12.30.11

the talent

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:56 am by Administrator

a month ago, the guy coordinating the christmas worship service at my church got wind that i once played the violin and asked me if i’d be willing to perform for the holiday worship service. i agreed to do it, and the service seemed to play out fairly well. after the worship service, a lot of people approached me because they were surprised that i not only played the violin but appeared to play it quite well. they encouraged me to do it more often; a couple people even implied that it was my obligation to share that hidden talent with the community.

it’s ironic to me, because when i was much younger, the only thing a lot of people knew about me at church was that i played the violin. i played the violin for weddings, for funerals, for church services, for offertories, for revival meetings, and for bible study gatherings. i didn’t complain about it because i thought of it as integral to my identity; it was what i did. but after this past christmas service, i realized that playing the violin is no longer integral to what i am. the idea that i could choose to play the violin more frequently, particularly at church, became to me a question of identity. and the answer i came to was interesting to me—and perhaps reflective of something i have learned. and i’ll come back to that answer in a moment.

i’m ending this calendar year on a down note. i’m thoroughly burned out. it has been an exhausting year for me at church, and for whatever reason, i’m not ending the year with a real sense of accomplishment. at work, despite the fact that much was accomplished, i’m embroiled in a political situation centered on money—specifically money that i thought i had secured as incentive payout for my doctors. now, i’m hearing indirectly that other people, for various reasons, are raising questions as to how the money is being appropriated. the situation and its context are so anger-provoking to me that i’m considering quitting my job if the result of these questions is the retraction of the payout. it’s more than my credibility at stake; it’s the principles i’ve been fighting for. that payout was supposed to be the culmination of a year’s worth of hard battles in advocating for my providers. i’m frustrated enough now that i can draw the line in the sand. and i’m not happy enough in life or in general simply to do what it takes to keep my job. but this is something i’ve already proven, and that fundamental inability to compromise is simply nothing new.

what troubles me more however is the fact that i’m still failing to enjoy the single thing that should be core to a doctor’s profession—the care of patients. as time goes on, i’m enjoying the patient care less and less. it’s patients trying to wheedle Activus out of me—a prescription cough syrup that can be distilled into pure codeine. it’s patients addicted to prescription painkillers trying to coddle me in order to get another 30 tablets of dilaudid. it’s people with attitude threatening to shoot me; it’s mentally ill patients trying to turn me into a spouse or a father figure. on a good day, i am tolerant; on my bad days, i hate them.

and yet, i have talent. my patients have no idea what sort of inner turmoil they cause me; they have no clue how much anger and grief i take home because of them. i come across to them as the consummate doctor, the guy who has the extra five minutes, the person who would never judge them. i cure their maladies; i help them through difficulties; i assume the role of counselor when needed. i have talent as a doctor that is manifest in their praise and loyalty. but it is not a talent that defines me any longer.

when my last patient of the day today tried to force me into prescribing him promethazine-codeine, i was strangely reminded of what i went through recently after the christmas service. they would make me a violinist, like my patients would make me their doctor. i can do these things, but i do not enjoy these things—and i never have. it has been a part of my process to recognize that God has given me a very deep and focused sense of what He wants from me, and this is manifest in what kinds of service give me joy. i can go weeks in clinic, seeing dozens of patients turn the corner and get well, but i won’t reap from those experiences half the joy that i reap from leading a group discussion that results in emotional healing. i can play a huge gig with the violin, but it wouldn’t match the pleasure i get from delivering a public speech. doctoring and playing the violin—these are for me proficiencies but they are not pleasures. God gave me a very specific pleasure in connecting with people at the level of their emotions by speaking to their realities. in this, i express not only a talent but a real gift.

here at the end of 2011, i’m realizing the difference between ability and calling. i’m done with the violin, and very soon i’ll be done with doctoring as well. i’m ready to move on, at any time; and what i want to remember this new year is that i’m afraid of no man, i fear only the God whose vision for my life is utterly irresistible. into His hands, i place myself.

to God, i have this resolution: have me. do not pass over my life, as unfaithful as i am, as testy as i prove to be. do as you have commanded; make me the lion for your people

12.28.11

get… it… out…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 am by Administrator

i need to get it out, but it’s been hard this year. the reflection doesn’t come naturally. i’ll spend days, even weeks, just absorbed in getting things done. and then, seemingly in the flow of it all, i’ll think or say something completely incongruous with the mission i thought God gave me, and it’s then that i’ll realize that something is not right. contending with myself to get it right—that used to come easily to me, but not now.

the problem, perhaps, is that i’m no longer unhappy. i used to experience unhappiness of that sharp, biting, irascible kind. it would stop me in my tracks; it would gird me more strongly in my core values; it would force me to question my motivations and measure my actions. unhappiness was a result of my fundamental misalignment with my family, my friends, my employers. i don’t have that sort of plaguing alienation nowadays. i find myself in the extremely unusual situation of being remarkably well-adapted to and productive in my present roles. in nearly every social situation i’m involved in, i am a leader. even when i’m not actively managing, guiding, or mentoring someone, i feel it nonetheless; i am the leader.

but neither am i “happy”, in the sense of visceral pleasure or resonance. i feel the satisfaction of fulfilling my roles, and it’s a real satisfaction. but the thing i had five years ago was a sense of my solitude as a refuge from the world; i enjoyed being alone, and related to this, i savored personal communion with God, as a means to restoration and self-reinvention. i am now so absorbed in my roles that i feel defined by them, which strikes me as an ambivalent thing. on the one hand, i feel that it is in my design to pleasure in being useful and effective; on the other hand, i know now that being totally absorbed in these roles does rob me of the principal source of my strength—personal reflection, made complete in the experience of revelation.

i have been relying on surrogates for revelation in order to sustain my inner energies. but i’ve replaced revelation with inspiration. it’s easy to be inspired; inspiration oftentimes only requires stimulation or diversion. but if i go long enough without a revelatory experience, i begin to lose that visceral sense of my own grinding nuts and bolts; i stop appreciating the process by which i’m changing and growing. without that level of self-awareness, i let the seeming importance and purpose of my roles govern the trajectory of my life, and i forget that i was not principally created for a role but rather for a journey. my journey, my transformation—these are my worship. i am given roles so that i may journey, and not vice versa.

it is no surprise that my sources of cheap inspiration have left me ultimately unsatisfied. i’ve found myself returning to vague fantasies of success, or sexual conquest, or creative achievement. i’ve sought outlets for my restless energies, and instead i’ve suffered from a profound lack of real rest. my imagination feels barren and dry; i engage in conversation like one suspended in mid-thought, or one working his way out of slumber. in a real sense, i’ve lost my edge. i’ve stopped bringing real energy and ambition into what i’m doing. and while i haven’t yet stopped being “effective” in my roles—effectiveness being judged in the most concrete of manners—i have stopped fulfilling the vision inherent to those roles.

get it out. deep down, it is about idolatry. as soon as i begin to realize my influence, my nature sees a certain self-importance reflected in that influence. and when i stop agitating against that self-idolatry, it begins to settle into my bones, forming my inner self. i start to become a man who thinks himself worthy of greater responsibility, of greater significance. i start to forget where my journey began—as one so desperate to escape himself and to be discovered by God that he wished for death. indeed, i find it so critically necessary at this juncture to both humiliate myself and to erect an altar to God. what is my life if not this journey, by which a broken and despicable man like me was given, by supreme grace, the pleasure of being a vessel of God’s love to others? and should my life ever become mundane or mechanical, just an iterative exercise in the bearing of “fruit”, then i would lose the life worth living.

today, i erect an altar of words. i tell you, God, in the best way i can that i am still the man of violent tempers and cruelty, defined by lust, betrayal, and utter arrogance. you took away my trappings of beauty; i lost my career, i lost self-respect, and i loathed myself for the reflection i saw most truly. i would not love me; and thus i cannot understand you, who loves me and thinks to preserve me. when i lift a hand to do something, i wish to lift it in your name. when i open my mouth to say something, i wish to say it for you. let me be paralyzed and mute but for the simple things you would have me do. i am a fool fit for rags, and my ambition is to be finished with myself and to be found in you, in the most intimate and spiritual of ways. i will die and my name will be forgotten, as it should, but by your strange grace, i will be accorded a true name in a place where you will be glorified, as you have always deserved. i need not be there; but because you promise it to me, there is no other home for me. i love you God, as a broken beggar with nothing to lose, as a man who owes you for the breath i breathe and the dignity that i can carry in the eyes of others. don’t give up on me. don’t leave me to destroy myself, with my own feelings and thoughts. live in me, and have my life. my altar is my words; my offering is my skin and bones; my hope is that it pleases you and always will. let fragrance come from my life. draw it from me, all of it. get it out of me

12.21.11

the news, iraq, and the silent youth

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:54 pm by Administrator

if you’d told me ten years ago that our “news” would eventually be driven by twitter and youtube, i would’ve laughed in your face. there’s a difference, after all, between true journalism and the entertainment media. but we’re now faced with an interesting phenomenon: no one wants the full, fleshed-out story anymore. the news is the rumor; the key to success is the early tip-off; the assumption is that all news, no matter what the source, is necessarily a risk. the guys in finance and in politics have to be on the cutting edge; like them, the rest of us intuitively need to be part of the viral news stream.

we are increasingly connected to the source. we are increasingly conduits of data. the spin is the news; and bias is the necessary window dressing for everything. the court of public opinion, however misdirected, is both immediate and real, and the costs of being misjudged or villified now exceed what is containable. we have, it appears, truly created civil society—but in the most spectacularly threatening manner possible. even war can be justified and triggered by stray words, like those of an opportunistic defector who lied for the sake of personal revenge.

which reminds me of the Iraq War, and how it began. the last american troops have departed from Iraq, leaving a country that is in political shambles. the government has a warrant out for its own vice-president. the Shi’ite president is considering a purge to eliminate his Sunni opposition in the “bipartisan” government. the infrastructure of the nation continues to rest upon rich, influential, and violent tribal leaders, all of whom have long memories and axes to grind. violence and murder continue to plague the country, relentlessly.

listening to stories from the soldiers and citizens involved in the Iraq War has only reaffirmed my deeply tragic sense of the war. we invaded the country under false premises; we made no apology in retrospect for the incredible indignity of the unjustified war. America precipitated the deaths of half a million Iraqis over the course of the past decade. brides and bridegrooms were killed en route to their weddings; children were incinerated in mortar attacks; stray bullets destroyed families; and disorder precipitated years of looting and ruin which the country still has not recovered from. our strategists heralded the beginnings of liberal democracy; but the reality on the ground continues to be havoc and murder. and now we leave, curiously ambivalent, wishing that history will not judge us unkindly, while our media spews statistics and projections to cover our wounds. but history does not matter. the souls of a massacred generation have already judged us, and they have found the principles of our nationhood to be a cruel hypocrisy.

i feel shame, as i see what we have left behind. i feel shame for what we have done since 9/11, and it is a shame that i will carry for the rest of my life.

in the midst of this experience, i wonder why it is that there is not more anger and indignation in our political realm about what we have become. our focus, as it was in the last election, is on our economy. we bicker and battle about tax breaks and stimulus plans, as if the sole preoccupation of our government is the bottom line. there isn’t even a moment for pause, a moment for reflection, here at the conclusion of this 9-year war, for remorse or for mourning. young men are coming back with mental instability and bad dreams, and we call it the usual effects of war. we fail to connect to one another at the level of conscience. we fail to see ourselves for our failure and for our need to repent, learn, and change.

i fear for the youth of this society. they take it in—recession, war, chaos, and grief—in soundbytes and captions. they’ve learned to look at the specter of drone murder as a matter of daily routine; and they’ve come to believe that animalistic violence is a normal proceeding in their world. and thus, in response, they say nothing. a few trickle into an Occupy protest, to declaim capitalism. most are out for themselves, to find a job, to navigate a complex and changing post-bubble economic infrastructure. their voice of conscience is unchallenged and perhaps even stifled; they have been so thoroughly inculcated in the ruthless tactics of their elders that they have no room any longer for meaningful ideals, for fundamental questions. i fear for them, because they have no soul to speak of. and in twenty years, i will not only fear for them but fear them, because they are destined to be even more cruel than their predecessors.

for me, remembering what i am a part of—and being able to critique it—is essential to deconstructing over and over the identity that i am often too willing to assume. it is an identity of total entitlement; it is an identity which permits me to ignore the injustices and the cruelty that my kind imposes on the rest of the world. to be one of a new people, one must constantly cut ties with the tribe to which one might gravitate to otherwise. i am trying to be a man of conscience. i am trying to remember that i’m one human among many, and i am appalled by the death and the suffering of the world. once upon a time, i blamed God for these things. now, i find that i am a part of it, and it is all i can do to escape what i am, in the quest for an identity that has no home in the world of decay

12.20.11

Nerd Chills

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:07 am by Administrator

so, artosis was going on about how the GSL Blizzard Cup Finals in December 2011 was the very greatest Starcraft series he has ever witnessed or commentated in his 14-year Starcraft career. he went as far as to suggest that this might be one of the greatest sporting events of all time.

i’m not sure i’d advance to that level of hyperbole, but it was a fairly amazing series to watch. if you want to see e-sports gaming at its best, here’s the link to game 7, between MVP_DRG and Slayers_MMA. talk about “nerd chills”; this was an eerily climactic series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1L55zFnZwU

12.19.11

public, private, me

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:02 pm by Administrator

for these past few months, i’ve seen the public me thrive. there have been victories, both small and great, that i’ve experienced at work, in church, and within my social circle. as exhausting as this season has been, it’s been absorbing in all the good ways as well.

there is, on the other hand, the loss of my private self. i felt it acutely in the beginning, and i still feel it today. when i’m putting in 55 hours at work and 15 hours a week in church-related activity, there’s little time left for personal reflection, especially when my time at home is largely devoted to one of the two kids. i’ve stopped reading, and i’ve also stopped blogging. i’ve noticed other strange things too. i’m on a one-disc netflix plan, and i’m struggling to get through a disc a month. this is unusual for me, because generally i tear through movies, driven as i am for inspiration. it’s not uncommon for me to feel bored or disengaged within the first 5-10 minutes of starting a movie; i just don’t want to commit the energy and time to the experience. i find myself in a situation nowadays where i don’t have television, i don’t have time to go out, and i don’t even want to watch dvd’s at home.

i get glum as i approach the holidays, for a variety of reasons, but my reactions are stifled and redirected this year. my private self is obscure to me. over the past few weeks, i’ve had unoccupied moments at home when i could have gotten my thoughts down on paper or talked them out with my wife or with my friends. but instead of “getting clean”, i chose to fill those moments with busy work—cleaning the house, rearranging furniture, etc. it’s as if i’ve created this internal inertia out of business, and now i’m afraid to be quiet with myself. even in moments of prayer, i cannot shake the dominance of my restless, overactive, public self. i find myself distracted by planning, anticipating, and doing things.

yesterday, there was a moment at church for me during the sunday morning bible study when i found myself falling internally. i think it was triggered by something that someone said, but i cannot recall who said it or what it was. but i felt the falling. i felt myself reaching out and grabbing hold of many things, but as i took hold of these things, they lost substance. later at night, when i found myself reading an on-line story about a newly discovered black hole, i felt myself in that vacuum of mass and light, caving inwards. i realized again that i do not understand why i have constructed my life in these terms, when i live in a universe that is filled with innumerable oddities that defy structure and reason.

i remembered how i was when i lost my job. i was sitting by the patio door, looking at the city view, and contemplating how little i had. it was true then, as it is true now; i fill my life with ideas of myself, but the single thing i can count on is that i have nothing of real meaning to me outside of divine purpose—the narrative of God.

i need the private me. as much as i preach to myself the importance of action and belonging, i recognize that God implanted in this human design a need for mutual interaction between the individual and His community. conscience is not a communal phenomenon; it is fundamentally an individual experience, meant to inform and contain the whole. dreams too are not derived from community; they begin with the individual and are embraced by his community. i can give only in relation to how much life i contain within me. i have recognized the fallacy of my prior self-centered paradigm, which prioritized personal morality over the health of the body. but it would be foolish of me to deny that there is something of God’s will that i was meant to experience alone and in personal communion with Him. this element is not the apex of the design for humanity; but it is foundational.

we bring to church our individual experience of Christ. it is where the journey begins for all of us. what i need to remember this Christmas is that the story of the Gospel is crucially simple. Christ came to meet me and to show me the way to life. all ideas of peoplehood, church, and redeemed nationhood flow from this individual outreach of mercy and healing. i want to remember where my journey began, there in that solitary place where i, a small child afraid of my future, told God that i believed in the truth of His gift to me. i want to abide in that simplicity, and i want to rebuild my whole life around that simplicity. there are so many falsehoods and pains that i have accumulated even in the midst of my trajectory toward redemption, and i want to let these go and remember who it is that i chose to follow. that man is Christ, and that life i want is the one that He gives. that is my ambition in life, and that is all

12.09.11

The Chris Paul Trade “Debacle”

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:47 pm by Administrator

it seems that the NBA is just full of entertaining news this preseason. on the heels of the newly approved CBA, David Stern in a controversial move overruled and rejected a mutually approved trade between the Hornets and Lakers that would have been nothing less than a “coup” (according to Rotoworld writers) for the Lakers. the deal would have garnered Chris Paul at the price of Odom and Gasol, while unloading $40 million from the Laker payroll over the coming years.

the reaction of NBA execs and sportswriters around the country has been roundly critical of David Stern, who has been depicted as dictatorial in this matter, particularly in the context of his recent heavy-handed dealings with the players’ union over the last six months. Danny Granger has threatened to rename himself “Stern’s BIT#H”, and most people speaking publicly on the rejected deal are calling this a case of a corrupt commissioner arbitrarily overturning a “fair” deal.

let’s get the facts straight. we’re calling this a “fair” deal only because we don’t expect the Hornets to get anything better for Paul. and we don’t expect the Hornets to get anything better for Paul because New Orleans can’t attract attention from big talent. and New Orleans can’t attract big talent because they’re league-owned and don’t have the cash to pay players. it’s a circular process of subjugation which perpetuates a situation desperate enough for New Orleans that they have “no choice” but to ship off their most valuable asset for sundry consolation gifts.

we see that very much the same thing happened to the Memphis Grizzlies a few years ago, when they offered up Pau Gasol to the Lakers in a “fair” deal—a deal perhaps similarly justified by Memphis’s small-market situation.

the Los Angeles Lakers pilfer talent from small-market teams decade after decade. it’s a familiar story, and it is the means by which the rich get richer while the poorer teams progressively lose everything. while the Lakers profit and win, the teams that they pillage fail to sell tickets, lose their fan base, lose their owners, and ultimately lose their hometown. it’s a ruthless cycle that ultimately decreases the competitiveness and appeal of the game.

so do i blame David Stern for taking this sort of action, as a stakeholder in the NBA’s future? on the contrary, i applaud it. moreover, i say that this is the first time in the recent history of the NBA that something good for the game actually happened. if the leadership of the NBA is going to start correcting the competitive imbalances in the game that are ultimately costing the league both its fan base and its long-term revenue, then unpopular decisions such as this one, however draconian, are necessary. i do believe that the Chris Paul trade would have done the league an enduring injustice. people decry the “unfairness” of the intervention; but they conveniently forget that the circumstances affecting the small-market teams are quite unfair to the fans of those teams. the matter at hand is whose “fairness” we will prioritize.

but let’s move past the irrational to the real heart of the matter. the Lakers aren’t simply a big-market team stealing talent from the little guys. they’re also a collection of self-righteous and gnawingly unattractive personalities. it starts with the guy they showcase—Kobe Bryant, a socially dysfunctional snob who is universally loathed by his teammates past and present. it revolves around the head coach who appears to enjoy playing mindgames with his peons, pitting his players against one another and then writing about the dysfunctions that he helped to create in his locker room. it’s an infectious snobbery that extends ultimately to their fans, who dress up for the games, gawk at celebrities, leave the stadium early to avoid traffic, and fade into obscurity when their team is not assured of playoff success. altogether, the Laker franchise and its fans are a despicable bunch, and they don’t deserve to be spoiled any further by a league that is essentially designed to be a farm system of twenty-nine teams for the L.A. Lakers.

i don’t know how else to say it. if you’re a Laker fan and yet you were not born and raised in L.A., you can almost not be my friend; in fact, i don’t know if i can respect you at all. get a heart and a backbone. until we can all celebrate a regression to the mean for the L.A. Lakers, i think the rest of us have no choice but to sit back and call the game a big ruse. i think David Stern recognizes that the NBA is turning into a big joke, and perhaps that’s why he did the right thing this week

12.05.11

thinking about my son

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:08 pm by Administrator

isaac has recently been bringing home autobiographical works from kindergarten. most of them refer to things he wants or things that he likes. in the latter category fall things like trains, cars, his mother, and his baby sister. i asked him the other day why i’m not routinely included in this list of favored things and was informed that i was “not a good parent”. i asked him if mommy was a perfect parent, to which isaac said, “Mommy is medium; she’s good and bad. I’m good and bad too. But daddy you are bad.”

isaac and i have a good enough time making fun of each other and chasing each other around the house. he asks me for food, and sometimes i give him some. i ask him to clean his room, and he does it, more or less. i don’t spend much time thinking about how isaac perceives me (or how “good” or “bad” of a job i’m doing as a parent) because his opinion of authority figures is currently irrelevant. but i like the fact that he feels free to express his opinion of me, however unflattering, and delivered as it was with a smirk. i continue to maintain that as a parent my goal is to be as happy a parent as possible; beyond this, i might wish some measure of happiness for my children as well.

it is interesting that there are occasionally times when there is such a strong disconnect between isaac’s experience of life and my own. for example, this morning he was somewhat disconcerted because he made a request for breakfast that i chose not to honor. as far as i’m concerned, breakfast is not made to order. i do not offer options for breakfast; i make what i’m accustomed to making. this morning in particular, as i was anticipating the gruesome workday lying before me, i had no emotional capacity for creativity. when i laid down honey toast with soy vanilla milk and found Isaac to be insistent upon having frozen yogurt, i must have appeared to be “bad dad” when i told him to take or leave the food on the table. it did cross my mind for a moment to sit down with him and have a candid conversation about the things in my life that i similarly have no choices about. but isaac has his blithe childhood, and i do often find myself struggling to pretend that i am anything other than the man who has exited blithe childhood for the decidedly more parched pastures beyond.

all sincerity aside, i wonder what foundation i am laying for our future relationship when i take off every morning in a cloud of preoccupation and return at nights in wordless dispiritude. we have a couple of hours to ask each other strange and often uninteresting questions (i.e. “Daddy, where is my Finn McMissile” and “Isaac, what did you do at school today?”) invariably we get to the climax of our day—the rounds of negotiation over his bedtime and what he is allowed to do prior to flossing his teeth. i must admit, i enjoy the bartering and the conflict; i see his will at work, and in our wordplay i see him testing himself against me. we laugh at each other a lot, and sometimes i cannot tell if i am acting as his father or as an older brother might. i realize sometimes, when i think about my own life, that i would have preferred an older brother to a father. but this is futile thinking.

i will go into his room sometimes, late at night, when no one else is awake. he prefers the starfish pose—arms and legs cast out in every direction, as if he’d been punched in the face and promptly knocked out. Isaac never submits gracefully to sleep; his postures show the contortions of battle, the agony of defeat. i stand there studying my boy, the precious thing that he is, and i realize when i look at him that i love him deeply, as one can only adore what one does not have. i made a pact with God, when i was a younger father, never to own my son. i made a pact to give him space to grow and to be taken by God. i wonder if perhaps i am ambivalent about being Isaac’s father because i do not believe i can be, at least in the manner of fatherhood i have come to understand. i wonder if i instead have taken on the role of being the servant in the father’s household; i’m simply taking care of the odds and ends until Isaac is ready to follow in his real father’s footsteps.

already i’m finding it a bit easier to be Roselia’s father. she strikes me as helpless, and i made no such pact with God regarding her life. a daughter is uncharted territory for me; after all, i was no daughter myself. i figure that she needs me. but it is too early to tell. some might tell me that i have issues to overcome before i can properly assume my natural role, but either it is too late for me or they are wrong. in the meantime, i am okay, i think, with being bad. it fits my understanding of myself. and it gives me room to grow.