02.29.12

love doesn’t win

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:31 am by Administrator

sometimes when i think about my life, i get so angry.

today, i had that anger, just for a few moments, and for some reason the first thought that came to mind was the title of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”. i’ve never read that book. but i thought to myself, that’s a terribly naive thought—that love wins. because love doesn’t win, most of the time. and in my life as well, love doesn’t win.

i caught up with an old friend that i grew up with, and he’s loving life. he gave me a glimpse of it in his email, and i was caught up in it, in the feel of it. i know his life is not perfect. but for a moment, i felt great envy. because he’s got no real commitments in his life, except to discover what he wants to commit himself to. and me, i have so many commitments.

and so i face myself, the man that i am.

i am the first-grader who became best friends with Ara the Armenian, simply because everyone else in our grade hated him.
i am the 8 year-old who, at his first confession, asked the priest why God does not care about Africa.
i am the 13 year-old who woke up with panic attacks, because getting straight-A’s throughout elementary school and junior high school just didn’t matter, but now in high school everything suddenly mattered.
i am that 18 year-old in love, who wanted to get married right there and then, so that there would be no chance that i would lose her, the woman that everyone told me i would stop loving someday.
i’m the guy who didn’t party in college.
i’m the one who never smoked weed. who never tried an illegal drug. who never slept with a woman except my wife. who hasn’t stolen anything since he was six. who hasn’t gotten into a fight since he was twelve.
i am the man who has tried, every month of every year since he was five years old, to be right with God.

i look at what i am.

sometimes, when i think about my life, i get so angry. because i can feel it in my bones, that i was made to love. but this that i am, this i do not understand.

today, love doesn’t win. i won’t pretend that it does.

02.27.12

hunger games, accountability, forgiving

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:32 pm by Administrator

around 8 PM last night, i decided to start reading one of two books i bought on Friday. it was “crazy love” by Francis Chan. i read through about half of the book before i finally succumbed to the idea that the next chapter wasn’t suddenly going to become interesting. so i tossed “crazy love” into the pile of books i’ve bought and wished i didn’t, and i moved onto “Hunger Games”.

i started Hunger Games at 9 and nearly finished the book by 12:30 in the morning. for lack of a better word, i have “crazy love” for suzanne collins and this epic start to her trilogy.

i won’t spoil the book for anyone, but i do find it interesting when people write about violence inflicted by children against children. “Lord of the Flies” comes to mind, as one of the groundbreaking books in this niche genre, but then i also think of Ender’s Game and The Golden Compass, among others. there are few more direct ways to disturb the American psyche than to write about child abuse (as Americans venerate their children) and about children who inflict that abuse (as Americans view children as victims of society). a book like Hunger Games is bound to shock the middle-American and make him wrestle with the way in which society warps our innocent youngsters. we get riled up when we don’t see children in schools playing with safe toys and dreaming about being astronauts. seeing children killing children taps into that mix of Puritanical guilt and modernist ambivalence that we so thoroughly (and self-loathingly) bask in.

in any case, i did buy “crazy love” because i’m looking for new perspectives on my spiritual walk. one thing that i’ve been wrestling with, really wrestling with, is the matter of accountability. i want to be held accountable, but i don’t know what that means. to be held accountable, one must be held accountable to something. but if am held accountable to the only incontrovertible standard (perfection), then the accounting is so extreme as to be irrelevant. usually we hold one another accountable to a standard we find “reasonable” (a hybrid of morality, cultural acceptability, and individualized expectation), but for this to work between two people there has to be mutual buy-in and complementary value systems. if there isn’t mutual buy-in and total complementarity, then the standard is arbitrary.

perhaps i’m wrestling with accountability most because i’m having a hard time creating it at work. my managerial role forces me at any time to rely on the efforts of at least twenty people that i work with closely, and they perform at various levels of competency. one guy in particular gives me a great deal of anguish. he’s smart, capable, and nice; but his attitude toward his work reminds me of what i feel on my worst day. except that every day for him is like my worst day. i’ve tried empathizing with him, sympathizing with him, and negotiating with him for months. and now, our annual performance review date is coming up, his salary raise is on the line, and i know that it’s time for me to sit down with him and to tell him that he’s failing to meet expectations.

it’s hard for me because, like i said, he does remind me of myself (albeit myself on my worst day). and because i can understand to some degree how he thinks, it’s hard for me to draw a line and say that he and i are on different sides of it. i’m so self-conscious when it comes to making a judgment; and it’s easier for me to sacrifice myself and my authority than to call someone out on something that i know to be wrong. i recognize that when i impose a standard on him, i’m subjecting myself to judgment as well. i am inviting him to view me through the same lens. but unless i’m willing to be vulnerable in this way, and to own the consequences of a “360-degree evaluation”, then i’m unfit to be his director. i must hold him accountable, even as i submit myself to full accountability.

at the root of it, i believe, is that i really do assume others to be better than myself, because i know my own depravity so well. when perhaps i should acknowledge a wrong, i think first about how i would have committed the wrong myself. when i see something horrible, my first inclination is to try to understand why the perpetrator might have done such a thing. when i see a court scene unfold, my first thoughts are about the legal punishments that the accused is at risk of: death, imprisonment, financial loss. i always fear the judge, because when someone is being judged, i feel implicitly judged. i always side with the accused, and it is because i am always in the background of my own life, accusing myself.

to be the leader i was meant to be, i must extend grace to myself. but i don’t know how to do this. for years i’ve poured myself into this blog, and the only consistent theme i can see is my self-loathing. i have wanted to die; i have wanted to cut the evil out of me; i have been most comfortable when i’ve denigrated myself. in a sense, there’s no awkwardness in demeaning myself, because i hurt no one else, and because when i am in a humiliated position, i can accept nearly any injury or correction from everyone in my life. it is, oddly, a position of great power for me. but it is power of a deeply self-serving kind. because in this position, i am incapable of recognizing and acting on what i perceive to be abusive, morally incorrect, and self-destructive in the behavior of others. i’m always empathizing; i’m always seeking to give grace to others. and because of this, i’m failing at being what i was called to be—the Lion.

it is time for me to reckon with this unfettered instinct in me to lower myself. it is time for me to unearth the ruined theology that has empowered me in my self-debasement. and it is time for me to stop looking into my heart for the things that i see in others. in a way, i must learn to preserve myself and the boundaries that protect me. judging is not an easy thing, and most of us cannot do it well. but for what i was called to in life, i believe i must learn to be a judge, as terribly difficult as it is for me. i must be able to exercise judgment, hold others accountable to a standard, and quest for truth in the most transparent and unbridled way possible. it is not humility to duck this calling; it is stupidity. and momma did not raise no fool. i am ready

02.25.12

jeremy lin (WTF?)

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:08 am by Administrator

lately, i’ve been barraged with emails from friends about jeremy lin. jeremy lin has dominated just about every recent conversation i’ve had about sports, and try as i might, i simply can’t duck some invitation to behold the rising star that is my fellow Asian-American Harvard alum. beloved yemi and much-loved joel, i’m delighted that you reached out to me on his account, because any chance to catch up is just awesome. but let me explain to you why i’m not on the bandwagon when it comes to jeremy lin.

he’s just not that interesting.

the guy can ball. and many guys in the NBA, given thirty minutes to produce, can show us why they were signed by an NBA team. but generally speaking, i don’t get riled up about a fill-in point guard on a bad team who hasn’t taken his team to the playoffs. Jeremy Lin might do something to make his season memorable. on the other hand, he might go the way of Mike James and Jose Calderon. there are plenty of point guards out there who put up numbers. Jeremy Lin hasn’t yet proven that he’s anything special.

the only thing interesting to me right now about his personal life is the fact that he’s Asian-American. granted, it’s cool. but that doesn’t mean i feel like i can relate to him especially well. he’s 6′3″ and a super athlete, which already puts him in a much different category. i think he’s a lot more like his peers in pro basketball than he is like me. and regarding his ethnicity, let’s be precise. the guy is Taiwanese-American. how exactly does a Korean-American, Japanese-American, Filipino-American, Thai-American, or Chinese-American borrow Jeremy Lin’s Taiwanese background to enhance his own sense of connection to the NBA? Taiwanese people don’t even want to be remotely compared to the Chinese! in any case, i recall that my last experience with a Taiwanese family was a fairly memorable one (i.e. we don’t want a Korean son-in-law, and here’s the door).

outside of the fact that he has black hair and yellowish skin, i think jeremy lin is otherwise fairly uninteresting from a personal standpoint. yeah, he’s Christian (like a lot of NBA players), he’s a nice guy (once again, nothing distinctive), and he doesn’t interview well (which is also an entirely undistinctive trait). he went to Harvard, but there are at least a few NBA players that went to colleges with strong academic reputations, like his fellow teammate Landry Fields (Stanford).

last but not least, i think i could care less about jeremy lin because the league he plays for, the National Basketball Association, fronts a bad product and a stale image. if Jeremy Lin were an NFL player, i might take more interest, simply because the NFL plays a better game. i watched 2 minutes of Jeremy Lin the other day, and i was happy to see a nice guy win a game. that’s about as far as it will go for me.

but hey, if jeremy lin is what it takes for old friends to reconnect and recount old times, then i’m all for it! i’ve been pretty good lately at pretending that i care about “Linsanity” (a premature rip-off of Vince Carter’s trademark), so bring it on. Jeremy Lin! champion of Asian-America, the next great NBA point guard, and future savior of the world…

02.23.12

quiet time

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:03 pm by Administrator

a quiet time with me, myself, and i. God is present, but we are not talking to Him right now.

me: (to himself) write the goddam thing.
myself: there is nothing to be written.
me: there is something there, and it plagues us, and so i have to write it.
myself: that’s the funny thing. your whole life you have been happy to write it, say it, or express it, just because it’s the way that you feel.
me: so?
myself: what you feel doesn’t matter.
me: that’s easy for you to say. you’re not me.
myself: but i know you.
me: you don’t know me.
myself: i do know you. the feeler. the one they call unreliable. the guy who wins.
me: i see where this is going, and you’re blinded by your certainty, and nothing you say could possibly have any worth to me whatsoever.
myself: that’s how you win.
me: i could care less about winning. i’m just trying to survive.
myself: you don’t even know how pathetic you are. you’re like a child who hasn’t gotten his way.
i: this is good.

me: let’s talk about you, dumbass.
myself: what about me?
me: you hate me. let’s talk about that.
myself: i don’t hate you. i just laugh at you. because you do this to yourself—the pain, the emoting, the self-pity. it’s boring now.
me: you love to talk about me. but someday you’ll realize that this is your way of avoiding the real tragedy of your own life.
myself: touche.
me: you may find me pathetic and boring. but you’re vile.
myself: ouch.
me: you’re the manipulator. you see the weakness in me, and you say the words to control what i am, and then you twist the dagger so that you can make me yours.
myself: i’m the manipulator? you with your feelings, you with your crying, you with your sniveling little cravings. you call me the manipulator?
me: you’re worse than i am. because you believe you’re right. you, with your god, with your religion, and with your nice, internal little world that protects you from judgment.
myself: the only thing worse than your patent immaturity is how bad your judgment really is.
me: i can take that. but i see you for what you are; because i see me in you.
myself: you always project yourself onto others. it’s narcissistic and self-serving.
me: and occasionally, just occasionally, it gets to the truth.

me: you’re not talking.
i: i have so little to say, it would appear.
myself: you’re always content to watch us destroy each other.
i: both of you use such strong words. it’s always with “destroy”, or “always”, or “truth”, or right and wrong. both of you live in a dream world.
me: you know, i’ve had enough of being talked down to today. i know i suck. but i won’t receive this from the two of you. you’re self-righteous.
i: stop it. both of you, just stop it.
myself: i’d like you to tell the two of us exactly who you are and what you are thinking.
i: i’m the one who goes where neither of you will go. myself goes where absolute judgment seems needed; he dwells in a system governed by right and wrong, and he lives decisively and by his own rules.
myself: in other words, i’m the guy who’s keeping you two alive.
i: no, you’re the one who needs to be right. and me, you’re the one who can’t live in myself’s world, because the world isn’t really contained in those rules, and the only way you know it is through your feelings.
me: i think that’s probably fair.
i: and i’m the one who was born out of your conflict. i’m the one who will represent you both, in the end.
myself: excuse me? i don’t need representation.
i: if you look deep enough inside of yourself, you’ll recognize that you hate yourself more than you hate me and i. because certitude is the worst kind of self-deception, and you know it.
me: yeah, fuck myself.
i: both of you want to trust me, because neither of you can bear to live as yourselves. i am the one who can bring sense to it. i am the only one who loves you both.
myself: how can you love us?
i: because i needed both of you to become who i am.
me: can you tell me what you are, one more time?
i: i am that new creation. i live in the gray. i wait until me knows what he’s feeling, and i wait until myself is full of judgment and anger, and then i let you both in. and then, when you’ve both ruined each other, i take the pieces that are left, i take them outside where i bury them, and then i make the table, so that we can eat again. it is as it was, when we lived in our parents’ household. one of us had to make sense of the pain.

i: i’m trying to clean the house.
me: it cannot be cleaned.
myself: it should not be cleaned.
i: the two of you never help me. that’s why i do it alone.
me: i’m sorry, for what i am.
myself: i should help; and i don’t know why i can’t.
i: we will make it. it’s what we do. even if there’s no god, and nothing true in the world, we’ll make it. even if it means i have to carry you both, for a little while.

02.22.12

the meaning of pain

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:38 pm by Administrator

i rarely go back and read my entries from past months and years. i guess it’s because i generally find my past entries overlong, tedious, and even agonizing. i’ve “been there”, so to speak; it’s sometimes hard to go back and relive the intense moments that i’ve previously written about.

but as of late, i’ve been struggling with a sense of self-loss, and it’s not the abstractly religious and lovely idea of self-loss; it’s been the muddy, sinking sense of self-loss. pain, i realize, has hollowed out the poetic rumination, leaving me a music that is achingly without sound. the question of who i am inside is now the question of whether or not i can succeed in life—whether or not i can endure this trek across the brutal, shifting landscape that is the turbulent collision between the reality without and the desire within.

i read my blog to find a compass, something that could remind me of my path. oddly, it was an entry from last August, my review of the movie “Another Earth”, that most resonated with me, and it was this paragraph below that spoke to me most strongly.

rather than imposing an agenda or reconstructing a familiar story, “Another Earth” instead seeks simply to resonate with the innate self-doubt within its audience; that resonance, like the incidental tones produced by the vibrations of trauma, alerts the self to an incipient idea not yet fully realized. Brit Marling’s movie only seeks to elicit that chord; she does not pretend that she can produce a song. in seeking this connection, and by avoiding the trap of overwrought self-reflexivity, she suggests an utterly novel take on the purpose of living. she suggests that the achieving, the loving, and the building are all ultimately about the transcendent and ever-elusive search for oneself.

it strikes me as a possibly narcissistic idea that the purpose of experience is to reflect oneself, for the ultimate goal of self-understanding. but when one cannot really know anything or anyone else, as crazed and unknowable as the world necessarily is, what better way is there to make sense of one’s pain? if we understand that the terror, no matter how sharp or cruel, can illuminate the undiscovered self, can one not afford to embrace one’s suffering?

it is like the transference of energy. the hardest things in life are full of energy. and when we experience these hard times, we absorb their innate energy; we cannot help but become greater beings—greater in the sense of more fully self-realized. there is beauty to be seen in that self-revelation, if we’re willing to relinquish our grasp on identity, the thing that should have been but never was.

i submit myself to the elements. life never was the castle that i built for myself and for the ones i love. it is the trek across unforgiving country. and though the wind is terribly harsh and the cold only promises to be stab deeper as night falls, i was built for this sort of a journey. it was meant to reveal me, not as the child surrounded by wolves, but rather as the master of this wilderness, who sleeps among beasts. love is no feeling. it is the eating, the hunting, and the hurting; it is what we do here, to survive

02.21.12

the lake

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:16 pm by Administrator

what is the lake?

it’s a dark scene of remote clouds
and silent trees.
the motion of ducklings
makes it all disappear.

what is the lake?

it’s where the heavens sink
in proportion to their heights,
resurfacing over and over
though ripples close over

and i can feel the great weight
of memory here. the people,
and their play, on the grasses
and on the pathways.

they too are in the water,
disappearing, reappearing
as if immersed and rediscovered,
anew.

in some recollections,
i am here alone. in others,
i am with the person
who has changed.

what is the lake?

it is where someone saw me
from the other side,
there in the water,
before i too disappeared

02.16.12

intensity

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:27 pm by Administrator

this entry is partly about a quality of mine that some people describe as “intensity”. but this entry is also about some other concepts that for me are related to this quality. i would describe those concepts as alienation, satisfaction, connection, and community.

to be honest, i don’t know if i’m so different from everybody else. intuitively, i can’t see that i’m that much different from everyone else i know, even if i tend to express myself uniquely. but the fact of the matter is that i’ve been cast as unique, different, and even strange, from the time i was a child. my elementary school teachers described me as an “intellectual”; i noticed that they often seemed impressed with things i had to say in class, even when i didn’t find my answers very remarkable. my sunday school teacher in the 5th grade gave me challenging books to read, because she felt that i was “ready” to explore theology. my AP English teacher in the 12th grade, a woman who had a reputation for being taciturn and even condescending, would take care to write long, meaningful, and profoundly complimentary remarks on my papers. all of this attention made me feel that i was “special”, in some sort of academic way.

i had my critics too. though i always got along with my classmates, i remember the kids who made fun of me. in the 5th grade, it was older Korean boys, both at school and at church, who made fun of me for being nerdy and uncool. in one case, i learned that he despised me because of the constant comparisons between us drawn by his parents. at church in particular, i found it hard to make friends through my junior high and high school years because i didn’t like the social dynamics at my churches, nor did i feel that church was meant to be a primarily social experience. my youth pastor and i had a strong disagreement when i was in the 11th grade, and he essentially insulted me to my face, a moment that i never forgot and perhaps never forgave.

if there’s a unifying theme to the criticism or negativity i’ve experienced over my life, it can be perhaps summed up best by a moment i had when i was eleven years old. my strings coach in orchestra saw the way i reacted when i succeeded in “challenging” the 3rd chair—a much older violinist—for his seat. she later pulled me aside and sternly advised me “to treat others as i would like to be treated.” as i got older, this latter comment became a recurrent theme: people have found me self-absorbed, if not arrogant. they have reacted against a certain stubbornness and intensity in my attitudes.

in personal friendship, too, i have found this self-sense of idiosyncratic, “intense” individuality reflected in the feedback of my closest friends. my two closest friends from my college days both continue to describe me as “unique”. when i look back at the specific things they’ve told me, i can recognize that what they saw as unique was actually something they felt they could not understand: my mode of socialization. they found me complex, excessively philosophical, and at times inaccessible. i was more truly a “weirdo”. they liked me because i wasn’t arrogant or snide about my idiosyncrasies; in fact, i often seemed unaware of what separated me from them. they laughed at me a lot, and i accepted their laughter, because by that point i’d already come to understand that no one in my life really “got” me—and perhaps, no one ever would.

“intensity” is the catch-all adjective that seems to capture the substance of what society has had to say about me. i’m different; i worry a lot; i lose people in the complexity of my thoughts; i feel things intensely and strangely. i can be admired, but it’s hard for people to connect to me, because i’m not normal. when i consider this sense of who i am, i can understand how it has affected my journey so profoundly. when one is so consistently treated as exceptional, in both good and bad ways, one expects to be alone; one expects to be noted, judged, and thereafter marginalized. people have always listened to what i’ve had to say. but generally, people don’t buy it very deeply; and i’ve been content to generally wander life on my own.

that’s not to say that i haven’t had moments of connection. i have—and those experiences are so memorable to me because of how rare they are. my first connection of that kind was with my best friend in junior high, whom i could talk to for hours about religion, girls at school, and my parents’ neverending arguments. my second such connection was probably more than ten years later, with a girl i met on a med school interview. my third and fourth connections were with two women that i met during my time in philadelphia. the temporal connection between the latter three experiences has linked these intense friendships in my mind; and they were similar experiences, in that i was recognized for the attributes that made me seemingly unique, but then i was accepted by and even linked to the other on account of these attributes. the friendships, i realized, made me feel “belonging”; they made me feel “normal”.

i’ll bet that of all the people out there in the world who have been made to feel exceptional—on account of genius, or wealth, or whatever else—the vast majority of them wish that they could feel “normal” in this way: able to experience total harmony and synergy with others who are like them. i realize that so much of my hardships in childhood and my deep loneliness in adulthood have been products of never having fit in, in any meaningful way. i could have worked harder to fit in, but the pain of failure sent me in the opposite direction; i became a man who seemingly had no interest in fitting in, a man who learned to habitually inconvenience others by forcing them to adapt to himself.

all did not simply get better after i got married; in fact, the sense of alienation got far worse. i’ve written much about marriage and about the sense of spiritual isolation i had to work through in the early years. my wife and i don’t “get” each other in some ways, nor do we synergize at an emotional level. we’ve had to change tremendously in order to satisfy each other in basic ways, and i think that this was God’s design. as the health of my marriage is consistently either my first or second priority in my life, i’ve learned to enjoy the process of seeking her out, trying to understand her perspective, and undergoing change (even identity change) in order to adapt to the person she is. in this anticipation and desire for change, i’ve begun to experience something that i essentially locked out of my experience for decades because of how threatening it was to me—the willingness to please someone. what we have developed over the past seven years isn’t so much a brilliant romance or unity of mind as much as a fun partnership and a deep, meaningful friendship. my dad has always described marriage as a “business relationship”, and while i can’t descend to that level, i can acknowledge some element of what he has learned.

even writing this here, it is a bit crushing for me to see my life through this lens and to understand how much pain i have experienced because of my “intensity”. i have lived alone; i have walked alone; and even now, i don’t expect to be deeply appreciated for my idiosyncrasies by those who know me best. the idea of experiencing enduring “connection” with someone is a hope i abandoned along the way, along with my childhood aspirations to form a world government, eliminate global poverty, and convince Satan to return to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. the life i live is one in which i constantly negotiate my intense needs and my emotional design so that i can function with others. in a sense, i have learned to live out an apology for what i am, and even now i somehow feel apologetic to my wife and to my friends for describing myself and my relationships in these terms. “you are not lacking,” i wish to say. “it’s the loathsome thing in me, the thing you cannot understand, and it just needs to go away and quietly die.”

i don’t know where to go from here. sometimes when i write an entry like this, i project myself onto my son, and i write something to the effect of “i hope he doesn’t end up miserable like me” or “i hope i can translate my suffering into something good for his life”. sometimes i rationalize my suffering and call it the necessary foundation for my sanctification, my art, or my appreciation for community. but today, i’m not going to do all that. it all strikes me as entirely unnecessary. this is my life. it is lonely. and perhaps until recently, i was not willing to fully acknowledge how lonely it is, and how painful it is for me sometimes to perform for everyone in my life, and how vain i sometimes feel that my plans, structures, and beliefs really are. when it comes down to it, the one thing i really do wish for, above all other things, is to be deeply known, validated, and integrated. i don’t experience that in my life, and to admit that is, in a sense, my admission of profound failure.

this is not to say that there isn’t so much good in my life. there is so much blessing, opportunity, and even happiness that i do feel so incredibly showered with favor. i’m like the sick man with cancer at the hospital who is celebrated every day with a big, beautiful party attended by his friends and family. the party is so good that people, even myself, forget that i’m dying. life is so good, sometimes, that i forget the inner thing that i’ve started to lose along the way, the thing i call my heart. i tell myself that i’m ok with that. i serve others. i make plans. i buy life insurance. i worry about my friends and my family. i live so as to prepare for my passing. and i tell God that everything i wished for and never received is what i figure He’s got waiting for me, in the end

02.14.12

white evangelicals

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:18 pm by Administrator

a few weeks ago i attended our church’s young adult ministry meeting, and i was thoroughly moved by the experience. the funny thing is that everything felt perfect to me except for the centerpiece of the evening—a video of a talk given by “megachurch” pastor Craig Groeschel to a large conference of church leaders.

what was striking to me is that many of the people in the meeting with me really received Groeschel’s message and were powerfully moved by it. some of the men admitted to crying and feeling overpowering conviction as a result of the talk. i was struck by the contrast of my reaction, because i left the talk entirely unmoved. in fact, i realized that i felt a lot of resistance against the content and presentation. and when i reflected on this, i could recognize that there were a couple discrete factors at play that i needed to acknowledge.

first, the content. Groeschel’s message was personal, direct, and relatively simple. his message didn’t have three points, it wasn’t intellectually stimulating, and it was very focused on one simple theme: get right with God. now, for three years i’ve been conditioned to receive fairly demanding content from my pastor, who is an intellectual. i’ve been acculturated to a certain mode of teaching, which i would describe as cogitative, often indirect, and designed to generate questions rather than resolutions. Groeschel’s style and message seemed designed to speak directly to my heart and to generate a strong emotional response; i resisted this, because i felt that it was manipulative.

second, the presentation. Groeschel is a large white man who comes across as confident if not overbearing. i had to recognize that this was an unfamiliar if not threatening presentation for me. i don’t like “megachurch” pastors; i feel arrogance in their sense of success, i feel put off by their facility with programs and numbers, and i can’t connect with their ethnicity or their experiences. thus, i’m judgmental of white evangelicals. i must grudgingly admit that i, like my former mentor Soong-Chan Rah, view them with great cynicism; and this is a hard confession for me, given that i’ve pleaded the “high road” with Soong-Chan and have even criticized him for his anti-white, highly racializing bias.

thus, when my friend Stanley insisted that i listen to more of Groeschel’s talks, i had to accept. i saw a problem with my biases, and, in my typical manner, i felt the need to compensate by engaging more deeply the very thing i was resisting. Stan lent me four CDs. over the past two weeks, i have listened to each CD from beginning to end at least three times. i soaked it all in. the talks by Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel were, for lack of a better word, transforming for me.

i won’t go into great detail, except to say that i now recognize that the “white megachurch pastor” has much to give me. this is because i am American, more than Asian-American; i am more churched than the average believer; and i do care about the same things that my white megachurch peers care about. they have so much truth to speak into my life, and i have to get over my cynicism and jealousy if i’m going to receive that. this doesn’t mean that my aspiration is to emulate a white megachurch pastor. one point on which i agree with Soong-Chan is that i don’t see an enduring future for the white megachurch model in America; we need new leaders from different ethnic backgrounds, and perhaps we do need to consciously move toward new models of church and church practice. but nevertheless, at this stage in my journey, i have more in common with white Evangelicals that i’m often willing to admit to, and that’s because my faith tradition is almost entirely built upon what they have created.

i like reading Stephen Covey, Rick Warren, and Jim Collins, among others, and though they are not the same, they do have certain characteristics in common. they are fixated on their target audience; they have discrete goals; they absolutely value progress; they are optimistic; they believe strongly in the power of organizational culture; and they are deeply democratic and egalitarian in their style. i like these aspects, and i see so much value in them. at the same time, i recognize my inherent resistance to their paradigm, and with time i think i’ll learn to validate some aspect of my resistance. this inherent resistance need not force me to reject what they have to give. but perhaps there is, within this tendency, the seed of something different and new.

if there’s something that i believe that i, and my kind, can do that’s different from the likes of Rick Warren, it’s that we do perhaps have a greater capacity to preach the Gospel of suffering and weakness. Warren’s generation of preachers emphasizes a Gospel of power and empowerment; i think particularly of Joel Osteen. America is strong; the church is strong; and the American church’s influence in the world is strong. this is what the white Evangelicals build their values upon—that immense confidence in the power of their culture. but my generation of ministers is already falling away from that paradigm. the emergent church people, for example, are veering toward social justice issues, for fear of becoming self-absorbed. they are trying to modify their presentation and discourse to be more open to people who have felt disenfranchised and marginalized within the Evangelical paradigm. these people include immigrants, homosexuals, liberals, and young people.

the work of my generation will ultimately change the character of Christian discourse in this country, but i’m not exactly sure how. i think there will be proportionately less literature on success and perhaps proportionately more on failure and failed paradigms. i hope that ultimately we will learn to separate the American church from American values; i hope that we will revise our understanding of overseas missions, so that we are less concerned with conversions and more concerned with systems of governance; and i hope that we will place less emphasis on shoring up organizations and more emphasis on deconstruction and innovation. but all of this is heady, and i’m ahead of myself.

02.09.12

singularity

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:06 pm by Administrator

our origins are unclear; all we have is the planets and stars,
our inevitable motions, that somehow settle out
as revolutions around one another, in orbits, obsessions.

perhaps the earth basks in the sun, but no one asks.
instead, we consider the future and its ends:
the expansion of a star, and its exhaustion

as gravity within overcomes the passion without
causing implosion, in a fury of lights
like the one on the brink of death, suddenly alone.

and earth, if not destroyed, might wander off,
or it is pulled into the death of its sun.
either way, it is forever changed.

but before all this, there are the questions.

what about me? says the sun.
what about us? say the planets.
and what will be left? says the earth.

what about light and warmth?
what about gravity?
how long do we have, together?

between the beginning, which we dream of,
and the thing we call the end
there is the motion

a revolution around one another,
in orbits, obsessions.

still, i ask.
what about me?
what about us?

a billion years go by
as planets face their star
ADORATION
the star holds and illuminates
PLEASURE
and then, it goes its quiet, dark way
LOSS
it collapses
AGONY

and we fall upon ourselves, into the thing
we cannot see, buckling under gravity
in infinite fusion, loss of self, unfathomable

singularity.

the end, they will call it, and they will fear
simply because they cannot see.
they will form around us, in galaxies
while space and time resume.

they will collect themselves, around the black star
millenia after we have disappeared,
and they will say the thing that we did not say
when we were falling apart.

they will say that what they witnessed, in the end,
was beyond living and dying
and perhaps better described
as love.

02.08.12

answered prayers, stretching of self, transformation

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 pm by Administrator

i would say that throughout my life, the majority of my prayers have not been answered in a straightforward fashion. and in many cases, i can safely submit that God has refused to accede to my prayers at all. i remember prayers for specific needs of my friends, prayers for the healing of suffering or dying people, and prayers for personal deliverance from persecution of certain kinds. these are the sorts of prayers that i have not had terrible success with, if one can call it success.

but there are four discrete prayers in my life that have been answered, in such a specific manner that i feel i cannot deny God’s intention to give me precisely what i asked for. the first two prayers were for the salvation of my two friends James and Harry, whom i prayed for at a slumber party in the 8th grade while they were sleeping. i prayed for them so hard that i cried; and because they were such distinctly emotional prayers, i never forgot them. both guys came to Christ in high school, and more importantly to me, both have since demonstrated genuine faith that transcends mere lip service to the idea of the Gospel. i prayed for their salvation from Hell; but what God demonstrated through His answer to my prayers was far more meaningful—fruitful faith.

the third prayer was the prayer i issued at the New Year’s Eve candlelight service of my mother’s church, in 2002. it was the loneliest time in my life, and i had wandered back into a truce with God after having “walked away” from God two months prior. my prayer that night was that God would listen to me and restore me in the midst of my despondence. it was almost that week that the woman i would later marry discovered my blog and began truly “listening” to my soul; this accidental website hit began a year of silent journeying with me, a year that culminated in our first face-to-face meeting almost exactly twelve months later, our blindingly intense courtship, and the blessed marriage that we have since shared.

about nine months ago, i prayed the fourth prayer, not so much in words but rather in feelings. in the Spring of 2011, i submitted to my wife that a part of me was dying for lack of “like-minded” companionship in my life. it was not the first time i’d shared this grief with her, but it was the first time that i’d felt convinced that i needed a way to connect with people at the level of mutually shared passion and interests. it was not the easiest conversation to have with my wife, but having struggled for years to make her my consummate soulmate, i realized that my efforts were just forcing her to accomodate my angst in new ways. it was then that i thought that perhaps a writing group or some sort of activity-oriented community would meet this need. i’d tried an actor’s workshop in 2009, and in the same year i’d tried an on-line writing collaboration with “Teju Cole” (who’s since broken out with a highly-acclaimed novel of his own), but these efforts had somehow missed the mark. of one thing i was certain: i wasn’t going to just stumble into “like-minded companionship”.

it is odd for me to recognize now that around that time, nine months ago, i transitioned from the “sharing about life” to the actual “sharing of life” with one friend in particular. how it came about is a mystery to me. but the incredible evolution of the relationship over the past eight months now strikes me as surreal if not frankly supernatural. i received what i was asking for, in a manner as specific and direct as i had with my previously answered prayers. and the effect on my journey has been no less profound.

for one thing, i’ve rediscovered that incredible pleasure of camaraderie that seemingly progresses of its own accord. when one is genuinely connected to someone, the friendship carries a natural impetus of its own; mutual understanding develops naturally. on the other hand, i also feel like i’ve rediscovered that adolescent experience of fearful vulnerability—and specifically the fear of being exposed, disappointed, or hurt. i’ve recognized that i often avoid seeking the “sharing of life” with others because i still have within me an unconscious and intense revulsion for this form of vulnerability.

because this fear is so deeply ingrained in me, i’ve rated genuine intimacy as the litmus test of meaningful spiritual interrelationship. i’ve always been one to maintain a small circle of “close friends”, and i’ve defined them as “close” on account of the vulnerability we are capable of assuming with one another. perhaps, in a way, it’s a concept of friendship that i’ve carried with me since junior high school; a “best friend” was always someone that i could always share my deepest, darkest secrets with. and as “intuitive connection” with someone was the only force that could help me transcend my innate and intense fear of vulnerability, i have become a man who privileges intuitive connection as the single most important aspect of friendship.

a remarkable thing is happening to me through this answered prayer. i’m beginning to discover that perhaps the vulnerability i once feared is not as excruciating as i once felt it to be; and maybe if i can fear it less, then i am capable of being less fastidious about whom i open myself to, in the manner of sharing life. though i’m not necessarily driven right now to “share life” with more people, i think that i am beginning to question whether my “design” is necessarily as restrictive as i once believed it to be. perhaps it is possible for me to share life and to enjoy it deeply even with people whom i don’t naturally gravitate to or admire.

for so much of my life, i realize, i’ve been a snob. perhaps i’ve even prided myself on the selectiveness that i exercise with regard to the people i draw into my life. it’s difficult for me to admit that i’m responsible for my own intense sense of alienation, and it’s far easier for me to rail against the idiosyncrasies of society (which i often do) and to rail against superficial or abusive people (which i always do), whom i blame for isolating me. but i think it’s time for me to reckon with the fact that God calls me to enjoy like-minded companionship with more and more people than i’m willing to recognize; He calls me to transcend my prejudices, my fears, and my acutely idiosyncratic sense of intuitive connection. He wants me to live out a love that is different from that embraced by those who’ve never met Christ; He wants for me to manifest a love that breaks through the usual boundaries so that i may connect with souls who, like me, are lost, needy, and hungering for real life.

my fourth answered prayer has been filling me with life even as it has been breaking me wide open. i’m pleased with it. the change means that God has not given up on me, and it means that He refuses to be restricted by what i am. i wish my life to be a bigger vessel. and perhaps, for the first time in a long while, i’m beginning to feel that this vessel is capable of real love

« Previous entries