06.30.11

the last word, of course…

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:23 pm by Administrator

In an outdoor courtyard surrounded by food stands, sparsely occupied. i am sitting down with my lunch, in a shaded spot at stage center. God appears out of nowhere, and takes the seat across from me.

GOD: have i ever failed to provide for you?
ME (taken aback, with food in my mouth): no!
GOD: do i not bring down the wise and the wealthy when it pleases me? who has anything to boast of in the end? will you?
ME: no. no, i suppose not.
GOD (animated): so what have i been teaching you these past years? about me? about you? tell me, haven’t you learned anything?
ME: of course!
(raises his hands, swallows his food, and pauses to think)
ME: no, i’ve learned nothing, actually.
God: get real!
ME: okay okay, just give me a moment. (pauses again) i have learned… that life is hard.
(God sighs as he crosses his arms, shaking his head)
ME: i’ve learned… that i need to be less individualistic, more into community. i’ve learned that i can change. i’ve learned—-
GOD: that’s enough! i’m going to ask you a different question then.
(collects himself, as he leans forward, to whisper)
GOD: you used to enjoy your solitude. what happened?
ME: you stopped showing up.
GOD: shut up! i’m being serious.
ME: ok… solitude… it used to be full. full of exploration. full of interesting thoughts. full of…
GOD: becoming! it used to be full of becoming.
ME: yes, that’s the word, exactly. i was constantly becoming. my moments alone were full of becoming. my prayer time was full of becoming. it was more than dreaming; i was realizing a dream. i was convinced that everything was purposeful, even magical.
GOD: and what happened? why did this change?
ME: because life hasn’t turned out the way i wanted it to.
GOD: deeper. dig deeper.
ME: because i believed in a life full of perfect moments—stolen moments. when i was single and younger, i never envied what other guys had because i believed that i’d find something on a totally higher level. the greater beauty. the higher power. the fuller joy. the bigger life. it was like questing for love. i was never lonely, because i was convinced that the impetus in my life was drawing me to my life partner, that inestimable beauty.
GOD: and now?
ME: and now my life is full of good things. but it’s not becoming anything anymore. and because it’s not becoming anything, it’s not what i want.
GOD: so then, what have you become?
ME: the man who has nothing.
GOD: you demean yourself with self-pitying hyperboles. it’s tiresome.
ME: ok! so what have i become?
GOD: you have become a man who wants to become something much more than he can immediately comprehend.
ME: you can see why i’m sad about myself.
GOD: listen to me. prayer, like desire, is about becoming. becoming is not about achieving something. it is about discovering something. to every man of God has been given the great dream of the people—their lives, their hearts, their land, their testament. this is the promised land, the fabled body of Christ. this ambition need not be abstract; and it has never been abstract. it is meant to be planted and harvested in your time. you build vessels into which i pour myself, through which i demonstrate my great power. it was for this that you were made.
ME: to jealously hunger for every opportunity to provoke you into a gratuitous expression of yourself.
GOD: to hold the strings to my heart, to give me the chance to demonstrate my total love for you.
ME: like when you burned up the priests of Baal.
GOD: and more than this. like when i took slaves and made them princes of the world. like when i raised the dead and made them live. like when i chose you, and anointed you before the entire world, and made you the envy of all created things. you wear a crown. you would exchange it for a Nobel prize if you could, but you wear a crown.
ME: i’m tired. i’m tired of these words. i’m tired of my inability to understand them. i’m tired of getting it wrong, and i’m tired of embarrassing myself over and over again.
GOD: remember what you are learning. and remember what you are! you are becoming an architect of a new world, and the old world will live through you, as it came to life through me. your eyes, your ears, your mind—they are a portal into another universe. delight in this! you are about to see me demonstrate my power through you.
ME: i want to believe!
GOD: do you feel lucky?
ME: what?
GOD: answer the question. do you feel lucky?
ME: i think so. i think i feel lucky.
(looks up, and God is gone)

06.29.11

repentance

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:42 pm by Administrator

this past weekend was beyond tiring; it was overwhelming. the highlights: my wife’s brother got married, my mother flew out to visit for the first time in two years, and my son had his 5-year birthday party. over the course of the weekend, i had conversations spanning a whole range of sensitive issues, including my pastoral calling, my relationship with my dad, my parenting style with my son, my mother’s retirement plans, money, and where i am with God.

when i got to work on Monday, i felt like i was getting a break from my weekend. and work is no less stressful. as of Monday i was promoted to broader management responsibilities, and my desk is out of control.

there are moments from this past weekend that i will take weeks to process. it is perhaps not coincidental that “The Social Network” had to arrive on the very weekend when i was most sensitized to matters of my career and life direction. my thoughts verged on taking dark turns at multiple points; i found myself wondering why i am not richer, more ambitious, or more influential. to my mother and to Sandy’s extended family in general, i presented myself as one who is confident in his abilities and in his future. but in my rare moments of private prayer, i struggled mightily with myself. amidst the many questions from many people about my identity, i found myself unable to find a reflection of my true face.

my thoughts gravitate to one point during the wedding reception, when my pastor told my mother at the dinner table that had it not been for me then he might have left our church’s ministry by now. of course, he’s a man of occasional hyperbole, and he did later clarify that by “me” he meant “my growth” and the growth of “a few others”. but it was a striking statement nonetheless, one which made me feel acutely uncomfortable in the moment but which began to resonate with me with the passing hours.

another poignant moment came later on in the weekend, when my mother and i were talking about happiness. i told my mom that it has taken me seventeen years to unlearn the false idea that i was a person of unusual excellence. to be happy, i told her, i’ve had to rediscover myself as a totally ordinary person, one from whom only ordinary and evil things can be expected. the only thing that makes me special is the fact that God, for unfathomable and seemingly arbitrary reasons, has chosen me to become one of His people.

i had a dream last night (or was it a conscious thought that bled into a dream) that i was burning money. i had cash—millions of dollars of it—and every day i was going to the ATM, withdrawing the limit, and going home to burn it. at first, my friends and neighbors were appalled. then people in my life began expressing entitlement to the money, and anger about how i was destroying it. and then people i didn’t know began writing me and calling me, to appeal to me for that money. their requests were desperate and even reasonable. for some of them, the money appeared to be the difference between life and death. i felt sad for them. but still, i went on, day by day, burning my money. one person told me that it would get harder as i got down to the very final millions, the millions that would be the difference between comfort and poverty for the rest of my days. but it did not get harder. down to the last dollar, i burned it all. and then everyone left me alone, because i had nothing left to give them.

for me, repentance has become steadily more about reasserting my true identity, and it has become less about eschewing evil acts or immorality. i engage in repentance when i feel lost; it is like a homing beacon, or an act of ablution that enables me to be myself before God. when i stepped back this morning and surveyed my dream, i realized that what i had done in my dream was to repent in the only way that i knew how. somehow, in a subconscious or deeply spiritual sense, i felt that in order to repent, i had to demonstrate that i serve God, not money. in my dream, i demonstrated this by scorning money; and i even refused to accord it any practical utility, even though this was illogical. repentance is illogical, after all. sometimes, perhaps, it requires that we reject even those things that are seemingly beautiful or good, simply because they are not the total good.

i struggle with what i am. i feel my weaknesses intimately, and i cannot understand why God loves me. the closer i draw to Him, the more vulnerable i feel to the self-concept that the world would prefer for me. i disconnect because i cannot tolerate the tension; for me, having a foot in one sphere and a foot in the other is tearing me apart. the further along i go, the less i can handle the frustrated ambition within me. the farther i travel, the more urgent and the more profound my repentance becomes. once, it was enough simply to avoid talking about or thinking about money; now, in my dreams, i must burn it in order to get clean.

i am a gruesome creature, and in the molting of my flesh i am even more gruesome as i morph and grow. i can only hope that the thing i become justifies the cruelty of my evolution. i wish to not perseverate on my change; i want to seize upon the life that i will assume someday. i repent of what i am, and i consider what i have as loss. let me seize upon that cross. let me find redemption

06.27.11

the social network

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:17 pm by Administrator

despite a hectic weekend, i finally got around to watching “the social network” via netflix. i watched it in two sittings (an hour before john’s wedding, and an hour after his reception). i felt like the two segments i saw were two different movies entirely, and i don’t think it was simply because of the interruption. Eisenberg has no lines of consequence in the final forty-five minutes of the film (aside from a few quips and stone-wall rebuttals) while the characters of Saverin and Parker take over the latter half with a series of plot-advancing interchanges and predictable outbursts. it is high theater, down to the ridiculous final line (”you’re not an a-hole, you just try so hard to be one” LOL LOL LOL!!!)

that being said, the film has some lively moments. the first scene with mara rooney is terrific. i got a kick out of watching “Mark” run through Cambridge straight onto Johns Hopkins’ campus (about a quarter-mile from where i lived in Hamden) and then into a generic dorm hall that only roughly approximates Kirkland House’s prison-like interiors. there are barely any Asian students in the “Harvard” scenes (except for the crazy girl), which is funny because you’d think half of CS at Harvard in 2003 was Asian. but the plentiful diversions don’t make up for the distinct lack of authentic drama; the film never really presents a credible “Mark Zuckerberg” beneath the one-dimensional provocateur that we are expected to view with revelatory pity.

i’ll admit that i have a hard time reading/watching stories like “The Social Network” because it is gut-wrenching for me to see my peers (and those younger than i) stumble upon preternatural success. Mark Z is not primarily enviable to me because he is rich; he is enviable because he has tapped into something essential about our age. i don’t think any political, social, or religious leader can look at the story of Facebook and not feel jarred, impressed, or deeply troubled by it. it is a phenomenon that attests to the fact that Facebook is about more than marketing or ideology; it is about something intrinsic to the human experience of community.

i continue to be “disconnected” from Facebook and fearful of its consequences. to some degree, i’ll admit that this is the result of long-standing prejudices against technological fads. after all, i dislike “smart phones” as well. i recently got into a fairly heated argument with my wife after she announced her wish to upgrade to a phone with roaming internet capability. i couldn’t understand why she would willingly submit herself to a life of compulsive, incessant virtual connection. she had her legitimate points, but ultimately she was enraged by my leanings, which she described as “Luddite” and “ridiculous”. she’s going to get her 3G, and i’m going to feel sad about it. her final conclusion: we are obliged to adapt as society evolves.

to me, social networking sites like Facebook capture an aspect of our cultural evolution that i feel ambivalent about: a commodification of self that ultimately demystifies human experience. the e-community consists of tags, pokes, and status updates that create an illusion of community within which one might feel heard or even understood. but the reality is that such linkage is as likely to foster gross misunderstanding. words as projected onto the internet are cheap and easily manipulated; trivial asides can trigger protest or controversy; lack of resonating response can leave the author feeling ironically more isolated. internet bullying, socially disabling rumor mills, and cruelties of other kinds are facilitated by a medium that both enables and trivializes self-expression. “friending” and “defriending” people take on odd and troubling significance; and rejecting a friend request to protect one’s privacy can have real-life social repercussions. i fear that virtual community too often distorts or manipulates the personal need for more authentic connection. the misrepresentation of self that follows invariably impacts self-perception.

i know of course that i’m in the minority when it comes to my belief in the deterministic effects of commodification. i feel threatened by advertising; and in any interaction, i need to understand who is talking to me and what his agenda is. i believe that we cannot control the spiritual impact of the media’s influence; in its subliminal powers of suggestion, it has a remarkable ability to influence self-concept and behavior. because i fear this power, i feel that i have no choice but to disconnect. it goes beyond aesthetics for me. i wonder if the potential repercussions of “connection” are bound to recreate Babel again and again, as the social organism derives itself from the synergy of our untapped potential. yes, it is inexorable, like the times; but like Henry Adams from a century ago, i appeal to the Virgin, as i retreat from the Dynamo. i beg to be understood, not judged, even as i wish to get clean, through some sense of personal tranquility. i have to find the place where no one can find me; and it is for this reason that i flee from the network

06.24.11

And the Obama train continues to derail…

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:41 pm by Administrator

the defection of 70 Democrats contributing to the massive vote of no-confidence on Obama’s military involvement of the U.S. in Libya is just another predictable stumbling block in the beleaguered president’s debacle of a first term.

i’m still proud to have a Black president. but outside of his stellar public speaking, Obama has proven to be a fairly abject failure as an American president. to recap his latest missteps:

1) Afghanistan: the proposed troop withdrawal more than midway through his term comes on the heels of a series of admitted tactical failures, ongoing riffs with Karzai, and a major turnover in military leadership. Obama’s attempt to link the troop withdrawal to a message of victory (i.e. Bin Laden’s assassination) is unconvincing; he’s trying to create a win out of a situation that has been a total failure from the beginning. the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan should have been the first move of his presidency. as usual, Obama’s unbelievably poor timing makes him look like he’s retreating with his tail between his legs.

2) Libya: for all the reasons i’ve recently blogged on, Obama had no good reason to involve the U.S. directly in Libya’s civil strife—except to avoid criticism for indecision from the far right. it’s thick-headed American exceptionalism to categorically encourage “democratic” movements when the reality on the ground is considerably more complex. having to curtail an illegal war in its most sensitive stages severely damages Obama’s reputation with NATO as well as at home. it’s an unavoidable sign of failed leadership.

3) The economy: it’s not Obama’s fault that the American economy is doing so poorly. what he’s failed to do is deliver a message to manage expectations. FDR had to do it during the Great Depression. there hasn’t been any good reason to expect rapid recovery since the crash in 2007, given how consistently poor the consumer indices have been. but here and there, Obama has shown premature optimism, and it’s backfired on him severely.

given his charisma and his popularity with the youth, it would’ve been impossible for me two years ago to imagine that Obama wouldn’t win a reelection in 2012. now, i see it as a near impossibility. how could such a smart president represent himself and his administration so poorly and with such dramatic consistency? i continue to believe that he put his energy in the wrong places, and his inefficiency and misplaced priorities have cost the country very dearly.

06.23.11

fantasy life

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:22 pm by Administrator

it’s interesting to me that the older i grow, the more reflexive my thinking becomes. i remember that when i was twenty-five, my fantasies felt to me like a natural outgrowth of my nature, if not a real window into my spirit. now, i study my reveries to track my evolution; i react to my fantasies with both curiosity and criticism.

i won’t go into the sordid category of fantasy life (though this has certainly evolved considerably, post-marriage) but i have been equally amused and intrigued by the simpler varieties. for instance, my most common fantasies revolve around what i would do if i suddenly had a day off, entirely to myself. i used to be full of ideas in this regard. nowadays, my speculations on how i would divert myself are very halting, if not outright futile. i fantasize about a day to myself because i have them so infrequently and hence am tempted to romanticize them; but then the substance of the fantasy is not forthcoming. on a particularly tortured day at work two weeks ago, i placed myself in Paris in October, walking across a stone bridge in a wool coat with a young lady who gradually morphed into Melanie Laurent. but when i turned to Melanie to remark upon the state of the day’s weather, i found myself utterly at a loss for further conversation, or for any sense of what i wanted to do thereafter. picnic by the river? sip on coffee in an artsy bar? i had no clue. in fact, after a few moments, i no longer wanted to be in Paris with Melanie.

so too with career fantasies, which i have somewhat less often. my most often recurring career fantasy is to be a champion mixed martial arts fighter. i have come to the belief over the last two years that i would personally experience the greatest satisfaction by being able to enter the octagon and master any imaginable opponent. in one such run of thought, i saw myself as a BJ Penn sort of fighter, distinguishing myself by feats of dexterity. but lately, i’ve come to see through the fantasy, in ways that have made it less interesting. after all, a lot of MMA fights degenerate into technical grappling on the ground that takes away from the pleasure of pummeling another man to a bloody pulp. what drew me to MMA was a desire for physical dominance, the ability to inspire fear. i wonder though if MMA, despite its initial reputation, has increasingly become more of an art than the gladiatorial sport i might have preferred.

and then there’s the occasional fantasy of being a professional Starcraft player. watching these guys on GomTV is nothing short of thrilling for me, i have to admit, despite the fact that i’ve totally sworn off PC gaming for myself. i’ve probably watched more than a thousand pro replays over the last few months, and it never ceases to impress me how much the game evolves as a result of the close study and remarkable innovation of the pro gamers. as underpowered as Zerg clearly is, IMNestea in particular has consistently shown an ability to adapt his game and excel, through tactics that maximize his moment-to-moment potential while preserving his macro style. in any case, i would have wanted to be the foreigner who made it—the one non-Korean to not only break into Code S but to beat the K-Terrans en route to a GSL championship.

then i take a step back and realize how little i would enjoy that sort of a life. it’s all about computers, and calculation, and connectivity. i hate those things. i’d rather have a world without computers and cars, after all. so the fantasy makes no sense; and hence, it crumbles.

perhaps the most durable fantasy that i’ve maintained over the course of my lifetime is the fantasy of melding art and spirituality, through some sort of breakthrough work. when i was twenty-five, i wanted to write a novel. nowadays, i fantasize about connecting the people i know into a community capable of elaborating a performance work. i keep going back to Kingston’s “Tripmaster Monkey”, as i feel that the protagonist (as canned as he was) captures what i’m looking for. i fantasize about writing a play featuring my friends; i fantasize about turning that play into something cinematic; i fantasize about turning that movie into a cultural movement; and i fantasize about turning that cultural movement into transformational political upheaval.

but then, what artist doesn’t fantasize about something like this? i feel awestruck by my own distinct lack of originality.

on very rare occasion, i have the fantasy of encountering alien life, which i find to be the most intriguing fantasy of them all. i think the fantasy comes out of a wish to live life not merely as part of the cycle of life that we all seem resigned to but rather as a trajectory toward both eternity and unending exploration. i fantasize that i will leave this planet and its trivial things, cross time and space with magnificent ease, lose myself in a completely different system of life, and discover the essence of the human soul. in short, the fantasy is about personal metamorphosis. i don’t visualize planets; i imagine feelings, of self-loss and unity.

when i step outside the box of my rumination, i realize that what i’m really fantasizing about is heaven. God is alien life, is He not? and we believe in religion, in the end, because we want to get off this planet. one might argue that the Bible is the greatest work of science fiction ever created. in any case, it captures the essence of fantasy—the ability to rediscover oneself through radical experience.

06.22.11

graduation

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:58 pm by Administrator

you used to mark my path with token words
collected from the heights and troubled downturns
of your vintage life. you made me feel
like we were old codgers back from war
surveying my life as we might the ocean,
whose waves had tendered us from afar.

you spoke of my moments in third-person,
in clauses ending with ellipses,
the sorts of things a poet might be embarrassed to pen
but which nevertheless waft well
in the hue of an august voice.

and i, in turn, held these words, like odd shells.
beaches and their tides, their incessant insistence
on listening, do invariably remind us of our motions,
internal, agitating against stillness.
i held these shells to mark time,
and to remember.

there seems to be no time, nowadays;
no commencements, or summer respites,
or things to be achieved
but still, i’ve got these shells—

Deep in my pockets, i feel their coarse edges,
along ridges and spines carved over decades.
i dig hard enough that i bleed, just thinking
about graduations to be had, great moments
to be celebrated, with the sorts of words
that one spends a lifetime conjuring,
to be said at just the right place and time,
about life that might otherwise run on,
for lack of punctuation, or even a pause

06.20.11

Road to Nowhere

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:58 pm by Administrator

between my father, my mother, and myself, there has been a longstanding unease about what i am becoming. my father, troubled as he has been by the failures of his hyper-religious family in Korea, has always feared that my spirituality would drive me into a life of fanciful speculation and abject poverty. my mother, haunted by the suicide of her sister and the bipolar manias of her nephew, has come to view me as a chronic depressive, doomed to be mercurial if not outright unreliable. they have both feared that their conflicts have stunted me. they have wished for me a more stable, prosperous existence.

for me, my great fear has been the sum of their fears: that i would either fail outright, or even worse, that i would encounter their brand of success and find it to be profoundly unsatisfying.

it always comes back to the simple question: why couldn’t i have been andrew lam?

i was struck though, the other day, by an intriguing notion—that because i was loved by God, i was created to be this way. this way, and not any other way. God, being what He is, had to have an audience for every sort of work He had in mind.

in this way, perhaps, God is a bit like Monte Hellman.

four of us went to see Hellman’s “Road to Nowhere” on Saturday night, and three of us (including my wife) left the movie feeling disappointed. my brother-in-law said that no movie had ever made him angrier. my wife found it pretentious and frustrating. but one of us thoroughly enjoyed it, from start to finish. for me, it was as if “Road to Nowhere” were the ultimate touchstone; or rather, perhaps more fittingly, it was as if the film had been made just for me.

the world is very beautiful, i’ve begun to realize. it is not beautiful in spite of its pains and tragedies. it is beautiful because of them. for decades, it has been a dark and troubling place for me, and because it was falsely cast as a bright and hopeful place, i felt like more of a misfit in it. church is where people pretended to be good; and school is where people aimed to be purposeful. the world proceeded in arbitrary directions, as if by moving it could escape the weight of its troubles. my religion, caught up in protest and theory, was first a religion of counterculture; but as my life has inexorably moved from climax to decay, i have rediscovered a religion of synthesis. the point of rumination is not to dwell in darkness but rather to give space to the forgotten conscience. my spirit has a voice. in the beginning, it cried; with time, it has learned its own words, the words of a virgin tongue.

in truth, when i rail against commodification, i am not really the anti-capitalist. commodification does enable us to enjoy the little things to a greater degree, whether it be art or just a cup of coffee. and when i rail against the media, i am not actually a Luddite. connection can inspire, and it can heighten self-awareness. what i am fighting is the sense of self that has been imposed on me, the identity i failed to assume, the expectations that i could not meet without despising myself. i picked fights with “the system”, when really in the end what i was fighting for was the ability to take life at my own pace, to embrace what i found beautiful, and to come to my own gradual sense of what life is. i have judged others for being deterministic and trivial; but in truth, i’ve just been trying to come to terms with being different.

my father believes that i am not clinically depressed, and i’m inclined at last to agree. but God has given me a fastidious spirit, and my emergent aesthetic and social needs are so specific that my niche is confined and my relationship with community is so intense. i will spend more of my lifetime than most simply discovering where i belong; and as a result i will empathize more strongly with those who believe themselves to be lost. but i was not created to be a wanderer. i believe that i was intended to find my place, as difficult as this search will be, and in the end the nomad will settle down and build himself a home. it is all right to take my time, i’m beginning to realize. this wandering is not depression; it is a road to somewhere

06.12.11

confrontation

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:54 pm by Administrator

this past week at work, i found myself at three different times contemplating offering apologies for confrontations which i had initiated either in person or by email. in one person’s situation, i had delivered a fairly blunt group email in which i had dismissed his opinion; in another situation, i had communicated my disappointment about an individual’s performance to her superior; and in another situation i had issued a unilateral plan of action to a group, which made one member of the group feel marginalized. in each of these situations, i could have been softer in tone; more fundamentally, i could have been more egalitarian in my approach. but for various reasons, i chose to be confrontational, and as a result of the confrontation, things moved forward. despite my desire to smooth over the personal relationships that i affected in the process, i chose not to bring up their feelings or to apologize for what i had done. and i was happy in the end—not because things had gone my way but because the group purpose had been served.

it used to be memorable when i confronted people, largely because i’ve previously worked in situations dominated by passive-aggressive people. generally speaking, the confrontations have caused me a lot of trouble, and i continue to struggle with anger for the people who undercut me in the aftermath of those conflicts. i’ve been tempted to believe that perhaps my confrontations were ill-conceived and self-defeating, and that perhaps the difficult consequences i experienced were the results of my own narcissistic tendencies. there is probably some truth to these speculations.

but what i’m discovering in this phase of my life is that i problem-solve by being confrontational; and to some degree, and within the context of mutual respect, i need and desire for people to confront me. my birkman misrepresents me in this one area, in its suggestion that i desire primarily respect and admiration. more fundamentally, i want to experience group momentum, energy, and progress. and because i view confrontation as critical to achieving real connection and even spiritual sanctification, i crave it.

today after church, there was a woman who came into the sanctuary with her infant looking for handouts. it was the second week in a row that she’s done this. as with the previous week, she came after the service, while people were eating and socializing. she directly approached people asking for money; she took food and cash as she went from table to table. last week, i took note of this, and i saw how difficult it was for even the associate pastors to redirect her. this week, people again directed her to the food, even as they were noticeably awkward in their efforts to steer her away. i couldn’t take it. i followed her out of the sanctuary, and as i’d wished to do last week, i took her aside and made my feelings abruptly clear. she had the option of joining our community. but she did not have the option to come again looking for handouts. if she again demonstrated this “disgraceful” behavior, i promised her that i would escalate the situation. she said “thank you” and left.

perhaps “enjoyment” is the wrong word, but i was thoroughly engaged when i issued the ultimatum. i was driven by a powerful need to confront the woman, mainly because i sensed the power that she was wielding in our midst, a power that i viewed as both abusive and irresistible. i’ll admit that i felt some sense of awkward guilt about her situation, as anyone of means feels some shame about coexisting with the poor. she brought her infant child with her and openly declared her needs to feed her baby. but i am one who is exquisitely sensitive to matters of power and authority; and regardless of her needs, i felt that her imposition was brazen. i made it clear that i would be waiting for her, as a counterpart and an adversary; and if she comes again, i do intend to make things very difficult for her.

part of my growth process is recognizing that i must manage two sets of beliefs. the first set regards my beliefs about confrontation. i struggle with my innate belief that peace is better and that confrontation is inevitably selfish and mean. the second set of beliefs regards authority—that confrontation should be a last resort and the exclusive privilege of one with inviolable authority. because of these beliefs, i generally feel uncomfortable and even ashamed when i am confronting someone. i feel ambivalent about it, and in the aftermath i always feel apologetic about it. but to fail to control myself during the confrontation and to fail to recognize the value in it is also to fail to understand how i have been designed. confrontation is integral to my role in community. it is essential to my spiritual formation.

i want to exercise the sort of confrontation that is so comfortably and lovingly practiced that it does not convey self-righteousness. more importantly, i want to learn how to receive confrontation and criticism, a major weakness in my life, so that i can learn to recognize proper styles of confrontation and rebuke. at this point in my life, i do have a few people from whom i regularly seek correction, including my wife and some members of my spiritual community. i want to be more intentional about seeking their criticism, discerning my growth needs, and submitting myself to others. but equally important in the long-term, i must learn not to be ashamed to confront others—directly and even strongly when necessary—when i view this confrontation to be essential to the integrity of my relationship with my community. i need to stop apologizing for hurt feelings and to begin contending with my own insecurities about criticism. my birkman “blue” is not deterministic; i believe it to be a beginning. when i’ve really found my place in community, i believe that the hallmark of this station will be my ability to relish criticism and even attacks, as one who has nothing to lose

06.11.11

trusting my instincts

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:23 am by Administrator

for the last year, my entries have been mainly self-explicative (as opposed to merely self-reflective or commentative on a larger scale). i’ve hit the stage in my life where i’m really beginning to unearth my nuts and bolts. it is perhaps not coincidental that i was given this birkman assessment at the very time in my life when i feel like i’m beginning to break through.

at the same time, i recognize that these entries must be terribly abstruse if not frankly boring to other readers. there’s no way i’d still be following this blog if i were someone else. even i don’t really like re-reading my own entries. but more than ever before, these entries are essential to me.

among other things, my “Aaron” insight and my Birkman have demonstrated to me one very salient point about my identity. i am a man who outwardly conveys confidence and charisma; but i am one who internally needs strong guidance. people have always seen me as someone who “has it together”; this couldn’t contrast more starkly with my own self-perception. for years, much of my blogging has expressed my doubts and regrets precisely because of the fact that i have never felt comfortable pursuing my true spiritual needs.

the process of my socialization has been incredibly painful to me. i have been forced to compete with others, to conform to rigid social expectations, and to hide my ambivalence about my life. when i did express reservations about the course of my life, i was cut down, dismissed, or marginalized. my facade of consummate control is one which has been fashioned out of my pain. the cost of this journey has been my soul.

i have struggled to know myself partly because i have been unable to accept who i am. fundamentally, i am not a man driven by the hope of great success or achievement; i am a man who seeks harmony with people. i spent my childhood years working hard for good grades and constantly mediating relations between my parents simply so that i could keep the family together. familial harmony was my only object in life when i was a child; i never had great ambitions for myself. going to a distinguished school and gaining distinction for my academic achievements never meant much to me because these were things that i did to keep the peace.

i am a feeler and a philosopher. but i have suppressed these tendencies with brutal regularity because i was taught to believe that these inclinations would lead me to an unproductive and irresponsible life. i became a bullish and angry man because i was ashamed of my natural persona—the one who loves women, beauty, grandeur, and great ideas. to avert the destruction that this persona would have wreaked on my life, i became the polar opposite. i suppressed my sexuality; i became frugal, to the point of pinching pennies; i eschewed style and prided myself on being plain; and i gave myself over to practical life objectives. mundane living made me socially functional. it also made me profoundly depressed.

my entries vacillate between self-probing and exorbitant demonstrativity. my suppressed artistic sense is now so volatile and angry that it seeks simply to lash out at everything and everyone. this aspect of me is my rage at having lived a lie for all these years. there are days when i despair at what i have become; and there are days when i am too angry to even consider that i have failed myself. i battle with myself, every day of my life, because i cannot undo the psychological abuse that i have self-inflicted. i became an obsessive overachiever to overcome antisocial proclivities; but now my acquired dysfunctions are so obvious to myself that i am more antisocial than ever before.

in short, i cannot trust my instincts. i, the intuitive, the feeling, the impulsive. if i cannot trust my instincts, then i truly have nothing. but this is the fact that confronts me. i cannot trust my natural inclinations because they themselves are the by-products of war. they exist not to inform me of true desire but rather to rebel. i am constantly running from depression, it is true, and i know this because when i stop moving, when i stop battling, when i stop tearing myself apart, all that i have in the end is that deep and pervasive lack of purpose that must be the prelude to self-extinction. there is no purpose for life but what we devise for ourselves; this is the conclusion i come to, when i have silenced my many voices.

like aaron needed moses, like saul needed samuel, like every genuinely broken man needs a better man to lead him, i need someone to lead me. i masquerade as a visionary when what i crave is to be inspired and led to greatness by someone else. all my angst and acting out is a plea for a real cause, for a person of true wisdom to pour truth into my life and relieve me of my burdens. for thirty-five years, i have been fighting to keep myself together, to keep this ego from disintegrating, and now all i want is to stop fighting this vain battle and to submit myself, body and mind, to a cause worth living for. “Christianity” as i have known it has been an idea; i wish for the Christianity of total submission by which i am invested by the Spirit, divested of my past, and propelled toward magical destiny. this is the only instinct that has ever served me well—the instinct to give up everything in the pursuit of God.

what am i? what is my daily life? smash what i am, and destroy my pitiful answers to these questions! take my ideas and misconceptions, the false wisdom of my failed years; crush these primitive things underfoot. take me from my job and my family, from everything that i have used to prop up my fake identity and my ruse of a life. show me what i was meant to become by delivering me into something greater than myself. let me be the man i was intended to be: the laughing man, filled with wonderment at life, speechless in adoration, obsessed with beauty, lost in that incredible embrace of pure love

06.08.11

birkman

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:57 pm by Administrator

as part of one of our HR-related projects in the division, my leadership team individually took Birkman assessments to gain insight into our own patterns of behavior. i got my analysis last night and was profoundly impressed both by the level of detail and the accuracy of the assessment. perhaps the most striking analyses were the ones that focused on the contrast between my projected style and my internal needs. though i am “green” in style (frank, straightforward, confident), i am “blue” in my interests and needs (creative, subjective, rating appreciation more importantly than objectivity). the analysis suggested that i can experience tension because of the fact that i encourage frank communication from others by virtue of my own style, when my underlying disposition is one which does not handle straightforward communication or criticism very well. the noted contrast resonates with me. though i come across as confident and structured, i am fastidious about my needs for affirmation, understanding, and space within which to test convention and to innovate.

it was not surprising for me to discover that medicine was near the bottom in terms of logical fits for employment. the top choice—and clear standout in terms of compatibility—was law. and i think i’ve always suspected this about myself, that i am best suited for situations in which i can take the offensive without fear for repercussions. i would stink at corporate law, which is more like the clerical, number-crunching sorts of professions that i was markedly incompatible with; but i think i would have excelled in courtroom litigation, where my ability to negotiate, persuade, and perform would have served me well.

second on my list of natural professions was “delegative management”, and third (and almost equally strong) were the ministerial professions (therapy/counseling, pastoral). indeed, this only confirms my sense of natural calling. i’m not a detail or task-oriented person, and i think this is what best serves a physician over the duration of his career. i’m a planner and a visionary, and i enjoy disrupting structures to create my own, within which i situate myself as a focal point. my analysis clearly seemed to depict me as a narcissist (which i found both jarring and rather funny), but perhaps i should not be insulted. i was built to be a leader, not a follower; i am not designed to devote myself to something unless i am one of its pivotal movers. and owing to my exquisite spiritual needs, i would prefer to surround myself with people who venerate my strengths. my weakness, as i’ve always suspected, is that i secretly crave a cult of personality.

the question my birkman assessment raises for me is whether i could ever experience fulfillment by working for someone else. my father, who is blue like myself, always told me that the best thing about being a doctor is being one’s own boss. i have discovered that this is anything but the truth. the physician must bow to so many bosses—his insatiable patients, his relentless administrators, and his reluctant payers. i have disliked medicine precisely because i have not been able to be my own boss in any respect; the profession has forced me into so many situations in which i am completely out of control, whether with regard to my social sphere, the management of my time, or my exposure to risk. for years, i have dreamed of being a writer because i’ve viewed this is as the pinnacle of independent professionalism. however, my birkman assessment astutely points out that my subjectivity and emotional needs require me to be actively engaged with people; for me, a professional writing career in the absence of a central stabilizing career would be spiritually enervating.

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