03.30.11

brother

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:25 pm by Administrator

i used to wish for a sister,
but nowadays, quite the opposite.

i imagine he would be difficult.
maybe when i was sixteen and he was twenty,

he would have told me what to do
with my life, or with regard to a wife.

i would have hated him, only later to recognize
that he was wrong, but not in vain.

i have days, like today, when i wish he were here:
old enough to be wise, but rash enough

to have a litany of mistakes,
and smart enough to laugh at his wrongs.

i’d borrow from his laughter,
i’d share that humiliation with him.

brothers, i imagine, say less and share more.
this is how it is, when i wish for it,

when i realize that everything i cannot speak of
i wish i did not carry alone

03.29.11

Defining my impact

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:54 pm by Administrator

at 35 years old, i find myself in a situation where i am now forced to hold myself accountable to results. at work, at church, and in other arenas, i have responsibilities that have measurable outcomes. it is a struggle for me, but i have to hold myself to standards that are unflinching, even if the realities underlying my initial expectations have changed. the struggle has changed me. i’m more concrete than i once was. i’m less satisfied with mere feelings of satisfaction. i question myself as to why i’m feeling satisfied or dissatisfied, and i’m constantly realigning my expectations to realities.

i know that the real impact i want to have in my life cannot be defined by numbers or dollar signs, because my ultimate commitment is to the kingdom of God. the real impact i want to have is difficult to measure, because it consists in spiritual changes that i help to effect in other people. i want to be a healer, restorer, and teacher, even as i have ongoing needs to be healed, restored, and taught by others. to reap reward in this process of life, i have to be able to define how others are influencing me, and i must also be able to understand how i am influencing other people.

the former is easier than the latter. i can attest to a few people in my life whom God has used to shape and mentor me in very seminal ways over the past five years. i can very specifically define their effects on me, the ideas and characteristics that they’ve compelled me to wrestle with, and the changes i’ve undergone because of their influence. these effects have been very positive; i should share with them the good that God has accomplished in me because of them.

regarding my impact on others, i actually feel somewhat at a loss. it’s my fault in a way, because i’m not good at polling for feedback. i’m going to have to get better at it, because i don’t know what i’m building in my relationships, and i don’t know if what i’m building is what i hoped to be building.

for a while, i was regularly soliciting feedback from my wife, but too often i feel that she tells me what she feels i’m ready to hear. the feedback is generally good. occasionally, the feedback is very specific, and it illuminates effects that i’m having on her life that i was not aware of. this is the sort of feedback i wish i could get from more people at more points in my life. i want to see how i’m growing, through the eyes of others. ultimately, it’s my wish that i can be able to know for certain the good that i’ve given to others—to know it so specifically and certainly that i could record it and remember it. to some degree though, i know that this sort of impact cannot be known except in hindsight, sometimes in extended hindsight. sometimes this sort of impact is never consciously identified, even when it is substantial.

i even hope that my blog is having an impact on my readers. but i hesitate to speculate on what impact i would hope to have. i don’t want my readers to agree with me or to embrace what i believe. i’d rather be known for my differences and to be loved and cherished regardless. to be known and loved—this is what i wish for in my life. and i would hope that my processes and struggles might help to inform those of others. life is difficult. i view us as grabbing hold of one another in the pitch blackness, pulling us toward the pinpoint of light in the distance. only a few of us at any given second catch a glimpse of this light. there are times when we must pull those around us; there are times when we must submit ourselves to be pulled. this is why we share our journeys. we have a hope that out of our connections we will develop a trajectory, and that by this trajectory we might find our way home.

today, i think about the people in my life, and i want to think of them with great care and also with hope. i think about my fragility and theirs, and i marvel that the world we create with our mutual imaginations does change every day, simply because we cannot stop changing one another

03.25.11

i push

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:27 pm by Administrator

i woke up with the strangest of anxieties. i found myself vaguely worried about silly things, and on my morning commute i felt a need to pray through it. i had the content of yesterday’s posting very much on my mind.

i spoke to God:

WHAT IS heaven, i asked, but unity with you?

and who am i to anticipate or imagine what this will mean? can i even choose the parts of myself that are worthy to endure in your heart and mind? can i say that any single trait, inclination, or motivation within my inner parts has proven itself above corruption? in fact, every part of me has been given over to darkness. and because of this, i can imagine that any man, given a thousand years to live and contend with himself, would kill himself twenty times over. hell, that darkness we cannot escape, is within ourselves. heaven, this most intimate of unions with you, is inestimable, because only you can understand what is truly living within us all.

thus, even with respect to my eternal fate, i must trust that you will preserve the proper thing in me. all else i consider a loss; indeed, i wish that the rest of it be forgotten. because when i consider myself, i recognize that the one thing i cannot bear taking with me into the next life is myself.

years ago, i termed this a self-loathing of a kind, but now i can recognize how my feelings in this regard have been shaped by an understanding of a more sober variety. it is not mere sadness about my state, or a longing to be something greater than what i am. it is, at last, the very simple conclusion that the world of my self-imagination is not sufficient for my happiness. i am not enough for myself. i need something beyond me to invest me, to inspire me, to fulfill my limitless curiosity and ambition. it is a simple conclusion that has taken decades to arrive at, and i have arrived at it now without much ado.

heaven and hell, are these not irrelevant in a way? to be alone with myself, to exist within the confines of a solitary consciousness—is this not the hell that i am contending with every day? to become a part of God, in every way connected to Him, like a part of a body, like a strain of His thought—is this not the inkling of self that pervades me like electrifying hope, urging me onward toward the loss of self and the beginning of something entirely new? i seek not to preserve myself but to be rid of it; i seek not the persistence of my name, my soul, and my identity, but rather i seek the discovery of myself within the auspice of another being. i finally understand, in the most basic of ways, that all life resides in Christ. i am a vessel, and i am lifeless but for what is given me by grace.

i push, Lord God, against what i was and against what surrounds me. all of my life, i have been fighting, and there has been no peace for me. even in the home in which i grew up, i was an alien, longing for a peace that defied natural expectations. when i have been angry in the church, i have been angry because it ought to have been the one place where a child could be known and loved, as we all long to be known and loved. instead of being taught how to embrace one another, we are so often instructed on how to carry ourselves like gods. i am guilty of this unconscious falsehood; more than the rest, i assure myself with ideas of my own design, to obscure the one true desire in my being. i wish to be known and to be loved; it is all i have ever wanted. and you have seen in me this wish, through the lonely and dark years, and you have drawn me along a specific path, so that a very specific part of me—one that you and you alone understand—will be prepared for paradise.

all of these words, all of these songs, all of these struggles—they are my pushing away from the world, the exercise of my otherworldly self. and i trust that the days, in the manner of their transpiring, are your pull on me, that realization of a promise that hearkens from old. no, i am not yet saved; my salvation awaits me. but i rest assured that the thing i am becoming, the thing i do not yet understand, is being fashioned out of me, and to this burning necessity i affix myself, to be taken through the refiner’s fire, to be lost to this world and even to myself, and to be incalculably and forever in you

03.24.11

the push and the pull

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:33 pm by Administrator

in broad strokes, the following is more or less what i heard God tell me this morning, in the context of my recent frustrations about the seemingly unknowable:

“THERE IS so much i wish i could tell you. but you must understand that from the very beginning, i knew how difficult it would be to reveal myself to mankind. recognize that the world, the way it is, is not a game; nor have my actions and words been designed to obscure myself from you. i have lived alongside of every being that i have created; i have contended with every creature that has lived on your world. things are the way they are because it is my great desire to be known—and more than this, to be understood.

step away, for a moment, from your particular vision of my kingdom, one which you have depicted in your imagination. think not of kings and peons, a gated paradise outside of which the wretched gnash their teeth and suffer an eternity of torment. in your life, you have absorbed a thousand ideas about a place and time that you are not equipped to understand. just for a moment, let us contemplate other things.

remember then, that the men who peered into the ark perished instantly. those that i love i have presented myself to in the most indirect of ways. think of Moses, from whom i hid my face. it is not my will that destroys those who encounter me without defense; it is the nature of the things that have transpired since the Fall, which have caused me the grief of utter separation from those i love. i might demonstrate this grief to the point of my extinction, but you would forget this, would you not? you blame me for what i am unwilling to reveal, and yet because of what i have hidden from you, your life—and the lives of your kind—are preserved. shall we call this frustration? or shall we call this the very nature of living? what would you like it to be called?

for you, one i have adopted as my own, i commit myself to the daily exercise of drawing you to me. i do it with great care, like the gardener who is unwilling to uproot even a single blade of wheat as he tends to the weeds. when i pull upon your life, to free you from the forces that would drag you into the grave, i pull with constancy, but i pull with extreme prejudice. were i to rend you from the world that threatens to destroy your life, you would be torn to pieces. i must pull you, but i must pull at you with the force that your being can withstand. and because i know what you are, i know, from day to day, how to sustain you as i call you to myself.

heaven, like me, is the vision that would destroy you, were you to witness it in its fullness. this is kept a mystery from you so that this path to eternity might be pieced together with both purpose and clarity. that you might trust me, i give you the evidence of your sanctification—the changes that are transpiring in your being, as you are prepared for my presence. you see what you are leaving behind, and you divorce yourself from these things. as you push away from this life, i can pull more; and as i pull again, you are able to see more clearly what restrains you. you push yourself further, and this gives me the slack with which i can pull just a bit more. in this manner, and by this delicate balance, i save you, and i bring you home.

you do not know what heaven or hell really are, but you do know the direction of the road upon which you have journeyed. knowing this path—its contour, its every curve, its every gully and stone—you should know that the road i lead you on is a sure one. think on this: that for years you have taken a step forward, not knowing that the ground would rise up from the darkness to meet your feet, and yet every time you found your faith rewarded. i am teaching you about heaven by showing you not the road that lies ahead but mainly the road that you have left behind. i do this so that you will be bold in your journey; i do this so that you will not be crushed by what lies ahead.

this is the exquisite, painstaking, and delicate dance that we do, you and i, so that the world will not swallow you alive. one day, you will see this for what it is and you will understand. but this is not the time. faith is your ability to feel yourself in this rhythm—this push and pull, this striving and longing, this furious crest of hope and the tide of self-collection that surges behind.

I am with you. hear it and know it in the depths of your being. all around you is a burning city, and it is burning to the ground, but the flames do not singe you and you cannot smell the calamity because i have found for you a path through the destruction.

hold on to me, and listen to my voice. you know my voice, and it is enough. until you are with me in paradise, it will always be enough for you”

03.23.11

heaven

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:53 am by Administrator

perhaps it was a post-marathon haze, but i woke up in the middle of the night last night and thought about death. the possibility that death could mean the total end of consciousness simply petrified me, and i could not fall asleep for a couple of hours.

later, in the broad daylight of morning, i found it easy to rationalize away those preoccupations. if i lose consciousness permanently, what difference does it make? i wouldn’t be aware of my death in any case. but in that surreality of sudden noctural wakefulness, the idea of self-extinction was to me an intolerable terror.

during those tortured ruminations, i came to believe that the utter horror of our existence demands nothing short of a profound connection to God. when we wrestle with the mystery of dying, we cannot merely satisfy ourselves with the idea of God as a “system” within which we subsist; we must understand the truth about God as the guarantor of an afterlife, as the satisfaction of an eternal fate, and as the vessel for resurrection. all theology means nothing if one is not completely convinced that God is both consummately real and able to bridge the gap between this life and the next.

i am again confronted by the fact that God has intentionally left the nature of heavenly afterlife to mystery. i’ll spare the long-winded discussion of what the Bible says and does not say, except to suggest that the references to heaven and hell are no more concrete than the vaguely poetic account of the world’s creation. except in the broadest of strokes, the Bible (by intent, i would argue) does not give us a specific sense of what heaven and hell really are, except that heaven is reserved for God’s people, with hell being the less desirable of alternatives. as for what exactly within us persists into the heavenly (or hellish) afterlife is an even more abstruse concern; the nature of the eternal identity, as i’ve previously written about, is purely conjectural. identity, consciousness, memory, instinct, personality, preference, and physicality—it is simply impossible to know what aspect of us will survive death. if Christ is an example of the post-resurrection self, then presumably we will be physical (and preserved in the age and form of the body at the point of death) but with supernatural powers including self-levitation and teleportation. and Christ retained memory. but beyond this, we have no idea what the post-resurrection Christ had in common with the pre-crucifixion Christ. it is all very weird, mysterious stuff.

and herein lies the trouble. if we take the scriptures as largely sufficient for God’s self-revelation to mankind, then we are being told that we should not concern ourselves with the nature of our afterlives during our present lives. but how am i to live in the hope of redemption when i do not understand what the result of this redemption will be? how am i to preach the Gospel of salvation when i do not understand what the object of salvation and the consequences of natural condemnation really are? we have no picture of heaven. we do not even have a basis for imagining it. as such, we are left with our uncertainty about what lies ahead—and our fear of losing what little we have.

within every life is a crushing struggle of tsunamic proportions, especially for those who seek God. we are compelled to work toward a surreality about which we have no understanding, while rejecting the perspectives rooted in the only reality we can intuitively experience. essentially we practice a religion of calculated risk; we bet our lives on the basis of sensations and ideas, without any sense of the grander stakes. we tell ourselves that we’ve come to know enough about Christ that we’re willing to imagine a whole eternity with Him, though we don’t know the alternatives (if there are any) or exactly what He is promising us. indeed, in the end, we simply define it as a calling, a compulsion no less, and we even relinquish the need to contemplate what is happening to us. i see the black space that awaits me after death and i call it a painted door. but when i am fully abandoned to my surest senses, is it not a black space and nothing more? i fear it. it is not a lack of faith; it is ignorance. and i do not understand why we all, every one of us, must be consigned to this horror, if there is a god

03.20.11

L.A. Marathon

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:52 pm by Administrator

it took me four tries, but i finally ran the sort of marathon that i’m happy with. i paced myself according to plan; i didn’t cramp or hit the wall; and i didn’t get nipple burn or any abrasive injuries. i finished in 4:43, which isn’t by any means a time worth writing home about (i was 44 percentile in my age group), but it was a time i was immensely proud of. it was 26 minutes faster than my previous best (a minute per mile of improvement) and 48 minutes faster than my showing at last year’s L.A. Marathon.

that being said, it was still a fairly brutal experience. it started to rain about 200 yards into the first mile, and it did not let up for the remainder of the race. in fact, at points it was pelting so hard that i had near-zero visibility through my glasses. portions of the course were so badly flooded that the police had to redirect us onto sidewalks and muddy fields. on top of this, there was a wind picking up off the ocean which was coming straight at us at 15-20 miles per hour for the last five miles of the race, which made the 55 degree wetness feel at least 5 degrees colder than it was. when i finished the race, my hands were so frozen cold that i could not straighten my fingers; at mile 21, i had to ask a volunteer to open the gel pack he had just given me because i could not grab and twist.

as i passed a lot of racers lying out on the streets and sidewalks, it struck me that every completed marathon is something of a miracle. there are so many small things that can go wrong and totally derail the experience. a wet edge of underwear can dig into the thigh and cause abrasive injury so severe that one can lose sensation to the leg (my experience in baltimore); one can hit the wrong spot on a wet downhill and skid out, which could finish the race right there; a pace just a hair too fast can mean that the runner cramps halfway through, consigning him to a limping jog for the next 13 miles. there are too many things that can possibly go wrong, but none of them happened today.

i think that this will be my last marathon. it took so much time and effort just to commit myself to two medium distance runs per week. yes, i could do a real training regimen and possibly knock another 10-15 minutes off my time, but i really believe that i’m not built to do a sub-4. my feet are too small, and my heart is too weak.

but there are things i’ll miss about the marathon. it’s a very special thing to see oneself able to push through total misery; it reveals reserves of strength that one might never know otherwise. it’s also cool to see people openly expressing and sharing vulnerability and pain. this is rare in ordinary life, but on the course, the fellow racers and the spectators empathize with you and help you fight through extremes of suffering. it’s a snapshot of what the world could be like, if we were unable to disguise ourselves and if we were genuinely capable of love. i heard conversations between total strangers on the course, and i realized that this sort of trial creates a longing for connection with others. it’s for this reason that people will not run marathons on any random Sunday; but they’ll sign up for the chance to do it with others.

four years ago, i never believed that i would run a single marathon. i’ve done four now, and in the process i’ve learned so much about myself—the expectations that were too low, the expectations that were unrealistically high, and the incredible amount of commitment required simply to finish. most of all, i’m thankful for the way that God has changed the nature of our relationship by moving me to run. He ran with me; He often spoke to me on those long, lonely training runs; He gave me the pleasure of seeing my body respond to new and more difficult challenges.

i realize now that God gave me marathons at this particular time in my life so that i would be able to look ahead, during this very confusing, difficult, and at times depressing period, and recognize that all the stumbling and striving has meant something, and that the finish is never so far that one cannot push just a bit harder

03.18.11

aesthetic

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:00 pm by Administrator

underneath my life of ideas—and the structures i derive from them—is the occasional uproar from the unchanneled portion of my spirit. i feel it as a trembling; sometimes it drives me into the sudden helplessness that comes from a felt, not processed, sense of futility. the aesthetic of my life, cluttered as it is with metals, bars, plastics, and chemicals, is a mangled, twisted aesthetic. even the quality of sound, dominated as it is by the screeching of motors and circuits, is enough to drive a resilient man mad. food tastes functional and leaves me heavy with unease. my dreams are filled with livid, unpleasant energy. i survive my days more than i really breathe and live them. it is not merely L.A., with its barren ugliness and its incendiary assault on the senses. it is our era. it’s computers, cars, airplanes, commercials, landfills, guns, and news of war. i wonder, as i often wonder, if i am an anachronism, a misfit, a man who should have been born into a different world.

too often, my stomach turns and then i wake up with headaches. i roll over in that sweat of early morning, stiff as i am from the contortions of bad sleep, and the gray hue around the curtain tells me that day began without my welcoming or even my knowledge. in so many ways, i am reeling out of control. you might never guess that i, despite paying my bills, prosecuting my duties, and handling my sundry affairs, am simply acclimating to a prison of sorts, thinking with only half my mind. the rest of me is like shifting plates under the surface, frothing, grinding, and agitating against sensation itself.

i think it is my underlying disgust for the presented forms that makes rules so anathema to me. moral rules, legal rules, but particularly philosophical rules imposed by the dominant ideologies of our time. where there is no beauty, there is no sense in law. law exists to defend what is beautiful. law can make nothing better than it is.

if i could stop time and perhaps redress the canvas, i would start with a few simple things. electrical lighting, for one. i would do away with electrical lighting. first, it is intrusive; it creates the illusion of day when the world is meant to be dark. this has had inconceivable psychosocial ramifications for human beings. we are inundated with visual sensation at all hours, a virtual plague on our minds. we are compelled to labor into evenings and nights. the intimacy of darkness is now an option, and as such it is too easily dispelled. in fact, there are places in the world where an inhabitant cannot escape light. black darkness, impenetrable darkness—that one refuge for the soul that pains to find itself—is extinct. we lost it, and thus, we are losing ourselves.

automobiles. they ought never have been invented. they spew smoke and ash into our air, they force exigency upon our daily routines, they crush flesh furiously and without warning, and they carve concrete grooves upon our wilderness with ruthless abandon. cars are full of restlessness and danger, but worse still, they relativize distance and they depersonalize self. the prisoners trapped within them, by compulsion more than anything else, take on the persona of their machines—cruel, insatiable, and unimaginative.

i cannot even begin to speak of guns, bombs, skyscrapers, and the worst of them all—bottled water. we are a people who commodify, contain, and recreate things that require no embellishment. we must lace all soft and natural things with a ring of melted plastic or iron girding. the cities themselves are so hardened and pressed into alloyed exoskeletons that one would imagine that we build them to be mausoleums for our fragile forms. but when we walk through them, it is not we who endow these graveyards with life; it is rather their grotesque impassivity which imprints itself on us, in gray muted tones and harsh reflections. the mystery of musing, the frolic of pedestrian discoveries—this has been beaten out of us. we are as efficient in our self-dismantling as the cranes which soar to the sky to block out the clouds and the stars with ceilings of concrete. one day, we will lose the heavens. today, we are content to pave over the earth.

we are better off letting the weeds grow, letting our efforts fall fallow. good things might come of the decay, the fermentation. wine, after all, must have been an accident, once upon a time. flowers will come with the weeds. when the buildings buckle under the arrogance of their sheer breadth to expose the constellations, perhaps we will learn again where we are in the universe, revolving as we are in such stellar quandaries. the night can be lived, just as dreams of fuller life might be permissible.

i do so hate the civilization we have created; i do so despise its geometries and its patterns. i long for the wind untouched by our steel fingers, the wind untroubled but by the turn of a leaf or the flutter of a bird’s wings. this is the wind that carries no sadness; this is the wind i will accept as an offering from the sky

03.15.11

morning prayer in the car

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:13 pm by Administrator

me: i need to connect with you.

Gd: ok.

me: i have to be reminded that this that i’m doing—whatever i’m doing—is just for a time. it’s just for a time. that means it’s not the rest of my life. and i’m doing it because you’ve given me a role so that i may grow in it. right?

Gd: yes.

me: i really feel that i ought to be doing something else actually. look at Japan. i should be in japan. or in india. godammit, i should be anywhere but here. there’s all this suffering in the world, and i’m here. i feel like a f*cking poser. but actually, when i think about it, it’s not that i want to help people. i actually don’t naturally want to “help people” in any sustained way, the way that forces me to change or to sacrifice. you know what it is? it’s that despite my instincts, when i get intercepted by you, i can’t help but feel awkward about my life. i can’t help but feel that my duty is to give myself up, to in some way relieve the limitless amount of suffering around me. but people don’t need handouts—food, clothing, a smile. what they really need is something i can’t give. life—real life—and purpose, community, hope, transcendent perspective. these things, on top of all the material things as well. they need stuff i cannot give.

me (after some thought): so i could give something, but it wouldn’t be enough. i’m not really designed actually to give all that much, honestly. human beings are designed to be limited—limited in energy, lifespan, and everything else. our bones are easy to break; our skin is easily torn; we die, often by accident. it takes years and years to make a human being useful to others, and even after all that training and investment, sometimes he is, for reasons out of his control, more destructive than helpful. actually, it’s a miracle when a man is put into a situation of need and able to contribute more than he consumes. this sort of impact is not simply a matter of dedication and will. it requires an extraordinary ability to persevere, to respond, and to adapt to difficult circumstances.

me (concluding): so it could take years to fashion out of my life the sort of vessel needed for the specific work of compassion that you might have in mind for me. even still, you might not even have that sort of work in mind for me, and if i tried at it, i would eventually run out of things to give. i have to wait for you. i have to believe that you have the suffering of the world—and its total restoration—in mind.

Gd: you pay attention to earthquakes and tsunamis. you look for signs and wonders. but i tell you, every day there is a life overwhelmed by the evil forces of the world, and it is I who must contend with this, not you or anyone else. you do not see. you do not understand. your conscience makes you feel “awkward”. but your conscience does not lend you anything beyond a feeling, and because of this, what you truly struggle with is your ignorance. faith for you is believing that you will not, for your entire life, be defined by your limitations.

me: indeed, i cannot remain as i am. i have to believe that this loathsome thing that i am, this pathetic thing that i am, is changing. because i cannot live with myself!

Gd: and so you are dying. but i live! and you live in me. stop concerning yourself with the sentiments borne of conscience, and instead live the life that is driven by faith in my intention to restore. your compassion is just a shadow of mine; your ambition pales in comparison to my desires for this world. cleave yourself to me, wait on me, and listen to what i am saying. and what i am saying is this: out of death, i am fashioning life. believe this, and live.

me: i wish for a better world. my days in this world torture me with doubt.

Gd: these are not your days to live. these are not your wishes to wish. submit yourself to me, because my intention is for you to know me and to find yourself in me. that is all.

03.14.11

sensitivity, tsunami, and teju cole

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:03 pm by Administrator

i think i’m starting to adapt to the unique stresses of my ever-unpredictable work environment, which is mostly a plus though also a minus in a way. the downside to this adaptation is that i’ve adapted by tuning down my responses to stimuli. it’s sort of like the way i was on zoloft; all emotional responses regress to the mean.

in the process of “chilling out” though, i think that i’ve also become less attuned to my responses and to what’s going on in my heart. last week, for instance, i actually said a few things to my wife that later embarrassed me, mainly because those things were part of a pattern of thinking that i’ve been wanting to move away from. whether it was badgering her about donating to Stanford or looking at on-line furniture deals, or whether it was reflecting on my own life in the old, discontent, escapist kind of way, i felt that i was expressing a part of myself that God is constantly redirecting me from. the materialistic, anxious me—the one rooted in a certain perverted sense of “normalcy”—is constantly working in my being, and my daily battle is not so much to suppress it but rather to ignore it entirely.

the Japanese tsunami has made me meditate a lot on “normalcy”. i can only imagine that the victims of the quake feel ten times worse than i did after 9/11, but there is one thing that perhaps we have in common. i woke up on 9/12 and felt that the world i’d known had been torn away from me, leaving me totally helpless and unable to move forward. the Japanese survivors do not understand their world any longer; it is as if their past lives were a sort of canvas that was just ripped apart, exposing the true reality of destitution and destruction just beyond.

i saw “Of God and Men” last night, and what struck me most about these men of Tibhirine is that they all, in their own time, had decided to define “normalcy” as a subjectivity, as something shared with others in community. whether it be poverty or violence, the monks of Tibhirine believed that they were not entitled to a normalcy any different from that embraced by the community they served. thus, normalcy for them became the risk of imminent murder.

it is impossible to live in this world, beset as it is by utter cruelties of all kinds, and not feel one’s own bland sense of normalcy frequently challenged. we are in fact prisoners to a complex and instinctive delusion, one wrapped up in the primitive beliefs that we cannot die, that we deserve what we have, and that we will be somehow immune to the trials that crush other people. it is not surprising then that we are continually shocked by the deaths of those close to us, even when their demise—and that of our own—is inevitable. today, among other days, i am both impressed and confounded by our deep psychological need to deceive ourselves, to live continually in a fantasy of our own design.

intuitively, i feel that there is no real way to truly restore the victims of every earthquake, war, disease, poverty, and broken home except by sharing their plight and walking alongside them through the struggle of living. this—the crisis, the brink of survival, the rawness of fear—is the normal. this is the only normalcy that binds us all.

speaking of the normal which seems extraordinary, my good friend “teju cole” has published his first novel “Open City” to fairly rave reviews. i call it a normal achievement, because teju’s talent is so undeniable as to be inevitably demonstrated in something of broad reach. it is extraordinary though, because the manner in which he demonstrated this talent was a novel that appears to have genuinely captured his unique voice and the aesthetic of his particular study of the world. obviously i’ve ordered a copy, and i plan to take my time reading it. teju is the sort of read that one must have in a serious, almost melancholy kind of leisure. his art is not only in movement and characterization but also (and perhaps primarily) in his rhythm. he continually writes in poetry, and the only reason we call it prose is because he designates it as such.

today, a part of my normalcy is not only the horror of earthquakes and tsunamis but also the joys of the words and thoughts of those who are so deft at articulating our horrifying existence that we are apt to find beauty in it

03.09.11

company

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:00 pm by Administrator

given how intensely my own sense of identity has been tested recently, it’s only natural that my loyalties have been tested as well. i’ve looked at the organizations that i’m working for; my question to myself has been whether or not these organizations are worth the effort that i’m putting in.

it’s ironic that these questions have become important to me at a time when both organizations i serve are being tested severely. the company i work for was slammed in the local media one week ago, specifically because of perceived scandal and unethical practices by its top leadership. the church i serve is suffering a downturn in membership and revenue, and i’ve heard disturbing talk about the integrity of our leadership and the validity of its ministry. taking a step back, i cannot call it coincidence that my journey has brought me to a point of personal crisis at just the time when the organizations that i’m a part of are being simultaneously attacked from within.

i gave an announcement to the congregation this past Sunday on small group signups, which i contextualized with a brief comment on this very struggle i’ve recently been wrestling with. i told the congregants that in fact i’ve come to realize that the organizations i’m a part of will not last. even our church is not likely to persist in its present form past a generation or two. churches, like any organization brought together by ideas, situational factors, and very specific figures, tend to rise and fall. they grow, and then they die. the people who did great work for them are forgotten. these people get paid, either with money or with recognition of other kinds, and then they move on and eventually pass on. their legacy lasts for a little while before it becomes the stuff of remote memory.

greatness, in terms of what is achievable in this life, can’t be measured in earthly terms. whatever we build gets torn down and replaced eventually. greatness must be an idea; it is an idea of self and an idea of community. it creates relationships that would otherwise be impossible upon more mundane foundations. it transcends memory to create identity. in this way, greatness is eternal; it shapes the forms that we take with us into the next life.

i’m faced then with a conundrum. how do i pursue ‘greatness’ with others, when the communities that we build are beset by ultimately fatal realities? how do we envision growth and fruitfulness when we have no reason to believe that our efforts will create durable institutions? the answer, it seems, is that i must be able to comprehend a cooperative greatness that is not defined by tangible results or organizational growth but rather by mystical ends. i must live a life that is defined in its importance by a daily, living conviction about its importance.

this is a hard thing to do. with regard to my church, for instance, its financial plight really troubles me, despite the fact that i do not govern its finances or direct a ministry in any way connected to its revenue. my ministry is essentially focused on spiritual formation; but so often my fixation is on organizational health. it is hard for me to trust God with the future of my church. it is even harder for me to imagine that all of my efforts might be in the service of a church that is destined to fold up and close its doors in the near future. as difficult as this is to stomach, i recognize that God calls people all the time to fight for “lost” causes. there were God-believers who served as soldiers for the Nazis; they were God-believers who helped to construct the atomic bomb; and there were men and women of faith who built organizations that ultimately inflicted terrible damage upon other people. God has not given us any guarantee that He will preserve the things that we build with our best intentions. we are all, in a sense, designed to be futile.

but if i can take this at face value, i can also perhaps begin to recognize how God builds everlasting work upon seeming futility all the time. He raises the dead; He reaches out to drug addicts at the end of their rope; He meets murderers in prison who’ve wasted their lives. God raises prophets and preachers from churches destroyed by scandal. He creates renewal in situations decimated by evil and destruction. in God’s economy, the accumulation of wealth, the growth of institutions, and the stability of our practices are largely meaningless; what matters across the history of the church is not our history but rather our situational and specific reexperience of a mystical God. to every generation, He is new. we see the ashes of the world we’ve inherited and believe ourselves to be lost, but then this rubble becomes the foundation of a new church. we begin again. this is what we do as the people of God. time and time again, we begin again.

today, in the aftermath of my time of testing, i am beginning again. i woke up and saw the day ahead of me. it was not like the days that have passed; i had the grace to give it a new name. i came to work, not back to the same place but rather to an entirely new spiritual reality with its own probabilities and potentialities. a conversation with a patient gave me unexpected pleasure; i found the color of my day taking on an unexpected hue. it is true that i am a part of a dying world, and it is true that the organizations i serve will come to nothing. but i am not defined by brick and stone; because of the Spirit given to me, i bring life into lifeless places for a short time, to take with me what can be redeemed. i am not bound by space and time, nor by the judgments and regrets which crush those without God. like the rest of my brothers in this fallen world, i collect little chips and stones from these crumbling places; it is from these pieces that we will one day build the kingdom that lasts forever

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