07.31.12

the future of our kind

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:19 pm by Administrator

i did manage to catch some Olympics action this past weekend during a family vacation trip. no, it wasn’t as exciting of an experience as it was for me when i was a child, and i thought that the London opening ceremony was as baffling as it was anticlimactic, but i still got something of a chill down my back when i saw competitors going for gold on the biggest stage of their lives.

the Olympics get me into a more “global” frame of mind. i start to think again about the problems that face us as a species. i begin to ask myself that recurrent, plaguing question of the conscience: “if you could solve any problem in the world, then what would be priority number one…”

when it comes to the future of our species, i worry about a lot of things. but nowadays, i worry about some things a lot less than i used to. for instance, i don’t worry about overpopulation, because i think that nature will constrain us, as it does for every species, once we outgrow our means. also, i think technology has made it possible for us to feed more people more efficiently, and i don’t think we’ve even come close to maximizing our food production capacity. i don’t worry so much about climate change either, because i think that we will make the leap away from fossil fuel dependency this century. i trust that the forces of nature can reverse our impact on the environment, even it takes millenia to swing that pendulum.

neither do i worry much about “terrorism”. our species was much closer to the brink of extinction when “civilized nations” monopolized weapons of mass destruction during the Cold War. an isolated WMD won’t wipe out our species. the main impact of acts of terror will be financial. and while the collapse of international financial markets would be a frightening sort of destabilization, it’s not really global catastrophe. the history of civilization consists of cyclical severe economic collapses. we survive. we build new civilizations; we create new economies; we evolve as a people. it’s not necessarily an undesirable thing to let the field go fallow for a time.

i do worry though about airborne disease. it’s the one thing that i’m not sure we could survive very well as a species. and this goes beyond bioterror; the sort of epidemics i fear can only be precipitated and sustained by nature itself. this is why the news about XDR tuberculosis in particular really troubles me. the fact of the matter is that we have on our hands a variant of tuberculosis that is clinically aggressive (if not fatal), incurable with medicines, and highly transmissible through airborne nuclei. right now this disease is mainly concentrated in Eastern Europe and South Africa. in twenty years, it might be endemic to every country in the world. i’m not sure that there’s a way to contain its inevitable spread throughout the world, except by mandatory universal testing and lifelong quarantine of all latently infected individuals. it is ironic to think that our liberalizing, democratic global political climate might someday be the greatest obstacle to limiting the spread of this potentially catastrophic disease.

i worry also about pandemic influenza. we ducked a bullet three years ago with the H1N1 virus, but history proves that influenza inevitably acquires lethal virulence. it’s just a matter of time. and when the human populace is globally connected and concentrated in urban areas, it is ripe to be impacted by such a specter.

global warming, chemical emissions, and Al-Qaeda worry a lot of people, but it’s flu and tuberculosis that make me wonder when i’ll have to make a run for the hills. in my mind, it’s a matter of when, not if, these global catastrophes will emerge. when that time comes, it’s human dispersion that will predict our survival; it’s separation from other human beings that will enable us to persist as a species. i’d call it the “Babel effect”; our best contingency plan as a species is a concerted effort of each of us to remove ourselves from the concentrating impulses of the whole. if Darwinian natural selection cannot save us in the cities, then our ability to survive the specter of a pandemic airborne pathogen depends on our ability to resume an isolated, agrarian existence.

in any case, to the question of what thing i would wish to accomplish in my lifetime if i had all means at my disposal, i think that my answer would be to discover life on other planets. but if i had to limit my goals to what we have in front of us on this planet, i’d say that the political goal of unifying sub-Saharan Africa remains an abstract but hopeful notion to me. the spiritual side of me says that the capitalistic, consumeristic obsession of the West is destined to press civilization toward self-objectification of a destructive nature, and Africa to me is the ultimate counterpoint to the dynamo of Western Civilization. but to become a viable alternative to this post-industrial order, Africa must become politically solvent, and i see unification of the continent as the most expedient means to this end. i dream of a true African Union. i see it as the hope of mankind. if there’s one thing i hope to see in my lifetime, it’s an Africa that is prosperous, free of corruption, and guided by an entirely new sense of governing principles. beyond the traditional East-Wide divide, the defunct free versus socialist dialectic, there must be a transcending discussion on what is best about human civilization, and i see in the story of Africa the possible beginnings of a new age.

07.25.12

Why the Olympics just aren’t the same

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:12 pm by Administrator

the last time the summer olympics happened, i had television. nowadays, we have no television service at all—not even local channels. we made the decision two years ago, and we haven’t looked back.

well, that’s not entirely true. my wife and son look back all the time. but i’ve held the line. no TV.

but the summer olympic games do make me think again about the merits of television. watching record-breaking performances live was such a thrilling experience for me once; and the olympics offer a uniquely intense concentration of sporting feats that really can’t be followed well by any means outside of live television.

all that being said, i realize now that the reason why i’m still not remotely tempted to get television service this summer is fairly simple: for me, the Olympics aren’t what they used to be.

there used to be a bad guy—the Soviet Union. when i was growing up in the 80s, i hated the Soviets. they were subhuman, they were machines, and they had thousands of ICBMs directed at my hometown. they were indomitably good in gymnastics, weight-lifting, and a lot of other things, and i watched the Olympics mainly to root against them. and when Katarina Witt made fun of Debi Thomas’s physique, i just hated her. hated her.

but a lot’s changed since 1988. yes, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union has disbanded. but it goes beyond that. i’ve become post-national. post-modern Gen-Xers like me are having a hard time understanding why national flags, national boundaries, and patriotism are that big of a deal. in fact, it would appear that this idea of national identity is becoming a chief obstacle to progress for a world order increasingly troubled by transnational issues like economic recession, religious conflict, poverty, and global warming. in other words, the propaganda of America’s greatness and Communism’s evil is not only passe but also fairly trivial upon recollection. and the Olympics, as a rivalry among nations, doesn’t really make sense for me either.

granted, i think that the main appeal of the Olympics for most people isn’t the national medal count but rather the individual performers. chalk it up to my blatant lack of interest in the World Championships, but i don’t really follow individual Olympians and their careers (outside of perhaps the USA Dream Team—which has to be the most anticlimactic show in London). i rely on the sportscasters to tell me who i should be interested in following. now that seems sort of odd; i need someone else to tell me what story i should be thinking is a big deal.

it all comes down to this. i think that one has to be at least marginally emotionally invested in the Olympics in order to really get into the experience, and usually one borrows from traditional nationalistic values as a portal into that emotional investment. but now that i really don’t care about the national ascriptions of athletes, i don’t have that frame of reference anymore. sure, i think Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are both tremendous athletes. but if i don’t allow someone else to hype up the signficance of what they’re trying to accomplish, or if i don’t really buy that hype, then the Olympics is really nothing more to me than just a World Championship event for individual performers. there’s nothing really gripping about it. i don’t follow track & field and swimming between Olympics; why would i follow them during the games?

i guess a lot has changed since i watched Kim Yu-Na win the Olympic Gold at the last Winter Olympics. that was a uniquely special moment for me. who knows? maybe something incredible will happen for me this summer in London, and i’ll care enough to tune in somewhere. it’ll be a borrowed pleasure, in any case.

07.22.12

The Dark Knight Rises (with a 7/22 addendum)

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:52 am by Administrator

it is the only blockbuster that i intended to watch this year, and i think we made the most of it. IMAX, opening weekend, and with a Wetzel’s pretzel in hand. i have my comments (and spoilers) to log before i go to bed.

first, it was momentarily chilling for me to watch the scene that was playing when the Aurora shooter opened fire. but i did immediately put it out of my mind. the movie was absolutely gripping from the start, and it helped me to move past real-life terror toward the make-believe.

second, there really is no cause to label this movie with a negative review. i just don’t see any justification for it. it was true to form and quite good at what it intended to do. so for those who haven’t seen it yet, rest assured that you will enjoy this experience.

now, onto the spoilers.

there are ten things that must be noted about “The Dark Knight Rises”:

1. The Chant: The “Deshi Basara” chant goes on for about half the movie before Bruce Wayne finally notices and asks what it means. Meanwhile, the audience has already long-since figured out that the chant means “Batman fuckin rocks!”

2. Cotillard’s bust: There is one shocking scene when Marion Cotillard stands wet and in profile in Bruce Wayne’s mansion, and her bust is, for lack of a better word, simply massive. Sandy appropriately describes them as lactation boobs.

3. Anne Hathaway on the Bat Bike: The orientation of the rider on the Bat Bike is such that the driver’s posterior flares out in prominent display. Couple that with Nolan’s repeated insistence on filming her from behind and from ground-level, and what you have is at least three or four prolonged studies of Hathaway’s well-rounded asset.

4. Alfred’s Tears: I imagine that before scripting Alfred’s lines, Chris and John Nolan made sure to liquor themselves up, share memories of sentimental brotherly moments from their childhood, and break down crying in each other’s arms. The delightful result is line after line of sentimental repartees, each trying to outdo the former, all delivered masterfully by a perpetually teary-eyed Michael Caine. By Alfred’s fourth scene, I found myself jonesing for a Klonopin.

5. Bane’s muscles: Holy cow, Tom Hardy is so ripped in this role. He looks like an MMA heavyweight. Batman literally shrieks and moans his way through his first fight scene with Bane. It actually makes no sense that Batman (who has no x-ray evidence of cartilage in any of his joints, mind you) is somehow able to make short work of Bane in their rematch an hour later.

6. Audience applause: The audience applauded just about every comeback moment for Batman in this movie. For my part, I nearly applauded the Liam Neeson cameo, as it was both surprising and gratifying to see Ra’s al Ghul (former president and social chair of the “League of Shadows”) not only back from the dead but looking so damn good.

7. The Arabic prisoner with the blue eyes: For most of the movie, the guy is muttering pithy nothings to Bruce Wayne in another language, but then when it really counts, he tells Bruce in perfectly fluent English to “lose the rope”. True wisdom transcends language.

8. Bane’s Shakespearean delivery: One of the real beauties of the film is Bane’s perfect stage delivery of his lines, in epic cadences and positively incandescent intonations. It sounds like poetry in prose every time Bane enumerates the reasons why one guy has to die while Batman must live. The feat is even more impressive when one considers that he has to overcome an acoustically dampening mask as well Hans Zimmer’s overwhelming score.

9. The Police Charge: Dan notes that the policemen emerging from three months of underground confinement are remarkably clean-shaven. They are also remarkably anachronistic, as they choose (in the climactic scene) to charge straight at an army of Bane’s men who are fully armed with automatic weapons and tanks. It seems like a scene out of old-school G.I. Joe; everybody’s shooting, but somehow it just comes down to good old hand-to-hand combat in the end.

10. Happy ever after: The penultimate scene shows a dapper Bruce Wayne and his happy date Selina Kyle merrily embarking on their brand-new clean slate of a life together. The effervescent scene is undoubtedly a crowd pleaser; it is also jarringly out of place in what is otherwise a dark, brooding film. I’m sure Nolan extracted and then reinserted the scene about two dozen times before deciding that someone would lynch him if he did the Inception spinning top all over again.

ADDENDUM (7/22):

11) Hines Ward: Hines Ward makes a cameo as a kick returner for Gotham’s football team. I found it fitting that the opposing team was incapacitated by unforeseen unsportsmanlike behavior (a bomb under the field), leaving Hines Ward to gloat in the end-zone. How fitting for a guy who has spent his career smugly dealing cheap shots and painful injuries to unsuspecting competitors. And of course he was sporting Steelers colors in the movie, which simply added insult to injury.

07.18.12

getting closer

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:11 pm by Administrator

i can feel it. i’m getting closer to restoration. here and there i’m unearthing the critical elements—shame, anger, memory. and as i write about these elements, i feel the thing beneath them beginning to stir again. in my soul, there is still a remnant of the child i was, that thing in me that is forever curious, hopeful, and loving of adventure. he is, above all, resilient in the face of it all, unimpressed by corruption, advancement, and material things. that remnant is the me i was meant to be. and when i recognize this, i feel like God—surveying the wreckage of the world, searching it for the remnant of His incipient self. God searches constantly for His people, because they are the substance of His life. He cannot live without them.

a critical moment for me was catalyzed by music. i’m a big fan of one particular indie artist, and last night all i did was just listen to her music. i set aside the usual distractions, and i just felt the music. oddly, it made me feel like dancing. i don’t dance at all nowadays, as dancing isn’t really part of the culture i live in, and as i’ve always engaged in the dance as something of a performer. in any case, i didn’t dance outwardly, but i felt moved inwardly. i was reminded of something i learned from my Birkman counselor. “you need music in your life, if not constantly than regularly,” she said. “without it, something within you begins to wither away.”

this morning i woke up to find that the home was a mess. ordinarily i save housecleaning for the weekend, but this morning, before anyone was awake, i got on my hands and knees and i scrubbed the floor. i cleared the sink. i watered the plants. all this time, i had music in my mind. and as i exhumed the dirt from the cracks and the corners, something was exhumed within me. i stopped thinking about the things that trouble me; and i began to really feel the things that i love. this is the power of art. it closes one door to experience, even as it gently prods us down another hallway. the great art is the art that negates the seemingly real, in order to actualize the repressed reality within.

my life, i’m reminded, is not work but rather art. it is not reflected in responsibility but rather in self-rendering. i succeed in life not when i’m productive or even happy but rather when i have transmitted my essence in a manner that challenges my world. my blog is my life. sometimes i’m self-conscious and even ashamed of what i write here. but writing this blog is my act of sedition and my protest against society; it is simultaneously my religious adherence to the belief that my life is, above all things, art. my worship of God consists purely in the manner by which i conceive my journey and tell its story.

i’m getting closer. when i arrive, i’ll understand in a new way the beauty of what i am and am experiencing. but right now, i see the grit, the scar, the ugliness. i see the job i must do and the expectations i must fulfill. i see numbers, and dates, and the catacomb of the future. there is no way way to disrupt this veneer except through art. here is where i tell my tale. you think i am a citizen of this world. you do not realize: i’m already immaterial

07.17.12

keep digging

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:50 pm by Administrator

yesterday’s ruminations really cast a new light on my recent struggles. for the past four and a half months, i have been in a funk that i can only describe as post-crisis self-doubt. i’ve been unmotivated to serve in community, and beyond that i’ve even struggled to feel engaged in social situations. i’ve alternately experienced malaise and a personal sense of worthlessness. healing from family crisis requires much more than forgiveness, i have realized; it requires active and total restoration. i don’t know how to experience that restoration.

i asked my pastor to publicly restore me, but he strongly believes that this is unnecessary. our conversation raised the question of whether or not the fundamental matter i am struggling with is forgiveness of myself. the idea resonates with me, and yet it somehow misses the mark. but yesterday’s ruminations about my youth group helped me gain a new perspective on my funk, and while i don’t feel more restored, i do feel less lost.

here’s the conclusion i’m pondering: while active participation in community brings out the best in me, it also brings out the worst in me. when i think back on my youth group days, the Timothy group helped me hone some of my most salient strengths. it honed my curiosity, my self-exploration, my desire to connect with God, and my longing to dialogue on a candid level with other spiritual creatures. on the flip side, the Timothy group experience at times made me feel deeply alienated, at odds with youth culture, threatened by hierarchy, and profoundly misunderstood. when i process what i’m going through now, i can see now how some of my ambivalence toward spiritual community mirrors what i went through as a young, impressionable man. i cannot deny that over the past two years i have discovered and developed some powerful giftings that have allowed me to influence others. but life in community also made my life stressful, sharpened my desire for intimacy, and stretched my interpersonal boundaries in dangerous ways. i moved from one emotional high to another; the experience of connection was intoxicating, to the point that i defined myself purely as a component of community.

so i find myself not only scarred but also conflicted at this time in my life. i can’t resort to maverick spirituality and solitary living; it runs counter to the lessons i’ve learned about myself. but living in community burned me; and someone in community burned me. yes, i carry blame, and yet i was not the only one to blame. how do i rededicate myself to this community, when i now associate this community with my profound and personal humiliation? i was traitorous, but i was also betrayed. and so i am still raw with emotion, still angry, and still very unclear as to who i am and where i belong.

this is perhaps one of the most critical junctures in my spiritual life. the crisis was one juncture; but this time feels even more vital. because i must either embrace the thing that burned me, or i must flee from it. but i cannot persist in between these poles.

at the core of all this is the matter of identity. who is God? who am i? every major struggle in life leads me to these questions, and my answers to these questions are constantly changing. and yet, the theme of these answers gets more and more consistent with time. i can identify this theme; i can understand this theme; and thus i can get at the matter of identity.

God is so many things. he is justice, for the survivors of the murdered. he is love, for the abandoned. he is father, for the orphan. he is the perfect, for the aggrieved. he is the friend, for the lonely. but my life is not big enough or wide enough to really reflect all definitions and facets of God. He designed me to know Him in a very specific way. and with time, my understanding of God has become more and more simple, and more and more clear. and i think He wants it this way. He wants me to know Him my way. and when i know Him, i know myself. when i see Him envelop me, channel Himself through me, and use me for good work, i know Him, and i know myself.

God is my kindred spirit. and i am His echo. more than seeing Him, i feel Him. i felt Him at the side of my wife’s dying uncle; i felt Him beckon to me on the hillside, when He called me His own. there are places in my life where God calls me, just so that we can be ourselves with each other. it is a special thing. out there in the world, i have so much rage for the things we pretend to know about God and about ourselves. some of this rage happens because i know i too am ignorant and lost. but in those places where God sets the table just for us two, i have those moments where i understand the lesson i once did not understand. God created me to connect with Him in feeling and in vision. i’m not alone in being of this design; but in this design, i am not like most others that i know. i am a vessel of a specific kind. and i’ve grown past being proud of this design. it’s simply the means i’ve been given to relate to God.

other people call themselves people of the Book. some people experience Him in liturgy or ritual. i know people who meet God in moments of ecstatic prayer. but i meet God when i submit to my sorrow, when i struggle against the elements of living, and when i see Him across from me, the silent sufferer. we cry together; we heal together; we experience people not as the judge, the deliverer, or the king, but rather as the weary traveler a long way from home. this is why i tell Him, when i am closest to Him, that i understand; and this is why He tells me, when He draws near, that i belong forever and only to Him

07.16.12

The Timothy group

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:53 pm by Administrator

i unexpectedly had a chance to catch up with an old friend from high school days. he and i went to church together for two years, and we have overlapping memories of our youth group, which at the time was called “the Timothy group”. for me, it was a surprisingly significant conversation, in part because i don’t often talk about my high school youth group. that time was a very formative but relatively unexplored part of my past life. today, i began to explore it a bit, and i found myself viewing the experience in a completely new light.

when i first left high school, i believed that my youth group experience had set me apart, as some sort of exceptional young Christian. this was because of several reasons, principally. first, i believed that the quality of biblical teaching at my church had been exceptional. second, i believed that my youth group leaders had been particularly excellent role models in the faith. third, my experience of charismatic giftings within the context of youth group meetings appeared to be confirmation of God’s specific and powerful blessings for that ministry. all of this contributed to a particular approach to Christian practice that i would now describe as intellectually demanding, charismatic in practice, and cynical of other church cultures.

it has taken time for me to recognize that the lessons i learned in the Timothy group were rooted in some of the very specific traits of that church’s community. the church was a predominantly Korean, non-denominational church. its pastor was Korean-born but American-educated, and his vision in the early 1990s was to build a ministry specifically targeted at “1.5″ and 2nd generation Korean-Americans. the pastor himself was a Princeton seminarian who had separated himself from a 1st generation Baptist ministry, in which he had experienced heavy-handed hierarchy and unquestioned tradition. being a visionary and a powerful personality, he was a church leader very much focused on breaking new ground and reaching people at the level of raw emotion.

as involved as i felt in the Timothy group, there are other striking memories i have that bespeak my struggle to fit in. for one thing, i remember being very alarmed at prayer meetings, where i often appeared to be the only person unable to speak in tongues. it wasn’t for lack of emotional investment, i felt; i was wallowing in guilt and shame as a young adolescent, and i was more than willing to cry my heart out during communal prayer. but i couldn’t express myself in the “nonsense tongues”, like so many of my peers in the group. the youth group leaders prayed for me repeatedly, and they told me that i was resisting the receipt and expression of the gift. “you’re thinking too much”, they told me.

i was also never one of the “in” crowd. the “in” crowd were the kids in the year ahead of me. they were praise band leaders, they were funny, and they loved hanging out with one another. they jumped in vans and went to far-flung conferences, and they came back with new songs, new styles of prayer, and a radiant confidence in their spirituality. when they graduated, the youth pastor made sure that the younger kids made care packages for them, which we sent to their college addresses. but to my class—all two of us—no care packages were sent. no one asked us to lead. Chris and i were so close for a while in part because we were both decidedly not mainstream in what was an otherwise very self-assured, very connected youth group. we doubted; we struggled to belong; we were in some ways ambivalent about our Koreanness. and once, on one very memorable occasion, we were both reproached for questioning the youth pastor.

another memory i have is of the frequent “prayers of discernment” i received, as a young, questioning believer. on multiple occasions, i had youth group leaders and other pastors lay hands on me while praying in tongues, and they would tell me various things. my myopia would be healed. my principal struggle in life was fear. i needed to think less. i needed to be “open to the Spirit”. so many people spoke to the matters of my heart as if they understood my experience, when in fact they never spoke to the things that mattered most to me at the time. what i wanted to know was how to properly struggle with lust. how to deal with conflict between my parents. how to deal with the incredible stress of academic and career expectations. how to understand my own widely varying experience of mystical intimacy with God. the questions i wanted answers to were the questions i was not encouraged to ask. and the things i was told only created new questions about who i was to God.

my friend thinks that what we experienced in the youth group might be considered “mild abuse” of a psychological kind. whether or not i agree with that characterization, i find it powerfully validating. the most intense experience of church i have ever had was during those high school years, and yet it was an experience of loneliness, alienation, and incredible confusion.

perhaps my repressed ambivalence of those days is the explanation for some of what has followed. it has become convenient if not desirable for me to intentionally reverse many of my ideological stances from those days. i was once outspoken in my pro-life beliefs during high school; i’m now vigorously pro-choice. i once considered homosexuality an unfortunate thing; now i consider it morally undifferentiable from heterosexuality. i once believed that the experience of God is best captured in ecstatic moments. now i think that the experience of God mostly emerges from the experience of a loving, transforming community. i once believed that the Bible was something to be mastered and thoroughly understood. now, i believe the Bible to be as challenging and elusive as the God who preconceived its various authors. nothing is certain. in so many subconscious ways, i have unleashed ire and rage against the certainty of my high school days, and now that pretense of certitude is all but gone.

my youth pastors warned us that many of us would fall from the faith. it is not hard to understand the truth in what they said. the faith we were taught—a very specific, culturally-rooted thing—really wasn’t meant to be anything more than a transient vessel for a truth that ultimately defies mastery. to grow, i had to abandon that form of faith practice and change. my belief is that i still believe. but i’m well aware that i have peers and former mentors who would now view me as having wandered from orthodoxy. i have been called a heretic. the intuitive side of me embraces this judgment, as a sign of my worth; the feeling side of me judges those who have judged me, as simpletons.

having been influenced by so many ardent Christian believers in my life, and having resisted so many of them, i find myself continually probing myself to understand what makes me right and what makes them wrong in my eyes. the conclusion i come to is this: had i believed them, then i would have had to spend the rest of my life trying to be a man i am not. the God i love does not say or do the things that my Evangelical teachers say or do. He has no particular love for democracy or for humanism; and on the other hand he has no specific loathing of homosexuals and social deviants. the God i have grown convinced of is the one who grieves human suffering and who affixes Himself to the hope of a redeemed, unified people. if cornered and disputed on this idea of God, i will say that it actually doesn’t matter who is right or wrong on any of these things anyways. it is God’s responsibility to prove Himself, and what happens to us beyond earthly death is nothing of great significance anyways.

i am reminded now of a time when i found myself stranded at a multi-church retreat, in a remote part of Western Maryland, sitting in a pitch-black room surrounded by hundreds of wailing Korean-American kids, all powerfully connected to God in their alien tongue. i literally ran out of there. i found my way back to my bunk bed, where i stayed until they called my parents and found me a ride home. when the retreat staff asked me what was wrong, i told them i was sick. one young man asked me how i could leave, when it was so clear that something awesome and of the Spirit was happening to everyone. “i don’t know,” i said, and then i started to cry. i understand now why i was crying. i cried because God was always something that was happening to other people.

i have not cried like that again. i don’t believe in that god anymore.

07.11.12

God’s to blame

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 am by Administrator

as part of my management training, i did an on-line exercise on “hiring strategic thinkers”. briefly, i was given a scenario, asked to review three candidates based on recorded interviews and their resumes, and then tasked with recommending one of the candidates. i picked the wrong one. what really caught my eye about the exercise was the rationale that the module offered for why the candidate i chose was a poor fit for the job. in short, their assessment was that my candidate was too prone to emotional overinvestment and too focused on consensus. in other words, she was much like myself.

i’ve gotten to the point now where my self-assessment in professional terms is fairly consistent with how i’m generally perceived by my peers and my superiors. this is partly because of their feedback to me; it’s also because i’ve gotten to know myself a lot better through my sundry and close working relationships. i’m a visionary person who loves absolutes and finds group synergy intoxicatingly exciting. on the flip side, i’m someone who becomes obsessed with the lone dissenter, gets easily discouraged by failure, and tends to doubt himself when surrounded by conflict and high emotion.

the professional self-assessment also resonates with the psychological self-assessments i’ve done, through books and therapy. the most compelling of these, the Yerkovich Love Style assessment, pegs me as a vacillator: one who is drawn to intense relationships, afraid of abandonment, and continually enthralled by the “new”. the vacillator is the prototypical spouse who complains that he is understood by no one and then falls into extramarital affairs.

it suffices to say that i’m not proud of my vacillator/visionary personality type. i know that my predispositions are not necessarily something to pass moral judgment on, but the particular shortcomings that i struggle with on account of these traits do plague me. it is hard, so hard, for me to adhere to a routine. i hate repetitive, familiar things. i can’t commit to rote tasks. i get bored of responsibilities. the grass is always greener elsewhere. beautiful things not only distract me but throw me off course. i’m haunted by the very things that most enthrall me; these things make it impossible for me to live a mundane, everyday life.

my pastor recently highlighted this characteristic of mine during a conversation we had. he told me that life is hard for people like me, because people like me don’t stick it out. they don’t enjoy the fruits of a life trajectory that moves consistently in one direction. this of course reminds me very much of the thing in me that my father has always perceived and criticized throughout my life—my fastidious and transient preoccupations.

my managerial development has largely focused on tempering the intensity and focusing on consistency, attention to detail, and accountability. the process at times feels like banging away at a hot blade in the hope of creating something rigid and strong in the end. but the trouble that i have is that the conscious compensation for and manipulation of what i am dullens what i believe to be my strengths. when i attempt to turn myself into a creature of diligent habit and routine, i lose my passion for what i’m doing; and my contributions become less personal, less creative, and less interesting to me. i’m wondering if it is possible that i, for better or worse, am meant to be a visionary and a pioneer. i am not built to sustain an operation. i am designed to destroy the old and pave the way for the new.

how did i get this way? i can point to genetics. my father’s family is filled with people like me: dilettantes, ideologues, and philosophers. i can point to my parents, whose high expectations of me curried intense self-reflection and even episodic depression. i can point at my peer group, all restless overachievers who pushed me to distinguish myself in various ways. there are so many things in my background that laid the foundation for a very intense, individualistic, and fundamentally uncompromising idealist. but i’m beginning to wonder if the psychology of what i am is perhaps only part of the picture. i wonder if the spiritual aspect of what i am is largely responsible for the orientation that i project.

after all, the most intense experiences i had in childhood were religious experiences. prayer. revivals. speaking in tongues. baptism of the Holy Spirit. attempted conversion. struggle with God. repentance. suppression of sexual instinct. self-designation as both evil and good. fear of divine retribution. fear of eternal hell. more than anything in my childhood home, it was God who taught me a life of non-negotiable absolutes, who cornered me with high expectations, who convinced me that i was inadequate, who taught me that i was evil, and who enamored me with intense, revelatory experiences of the highest emotion. if there is one person in my history to blame for making me dissatisfied with the banal, it is God. He is the one who taught me in my childhood that a regular, predictable, and stable life was the very picture of failure.

obviously, to construe my personal development along these lines is to challenge then the idea that being a visionary/vacillator is something necessarily bad. because if God wanted me this way, then as much as i dislike my tendencies, i have to accept that they are purposeful. this isn’t to say that i haven’t made some tragic and profoundly hurtful errors as a result of my innate tendencies. but it is to say that the tendencies are meant to be integral to my style and my role. a man like me can always learn the value of discipline and routine; but discipline and routine perhaps are not meant to be the core of my value to my community.

God’s to blame. i blame Him. i blame Him for what i am. someday, if i bear good fruit, then i’ll credit Him for what i am. but here where i am, at the nadir of my healing process, despairing as i am at what i have become, i blame Him. blame is the right word. i did not ask to be this way. and now the only redemption that remains for me is to have God make good on the promise of a blindingly miraculous life—either that cruel deception i naively believed in my youth, or the consuming passion that i was conferred through the touch of God. one way or the other, maybe i’m stuck living this way. for better or worse, perhaps the normal life is something i will never have

07.06.12

what moves

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:33 pm by Administrator

i recently borrowed two books from the library: Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled” and Christopher Reich’s “Rules of Vengeance”. two books from entirely different genres. i stopped reading Ishiguro’s book after the first hundred pages because it was getting painfully self-involved; and i tore through Reich’s book and found myself totally unimpressed at the end.

it’s hard for me to have a satisfactory literary experience nowadays. i don’t know what the problem is. am i having a hard time identifying the books i will probably enjoy? i feel like i should be getting better at that with time, not worse. but when i’m at the library, i find myself migrating back to the authors that i used to love, hoping that i can discover someone like them. but even with those authors, i experienced disillusionment at some point. haruki murakami, for instance, has truly fallen off my radar. “kafka on the shore” was a real disappointment for me after “Wild Sheep Chase” and “Norwegian Wood”. john irving had a few gems in Garp, Owen Meaney, and Cider House Rules before really losing me with Son of the Circus and a Widow for One Year. i’ve wondered if Murakami and Irving have really lost it. Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the author i’m the most excited about right now, but he’s not a terribly prolific guy, and waiting for his next novel feels like waiting for retirement.

i feel like the disillusionment i’m experiencing goes beyond books; i can see it in the way i’m experiencing a lot of things in our culture. movies stink. beyond hollywood’s recent decline, i really can’t recall the last time i got excited about a hyped-up production. the Lord of the Rings Trilogy may have been the last series i was really enthusiastic about. the latest superhero/remake binge strikes me as a reflection of creative desperation. people can’t write original drama/thriller screenplays anymore, or at least they can’t win big-studio funding for them, so here we have Spiderman and whatever-other-Marvel superhero being reinvented for the umpteenth time. it’s boring. Batman #3 will be the exception to that rule, but otherwise i feel like the movie business has been losing me for years.

and even the news is less compelling to me than it once was. the ceaseless rehearsing of “jobs data”, “housing data”, updates on Afghanistan, terror threats, and China caricaturizations has been so predictably rote over the past two years as to be almost irrelevant. i feel like i can almost predict what the headlines will say in 1 year: more grim economic data, more fears about China’s runaway economy, and more problems with getting out of Afghanistan. the only thing in the news that has remotely piqued my interest lately is the Higgs Boson, which is simply fascinating in its implications. i can’t pretend to understand exactly what it represents, but i’ve had fun recently rethinking the real natures of mass, size, and space.

periodically i touch on same basic recurring issues—concepts of God, the failures of Philly sports teams, and my career disappointments—but my sense of disconnection with our present time and culture is certainly becoming a more distinct experience for me. i just don’t get it, this post-modern confused media-absorbed information-saturated society that we live in. i don’t get reality television. i don’t get facebook and twitter. i don’t get democrats versus republicans. i don’t understand why we’re at war and why we still talk about terrorism. i don’t get katie holmes and tom cruise. it’s that simple. i feel like we’re projecting painfully banal things into our collective consciousness, and whether that’s a reflection of our painfully boring lives is a legitimate question for me.

i’m not one to say that i should have been born into another era, though i once believed that i would have been a better fit for Europe of the 1930s or America of the 60s. i’ll admit though that i do wish i could live in an era when we are not only actively exploring other galaxies but also contacting extraterrestrial life. there is life on other planets; but that belief for me heightens my sense of tragedy at the knowledge that i’ll never get to meet them. in my perfect life, i think that i’m the one that leaves my kind to live with an alien civilization. it has saddened me that the space program has suffered on account of the economic recession; when i was a child, i really believed that by 2010 we’d have a man on Mars.

what moves me? i find it hard to find it in art nowadays. but i am moved by random things. the other night my son insisted on reading a bedtime story to my daughter in her crib. it was such a beautiful moment. i was moved by the devastation that i witnessed in Maryland, in the aftermath of the storm last week. i was moved by a conversation i had with old friends in Baltimore. seeing people’s lives in time-lapsed snapshots is always moving to me. i try not to look at it as nearing death; i try to see in it an actualization of life. but the two processes are inseparable. for me, this is such a profound mystery, one which gives me deep sorrow.

more than ever before in my life, i feel like a wanderer in our times. most of what we’re building in society strikes me as plain, if not ugly. but we are not plain and ugly. i don’t know what we should be doing with our time and energy; but i feel like we shouldn’t be using it to dredge oil, fight wars, and shoot reality TV shows.

at the very least, the dark knight rises next week, and for a couple hours at least i will enjoy a diversion from my general sense of malaise.

07.04.12

altar

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:55 am by Administrator

i met with my pastor for breakfast today. i didn’t know what we were going to talk about. but i felt like i needed to meet with him, to explain why i have ended my Tuesday small group, stepped down from ministry leadership, and stopped coming to church regularly. perhaps i thought we would talk about burn-out, both at church and at work.

but he knows me fairly well, better than i think he does. he asked me to think about two things: whether or not i am obsessed with the new, and whether or not my real trouble is committing myself to the mundane.

somehow, in the midst of struggling with these questions, i realized that the thing i am struggling with most is grace. because i have not forgiven myself for what happened five months ago. and i don’t think i realized this until today.

what sort of happily married man falls in love with another woman? what sort of man blessed with giftings and real responsibilities goes around constantly feeling bored and sorry for himself? what sort of man connects with God at such a profound level and yet proceeds through life feeling victimized by fate, constantly on the precipice of failure? yet, this is the man i am. i have despised this man. but now, it is different, because i have been restrained from hating myself this time. God has not permitted it. so instead of loathing myself and recycling my identity, instead of reinventing myself and creating new plans for my life, i have instead been wrestling with who i am. me, the predictable pattern. me, the man who has sinned in the same ways, over and over again. me, whose betrayals are neither surprising nor a deviation from his norm.

i am famously good with change and with crisis. i always will be. how funny it is that i always thought myself to be afraid of change, during my youth. i love turmoil, crisis, and transformation, because it is challenging and new. i love thunderstorms and cataclysms; i love it when the world around me is shaken if not destroyed. it makes me feel possibility in the world. it is the “vacillator” tendency within me, born from years of fearing abandonment and failure.

and because i thrive during crisis, i will always love starting something new. whether with a woman, or with a job, i will always love diving into something unexplored. and i will show my best qualities during transition, and i will deliver on expectations in new situations, simply because i am fully engaged. it is when relationships, responsibilities, and jobs get routine and mundane that i begin to waste away. and this, i believe, is because of two things. first, because i am bored by anything routine. second, because i am afraid that once i am known, really known, i will disappoint. it is easier for me to break away and start something new than to stay and to be unmasked. the real me is not the energetic, ambitious, indomitable man that i project. the real me underneath it all is the man who is perpetually self-questioning, afraid to be alone, and wishing to be loved.

i want to tell myself this. your sin was against youself, your wife, your community, and your God. there is no excuse for the sin, and you will suffer the consequences of it for a long time. even when others have forgiven you (and they have forgiven you), you will struggle to forgive yourself. the integrity you so esteemed in yourself is forever broken. your confidence as a husband has been shattered. you must rebuild your identity and your confidence. that is your cross.

but your mistake does not negate the great lessons God has taught you over the past two years of your life. yes, you are a servant with a public gifting. do not conflate your failure with your love of public ministry; do not assume that what you put out there was your false self—a lie. what you gave to your community is what God desired for you to give: your full self. what you have received from community is what He desired for you to receive: affirmation and profound respect. you are not worth these things. but these things were accorded to you, so that you might know that the spirit of God is with you, and so that you might know that, regardless of your depravity, God intends to use you as a lion for His people. you did not choose this calling. and it is not yours to relinquish.

all of your life, your earthly father has viewed you as weak, uncommitted, spoiled, and self-centered. and because you have feared the truth in his judgment of you, you have rejected the real lesson that he strove to teach you. his family is full of men like you: mercurial, temperamental, unstable, and passionate. these men have destroyed themselves and their families, because they loved bad people, and they loved badly, and they committed themselves half-heartedly. will you be the same? your father, unlike the rest of his clan, devoted himself to just one thing, and he gave himself consistently and relentlessly to that thing. his life took a sustained direction toward a goal that he believed unflinchingly to be worthy of his life. this was the model of living that he hoped you would learn. it does not matter that the one thing he gave himself to was utterly unworthy of his life. you are not the reason for his unhappiness.

i would call you a fool. i would spit you out of my mouth. i would hate you for your vacillations, your passions, your depressions, your longings. your desires are fleeting and inconsequential; your errors in judgment are incomprehensible and loathsome. but i cannot pass this judgment on you, because, despite all these faults, you are loved by God. He has established His lampstand in your life, and your failings are not His concern. He has not adored you for the things you have done, or for the thoughts you have offered. He has wanted only one thing from you. that beautiful, elusive, and powerful thing: your soul.

you are beloved.

i forgive you. make your peace. move on.

07.02.12

The storm

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:31 pm by Administrator

i was in a movie theater
during the storm
so i heard none of it—

the hammer of rain,
the cacophony of thunder,
the prostration of great trees.

seventeen people died,
before i emerged
to a light drizzle

and a flood of night
so seamless it was like
a blanket across my eyes.

i delighted in the ravaged world.
i breathed in the torn air,
and wandered in the wreckage.

later, i found my mother at the door.
where were you, she asked,
while my father lurked, close behind

and i—i stood outside, just
a shape of wind, in the world
i had not destroyed