Roselia and War

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:11 pm by Administrator

we had our baby daughter Roselia four days ago. the birthing experience was much better this time than the first; Sandy began having unremitting contractions at 5:40 in the morning, and after two big pushes (and fifteen minutes) the baby was out. i was very proud of Sandy, as she was able to birth Roselia in the manner she had hoped for—without an epidural, without a catheter, fully mobile, and without any pain medications.

the aftermath of such an intense experience was expectedly a major let-down for us both. while the days leading up to the birth were full of anticipation and excitement, the nights following birth have been sleepless for Sandy and full of unease for us both. i feel like i understand my wife’s experience so much more this time, in her overwhelming sense that another life completely hinges upon her ability to be totally accessible, totally aware, and able to produce sustenance on demand. the nights are full of desperation; they are desperate, overpowering, and profoundly self-abnegating nights, and they are endless. we remember the first time we went through this; but like memories of death, we chose to forget the hollow horror of those exhausting and perilous moments of early parenthood.

perhaps it is not unusual then that when i had a spare moment i found myself watching snippets of “Letters from Iwo Jima” on Netflix. i watched it in three separate installments, interrupted here and there by requests for food, the movement of furniture, or various other tasks. i’m the gopher; and Sandy is the central figure of this household in chaotic flux. i’ve seen “Letters” several times, and i’m gripped each time. this time, perhaps, was even more intense, because i discovered in its depictions of battle some of the very same features of desperation, impending death, and moment-to-moment subsistence that define our present existence.

“Letters” also depicts a cultural element that i’ve always found both profoundly spiritual and fascinating: the bushido code, and the Japanese fixation with ritual suicide. scene after scene, there are moments when the soldiers and their commanding officers must preach identity both to themselves and their comrades. it is almost like a switch that they flip, as their fixation changes from the continuation of life to the exigencies of preparing for impending death. attached to and underpinning this obsession with death is an intensifying belief in one’s identification with a people; the young Japanese soldiers are able to overcome their fear of death by uniting with one another in a common conviction that loyalty to their nation must transcend their individual sense of self.

in a sense, i do not understand why we have children any more than i understand why we go to war against one another. both are illogical, and both are self-nullifying. even now, i can recall the philosophical turmoil i endured after the birth of my first-born, as i could feel his life energy drawing from mine, tearing apart my previously cohesive sense of identity. five and a half years ago, i’d had ambitions, to be independently wealthy, free of responsibility, and famed for my talent. now, i realize why i suffered so much in that first year with isaac. i hated being a parent because i hated relinquishing myself to others. in many ways, i still do not understanding parenting or war because i still struggle to understand why civilization must emerge from our collective instincts.

and yet, it is different this time, because whether or not i understand it, i am beginning to feel the worth of self-loss, and thus i can see the beauty in what sandy and i are enduring. it is neither good nor evil to have children; it is just a reflection of the mission we were given as human beings—to find meaning for life, and to die with dignity. in these stubbornly intractable nights of desperation and unease, i am rediscovering myself as the native of a world defined both by cruelty and rebirth. we were meant to mark our lives with toil and pain, because in doing so we bind ourselves to others who experience the same. it is our triumph, to say we lived and lived fully, even if it means that in the process we lose everything we once were


were they right about me

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:24 pm by Administrator

often, i go back to thinking about the people in my life who’ve judged me the most harshly. my colleague at my previous job who questioned my work ethic. a faculty member during my fellowship who criticized me for being opinionated and disrespectful. my father, who among other things has judged me to be inattentive, both to details and to my family. most days i try not to see myself through their eyes. and when i think of them, i try to find ways to persuade myself that they were either irrelevant or wrong. but at least once every month, i do wrestle with the question of whether or not they were right about me.

working in management has brought out my strengths and weaknesses to a shocking degree of patency. i find that my strengths are often harder for me to admit than my weaknesses; but increasingly i am finding myself able to openly acknowledge my gifts. i have a charisma that enables me to connect with people immediately and deeply; i can persuade people to work with me, and i bring out the best in them; and i am good at conflict management and reconciliation.

on the other hand, i’m bad at doing routine things. i’m not timely with tasks that don’t inspire me. i don’t reply to emails that i feel shouldn’t be my concern. i marginalize people who annoy me. my tendency to procrastinate really bothers me in the end, because i know that i make it hard for other people to do their jobs when i’m not being proactive.

i’m also occasionally bad at handling ambiguous situations or drawn-out complexities. the indecision of others brings out my most aggressive behaviors; i become authoritarian, vocally opinionated, and even bullyish. at times when patience and discernment are most needed, i let my strongest emotions be my guide. it’s for this reason that i compared myself to the priest Aaron; though i am capable of good judgment, i often exercise poor judgment in times of crisis.

these two qualities—my tendency to procrastinate, and my intolerance of ambiguity—are both rooted in a trait that ironically reflects my greatest strengths. i am a man of passion. at my best, my passion fuels my desire to connect with and inspire others; at my worst, i allow my negative feelings to dominate me and alienate me from others. my colleague at my last job misjudged me for being passive, when in fact i was languishing in an ambiguous, unstructured work environment that made me feel depressed and disconnected. my clinical mentor in my fellowship years misjudged me for disrespecting her when in fact i constantly felt the need to overcome her indecision with my own decisiveness. and my father judged me for being inattentive to detail when actually what i was expressing was a need to defy his controlling tendencies.

in all of these situations, i had it within me to project a different personality and to more accurately express my true needs. i failed these three people because the force of my dissatisfaction overwhelmed my ordinarily high capacity for self-awareness.

for more than a year and a half, i took zoloft, an SSRI antidepressant that helped me to tolerate a job (and career, for that matter) that so demoralized me that i could barely get up in the morning to go to work. zoloft tempered my emotional responses; it buffered me from severe lows, and it enabled me to exercise judgment unhindered by overpowering negativity. but zoloft’s equally powerful effect was to diminish my capacity for inspiration. i traded sharp demoralization for a chronic malaise. this effect, in the end, made me nearly incapable of continuing in my career or in my life as i was living it. what i realized, during that year on meds, was that i cannot eliminate my weaknesses without undermining my strengths. i suffered more on zoloft than i had ever suffered before, but it was not a suffering of acute agony. it was the suffering of losing myself.

i’ll never be able to make myself a perfect leader or a great man. the very things that would seem to point toward this potential are also the seeds for eventual failure. what i have to recognize is that my critics, as much as my admirers, point to the same fundamental thing. and that thing is a vessel. put in the right place at the right time, it can be a vessel for the goodness of God. put in any situation but the right place and time, and it will be a vessel for mixed results. i rely on God to save me from expressing the fatal flaw, so that i might have the opportunity to produce the maximal amount of blessing.

they were right about me. i do not despise them. i have grown on their foundation. they are as much a part of me as those who have loved me. it does not have to be about failure and success anymore; it can be about something bigger


stefan jackiw

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:30 am by Administrator

i look exactly like this guy:


stefan and i share a couple of things in common: we have nearly identical faces, we went to the same college, and we both grew up playing the violin. in any case, a patient said that he saw me on the internet and proceeded to introduce me to stefan jackiw on his iphone. i was stunned by the resemblance.


Chely Wright

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:39 pm by Administrator


the undiscovered country

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by Administrator

a bad week for obama. all the political catastrophes aside, Solyndra looks like a deal-breaker for moderate voters focusing on the economy as a bellwether of political reform. the formal recognition of the Taliban in Afghanistan is just a side-note in what appears to be an eventual “withdrawal with dignity”—in other words, Vietnam repeated.

but onto the real issues at hand.

Bachmann’s boisterous assertion that the HPV vaccine is killing or maiming young girls is just the latest example of her most famed character flaw—her mental retardation. i think that the most convincing argument she could give against vaccines would be a personal disclosure that she herself has received these vaccines and that they were temporally related to her own emergence as a manipulative demagogue.

Michelle’s ostentatious and politically suicidal rants against the weight of medical evidence do however illuminate a general disconnection between scientific knowledge and the public’s perception of this knowledge base. we rely so heavily on clinical and observational studies to gauge risk and benefit for much of our activities in society, but the fact of the matter is that the “spin” is often contrary to the real point of the studies. for example, a scientific study may provide the conclusion that universal HPV vaccination is cost-effective in preventing cervical cancer in females; but the “spin” might be that the CDC is trying to force all pre-pubescent girls to receive a vaccine with known risks. the spin is not only misleading; it’s also destructive to life.

the flip side of the issue is that there are also plenty of situations where medical evidence is sharply lacking on defined medical risk, but the public assumes that the lack of evidence equates to a lack of risk. we can’t forget that for decades our gasoline was loaded with lead, and we believed that there was no health risk because there was no distinct evidence proving the health risk of lead in the gas pump. i wonder how many undefined true health risks exist in our daily activities and have yet to be truly defined.

i feel this fear regarding a couple of issues in particular:

1) Internet/TV/phone use: compulsive web surfing and addictive TV viewing i believe are personally destructive not only because they encourage sedentary life (and consequent obesity) but because they involve proximity to electronic devices and high-intensity visual stimulation. i think that the jury is still out on whether cell phones are carcinogenic; but the fact is that there is preliminary evidence that is concerning, and the evidence could have massive repercussions for post-industrial society. beyond cancer risk, i think that the risks posed by chronic high-intensity visual stimulation to children remain undefined, partly because a control group is nearly impossible to identify; kids are all watching TV programming, using facebook, and gaming. my feeling is that these activities raise the risk of attention-deficit, depression, and hypertension, but we might be a decade or more away from acquiring the longitudinal evidence to prove the true psychological damage caused by daily internet/electronic media exposure.

2) Processed starches: The scientific establishment has been able to identify correlations between region/ethnicity and chronic vascular diseases; the contribution of processed starches to cardiovascular risks remains unclear. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the foods we and our children eat in America have been preserved, packaged, and chemically treated. cancer and diabetes are more prevalent than before, but it remains unclear whether this measured prevalence is a product of lead-time or survivor biases. i think the observed rise in chronic disease is real, and it has everything to do with how we’re eating. the social justice question is the next study that we have yet to really investigate through systematic research: are fast-food chains to blame for the epidemic of hyperlipidemia, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes that we are seeing in our inner cities? at what point do we accept the fact that “healthy eating” is a privilege reserved for those of sufficient means?


vulnerability, and 9/11

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:17 pm by Administrator

in his sermon yesterday, my pastor discussed the vital importance of personal vulnerability in shaping spiritual community. in the sermon, he used a TED talk by Brene Brown on this subject as his main point of reference. i listened to the talk last night, which was thankfully only 20 minutes long, and i was surprised by what she had to say.

from the way the talk was described during the sermon, i thought that Brown’s main point was that people should make an effort to be more open about their weaknesses, for the purposes of facilitating connection. in other words, people should “go out on a limb” and take personal risks if they want to truly enjoy relationships. but in her talk, Brown’s emphasis was quite different. in fact, she referred to her prior futile attempts to force personal vulnerability in order to gain community. what she discovered in her personal journey was that vulnerability is not merely a tool by which to gain intimacy; it is rather a certain presentation of oneself that is rooted in self-confidence. Brene Brown’s main point is that people who believe in their worthiness are more likely to be authentic in their self-expression—and thereby more likely to experience real connection with others.

in group situations at my church, i am generally the catalyst of intimate conversation, by virtue of the fact that i am relatively unrestrained in sharing my own struggles. i have for instance openly shared my personal struggle with pornography in a small group dominated by women. i’m able to share my weaknesses in such a manner that i elicit reciprocal responses in others. in a manner of speaking, it’s a gifting. but from another perspective, it’s really not an exceptional quality at all. i am in fact a guarded man, and my natural inclination is to doubt others and to suspect their motives. but when i look at the man i have become, i realize that i share my weaknesses because i do not feel defined by them; in fact, i see that part of the purpose of my living is to transcend these weaknesses by overcoming my shame about them. the irony of this is that when i disclose what might be perceived as embarrassing, i do not feel “vulnerable”. to the contrary, i feel powerful.

Brene Brown is right, i feel. the core of a healthy spiritual experience is a powerful personal sense of worthiness. from this life-giving core, one can confidently cross conventional social boundaries to meet others at their points of need. i see this as the core of the Christian life, as well. the experience of redemption is so profoundly gratifying as to make the believer feel unduly lucky and overwhelmingly elevated in stature and ability; it empowers him to challenge the cultural and psychological obstacles to the pursuit of God. it makes him a source of hope, in the midst of human realities that point to our ultimate demise.

as yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the very worst day of my life, i did pause in the days leading up to 9/11 to survey the journey i have taken since that time. in those early months after the incident, i was overwhelmed with almost indiscriminate rage. the news media helped to multiply that rage and focus it against faceless foes in the Middle East and South Asia. it took a year for me to recognize how much my initial feelings of grief had been unconsciously channeled into anger by cultural forces above and beyond my control. as i saw war unfold, and as i recoiled from the culture of violence that came out of our collective indignation, i began to feel betrayed. i felt betrayed by the media; i felt betrayed by my political leaders; and i felt betrayed most of all by my own violent, bloodthirsty nature. i began to feel shame about my country, and i started to examine my own paradigms and assumptions with intense skepticism.

it was 9/11 that has turned me into a post-national post-modernist. i am not a cynic any more than i used to be; but i no longer have blind faith in the superpower narrative of our world. and because i have lost a general sense of community with my countrymen, i have begun looking for a more specific and a more organic sense of community. i have begun to focus on building relationships with individuals who share my interests and my core values. i pay attention to the lexicon that people employ; i gauge their agility by the terms that they use to describe themselves and their faith. i feel health and also disease in the language we use; and i want to discover health by rooting myself in paradigms that resonate with me. for me, the world that i inherited—a world of progress, innovation, and progressive interconnection—is a false and destructive world. i have left facebook, cnn, global enterprise, and modernization behind. i have disconnected, so that i can heal.

ten years later, there is no great tower to take the place of the buildings that collapsed. i am still surprised that we have not erected something to take their place. for all of our great pride and power, we have nothing to fill the air above those charred foundations. birds fly through it; the spirits of men live in its spaces. it is perhaps fitting. our great civilization has no answer for its self-inflictions and horrors; and so it is right that we are left only with silence and space. progress collapsed; and we have not yet come up with a suitable epitaph.



Posted in Uncategorized at 5:54 pm by Administrator

i was on my way home from a meeting yesterday evening when i ran into a massive downtown logjam, which i later found out was related to a bomb threat downtown. i was ravenously hungry, so i ended up pulling over and going to a random sandwich shop to eat dinner. perhaps there was a subliminal component to the decision; i could see from my car a wide-screen television just inside the shop that was playing the season-opening NFL game.

while i wolfed down my sandwich, i was transfixed by everything going on in the game. it felt amazing to be watching football again. i remembered that in fact i didn’t watch a single game last season, owing to our disconnection of television service. i watched the first half and then i drove home; the whole way home, i found myself thinking about football. what makes a great team? who’s going to win it all this year? who should i be looking to trade on my fantasy team?

last year, i weaned myself down to just one fantasy football league, after years of having played at least 4 or 5 leagues a year. this year too, i’m just sticking with the league that i commission. i’m finding though that even one league is enough to absorb my attention, even when i’m not watching espn and i’m not watching the games. there’s something about the artificial sense of control, the drive to win, the rivalry. i constantly obsess over making the perfect team.

contrast this with my attitude about basketball. i completely tuned out of the NBA last season. even in my one fantasy basketball league, which i’ve maintained for more than a decade now, i completely checked out. the NBA doesn’t capture my attention anymore, and to be honest i’m very glad that the lockout is likely to shut down the NBA for the season. i’ve grown to loathe the NBA for a variety of reasons: the dominance of the Lakers, the generally declining quality of play, and most importantly my lack of interest in the personalities. basketball is a team sport, but the NBA strikes me as a sport of individual egos.

anyways, back to football, and dealing with my obsessions. a part of me wants to stay engaged and to really follow the NFL. i could easily sign up for direct TV and get their NFL season package; one could even argue that it’s cost-effective. but i simply won’t do it. a friend of mine recently told me that there are two ways to deal with a potentially addictive and self-destructive thing: you can set rules and participate in moderation, or you can entirely remove that thing from your life. it is because i find football—and also the fantasy football component of it—so gripping that i can’t watch the games. it takes over my life; it wears me out.

now i’ve wondered to myself if i could watch the games if i stopped doing fantasy football. in a way though, this is an even worse situation for me. without the buffer of rooting for players from other teams, i fall into the invariable rut of having to suffer the travails of the Philadelphia Eagles. i can’t change my loyalties; and yet i truly believe that there are few sports experiences more excruciating than rooting for the Eagles. they flirt with greatness, but they always find a way to fall apart due to flagrant incompetence. the incompetence affects every level of the organization. even this year, they made some seemingly high-impact moves that also magically seemed cost-saving in the long-term; but somehow they managed to ignore their worst problem on defense. it gnaws at me. it makes me so angry. i have no choice, it seems, but to turn to fantasy football.

in any case, i have resolved to commit my Sundays to bible study preparation and rest, as i did last year. that means that i am resolving not only to not watch the games but also to avoid checking the stats. it will be extraordinarily difficult, as it was last year, but it is necessary. someday, perhaps, the Eagles will win the Super Bowl, and in the aftermath i will be able to watch them play without feeling the weight of years of anguish. until then, i fast, for my sanity.


where i am

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:26 pm by Administrator

i was at a Korean thanksgiving family gathering yesterday when i suddenly and acutely became aware of how much i am reeling from life. i have been out of control, wandering, reacting, and trying in the midst of the confusion to remember what i am living for. life, for the past couple of months, has been incredibly stressful.

i remembered, as i was eating, that when the Israelites wandered or fell into ruin, they found traction by reading the Law. and it wasn’t that the Law told them how to find favor with God; rather, the Law reminded them of who they were and who their God really was, in His power and glory. i am at a point where i must do the same.

and so i remember now that, as odd and even presumptuous as it might seem to me now, i know that i am the Lion. i did not know myself or what i was capable of until God revealed it to me in relation to spiritual community; and since that revelation, i have not been the same. and so when i take on the trappings of society, when i do what other men do, i do these things not as one defined by these things but rather as one who defines the meaning and value of these things. a job is just a job, like money is just money; it is little better than clothing, and clothing exists so that we may receive one another. i struggle to remember; but in the hints of memory, i recall that the things which most frustrate me are meant to press me forward, away from convention and toward communion with the divine.

my heart longs for both security and rootedness, but the story of my life tells me that the Lion will move across the earth, as he was designed by his creator. wherever i go, i stake out my territory, and they will know me by my people. but the years will pass, and though God’s hold on my life will grow firmer, to all appearances i will be a nomad. i will engage the culture of my day; i will take on new jobs; and i will speak the languages of both the young and old. in the midst of this constant change, i must hold to constancy. we all define constancy in different ways, by our families, or our hometowns, or our interests. my constancy must be my destination. all else will take shape in light of that. more than ever before, i feel the pressing need to be homebound.

i approach the tenth anniversary of the most transformative day of my life, with something of wonder. on 9/11, i was a young man who wished to come into himself, who wished to exert something of himself—whether vengeful or just—upon his world. ten years later, i believe myself to be the man who knows his own voice quite intimately, even as he has come to recognize the sound of God’s voice. there is a difference, and i can hear it now. i concede that it is no longer my hope to be singular; rather, i wish to decrease, even as He increases, and to become a small part of something great before i am delivered from the excruciating pains of my existence.

the law is my life; my history serves the purpose of the Law. it reminds me God of your movements, your requirements, your nature; it reminds me of my craving to be within you, as a spot upon your being, as a part of your mind. i pray to you today, that you will give me not revival or restoration but rather that you will breathe your force into my heart, as Lion to her pride, as warrior to warrior, as father to child, as lover to beloved. make me remember you, the one who defeated me, that i may contend with you and be emboldened by your danger and your beauty. let me be spellbound in your presence again, that i may put this head to the ground at the reading of your Word, and remember that i am nothing if not yours