04.29.11

Aaron

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:03 pm by Administrator

over the past week or so, i’ve put out some emails to colleagues at church and at work that were a bit more “intense” than usual. though the emails ended up being useful without causing too much collateral damage, i realize in retrospect that i was fortunate to not have overstated my sentiments to a greater degree. i have a pattern of communicating more directly and more strongly during periods of extreme stress; and i realize that this is because i use communication with others as a stress management strategy. in some forms, this is both necessary and appropriate, but in work situations, this can be very dangerous if exercised improperly.

i’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this and other chronic weaknesses of mine (though for no more than 5 minutes at a time oddly enough), and i came to some interesting conclusions. though i am generally insightful, i routinely misinterpret my observations when i am under stress. though i articulate myself well (and perhaps even more articulately when i am emotionally connected to the matter at hand), i don’t necessarily articulate what is true. and when i am under stress, i tend to arrive at sweeping judgments rather quickly, and these judgments are inevitably wrong.

herein lies an important realization for me. though i am able to learn and though i am reasonably self-aware, i am not necessarily a very perceptive person. and though i am able to represent myself well and can be very persuasive, i am not particularly wiser than others of my age and experiential background. in other words, i am not gifted in wisdom or discernment. and for that matter, i’m not particularly wired to be patient, thoughtful, and tactful either. i’m built quite differently—to yearn for connection with others, to establish that connection through speech, and to create a sense of community through this connection.

in this way, i am finding that the character of the Bible that i feel most affinity with is Aaron. we don’t get to know Aaron very well in scripture. he is perhaps best known for a couple moments of incredible stupidity: first, when he led the Israelites in building a golden calf idol, and second, when he accused Moses of sin in his marriage to the Cushite woman. Aaron very rightly could have been executed by God for both of these fairly egregious errors in judgment. he was not only ignorant in these situations; he was weak-minded and unfaithful. i believe that what spared Aaron this fate was the probable fact that Aaron knew his proper place; he understood that he was only the mouthpiece for a better man, and this enabled him to repent when he overstepped his bounds.

though he is so lightly represented in the scriptural account, Aaron very likely was the far more recognizable leader of his people during his times. having been chosen by God to speak on Moses’s behalf to the Pharoah, he was likely a man gifted in speech and in charisma, and it was perhaps for this reason that the people so quickly followed him into ruin during Moses’s absence at Sinai. men like Aaron—charismatic, engaging, but not particularly wise—tend to fall in spectacular ways. men like Aaron succeed when they recognize their proper place in the body and when they partner with wiser men.

it’s not necessarily a flattering self-portrait when i compare myself to Aaron in this regard, but i think it’s a fair one. in my thirty-five years, i haven’t demonstrated a particular capacity for wisdom or discernment; in fact, i’ll admit that my foolishness and impulsiveness have been even more inexcusable given my education and intelligence. i’m driven by emotions, i demonstrate inconsistencies in judgment, and i am most strongly governed by anger. like my father, i have a remarkable capacity to enjoy pointless conflict. i’m not proud of my weaknesses, but in order to grow i must acknowledge what they are. i’m not a better man; i am what i am.

that being said, i, like Aaron, do have certain gifts—the kind that are often exceedingly rewarded by the society of men. someone who can connect with people and speak intelligently and articulately will always have a role in community. but if he speaks self-aggrandizing foolishness or out of his own paltry wisdom, then he is certain to cause a lot of destruction as well. i’m realizing with time that my yearning for mentorship is well-placed. for me to build godly community in my lifetime, i have to partner with someone who is wiser and more discerning than myself. generally, these men (like Moses) will be understated and quite humble, given that these qualities tend to predominate in individuals who lack narcissistic qualities.

a while ago, God offered me a vision of myself as a “lion for my people”. in the context of my recent thoughts about Aaron, i revisited this metaphor and found it even more compelling than before. “what is a lion?” God asked me, and i realized that this is an interesting question indeed. after all, there is the “lion” that people think of, but then there’s the “lion” that God created and knows intimately. men look at lions and ascribe to them courage and nobility; that’s because when they look at the face and the strength of a lion, they arbitrarily project upon him these regal qualities. but God looks at a lion and sees the qualities that he endowed the animal. in fact, a lion is no more courageous and noble than any other animal. but what a lion has among his peers in the animal kingdom is a remarkable ability to claim his territory and hold it, against any foe. a lion is a territorial being. a lion’s primary attribute, above every other quality we might ascribe to it, is his unmistakable presence.

Aaron was a lion for his people. his unmistakable presence enabled his people to understand and practice the law which unified them as a people. this is not to say that Aaron was a particularly courageous, noble, or wise leader; his track record would in fact argue the opposite. as i grow older, i’m increasingly appreciating the fact that there are many great attributes given to other people which i do not possess. though i would like to be a “lion” in my sense of what a lion is—ferocious, courageous, indomitable—i must recognize that God wishes me to be a lion in His true understanding of what He created a lion to be. to God, a lion is a simple thing; he is the one that everyone is aware of. when the lion roars, other creatures listen. for this metaphor, that is perhaps all i need to understand.

i emailed an old mentor of mine today, because i recall that my life took a very important turn when my path intersected with his. when i think of this man, i recognize that he had this precious combination of wisdom and discernment. i was so struck by his possession of these attributes—and my lack of them—that my brief friendship with him was impactful enough to change the course of my life. to this day, four years later, i am still teaching the very things that he taught me at that very poignant time in my life. i see in this fact that i am built to be the mouthpiece of another, and likewise i am built to crave the wisdom of another. it is for this reason that the “body of Christ” is taking on a personal meaning for me. i cannot survive without the body; and without brotherhood, i am destined for ruin. it is only by virtue of my connection with others that my gift can be properly expressed.

let me be a vessel of another, i ask God. let me be nothing; let another be my shepherd and guide. i will follow, God willing. i will tell another man’s story and be shaped by it. it was for this that i was created

04.27.11

5 minutes

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:04 pm by Administrator

over the past 6 months, i’ve suffered through varying degrees of exhaustion and burnout, and i believe that i’ve finally arrived at an interesting truism which may help me to both survive and succeed. it’s simple.

everything is worth 5 minutes.

the flip side of this is that nothing, at least immediately speaking, is worth more than 5 minutes. this applies to everything. a patient’s problem. a diagnostic uncertainty. a staff member’s complaint. an urgent vacation request. a scheduling conflict. a disagreement about a policy or procedure. at any given moment, all of these are worth about 5 minutes of thought and meditation. beyond that, there might be time devoted to execution, but the mind should be free to move elsewhere.

i waste a lot of energy on obsession. to be more specific, i waste too much energy on frustration and anger. but when i think about it, much of this negative feeling is the outgrowth of rumination. the less time one spends thinking about a problem, the less emotionally invested one is in its content. i might argue actually that for a person who relies as much on intuition as myself, the decision for any situation presents itself within the first minute of apprehending the full set of relevant details. the extra time spent on the issue does not clarify it, so much as it either expands my emotional reaction (often counterproductive and exhausting) or helps to hone my ability to articulate the matter.

without intentionally rolling out this approach, i have unwittingly begun to put it into practice in many areas. i am increasingly a task-manager when it comes to the things that cross my desk. urgent things are handled immediately and expeditiously. non-urgent matters get cursory attention and then either merit a post-it or are delegated to someone else. i dote on nothing. the same has come to apply to my interpersonal interactions as well. within the context of an interaction, i free myself to be emotionally invested, to empathize, and to reflect, for short periods of time. when the interaction is finished, i close the encounter in my mind. this is to say that i do stop thinking about my patients after they leave, and i make it my goal to think about them as little as possible. this frees my energy and attention for the ones that i really want to give it to, which is principally to my family.

04.20.11

sports

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:17 pm by Administrator

for the first time in maybe fifteen years, i didn’t watch a single game of the NCAA basketball tournament. i’m not planning on following the nba playoffs. and if the nfl players go on strike, i don’t think i’ll be skipping a beat. it wasn’t part of my “disconnection” plan to lose interest in American sports, but one thing perhaps followed the other.

don’t get me wrong—i still despise the Lakers, the Yankees, and the Duke Blue Devil basketball team. i hate the Lakers in particular, as much as their image is derived from the personality and achievements of their star player Kobe Bryant. my distaste for him is a dozen years old and only seems to grow more vicious with time. but as i recently mentioned to someone, not even my loathing of this narcissistic and perpetually insecure superstar can maintain my level of interest in the NBA. like most of the rest of the sports we follow in this country, our pro leagues are dominated by misbehaving, self-centered, and socially irresponsible post-adolescents who are unable to demonstrate any real connection to mainstream American life. pro sports are as much about the twitters and the off-field antics as they are about the trivial things that occur within the arena. it’s a charade of real struggle, it’s farcical gladiatrics. it’s inconsequential.

now, i really do love competition and competitive sports. i think that if teams really were formed on the basis of genuine loyalties or shared beliefs, and if the stakes for performance were sufficiently high, then i’d be engaged. take the World Cup for example. i don’t much care for soccer, but i really enjoy the World Cup. national identity seems true for the players who don their country’s uniforms and ride on the hopes of their peoples. the Olympics often strike me as meaningful as well; i will never forget Dan Jansen and Kim Yuna, among many other distinct personalities who, in their time, appeared to carry on their shoulders the weight of real expectations. i like sports that have a story to tell, and i watch the games that unfold that story. another Laker championship achieved as a result of mercenary talent purchased at a high price and as a consequence of a Faustian transaction with the Grizzlies is not much of a story, unless you subscribe to pulp media of the lowest variety.

humor me, but i’d watch this lowbrow sport of professional basketball if the season were 30 games long, if the players were required to play for the teams of their chosen hometowns, and if their pay entirely depended on the performance of their team. now that’s a game that tells a compelling story. as it stands, the NBA is where “unbelievably boring happens”. wake me up when Jordan comes back.

04.18.11

around the horn

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:26 pm by Administrator

my buddy Won Ho just crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon. he beat his goal time by 1 minute and 46 seconds, finishing in an absolutely stunning 3:08:14. he had negative splits (a faster 2nd half), conquering Heartbreak Hill with a calculated push. today, i’m very proud of GreatGuy.

it was a good and restful weekend for me, as i accrued 32 hours of sleep over three nights. i feel like a new man this morning. the effect goes beyond physical restoration; i actually believe that the main effect of the sleep was to break a cycle of constant, obsessive, high-intensity thought. this pattern of thinking not only exhausts my body and mind but also profoundly affects my quality of sleep, preventing me from recovering. my generally unconscious state this past weekend reversed my severe sense of deterioration because it dissipated my mental energy. i’m beginning to realize that the real key to health for me is “cognitive deescalation”.

in the past, i’ve used alcohol and exercise to effectively self-medicate. alcohol worked because it stuns the brain; intense prolonged exercise worked because it overloaded my circuits with physical signals, essentially diverting my brain from any focused cognitive activity. in the future, i need to move away from self-medication and toward real self-care. meditation, i think, would be the natural choice. but there might be less intrusive solutions, like hourly breaks from whatever i’m doing. biofeedback will be a critical tool for me, if i want to continue juggling multiple simultaneous tasks of higher and higher complexity.

electronic disconnection has certainly been helpful, in this regard. someone like me can’t really “unwind” with television, so it’s been good to curtail the steady stream of media input into the household. i miss playing music, and perhaps i can get back into that with my children someday.

on the general subject of health, sandy and i have been contemplating an eventual transition to a raw vegan diet. for a while i’ve been collecting mental notes from friends who’ve eschewed processed foods and meats in favor of organic and raw substances, and i have to say that the data seems favorable. there’s probably a selection bias, in that the people who are making the transition are also becoming more self-aware and better at other aspects of self-care. but i can’t help but think that there is something very inimical about the carb-heavy, chemical-laden food that we are consuming multiple times a day. about a week ago sandy and i had a dinner with friends at a chinese restaurant, and both of us felt so unwell afterwards that i think it provided sufficient impetus for real self-reflection on our diet.

Pastor Sam’s sermon yesterday closed out the Lent season series on the tempting of Christ, and the focus of the message was on the final temptation. Sam’s focus was on the idea of “shadow kingdoms”—seeming prizes that in fact are distorted reflections of heavenly entitlements. the message triggered some thought (though not too much thought, as i’m trying to practice “cognitive deescalation”). i realized while i was listening to the message that perhaps we don’t practice enough targeted psychotherapy within the church, simply because for most of us, our shadow kingdoms are rooted in the psychological trauma of our childhoods.

my shadow kingdom, the thing Satan presents to me at my weakest and most vulnerable moments, generally encompasses a few consistent elements. first and foremost, consummate achievement. i fantasize about accomplishing the shocking, ingenious, and nonintuitive. i want this because i came to equate greatness with a triad of qualities: creativity, originality, and unrivalled excellence. this was largely the product of an American primary schooling which labeled me as an Asian math-nerd; and i credit a few teachers in particular for this “scar”, on account of their subjective, unfair, and consistently sub-par evaluations of my “self-expression” and “creativity”. because of them (and because of the palpable racial prejudice that underlay their sentiments), i overcompensated, in an effort to become whiter than whites, more masterful in their ways than the best of them. i did exceed them. but now, i am left with a void which demands the distinction of singularity; i must not merely be creative, i must be rewarded for my creativity. this is the burden of ambition i carry because of a hurt and an injustice which i suffered as a child.

i have other shadows as well, concerning money, status, and even morality. i am only now beginning to scrape at the facade that my socialization has generated, an unquestioning, monolithic paradigm within which i unconsciously judge myself and others. it is this facade that disables me in countless ways, constraining me from real vitality, binding me to arbitrary goals that are generally linked to the accrual of wealth, the acculturation of my children, the perpetuation of barbaric customs and silly values, and my preoccupation with intellectual achievements. to get to the root of this pervasive illness, i have to dissect out, in that most excruciating of ways, the American, the hyphenated American, the immigrant child, the capitalist, the Westerner, the privileged elitist, the humanist, and the entitled only child, all of which reside and agitate within my psyche. all of these social identifiers—each arbitrary and destructive in their own ways—would not only inform me but also constrict and punish me in some way, were i to let them persist unquestioned. it is only when they come into the light, each discrete and fully manifest, that the extent of their corruption (and virtue) can be known.

i cannot be what i am not, and i know that i’ve been raised to be both vulnerable and imperfect in uncountable ways. this is not a journey toward perfection, at least not in this life. it is a journey toward will, the real freedom to choose; it is a journey of unbinding, by which i might recognize the possibility of real self-awareness—and the subsequent experience of God

04.15.11

the knowable God

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:55 pm by Administrator

in what was the most memorable bible study i can recall leading, we wrestled with this straightforward question: in times of difficulty, which attribute of God do you most struggle to trust in or believe?

i was struck by many of the answers. one member shared her doubt in God’s ability to give us total spiritual satisfaction. “what if I submit myself totally to God and discover that i am still not happy?” she asked, in so many words.

it struck me then, as it has struck me in the past, that God took a great chance on us. He revealed Himself to man, experienced the rejection of man, and yet committed Himself to man’s redemption in the hope that man might experience Him in His full self-revelation yet again—this time to our utter mutual satisfaction. it is a risk, and it is one that He has committed Himself to at great cost. the question always lingers though: if Adam and Eve looked at God and found themselves unsatisfied, why can this not happen again, at some point over the eons of eternal communion that lie ahead? is there such a thing as human identity without imminent dissatisfaction?

it is a great risk, and one that i believe is bound to be manifest again. but heaven is no closed book. i believe that there is a story to be written in the next life, new worlds yet to be created, new life to be imagined, and new betrayals to be revealed. it is inevitable; it is necessary. love does not appear to exist in any other context.

God thus seen is a vulnerable God. His longing for love has outweighed His fear of being known and rejected; and yet the agony of rejection has stung him nonetheless, driving Him to the point of both regret and personal crisis. one might intrude upon this anthropomorphization with the theologies of unrestrained omniscience and omnipotence, but the fact remains that God has chosen to present Himself as one who experiences longing, regret, rage, and ultimately self-submitting devotion. God has desired from the beginning to present Himself as one not unlike ourselves. the knowable God, introduced by scripture and elucidated by human experience, is not as mysterious as we sometimes contend; He is there to be called upon, judged, scorned, mocked, and despised—and sometimes, when we are willing, he is there to be loved.

04.10.11

what’s in a man

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:06 pm by Administrator

what’s in a man

you think it’s about wrong and right
when you’re wearing black and white
and you’re two people
with something to prove.

but what’s in a man

doesn’t seem the same
when no one’s looking; when a child is born,
when children grow, when everyone seems to know
what’s in it all.

what’s in a man

when the stakes grow so high:
debts and dowries, or dying alone.
all that remains to be known
is how little can be lost,

whether dignity, an unbroken line,
a house full of soft hue and shine
for a boy half-lit by the outline
of his father’s shadow.

a man does not measure such things.

he faces it, even to the last,
sensing that he is not young enough
to rethink, or to wander to the brink
with no one to walk with him

and yet, in spite of this,
unwilling to be cowed, or to deceive,
believing, as we often believe,
that all is not lost.

what’s in a man

is what is left
after years of living, with others,
and losing, more than ever before,
what he thought he loved

04.08.11

time

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:36 pm by Administrator

like a lot of healthcare organizations, my company incentivizes “productivity”—defined as patient visits per physician per year. healthcare administrators look at the number as a surrogate for the value that the primary care doc is providing. how much money is this doctor generating for us per hour?

as pressured as the system is, there are ludicrous consequences. doctors will sometimes see 40 patients per day, which equates to 5 patients per hour. when you account for dead time between patients, the time it takes to clock in and clock out on the computer system, and other necessary gaps, this means that a doctor is generally in and out of a patient’s room in under 7-8 minutes.

now, it’s obvious to administrators that breezing in and out of rooms isn’t necessarily good for patient satisfaction, so doctors are also monitored with patient satisfaction surveys. the admins will generally argue that there doesn’t have to be a correlation between shorter encounters and decreased satisfaction. “studies” show that doctors, if they present themselves properly, can create the illusion of time spent with the patient. the solution, thus, is to make the doctors see as many patients as possible (so as to meet demand) while teaching them how to actively create the veneer of a more leisurely, lengthy patient-doctor encounter.

meanwhile, doctors are now being held accountable to national guidelines for performance, by which “quality” is being measured and reimbursed. thus, during their 8 minute appointments, they are 1) carrying on conversation to create a leisurely atmosphere, 2) reviewing and explaining lab results to the patient, 3) issuing referrals for gastroenterology (colonoscopy) and opthalmology (eye care), 4) making sure all age-appropriate immunizations are up to date and properly logged, 5) refilling all chronic medicines, 6) titrating chronic medicines as needed for improved control of tracked indices, 7) counseling the patient on diet, exercise, smoking cessation, safe sex, routine hiv testing, and stress management strategies, 8) discussing a follow-up plan for any interval or urgent issues, 9) fielding random questions about the patient’s sick family members, and 10) reviewing a consultation report received for a specialty service that was apparently not discussed with the patient.

in short, it’s an impossible scenario. something’s got to go. since a doctor’s job security hinges on his ability to see his scheduled and walk-in patients, he sacrifices the conversation and counseling that should be routine to good medical care. it’s the best and most important part of a doctor’s job, and it’s the thing that’s most important to the long-term interests of the patient. and healthcare systems are designed to truncate or eliminate this important component in the interests of the bottom line.

it shouldn’t be surprising actually that some of the really serious illnesses of American culture—its capitalism, its obsession with profitability, its regimentation and mechanization of work processes—permeate the healthcare system that is supposed to help compensate for them. doctors and nurses are some of the sickest people in America, burdened as they are by patient demands and by a system that pits them against their patients. there is an inherent conflict between the purported objectives and the realities of healthcare in America. it’s one of the many things that is going wrong; and perhaps it’s the most salient thing that is going wrong.

doctors should not be incentivized by how many patients they can cram into an hour; they should be incentivized according to the amount of time that they spend with patients. they shouldn’t be held accountable to preventive screening recommendations that require systematic solutions; they should be given the opportunity to sign off on and approve the preventive measures which have been arranged for the patient by default. when it comes to accountability, doctors, like politicians, should be held accountable to the values that they preach; they should be given the resources they need to stay healthy. this means that they need to be monitored for their self-care, and they need to be required to see other doctors for routine health maintenance. as it is, doctors are too busy to see doctors themselves; they’re not equipped with resources for stress management, which explains their shorter life expectancies and their incredibly low job satisfaction (90% by one physician survey are unhappy with their jobs).

doctors generally don’t hate their patients, but they work within a system which makes patients a threat to their well-being. we have to think about this. how did this happen? how did medicine turn into such a bureaucratic nightmare? why, in this day and age, do doctors and patients feel cheated, while big pharma, healthcare administrators, and medical malpractice lawyers all have a field day at our expense?

the realities make me angry, and the solutions seem complicated. but i think the real answer comes back to the very simple matter of time. protect the time between the patient and his doctor. reward doctors for giving the time that’s needed, whether to reconcile medications, listen to the patient, review data, or do a real physical examination. there are nursing practitioners and physician assistants to unload the system in other ways, specifically for those clients that just need outpatient procedures, med titrations, or other straightforward tasks. protect the doctor; honor the patient. don’t betray that relationship, and don’t cheat them of the time that they need to make this healthcare system work.

04.07.11

scrappiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 pm by Administrator

i was interviewing a candidate for a provider leadership role at my level, and a very experienced corporate leader involved in recruitment advised me to remember what traits are essential for this position. “regardless of how much you like him, you have to remember what position he’s interviewing for,” she said. “sometimes you’re not looking for the nice, smart guy. sometimes you’re looking for the guy who can stick it out in a tough situation.”

it made me think a bit about myself. did they pick the right guy when they picked me to lead? could they have anticipated how difficult this role would be—and how much i would struggle with it? what i’m wondering today is if i have the one trait that may most determine my ability to persevere and succeed in this position. i call that trait “scrappiness”.

at this point in my life, i still don’t know exactly what i’m meant for (career-wise) and what i really want to accomplish, but i do have a good sense of my strengths and weaknesses as a person. i have many strengths that are obvious to all people i work with. i have razor-sharp intuition. i’m an excellent verbal communicator. i empathize. i know how to talk to people who are suffering, in conflict, or in doubt. i am task-oriented and results-focused. i work diligently, and i’m mindful of personal deadlines. i project confidence. i’m flexible, agile, and highly intelligent.

my weaknesses are not difficult to speculate on either. i take criticism poorly. i take failure personally. i don’t take good care of myself. i let my emotions drive my style of communication. in conflicts involving myself, i often focus on winning a battle, not on achieving genuine reconciliation. i am not consistently well-organized, and because of this i often fall short on details. for all of these previously mentioned reasons, i burn out easily. i hunger for inspiration, and when i don’t find it, i fall into cynicism and malaise.

i’m not scrappy, in other words. i’m a lofty visionary. put me in a situation primed for a giant leap, and i’m a star for any startup. but put me in a situation where a turnaround requires small steps, micromanagement, and difficult personnel decisions, and i flounder. when i began in this role 8 months ago, i thought i was in the former situation; i have found that the reality for me is the latter.

but i do not want to give up. i want to grow into the role, and i want the role to inform my growth. in short, i don’t want to be a “centurion” any longer, as i was once described by a good friend. i want to pull off the gloves and fight tooth and nail for the things i believe in, without losing self-control, and without losing a consummate sense of balance among my many priorities.

for me, scrappiness means that i do need to steam out—regularly and often. i do need to acknowledge when i’m angry and frustrated. but scrappiness means that i do not channel that negative energy into my work. i blow off the steam, i take a step back, and i reenter work with the same solid equanimity that i expect of everyone else. passion is good for speeches and meetings; but passion of the emotionally volatile kind is not good for my every day. my default must be a singular, solid determination, a constant realignment of my current thoughts to my long-term vision. i have to demonstrate consistency; and through my consistency, i ultimately need to prove resilience. it’s not a natural trait to people of my generation, as we’re a choosy, fastidious lot. but it’s a trait that i must learn at this point in my life in order to move forward. i need it for everything i’m doing right now. and i’m guessing that it’s what God needs me to gain for the work He has in mind for my future.

i will scrap, then. yesterday, i was mad, tired, and dejected. today, i’m the man who is still standing, after those feelings came and went. weaker men come and go all the time; i am forced to work with flaky people all the time, particularly at my church. but i am being compelled to separate myself from them, to separate myself from what i once was. make me a fighter, like my mother. make me a fighter, like my ancestors in faith. make me strong enough to take the blows, so that i can show that the bruises were not enough to slow me down

04.06.11

cars

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:48 pm by Administrator

my brother-in-law suffered a major car accident last night that was quite frightening. a car ran a red light and hit him square on the passenger side as he was driving through an intersection, which spun out his car onto a pedestrian sidewalk and into the side of an office building. miraculously he and the other driver walked away from the accident, but the cars were destroyed, there was plenty of secondary property damage, and my brother-in-law has a back injury.

another friend of mine is getting sued for a car accident on a highway that she was technically at fault for, which was related to standing water on the freeway. all of this is very unpleasant stuff.

this latest flurry of motor vehicle accidents has gotten me thinking about how litigious people can be, but more fundamentally it’s gotten me back to thinking about how much i really dislike automobiles. i hate them. i hate what they are capable of doing; i hate what they do to society; and most of all, i hate what they represent about us. cars should not have been invented, in my opinion. and i want and need to eventually transition into a situation in which i no longer own or use an automobile of my own any longer.

my slanted view on the history of automobiles is as follows. there was a point at which mass-transit competed only with the horse and buggy as the dominant form of individual transportation. then Henry Ford invented the automobile. he not only invented the automobile but also the assembly-line process that went along with it, helping to drive a social transformation that turned workers into socially displaced automatons without portable skill sets. as automobiles promised a new era of consumer dependency, the industrialization that accompanied it forever changed the relationship of the worker to his trade.

Ford and later proponents of the automobile insured, through political maneuvering, that the new world order of 20th century America would cater to the unique needs of the automobile. highway systems for cars were constructed, to the marginalization of mass-transit systems. infrastructures were created to insure ready access to petroleum products for automobiles. despite the evidence from the beginning that car transport was inordinately dangerous to drivers and passengers, safety regulations lagged these other social developments considerably. to this day even, we still have no routine safety features on our roads to prevent collisions, other than median dividers and traffic lights, and our automobiles are capable of top speeds higher than 100 mph even though no legal speed limit exceeds 75 mph. our cars and roads are designed to foster risk and to limit our containment of it. our society transforms us into individual operators of hurtling metal, which can, in a moment’s inattention, kill dozens of people instantaneously. in this way, cars are more dangerous than most guns that are designed to be weaponized; automobiles are our unintentional agents of mass destruction.

i’m not even beginning to get into the tremendous natural and social impacts of the automobile. greenhouse gas emission, landfills that have to be dedicated to metal scrap, overhead costs in the way of legal and insurance protection, and the “demonization of drivers” are just a few of the truly appalling consequences of the automobile.

obviously, the car has other effects that are considered desirable. it facilitates freedom of movement and social networking. it allows for privacy during extended travel. it serves as a status symbol and a mode of personal self-projection. it can serve as a temporary lodging or home. it is a securable storage space. in short, the car extends one’s reach and influence, at minimal personal cost.

but i would argue that these seemingly desirable effects are not even unequivocally of advantage. “freedom of movement”, once taken for granted, becomes a universal expectation and a necessity, for families, for employers, and for all manner of social activity. one is now essentially required to traverse long distances, essentially converting a seeming advantage into a plaguing necessity. the privacy and flexibility afforded by a car reaffirms one’s sense of individuality in all sorts of subconscious ways, which i would argue contributes to all the usual manifestations of personal entitlement on the road—”road rage”, dehumanization of other drivers, racing, etc. when one is being socialized in this manner every day on his commute, how does one not find himself generally individualized? we have created a society in which people can and should be able to do things on his own schedule, on his own time, and without regard for communal necessities.

cars are not evil, but i do believe that they capture some of the truly permeating spiritual illnesses of our time. many of the psychical and spiritual problems that cars heighten are analogous to those caused by television and the internet as well; our manner of socialization is increasingly fastidious, artificial, and reductionistic. all of these forces are veering us away from an organic sense of materiality and interdependence.

the modernists would disagree with my impressions, and certainly they’re entitled to. they look at airplanes, cars, television, internet, mass marketing, and interconnection, and they see an infrastructure that is designed to reduce segregation/compartmentalization and all of their attendant prejudices and injustices. they see modernity as the beacon of progress, by which a truer sense of egalitarianism can be achieved. but egalitarianism does not mean humanism, and it doesn’t connote personal progress. we can all be equal and equally informed—while all being equally unhappy and misinformed.

in any case, through the lens of my progressive disdain for automobiles, i’m beginning to recognize in myself the groundwork that God is perhaps laying for my transition out of Los Angeles. in fact, for years i’ve been gaining the sense that God wishes me for me the semi-nomadic life, one in which i’m not looking to be rooted in a home but rather able and willing at all times to move on. sandy is anticipating an international job search in a couple of years, and i’m anxiously hoping that her search will open up opportunities for us in other countries. my eyes are on canada—a place where i imagine i can raise my children without fear of them being drafted and sent to arbitrary wars of one kind or another. for now though, i’d be happy to live in a city where there is decent public transportation, no need for highways, and a landscape that actually has some color other than brown or gray. los angeles is simply the ugliest city that i’ve ever lived in, and when you add the lakers and the dodgers to its warped aesthetic, you simply cannot deny that this is a city yearning to be reimagined and rebuilt someday

04.02.11

evening devotional

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:06 am by Administrator

i did a late-night medium-distance run tonight, after a fairly hectic day. sandy’s away, and the home feels fairly empty without her, and i had many things on my mind. it was just what i needed. the run connected my body to my spirit; and it connected my spirit to that of God.

i was thinking about healing—and specifically about prayers of healing. sandy’s cousin has lung cancer; she is a very precious person, and we have been grieving and praying about this situation. i was reminded that Christ said that whatever we ask for in His name we will receive. the “in His name” bit is a bit confounding. i know that i have not received much of what i’ve asked for in prayer, proportionally speaking, so the condition must be a very significant qualifier indeed. for example, i’ve prayed for many people i love to be healed. not one of them has been healed. i was thinking about this during my run.

and then i began to think about the Spirit in us, and what He wants. the Spirit oftentimes does not want to heal. He is confined within this flesh, as we are, and He longs to return to the Father what was entrusted to Him. if healing were so important to Him, would He not heal the fundamental illness of mortality? yet not a single man has proven to be immortal. the Spirit does not wish it. the tragedy that we see in death is not His tragedy, because His eyes recognize a prison for what it is. when there is healing, as when there are miracles of other kinds, it is not for the relief of our mortality but rather for a specific demonstration of His manifest existence. if we are in Him, and if we are praying “in His name”, then it is for us to discern the difference between what is seeming and what is truly unseemly.

all this thought for some reason made me think again about my plans to enter full-time ministry. when will i begin? the thought makes me restless. i wonder if i’m holding myself back because i’m afraid. i wonder if i’m delaying this transition because i love the money that i’m making.

not that poverty by any means is the cure to the love of money, or that sacrificing money is by definition the conquest of greed. this can be the trade of one iniquity for another. but i do recognize that the love of money is deeply buried in my being, as little as i’ve acknowledged over my lifetime, and i do not know how strongly it runs in me. i worry that it has gained a hold on my life—and that it will only become more pervasive, controlling, and corrupting with time.

and yet, i recognize that financial security is only one of many innumerable factors that weigh upon my daily decision to remain in the job and the career that i’m currently engaged in. and on the days that i feel fulfilled on my job, i feel God encouraging me to admit this satisfaction. “you see,” He says. “you don’t hate it after all.” and when He says this, i recognize that God does not want me to leave medicine because i despise it; He wants me to leave it because there is something better that i can be doing.

there are two kinds of boldness. there is the boldness of one who has nothing to lose, and there is the boldness of one who knows that he has everything to give. i’ve always considered the former to be the more natural thing, but God disdains this sort of boldness. yes, a man who hates his life and everything in it can die for a cause, any cause he chooses; this sort of death is meaningless. but one who feels the richness of God’s life running through Him gives up what he has because it comes out of the surplus of what he is continually being given. i am not the man backed up against a wall, fighting for his life. i am the one who is afraid of death, afraid of pain, afraid of sacrifice, and yet i am the one who knows he is not like every other man who has lived. my eyes are different; my ears are differently attuned. i recognize that i have been given abilities and capacities that are intended for the radical, transformational work of God’s kingdom.

and for some reason, these thoughts about boldness made me think about legacies, and about posterity. i realized that i do not care who my great-grandfathers were, and they do not care about who i am and what i am doing with my life. they will forever be as irrelevant to me as i am to them. it will be the same with me and my great-grandchildren, should i have any. we will be too far apart in age and experience to have any real connection. even if i live to see them, they will be precious to me only insofar as they are connected to others i have known. we are intimately connected to our kin only within time and place. the reality is that the genealogies of our design are meaningless; if they reflect nothing more than the genetic linkage of people who otherwise have no common beliefs, then they are stories that tell us nothing about ourselves.

leaving something for my children is meaningful to me; perhaps leaving something for my grandchildren could be of some value. but one can imagine the generations following henceforth, and leaving an estate to one’s theoretical posterity truly is no different from tossing coins to the dogs. there is nothing to prove that one’s genetic heirs are any more worthy than anyone else. there’s no sense in building an estate, for the preservation of one’s kind. we were called out of this deterministic trap; we were called away from our “own”. we were called to be adopted into tribes of other kinds—peoples defined not by their race or their ancestors but rather by their faith lineage, stemming from Abraham, down through the chosen heir Isaac, and on through Jacob and his descendant David, all the way through to the very central figure of Christ. our posterity is not our children but rather the offspring of our faith. but this is an unfamiliar idea to most of us, and it is the tragedy of our time that we are unable to construe a peoplehood that is not derived either from our gene pools or our geographies.

i am not like other men who have lived, God reminded me. and to some degree, to actualize this, i must believe it, and i must live as one who has been called.

at the close of my run, i remembered an important lesson i learned over my recent months of long-distance running. one cannot run the lengths if they are not easy for him. if the course or the distance are too hard, if it drives his heart rate too high, if it demands too much of the soul, then one simply will not do the distance. great training is not built upon willpower or exceptional courage; it is built upon a profound understanding of what one is capable of doing, and it is the cumulative result of consistent and easy accomplishments. easy does not mean effortless; to the contrary, easy endeavors often do require much effort. the difference is that the effort is not perceived as demanding, and oftentimes the effort appears trivial compared to its alternatives. for example, the 12-milers i finished were made easy by the fact that walking any significant portion of the wide loop would be infinitely more time-consuming, arduous, and discouraging.

living by faith should be easy. going into full-time ministry, praying for someone’s healing, sharing the good news with another, and submitting one’s life unto death should be easy for someone who knows God. these things should be easy because they are the natural result of one’s strongest inclinations, even if there are other conflicting inclinations that one must weigh. one can do something easily even if it is extraordinarily painful; in fact, that painful thing must be easy in order for one to do it. others will call it difficult because they do not live within the paradigm of the person doing it. but for the one who is living his life, his life, and all the decisions he makes within it, are easy, even when the process of arriving at these decisions seems tortuous. and when we say that life is hard, what we are saying is that the pain and suffering that life requires is an unavoidable fact; we are not saying that our path through this very pain and suffering has been forced out of us, against every grain of our being. even for a man on the brink of death from a terminal illness, the process of dying is easy; he has no alternative, and he is thinking and reacting in the only ways that he knows how.

my yoke is easy, and my burden is light, says the Lord. and with that simple statement, He relieved us of the burden of the Law. He did not say the law was irrelevant; rather He prophesied that in the Spirit, we would understand it and fulfill it at last. life is hard, yes. but the living is easy. i follow, the only way i know how. i pursue you with all my heart, because i know nothing else to do with my life. ah God, i love you with everything in my being, and i hold nothing closer to my heart than you. your yoke is easy, your burden is light, and my life, despite the troubles, is nothing to be compared to the glory that i’ve already begun to witness. it is like a blinding light right before me, and the closer it appears, the harder i run to it. the climax is so close, and i feel the air under my legs, and in my hair, and across the skin of my arms. nothing can restrain me. i am sprinting to you oh Lord, and the running is easy, and the living and the dying are one and the same, because it is nothing to pass from this side to the next, and into your arms

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