10.21.11

Why I Despise the NBA

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:15 am by Administrator

i’ve been having the worst week ever. Roselia is 3 weeks old, which is rough, but Isaac is 5.5, which is rougher. i’m losing sleep over crazy shit at work and because of heavy responsibility at church, and on top of that i’m literally losing sleep because of a crying baby. my mouth broke out in cankersores this week, and i’ve started losing my temper at the most unpredictable times. i made lunch for my son yesterday and suddenly felt frustrated when i couldn’t find an ingredient, so i threw his lunchbox across the room. today, my patient insisted i give him an injection antibiotic for sinusitis after i initially refused, so i raised my voice and advised him to find another doctor. my father is in the hospital for the 3rd time in the past year, and i haven’t even begun to deal with his rapidly declining health.

in the midst of this anger and exhaustion, it was rather notable that i had a moment of sudden happiness this afternoon, for the most trivial of reasons. the negotiations between the NBA owners and the players association broke down today, insuring that the NBA lockout will continue indefinitely.

i loathe the NBA. in particular, i loathe NBA players. anyone who knows me knows that i have hated the Los Angeles Lakers for more than twelve years, and every year that they win a championship is like a kick in the balls for me. i ascribe much of my distaste for the Lakers to my personal loathing of Kobe Bryant—a personality i find thoroughly disgusting. he oozes with narcissism and arrogance; there hasn’t been a moment in his career when i’ve found him remotely likable. the spat with Shaquille O’Neal and all the stories that came out of it only confirmed my unsavory impressions of Kobe.

in contrast to Bryant, i’ve always loved Allen Iverson. i thought of AI as Kobe’s foil: he was transparent while Kobe was aloof; he was raw while Kobe was too cool; he was flawed, while Kobe constantly pretended at perfection. Allen lacked refinement and leadership qualities, but his obvious undersocialization simply magnified his appeal. he was anything but the common man; but his sundry and gross deficiencies somehow made him an accessible superstar.

as much as i dislike Kobe Bryant, i must grudgingly admit that he personifies some of the few things i respect about a professional baller. he’s stuck with one team; he’s dedicated himself to winning; and, Colorado excepted, he’s limited his off-court controversies. the new generation of NBA stars has all of Kobe’s smug arrogance and none of his virtues. they pride themselves on detachment and mobility, at the drop of a dime. they reject loyalty as a mere sentimentality; they call themselves “businessmen”, even while they create a circus out of their work. “The Decision” did not strike me as an exception; it struck me as the calling card of a newer and more ruthless version of the NBA. every star wants bragging rights, so he conspires behind the scenes to build his own dream team any which way he can. to me, there are no accessible stars anymore. they’re here today and gone tomorrow, as greedy and self-absorbed as a “businessman” could possibly be.

there are differences between the NBA and its fraternal counterparts in American sports, differences which make the excesses of the basketball stars more egregious. for one thing, an NBA superstar is more of an individual difference-maker than his counterparts in football or baseball. when a “franchise” player leaves his NBA franchise, it can cripple a team for years; look at Cleveland in the wake of James. in contrast, the NFL draft and the MLB farm system limit the damage inflicted by any single personnel loss. the fickle and ultimately fatiguing Brett Favre deserted the Packers and was immediately succeeded by a vastly superior quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. in the NFL, no team really misses a guy who leaves just for money; he’s replaceable and possibly for better value.

for another thing, NBA players sport their gangster culture. it’s sickening. the tattoos, the entourage, and the street-ball mentality are all blatant overcompensations. the thuggishness disconnects the players from the fans, and it’s the ultimate turn-off when it underlies the “better than thou” demeanor of the 22 year-old nouveaux riche. Lebron James for instance decried his detractors after “The Decision” by making fun of commoners who had to go back to their crappy day jobs. it’s classism, with an ugly twist. i don’t see Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees doing that. it’s not a skin color thing; it’s a cultural thing. you don’t get to the NFL by doing everything on your own; but you can definitely make it to the NBA by being a very talented asshole.

and lastly, it’s pretty clear that working hard is pretty optional in the NBA. the 82-game season is nauseatingly long, especially for fans who have to be subjected to perenially mediocre teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Washington Wizards. the level of play is atrocious; but worse, the palpable lack of motivation on the court, particularly in the late-season, is simply disgusting. in the NFL, a single lackluster performance is more than enough reason not only for a benching but quite probably a cut as well. in the MLB, if you’re dragging down your part of the batting order, you’re most likely going triple-A sooner or later. but in the NBA, the guaranteed contracts mean guaranteed dead weight on the roster, and this creates a culture of mediocrity that ultimately hurts the fans. look at Jerome James; look at Juwan Howard after his $119 million; look at Rashard Lewis after his jackpot. these guys suck. and they single-handedly made their teams suck, because once signed they couldn’t be jettisoned.

the NBA is a bad product, and NBA players are disgusting specimens of professional athletes, plain and simple. the reward for their buffoonery is one lucrative season after another, so it only makes sense that a lock-out is the only real punishment that they can reap from their arrogance and greed. it is very unfortunate to me that small business owners have to suffer for a shortened or non-existent season, but ultimately they only have the players to blame—the players, who can’t seem to recognize that the 57% BRI share was a luxury, not an entitlement. the players are “businessmen”, and they’re going to suffer now for being really bad businessmen. and the fans will like them less, because true pro athletes don’t look at what they do as mere business; the players they love seek to make the game greater.

let these fools sit out the season. and when the doors open next year, let them play to empty stadiums. the NBA is no one’s passion anymore. it’s just a deal gone wrong, for everyone involved.

10.19.11

and then there’s part 2…

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:43 am by Administrator

as long as i’ve known God, He allows me to say something, just so i can see shortly thereafter how wrong i am.

my small group this evening practiced an “affirmation” activity, in which we created a forum within which people could voluntarily offer affirmation to another person in the group. the outpouring of genuine, heartfelt, and powerful affirmation was unexpected and unexpectedly transformational. people poured themselves into it. it didn’t matter whether they were relatively new to the community or without particularly intimate friendships within the group. everyone participated, and there was a palpable emotional crescendo as people gave themselves over to the process of building up one another. ordinarily unemotional people were visibly stirred.

the most surprising aspect of the activity was that the affirmation being shared between two people was equally powerful for others witnessing the interaction. one member shared that seeing people affirm one another in front of him almost jarringly reminded him of how much the people in our small group are loved by God; it made him wonder how he could have ever failed to recognize this before. the affirmation activity was extraordinarily powerful. it was if God had taken our open hearts and drawn from them the specific and beautiful elements that He wanted to put on display, for all of us to enjoy. God was there; He so thoroughly enjoyed our interaction that His presence was powerfully manifest. i realized, as we were reaching one another, that God was guiding us to see the things in one another that He desired for us to see and to love.

things i wrote in the prior entry are partly true, but i have been tired, angry, lacking sleep, and out of control. as usual when i’m in this state of mind, i lose the forest for the trees. yes, there are those relationships which demand so much from me; but for every relationship that discourages me, God provides a person to rescue me, to bring life into my life, and to make me strong. i love the social organism precisely because i love people—because i do sense the power that we are intended to have for one another, as we struggle toward eternity. it cheapens my journey for me to say that i have learned not to give myself in friendships; in fact, the reality is quite the opposite. i have become full by opening my life to others, and i no longer feel the desperation of loneliness and alienation that i once did simply because i have been made complete in the experience of the body of Christ.

for the bad days, there are the good days, and in their merging is a picture of life truly experienced. i am not alone. i live in the thrall of miraculous moments like this, when i’m taken to the mountainside to regard the beauty of what God has done with the human spirit. we were made for one another; we were made for friendship, for marriage, for death and for the ultimate union with one another that death enables. we were made to give ourselves wholly to one another, as those who are uniquely known and loved, as those whose lives are gifts, incalculably precious to the body

10.17.11

my community, my role, and my art

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:31 pm by Administrator

if there are three aspects of my identity that i must repeatedly reflect on in order to experience renewal, it lies in these three things: my community, my role, and my art.

i’ve written a lot about how God has changed my mind about community; where communal identity was once theoretical for me, i now view it as essential. but that doesn’t mean that i understand what community should look or feel like. i find that i enjoy facilitating breakthrough and connecting people to one another to accomplish things; but i have a hard time identifying a straightforward personal pleasure in the experience of community. while leadership is interesting for me, i wonder if i would enjoy community apart from enjoying my role within it. and i think this is because, when it comes down to it, i enjoy the social organism more than i enjoy people.

i see this at work in my doctor-patient interactions. about 5% of the complaints that my patients bring to me are actually complaints that i would bring to my own doctor. this partly stems from my own command of medical knowledge; but i think this discrepancy largely follows from difference in our expectations of life and health. when i get sick, i don’t assume there’s any easy way out of it; i suffer as much as the next guy, but i don’t expect anyone to fix the problem for me; and i see some worth in persevering without asking for attention. i was raised to look at dependency on others as not only a weakness but also an evil. so it is ironic that my parents encouraged me toward a profession in which 75% of my practice is dominated by hypochondriacs. that being said, when i think about the service i’m providing on a macro level, i feel that the work is worthwhile, because i recognize that there is a strong need for health providers who will, in a non-judgmental and generous manner, do the work that no one else wants to do.

i’m built to empathize, and at the same time i’m allergic to dependency. the mix of these qualities makes me very conflicted with regard to people in need. and because the vast majority of my 1 on 1 interactions during my week are derived from the other person’s need of me—whether in friendship, ministry, or work—i feel that i’m constantly evaluating and reevaluating my relationships. this is not necessarily a bad thing; i intuitively feel the need to see growth and change in others, even as i see it in myself. but relationships require energy from me. it’s not natural for me to maintain a consistent circle of friends.

so i find this difficult element at work. though i like being in community because i feel the need to be used and to be useful, i feel less and less invested in specific friendships. i used to crave “best friendship”; i used to crave a “band of brothers”. i think to a large degree this social need has been satisfied in my marriage. but i think also that my role in community has affected me as a social being as well; i have come to view many of my relationships as work, and perhaps for this reason i “enjoy” them less. this is probably a truism for many men in our culture, who as a result of their socialization are cast into roles that are unpleasant, unfulfilling, or even paradoxically alienating. if we were all called to minister to happy, like-minded, inspiring people, perhaps church would be natural or even fun. but it is neither natural nor fun for me, despite how important i consider it to be.

and thus, i come to my art. for many years, art was my refuge from a life i hated. one can still see in my writing a strong undercurrent of the self-loathing and general cynicism that strongly characterized my worldview in my late 20s. having emerged from my schooling so thoroughly unhappy with my life and with the world in general, i used my art to express and to dignify my anger. my art allowed me to critique the value systems that i had come to find disagreeable.

with time, i have come to understand that my religion is a core element of my art, and i’m beginning to see how so much of my frustration in life is properly explained in the biblical narrative. it doesn’t give me any added measure of peace with my hardened sentiments; but it gives me a means of expressing them in a manner that is not necessarily anti-social. yes, my inclination is to break down and destroy what i have lost faith in; but increasingly, my lexicon is less focused on the world i’m breaking free from and more focused on the world that i hope God is building. i find elements of positivity where there was once nothing but rage. i find myself believing in my transformation. art, in its insistence on discourse, subjectifies its subject; it enables me to accept myself as the work in evolution.

am i happy? i used to ask myself this question five years ago, because the answer begged for the question to be asked. but now, happiness strikes me as a work of a kind. happiness reflects expectation; expectation reflects identity; and identity is the endeavor upon which i cast my reflection and my desires. as much as i bear with others, i must bear with myself—the one who is most difficult to live with, the one who most punishes me. i remind myself that i am lucky to be alive, desperately needy of grace, and ultimately meaningless apart from the meaning i am accorded. i look upon my self with neither skepticism nor shame but rather with hope.

and thus, i am not two points in space but rather the invisible line going through them. i am not the object but the idea. happiness, like relationship, is not so much the thing i can define as much as the sign of something greater, the thing to be imagined. and life—i’d like to think of it as the great magnet pulling us through our inevitable confusion to a certain end

10.15.11

The Rite, NBA Lockout, Iran, Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:06 am by Administrator

The Rite—which i got through netflix this week—was so bad that i stopped watching it 2/3 of the way through and mailed it in. i love scary movies. i can’t remember the last time i watched a horror movie that was actually scary. “Paranormal Activity” was such a damn tease. the other day, i saw “Silence of the Lambs” again at someone’s house and found myself reminiscing about the old days… really, there hasn’t been a good horror movie in a decade.

and netflix/quickflix/whatever the hell it is. for a while i thought these guys were crazy for doubling their subscription costs. but why shouldn’t they? in fact they have every right and reason to keep raising the cost until people defect. if people think netflix is so evil, then quit it.

nba lockout—i like it. i’ve been reading the stories, and i can understand that the numbers are voodoo and the rhetoric is demonizing. david stern is an asshole. but that being said, the players have been spoiled under the old agreement, and if they have to sit out a season, i hope they suffer for it. the nba, with its poor quality of play, its ridiculously stupid players, and its thuggish culture, is simply a nauseating sport now. if it were disbanded, i would be happy about it. i can’t remember the last time i watched an nba game with any personal interest. the Lakers’ recent run of success probably has something to do with this.

and on to my final rant. i’m sick of Iran. i’m sick of the news that it generates; i’m sick of hearing about what Ahmadinejad said; i’m sick of all stories having to do with the terrorism it sponsors and the evil it does. we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq—both of which i never supported and which i continue to be appalled by—when the single nation we had every reason to invade for the last 30 years is remarkably the only one currently untouched by the U.S. and by “Arab Spring”. Iran is the only country that held our embassy hostage for a year, attempted a high-profile political assassination on our soil, and has consistently funded Hezbollah for decades. they’re still stirring up trouble for Israel, while destabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama throws missiles and planes at every other Middle Eastern nation; meanwhile, he wants to “talk” with Iran, and even now he feels “unsettled” with Iran. i’m incredulous. just incredulous. if the White House wants to avoid being embarrassed by Iran, then just stop issuing statements about them. for Obama to issue a statement berating Iran is just ridiculous. shut up and return to your inconsistent, impotent, futile foreign policy.

Occupy Wall Street—I like it a lot. i hope that they shut down NY trading for a week or more. just shut it down. we could live without stocks. we could live without imagined financial property. it might more than fun if we can really say how much we despise the society we have built, so that we can stop looking gutless and manipulated to our children. to me, the protests are about something visceral, and i want to see it intensify and spread. anger, however aimless in the beginning, is a good start for a generation that previously only had apathy to express toward its corrupt world

10.11.11

what’s the point

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:29 pm by Administrator

after having invested myself very heavily in my church community this past fifteen months, and after having recently heard a fairly intense 4-part sermon series on the point of building spiritual community, i am now returning to the question of all questions. what’s the point, when it comes to church?

at the close of a fairly remarkable small group meeting on Sunday (the one i referred to in the prior entry), i argued that the fruit of church is not merely a “synthetic” quality; it must be an “emergent” quality. in other words, what we reap in goodness is out of proportion to what we invest of ourselves. this property is the “God property”; when we gather in His name, we experience HIM.

but in reality, i do so struggle to understand the point of it. to me, people come to Sunday church to round out their lives. membership at a church is about as meaningful as belonging to a local sporting club. what people care about at church is the friendships they develop within it; and these relationships are fully portable, meaning one can take these friendships with them even as they swap out one church affiliation for another. Facebook, like everything else about this society, is about community on the simplest (if not the most narcissistic) terms. we live in a society where spiritual community is not how we define ourselves; church is simply one aspect of the complex and variegated personal identity.

and this is frustrating for people who try to build church that functions as something more than a congregation of transients. but what do they have to offer that can compel people to view their church in more “permanent” terms? in historic societies, the church was socially necessary. it served as a financial safety net; it served as a school; it served as a political advocate for those without a voice. it served for many as the single most important social institution, because it symbolized both morality and survival. generally speaking, in the rich nations of the world, the church is now totally irrelevant in these terms. people don’t go to church for a meal they otherwise couldn’t afford, or for a handout to make it through the week; they go to church to be entertained.

i want to believe differently, but a part of me really does not believe that church as we have known it—the edifice, the Sunday ritual, the repository of offerings and tithes—can survive in the United States of the 21st century. it is socially meaningless. there are other more immediate and more immediately meaningful methods of fellowship and social networking. increasingly, the Sunday church is morphing into a symbolic refuge from the mechanistic every day, but even in this, i would argue that it is being replaced by an electronic universe of counter-discourse. Redeemer church in New York City, for instance, a beacon for the Generation X citizen struggling with post-modern Christianity, is for most of its consumers a collection of podcasts and web forums. populating its overcrowded auditorium is largely unnecessary for its essential experience.

this is frustrating to me. and at the same time, i can understand. i put 10% of my income into the offering bag every month, i put hours of my time into writing bible studies and planning for small groups, and what i “get out of it” is nothing i would consider essential to my living, practically speaking. i’ve made some friends. i feel useful. but i don’t need church to socialize, nor do i need it to feed my family. the most interesting people i know and enjoy talking with are my wife’s graduate school friends, most of whom despise my religion. when it comes right down to it, i can’t figure out “what the point is” when it comes to church.

i realize now that if God hadn’t made me destitute in life, humbled to my knees, crushed and without a job, and absolutely needy for something that i have been unable to find anywhere else in the world, then i would be the same occasional churchgoer that i was when i was 30. i would go where the teaching was interesting; i would shortchange on tithes; and i would skip church when there was a more enjoyable way to spend a sunny Sunday morning. the fact is that i don’t know what the point of Sunday church is; but the bigger problem is that i don’t know what the point of my entire life is unless i have the thing that Sunday church is supposed to offer. i give myself to church because i am empty in life; i give myself to church because I crave the “God property”. if life is only about on-line networking and one-line status updates, then kill me now. this is fake life. and i realize i may not ever find the life i’ve always wanted; but i’m going to die trying.

i need others to believe in this dire necessity of church with me. but for me, what this means is that others must have an analogous journey in life that has similarly crushed them and left them empty. i find this to be the exception rather than the rule; most all the people in my church that i have gotten to know really could live without our church and probably without Sunday church in general. i’m looking for people who really are looking for a social safety net, advocacy, and a means for survival, just like the churchgoers from 150 years ago. but they’re harder to find now, because they don’t realize their own needs for church, and because this society has been so good to them in so many superficial ways.

today, i feel at a loss. i don’t know where this Sunday small group is going; i don’t know its destination, and i don’t know if intimacy or growing closer together will really mean anything in the end. and this is because the “God property” is as mysterious and unpredictable as God Himself. He places His lampstand where it pleases Him; He lets generations die in ignorance; He allows churches to fail and to be forgotten. for me, the idea that He would pass me over is inconceivably painful; and it makes me so full of hostility for my generation, which is sick and without a shepherd and so disdainful of church. i feel weighted down by their consumerism and narcissism; i feel that they are depriving me of the experience of God. and yet, i recognize that i am just as much a product of this futile culture as they are. for better or worse, i have to wait until a brother comes to me with the desperate and strange idea that he actually needs me—and the church—simply to survive.

i would intercede for my church today, but all that comes out of my mind and my heart is frustration and anger. what is the point, for us? you should spit us out, the American Evangelical nation, and you should leave us for dead. we are a corrupt, cruel, and self-interested lot, and we build community on the basis of our self-righteous self-concept. the idea that we need you to survive is lost on us. this is our curse; this is our tragedy; this is the beginning of our end

10.10.11

Farewell

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:40 am by Administrator

“Farewell” is perhaps the very best spy movie i’ve ever seen. taut and terse throughout, it is a certain version of a remarkable tale that seeks to embellish little, while laying out enough details to hint at an authentic arc. as with any biopic, one portrays a man most compellingly when he hints at the mind of the man; as an art teacher once told me, a face is best drawn not by lines but rather through shadows.

it is the same, i think, with God. we are well-served through the biblical account. it is a story which offers neither the face nor the location of God, but by capturing His imprint on the lives of men, it is a story which suggests more than enough to wonder at both.

our sunday morning small group this morning crossed a point of no return. a man i thought i knew became a priest before our assembly; and a woman of hidden indignation suddenly revealed herself as a prophetess. we became known to one another in a manner i could not have imagined; and once apparent, we became to one another a testament to a divine presence very much with us, though unannounced. a few of us wept, really wept, for the power of the moment; and for me, it was church—a state of community that i’d thought to dream of only in visions. it suffices to say that in that moment i felt myself to be a vessel among vessels, and the thing coursing through us was vital, impassioned, and utterly unpredictable in its power. there was an instantaneous binding up of troubles, and beyond that there was clarity. this sort of clarity has no equal in sensation. healing and reconciliation transpire so that the searching for God can be consummated in this form of clarity. for hours, i thought i was on a cloud. i feared that the passage of hours would leave me stranded in life as i had formerly pictured it.

it was a hinting, i take it. and by the measure of my reaction, i recognized that this is what i live for. not the painting preconceived; not the logic of destinations or destinies. no, the life of Christ laughs at such things. i live for this—your face, oh God, hinted at by the presence of miracles, by the whispers of angels, and by the stories passed down by those who have loved you. all the world takes shape around the uncountable details of everything i find beautiful and good, because the sum of these sensations, and the soul at their center, is you

10.02.11

Eagles

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:45 pm by Administrator

mother fucking idiot ass run the ball down my throat why don’t you dumbfuck eagles. i hate this shit-eating team