, since i miraculously had President’s Day off—and i’m realizing i face one major and demoralizing obstacle. i have no idea why we’re having these meetings.

on a rational level, i understand the seeming purpose of the meetings. the first meeting is a gathering of directors/administrators that will focus on large-scale productivity. we’ll ram through about 20 pages of 6-point font statistics, with brief pauses for specific people to explain their outlying numbers, and at the end of the meeting we’ll supposedly have generated a macro-action plan. at my second meeting, i’ll be leading a focus group from my own clinic on paving the way for a more efficient, numbers-oriented operation. we don’t have the numbers yet, and we don’t know when we will, but the meeting is supposed to be montly, and goshdarnit we’re going to push through and have it. the last meeting is a closed meeting between three people, myself included, to discuss a financial conundrum about which i have little intimate understanding.

in short, the meetings have assigned purpose, even if for me they lack real specificity. why am i at the meeting? what do i want out of it? i can’t answer these questions about my three meetings today.

i get “Leading Ideas” emails by Doug Sundheim, courtesy of my sister-in-law, and i really enjoy them. today, in this spell of malaise, i decided to go back through those emails on good business practice, to see if i could glean something that would help me push forth into my day with something more than fatalistic reluctance. i chanced upon the leading idea about mediocrity. it suited my situation perfectly. Sundheim suggests that two of the fundamental factors that invariably lead a group to mediocrity are 1) lack of a shared & compelling mission/vision and 2) lack of alignment on clear objectives.

today, that’s me. i am facing the prospect of a very mediocre day, mainly because i do not really understand what i’m doing. that makes me sad; it makes me wonder why i’m wasting my time doing something i do not believe in. Jim Collins in “Good to Great” leaves his readers with one very salient thought:

‘Indeed, the real question is not ‘Why Greatness?’ but ‘What work makes you feel compelled to try to create greatness?’ If you have to ask the question, ‘Why should we try to make it great? Isn’t success enough?’ then you’re probably engaged in the wrong line of work.’

i’m taking 20 minutes now to derive some personal purpose for the meetings i’m about to sit in on. if i can find a reason, then i’ll succeed in some way. if i can’t, then i’ll probably leave the meetings in worse shape than when i began.

which leads me to a final rumination before i close this entry. am i being mediocre in life? have i allowed my schedule and my job descriptions to drive me forward, week after week? it shouldn’t be surprising to me that because i’m no longer setting goals for myself, i’m burning out by thursday just about every week. when did i stop feeling the purpose of my days? is it a Christian thing to live out my life passively and without passion?

i think specifically about my writing. three people in the past month have again urged me to reconsider what i’m doing (or not doing) with the talent that i have. to some degree, i think that it is right for me to question the root of the ambition within myself—and to specifically question whether my talent is best directed toward a commercial pursuit. but on the other hand, i know that i don’t think about my writing in an intentional and focused manner because i’m afraid to disappoint myself. there is no shortage of projects i’d like to try; the thing that holds me back, more than limited time or energy, is the fear of the frustration i’ll experience when i look back at what i’ve written. this fear has robbed me of the purposeful moments. it has made me less than mediocre.

if i really believe that blogging—this journal—is the best way for me to employ my talent for God and for community, then i’m doing right, and i should do it with joy. but i don’t know if i believe that. i’m doing this because i allow myself no other outlet, and i need to write in order to survive. at what point do i understand that the fine line between selfish ambition and purposeful living is still a line—a chasm of a line, if i’m able to see it as such? can i afford to live the rest of my life in fear? do i have that long to live? these are the questions i struggle with, on my tuesday morning

02.19.11

the job, my calling, and the future

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 am by Administrator

i’ve spent a lot of time anguishing about and struggling with my job. i’m new to it, and there’s always so much to be done. but i like my job. and i realize actually that this is the very first job i’ve ever really liked.

i’ve had a lot of jobs. i was a math tutor; an english tutor; an SAT teacher; a research assistant; a secretary; an intern; a resident; a specialty fellow; and a specialty consultant. i didn’t mind the teaching jobs so much, but all the medical stuff (including the research assistant and research-related jobs) were pretty much terrible. i’ve truly hated all the medical jobs i’ve had, up until now.

there are a lot of things i like about being a medical director. the patient care is interesting at times, and on occasion it is a lot of fun. but i’ve come to realize that patient care is not enough for me, and in heavy enough doses it is depressing. the directorial part of my job is challenging and very theoretical on many levels. the politics don’t trouble me as much as i thought they would. the hard part of being an administrator is that my mind must be on many people and on many operations at once, and i must be continually accessible and focused in order to succeed.

to summarize, the downside of my clinical job is that it sometimes feels tedious and repetitive, and the downside of my administrative job is that it sometimes feels overwhelming and disorganized. but in the end, i’m able to really enjoy both sides of the job because the combination of roles gives me variety. i get to wear different hats on different days and on different times of my days. when i see patients, i feel the freshness of sitting down and connecting to real people, which is the one part of medicine that i love. when i get thrown into a think-tank or a conflict-resolution scenario, i feel the freshness of that because i’m ready for a real intellectual challenge. perhaps it’s a bit counterintuitive, but clinical medicine requires less of my intellectual faculties than my job as manager.

i’m useless without variety. i get bored of any single thing if i’m forced to do it in too narrow a manner for too long. i think that my ideal job would have me filling an entirely different role every day of the week. i can do brainless, repetitive activity; i can interact with angry, sick people; i can crunch numbers and analyze performance; and i can lead highly conceptual discussions. but i need to change it up, and i need to change it up often. i’ve liked this particular job because i get to see myself tested in various contexts, i get to experiment with situational strategies, and i get to manage a lot of different, very interesting relationships. from week to week, i get to see those relationships grow in various contexts. that is cool.

the feedback i’ve gotten thus far has been very positive. my docs relax with me, and they trust my judgment. they like the fast turnaround on their requests, and they respond well to my decisiveness. my staff appreciate that i’m easy to work with and that i take an empathetic approach to conflict-resolution. many of them come to me now with personal problems and medical issues, which presents me with the challenge of how to draw the line between my directorial and medical responsibilities. overall, people sense that i get it; i know where the root problems are, i deal with them aggressively, i push when necessary, and i protect the people who are doing their jobs. the highest compliment i’ve received to this point is that one of my most talented staff, despite having attractive offers from other companies, has chosen to stay in my division because of the working relationship that he has with me.

as i look ahead to my life in pastoral ministry, i’m realizing that the sheer breadth of tasks required of a pastor—teaching, shepherding, counseling, supporting, and leadership training—will suit me perfectly. i think i could succeed at any single one of these roles, but i’ll be happiest if i’m placed in a situation to do them all. prior to this directorship, i perceived that my weakness lay in managing difficult relationships, but in fact this is the area within which i derive the most satisfaction and the best results. i always assumed that i was a good teacher, but the directorship has convinced me that my enjoyment of preaching will hinge on the health of the relationships that i maintain in the church. i am a man who cannot preach at the level of theoretical interests; for me, i must preach on the lessons that i am learning in the relationships that i’m developing.

for years, i was depressed because i did not recognize my true calling in life. i feel purpose in my present job not only because i like the job but because i sense how the job is revealing my strengths and giftings. it is preparing me on many levels for my life in full-time ministry. and because i’m convinced of my job’s worth in this regard, i can invest myself fully in it without feeling constrained by it. this level of satisfaction in my work is something which has evaded me for almost my entire adult life, and i’m thankful for it. i feel that it is the strongest confirmation of my calling, and it is a blessing to me after a life of extremely difficult wandering.

02.14.11

protecting my time

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:58 pm by Administrator

for the past two weeks, i have literally had a dinner meeting or required occasion for four out of my five weekday evenings. it has gotten to the point where even a casual social dinner has begun to feel like a total drain on my energy. and the requests for my weeknight time have only multiplied. church members are asking me to visit with them; work is starting to put evening meetings on my schedule; birthdays and spontaneous get-togethers are landing on my schedule faster than i can clear it.

i am an extrovert, but i’m an extrovert with a fairly limited energy level. i’m realizing that i have to guard my family time with avidity because when i get overextended, i can’t do any single thing well. the fatigue becomes anger; the anger becomes resentment; and then i’m incapable of giving myself to anyone.

the thing is that i don’t know where to draw the line just yet. among the people asking for my time are family members in crisis, small group leaders dealing with severe stresses, and ministries that require my attendance and leadership. even if i eliminate all the social get-togethers, i still have two weeknight standing meetings which take about all i’m able to give, in terms of emotional and physical energy. i feel like a pastor, and i’m not a pastor. i don’t know if i like it. but i need to learn where to draw the line.

one thing that’s for certain is that i have to continually prioritize and re-prioritize, and i have to be willing to say no. my number one priority, i believe, has to be my own health. if i don’t run and i don’t rest, i’m useless even to my own family. if i’m not getting my rest and exerise, i might as well abandon the rest of my responsibilities. the second priority is my wife. our time together and the time we devote to marital counseling have to be front and center, or else i am destined to lose this marriage one way or the other. between work and church, i feel that work has to take priority because of the level of accountability that my paycheck requires. and then among church responsibilities, my particular small group must be my primary responsibility, with the men’s ministry, the administrative roles, and my friendships all following that.

a question naturally presents itself at this point, which is where i get my refueling from. the answer for everyone is different. i need my exercise; my creative outlets; and my time with my wife. regarding the latter, i used to be ashamed of asking for babysitting from family, but i am shameless about it now. we simply can’t keep our relationship alive without help. i think it’s ridiculous in this society that the burden for child-rearing falls entirely on the parents; it’s not feasible and it’s not fair. it’s a perfect recipe for a broken marriage. sandy and i can’t have the quality time that we require with a child continuing invading our space. i love isaac and all, but he’s a responsibility, not a friend.

as if sandy and i didn’t have enough on our plates (particularly with a second child on the way), one thing we’ve become convinced of is that our church needs a dedicated family ministry. our couples with children need a forum within which they can discuss the real problems of the walk: marital strife, sex problems, the burden of raising children, the absence of a devotional life at home, the lack of real conversations, and the sense of disconnection from the rest of the church. it’s hard to connect with people when you don’t have the time, energy, and freedom to make those relationships your priority, and the families at our church are dying for lack of attention and protected time.

in any case, i am still enjoying what i’m doing but i feel like i’m constantly on the verge of burning out. one angry patient, one conflict too many among my staff, one argument at home—it doesn’t take much to nudge me over the edge. i’m living on the brink of my capacity, and i don’t know if it’s right or wrong, i just know that i need my daily bread, and i can’t afford to think about tomorrow

02.12.11

egypt

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:30 am by Administrator

a resolution i made a while ago was to be as apolitical as i possibly can. this is for a few reasons. politics always bring out the cynic within me; politics generally make me argumentative; and politics to me represent a realm of spiritual futility. nevertheless, i do follow and care a great deal about political events in the world, because i worry about the world. this morning, for instance, i saw again the prize-winning photo of the Afghani girl whose ears and nose were cut off by her husband, and i could not help but belt out a stream of profanity right there on the spot. i will be candid; if i had broad dictatorial powers (and i secretly do wish for it), there are people in the world that would not live to see tomorrow. i am not a believer in gradual cultural change, because justice for me must always be both swift and decisive.

i am conflicted about the changes occurring in egypt, on account of some personal beliefs that i hold. on the one hand, i’m guardedly optimistic for our friends in egypt, because any political transformation driven by idealism can be a potentially good thing, regardless of the societal context. and i personally get excited when i see people lay down their differences and unite in collective action, because “peoplehood” is always a raw and very powerful thing to behold.

on the other hand, i see reason for pessimism. i’ve been strongly influenced by Tom Friedman’s take on the history and culture of the Arabic Middle East, and i have to admit my personal belief that Arabic society continues to be, at its root, tribal society. “tribal” does not equate to “primitive”; but it does imply that the Arabic self-concept is not primarily defined by “nationality” but rather by lineage and creed. the post-World War II nation-state boundaries established by the French and British were arbitrary and established without regard for the diversity of tribes coexisting within those boundaries. it is precisely because of the cruel ignorance of the British post-war government that the Israeli homeland was established (and nearly unable to defend itself from invasion in 1948); it was British ineptitude that led to wholesale slaughter in India and Pakistan after the partitioning of those nations; and it was Western expediency that aggravated the chronic inter-tribal tensions that now plague the “nations” of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. you cannot force tribes to submit to a Western-style parliament.

in addition to being fundamentally tribal, Arabic society is also poor—dirt-poor. the kings propped up by the West have siphoned the riches of the people by fiat, creating the greatest disparities in wealth imaginable. this tremendous inequity, i would argue, makes democracy impossible. in what nation has democracy succeeded without a foundational middle-class? America has succeeded as a democracy because of limitless natural resources and the infinite frontier; from America’s inception, its citizens were rich, and their national consciousness was derived from their wealth. all that they required of government was a system which would protect their assets, while enforcing general rules within which they could carry on business. democracy does not generate wealth; it is a system which facilitates the interests of the wealthy. wealth is not a product of ideology but rather of market forces, cultures of technology, and natural resources.

we have seen situations in which democracy has failed because of economic barriers. South Korea, for instance, was (and may very well still be) a democracy in name only. it is better defined for its procession of militaristic dictators, all of whom have been executed or imprisoned after being chased out of office. for decades, South Korea was incapable of democracy because of economic conditions that retarded the growth of the middle class. until recently, monopolistic industries and the military-industrial complex were synergistic in maintaining free-market autocracy, similar to what is evolving in China. now, with the evolution of a broader, enfranchised middle class, Korea is actually diverse and strong enough in its economy that it does not require—and even resists—monolithic totalitarianism. Singapore may be undergoing a similar transition.

the Arabic Middle East, Egypt included, is scant on the middle class, because the economy of their nations is so tenuously narrow in scope (oil) and so easily dominated by an entrenched oligarchy of a few. with such a large proportion of their workforce dominated by underskilled, poverty-stricken youth, there is no foundation upon which to build Western-style democracy. after all, Western-style democracy is built to protect and to advance the interests of pre-existing industry. in the Middle East, democracy is going to become a means by which tribes battle for political power, aggravating the deep lines of cultural division that already prohibit national consciousness.

i fear that Egypt, a tribal nation with a restricted middle class, will suffer the same fate as that of Iraq, doomed to endure a decade of debilitating political and social battles between sectors of society that have no historical precedent for collaboration. Coptics, Muslims, secularists, landowners, laborers, and the youth will fight one another for the remnants of Mubarak’s infrastructure; they will try to use government to subvert their competitors, even as they will fight against the government to protect what little they have. democracy is chaos for a tribal society. the only governent for a tribal society is a chieftain, who exerts rule by force, who negotiates on his terms only, and who compels order by asserting a clear, inviolable hierarchy of authority.

i am not contending that Egypt is too backwards for a sophisticated system like democratic, representative governent. i’m contending that democracy itself is an illusion—a by-product of Western prosperity achieved at the expense of its colonies and its enemies. when the West suffers financial collapse, it will see the immediate collapse of its ideal of democracy as well. even now, representative democracy in the United States is a questionable reality, being that the true forces which drive this nation’s agenda rest upon the avid appetites of the middle-class consumer.

there is a reason why Israel, God’s chosen nation, was a nation of tribes, each governed by its chieftain, its chieftains governed by divinely-appointed judges. in the end, what every man needs is not the idea of nationality but a real sense of his people—the people who will have his back when he is down and out, hungry and without means. the homeless and sick people of America do not care about their citizenship; for them, America is a lie. i fear that the dispossessed and angry people of Egypt will soon come to recognize that democratic government is not their hope for a better life. if order and prosperity are what they desire, they will need to do what every nation on the brink of an identity crisis must do: they will need to go to war, they will need to conquer their enemies, and they will need to define a national consciousness by violence and by absolute rule. it is not merely tribal life; it is the way of our world.

02.08.11

War

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:02 pm by Administrator

from an email i sent this morning to the Men’s Ministry leaders:

“i struggle to remember that we are in a war. there is no rest for us in this life. our object is not to dwell here and prosper but to surge forward, to take hold of our inheritance, and to finish well. in the midst of this battle, we will outwardly lose everything—our families, our health, our dignity, and our lives. but if we are prepared to lose these things in the hope of our heavenly inheritance, then, like Dan says, who can stand against us?”

the Men’s Ministry leaders have been undergoing simultaneous and severe difficulties, myself included, and it appears that many of these struggles have come to a head this week. i have felt myself close to the breaking point, and i realize that i have not been alone. certain realities of the spiritual walk become crucially clear when one goes through physical and psychological stress of a certain kind. we understand something of what Christ meant when He said that foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to rest His head.

in “The Godfather”, Michael Corleone replaces Tom Hagan, his adopted brother and trusted associate, as the family’s consiglieri, choosing a professional killer in his stead to take on the critical role. flatly and without disclaimer, Michael tells Tom that he is “not a war-time consiglieri”. in the end, Michael’s decision proves to be right. Rocco turns the Corleone family into an efficient, airtight operation, systematically eliminating the family’s enemies in New York, Vegas, and Florida. at a time of severe crisis, Rocco proves to be the man who is capable of keeping the ship afloat, even executing Michael’s own brother in order to preserve the family’s reputation and long-term interests.

the Holy Spirit is our war-time consiglieri. in happier times, when the kingdom of Israel offered safe haven to those who sought justice in the world, the believers in God needed their law and their army to preserve them. now, in the era of the new covenant, our place in this world order is destined to end. we will leave it, and it will be subject to the forces which will ultimately destroy the world. in this era, we are men and women at war with the spirit of the age; we are men and women guaranteed to suffer persecution, oppression, and even death at the hands of our enemies, on our way to eternity. we forget this, because of the guise of prosperity and democracy that masks our true state of desperation. in truth, there is no wealth and no safety for us here, in this life. and the Holy Spirit is our counsel in the midst of battle, warning us against idleness, warning us against complacency, reminding us that if we do not fight for our lives, then we will, every one of us, be put to shame.

today i am reminded to put to death the misdeeds of the body, to recognize the cruelty of our times, to separate myself from the world and its deceit, and to rededicate myself to the radical calling of spiritual warfare. my brothers and i are under attack, and to the unbelieving observer, we are destined to fail. we will lose our friends, our money, our health, and our lives. but we fight for stakes that cannot be counted in this life; we fight for a dignity that no king in this world can accord; and we fight for a glory that cannot be contained by the storerooms of this decadent civilization. we fight for a life that will be given to us after death, and that is why we fight with an uncommon courage, a boldness that defies our own mortality. we burn with a flame that cannot be extinguished, because the Spirit within us, which sees all things in truth, compels us to go to war for the kingdom of God

02.04.11

follow-up to “criticism”

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:34 pm by Administrator

here’s the real question: is the point of the Christian life to control oneself or to fully reveal oneself?

in many ways, these are not mutually exclusive objectives, but in essence they are significantly different.

buddhism, for instance, is consumed with self-control. anger, shame, and deep sadness are among the many negative emotions that the Buddhist seeks to mitigate through sublimative practices. the goal of Buddhist training is consummate self-control, exemplified in total equanimity, imperturbability, and peace with all difficult circumstances. many of our meditative practices (i.e. yoga) seek the same objective: to insulate the individual from circumstances beyond his control, or to empower him to persevere through them without suffering psychological injury.

perhaps i’m reading into Keller’s article with a bit of license, but i see this very same strain of asceticism working its way into his argument about criticism. the point, Keller insinuates, is not whether a criticism is right or wrong but how a man can avoid being powerfully disturbed by criticism. one can extend this approach to just about every aspect of life. the clear implication of this sort of paradigm is that Christian virtue is captured in equanimity and imperturbability; if we refuse to be threatened by negativity, and if we can learn from all manner of difficult circumstances, then we can retain a certain kind of spiritual positivity.

i do not believe that the point of Christianity is self-control. if so, Christ would have taught us how to obey the law. in fact, He sought to do more; He sought to revolutionize our self-concept, by teaching rebirth. His was a doctrine of unrestrained self-revelation, made complete in self-death and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

to me, this is such a critical aspect to meditate on. so many times, i’m tempted to evaluate the quality of my spirituality by the nature of my reactions to difficulty. i validate my faith when i see myself capable of controlling my anger or able to respond to negativity with positivity. conversely, when i am consumed with rage or hostility, i doubt the veracity of my faith. this sort of dynamic leads me to believe that my faith is about installing a certain orderly pattern of emotional response, one which girds me against impulsivity and emotionality. it is Puritanical; it is stoic; it is “sublimative”.

but i believe that this outward “form” of self-control, while very necessary in certain situations, ought to be the outgrowth of a fundamentally free expression of self. Keller argues for a self-centered perspective oriented toward self-improvement, by which we are constantly and self-critically searching for wisdom in every barb of criticism. the thrust of New Testament teaching is in the opposite trajectory; Paul argues for a broadened perspective oriented toward self-discovery in the person of Christ. the point is not “moral behavior”; the point is ownership of the kingdom, the full embrace of godly identity, and the unrestrained spiritual self-expression. Paul’s approach veers more toward the intuitive than the sensing in this regard. managing relationships, controlling one’s emotions, and conveying humility are secondary to abandoning personal prerogative in the pursuit of unabashed union with Christ.

what would i argue about criticism? the “harsh criticism” that Keller speaks of inflicts pain and provokes bitterness. this natural reaction need not be deconstructed or invalidated; it ought to be embraced. the question is not whether these feelings are valid but rather how those feelings will be applied. one cannot fully reconcile himself to his accuser unless he first embraces the full extent of the angry, resentful feelings that the harmful words inflicted. in fact, in many situations, that sort of antagonism must be fully expressed before the hard work of repentance, reconciliation, and ultimately sanctification can begin. yes, there must be grace, but in every interaction there must be both justice and transparency as well. the work of Christ does not aim to disable our emotionality but rather to create a vessel for godly transformation out of our emotionality.

i am opposed to stoical Christianity. i embrace a Christianity of confrontation and conflict, by which the true extent of our depravity and the true depth of our need for reconciliation become known. within this sort of confrontation and conflict, certain rules of interaction should be respected, vis-a-vis the moral framework of our times, but the conflict should nevertheless be accepted and even encouraged for the critical interpersonal work that it is bound to precipitate.

02.03.11

criticism

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:57 pm by Administrator

http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/2010/howdoyoutakecriticism.html

my friend (and partner in ministry) forwarded me the above-linked article authored by Tim Keller on the subject of receiving criticism. it’s a short article with a very clear, very cogent point: it is a Christian quality to be able to receive any criticism, no matter how severe or arbitrary, with a humble and listening heart.

from the examples that Keller provides, it’s clear that he’s primarily focused on the quality of one’s emotional response to criticism. is the criticism provoking one to anger, defensiveness, or indignation? is the criticism provoking one to retaliation or counterattack? these are the responses that Keller identifies as signs of dysfunction. he recommends that we avert this tendency toward retaliation and bitterness by seeking in every situation to find “the kernel of truth” in every criticism that we receive, however harsh or unfair it may appear. i might conjecture that the picture of Christianity that Keller would propose is the man who takes verbal abuse with quiet poise, meditative reflection, and a careful conciliatory response.

this is a stoic, ascetic sort of character. it is admirable for its self-control. but to me, it is not the picture of Christianity i see in scripture.

after all, our forefathers did not concern themselves with their emotional responses to their critics. either they were right or they were wrong; this was the matter of importance. and “right” and “wrong” were not merely situational judgments. they were matters of fundamental character and faith orientation. if the criticism was well-founded and delivered from God, then it was their role to repent. if the criticism was malicious and generally false (and what criticism doesn’t have a “kernel of truth”), then they met it with powerful rebuke of their own. there was no self-apology inherent to the attitudes of the saints, because they felt no need to apologize on behalf of their God.

we can see this with David, who met his detractors with sharp words (and bloodshed) of his own; and we can see this with Moses, who made no apology for his Cushite wife and stood witness to God’s curse upon Aaron. the apostle Paul did not bend to his critics, nor did he make any effort to feign at submission. he pronounced judgment, he labeled his detractors with ferocious words, and he attacked them like a lioness defending her young. even Christ had nothing to concede to his critics and judges; either He dismissed them because they were irrelevant (Pilate) or he gave them a sharp piece of His own mind (Pharisees).

yes, in James we are strongly instructed to guard our tongues, that deadly poison, and we are urged to be quick to listen and slow to become angry. but not once is there an instruction to search for truth in a lie, nor to give a modicum of credit to a malicious detractor. when we are confident of our standing and our ministry, we are charged to defend it by force of will, steadfastness of purpose, and stubbornness of faith. the sons of God are not weak people, bound to meekness and confined to quiet meditation on our shortcomings. we are in fact a priesthood, called to transcend our weaknesses and to be unashamedly bold in warring against our enemies, both internal and of the flesh.

i believe it to be a profound misconception on Keller’s part that humility should be equated with self-effacement. only to a Confucian or an ascetic are these qualities interchangeable. oftentimes, the most arrogant people are outwardly self-effacing. instead of dying to themselves, they empower themselves by exhibiting a certain kind of self-control. i’ve always believed that humility is not about outward meekness but about personal identity—an identity in which one only experiences pleasure as the derivation or overflow of God’s own pleasure. humility is a profound sense of unity with God, which erases the personal spiritual boundaries and situates the self within the conglomerate God-consciousness.

ironically, humility might be most evidenced in situations where we express the fullness of anger and embarrassment that we feel on account of our relationship with Him. these are irrepressible feelings which inconvenience us, and they expose us for our vulnerabilities and sensitivities. pride might dictate that we pretend at equanimity, when the profundity of our identification with God would drive us to express in the strongest terms our unwillingness to conform. yes, i think that we should constantly examine and reexamine our emotional responses to avoid the foolishness of impulsive action; but neither are we obliged to manufacture the pretense of humility through a habitual orientation toward self-doubt, self-questioning, and self-improvement.

living and breathing as an “extension” of God’s identity means that we will experience criticism in light of His nature. if it is trivial and personal criticism, then we will learn to disregard it; if it is criticism of a proper judgment, then we will correct the critic insofar as he can be corrected; if it is criticism of righteous intention, then we will defend the intention even as we expose the intention of the critic; and if it is criticism of God’s work or the movement of His spirit, then we will fight with more than words—we will fight to the death. how we receive criticism depends on the nature of the criticism and what that criticism was meant to change. self-restraint is never the object; and most of the time, it is perhaps unnecessary

02.02.11

random reflections

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:00 pm by Administrator

sometimes, you cannot tell how your conflicted feelings about something will shake out. years later, it might be the pleasant memories that prevail, smoothing about the rumpled landscape of trouble and tension. or, it might be the really dark moments that emerge; the rest was just explanations and excuses, the stuff that melts in later seasons to expose the gruesome crags beneath.

you cannot tell what judgment the mind will come to in the end. while you’re struggling to survive, you don’t have the luxury of figuring out what’s right or wrong, or whether right and wrong really matter. it’s only much later, when necessity no longer binds you, that the heart, that long-suffering and ultimately irrepressible thing, makes itself known.

i was sharing with my small group last night and felt overwhelmed by feeling as i found myself touching on many aspects of my life—my frustrations at work, my frustrations at church, my father, my health, my problems with anger. there is this reservoir of churning sensation within me that i only become aware of in times of crisis; and when i peer into that impenetrable cavern, i hear the tides, i hear the terrifying waves crashing against the inner walls. i realize that my memories are working themselves out, unbeknownst to me, forming me in ways that i cannot control. one day, i will face an enemy against which the whole of my being will throw itself, and in that day, i will know what the years of struggle have shaped in my soul.

today, i feel lost. i do not know where to find solace. my body is brittle; it wants sex, sun, and sleep, and i’m tired of feeding it. my mind is unrelenting. it wants stimulation and sublimation, but i cannot placate it any longer. my spirit is everything that my body and mind cannot discern; and i do not know whether it really exists at all. it is an idea, more than anything. it is a place where i relegate all things that are tearing me apart. it is a place where i can face the life i do not understand and recognize that, in the end, none of it really matters.

God, i’m a dry husk. an empty vessel. a burned up offering. i’ve lost sight of the light, and i can’t tell whether it’s night or i’ve gone blind. perhaps i’m hoping you will take me to the mountaintop, before the end. perhaps, from a certain height, there are no peaks and valleys, only the dirt underfoot, and a silence shaped by a quiet wind