03.26.13

clothing

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:16 pm by Administrator

there’s something that’s changed about my theology over the past ten years, and i think it reflects a more general change in both my religion and my identity. the theology is regarding spiritual “nakedness” and about the biblical metaphor of clohing. i’d summarize the change as this: i now believe that clothing, not a return to nakedness, is the point of sanctification.

i led a bible study on sunday about 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, which is a remarkably abstruse and metaphysical passage. imagine someone unacquainted with the Bible trying to decipher this passage; it’s inconceivable. but even for us who are churched, this is a passage that often strikes us as both familiar and inscrutable. it’s familiar because the passage refers to many of Paul’s profoundest recurring themes, albeit in an incredibly dense paragraph. we see Paul use his common metaphor of a house or dwelling place to describe the transformation of self; he describes the spirit as a deposit on an inheritance, which he explores later in Ephesians; and he discusses the inevitable consumption of everything mortal in the process of revealing the spiritual identity of man, a major theme in Romans.

as familiar as these themes are, each theme is metaphysically complex; and when put together, their cumulative complexity creates a passage that is nearly undecipherable on first-pass. i feel like i’m beginning to understand one aspect of it, through the lens of my journey. that aspect is this: depravity isn’t simply a state of mind that we eventually transcend, through sanctification. depravity, and the redemption it requires, is a permanent aspect of our spiritual identity; it begs for clothing, even as it emphasizes the value of that clothing, and even as it compels us to identify with that clothing as the substance of what we are. final judgment, as it is presented in this passage, is not imposed on the elect for the purpose of determining our mode of relationship to God; rather, it is to confirm for all time our manner of relationship with God—one founded upon and forever informed by His grace.

when i was younger, i looked at the Christian religion as one of self-potentiation and genuine self-revelation. i understood sin as something to be categorized and minimized. the point of accepting Christ’s lordship was to be free of the power of sin, which was essentialized in eternal condemnation. the point of sanctification was to increasingly be free of the consequences of sin, so as to live powerfully and in the full enjoyment of God. the endpoint of sanctification was to be moral perfection, enacted through the work of the Holy Spirit, by which we could attest to the genuineness of our faith.

in this paradigm of my younger years, i looked at the plan of Christ’s redemptive work as one aiming to restore the conditions of Eden to God’s chosen people. Eden is where Adam once walked naked and without shame in perfect communion with God. sin destroyed the possibility of this sort of intimacy, and Christ’s blood was intended to reverse the effect of sin, so that we could have the Garden again. in the theology of my younger years, it was a return to nakedness—total intimacy without shame—that was the point of Christ’s death and resurrection.

but i’ve changed over the past ten years, and the changes have occurred in increments. i came to see self-righteousness in my political and social views; i felt humbled by my errors. i saw failure in my efforts to understand God’s vision for people; and i realized that God had no intention to answer many of my prayers. i hurt people with my words and actions, to the point that i came to loathe myself and my religiosity in particular. my hypocrisy on many deep levels was exposed. i began to see the value of keeping silent; i began to understand repentance as a daily, ongoing process of the utmost importance. i learned to understand God not as the author of my conscience but rather as the separate, mysterious, and dangerous entity that He is. i learned to admit that i am too stupid to understand Him. i learned how to beg for His favor. i learned how to fear Him and His disfavor.

we live in a culture of people who feel entitled to their opinions. more than most any other observation i can make about our kind, this is the observation, i believe, that most clearly illuminates the spirit of our generation. we feel entitled to our opinions. we validate one another’s opinions. we celebrate diversity. and we openly idolize ourselves in the process. among outspoken, entitled, and arrogant people, i was even more outspoken, entitled, and arrogant in my ways. i believed myself to be a Christian among Christians, too knowledgeable of God to even tolerate the experience of Sunday church. God allowed me to experience the fruits of that self-imposed alienation. i never found a spiritual community during those years. i suffered a spiritual isolation that precipitated true depression.

i still express my opinions, but i recognize them for what they are. they are often evidence of my wishes, my limitations, and even my foolishness. God directs me to more inconvenient truths. more often than not, when i really want something, He challenges me to understand that wish and what is at the root of it. He holds me accountable not to embarrass me (though i do often feel embarrassed); rather, He does this to remind me of my constant need for His intercession. the depth of my depravity is not only a reminder of my need for His constant sanctifying work but a constant driver toward this transformation. and thus i realize for myself that the evidence of sin within me is not a weight around my neck but rather the fuel for the engine that drives me away from self, toward God consciousness. it is for this reason that sinful desire, even the most powerful sinful desire, evokes an even greater expression of a craving for God. my struggle with sin is meant to prove that among all desires in my being, the one that was designed to prevail over them all was the desire for His favor.

it is not nakedness i wish for. i am done with self-realization and self-potentiation; i am finished with the idea of being unleashed, unlocked, and exposed. i saw through to the root of what i am, and i can confidently deliver my own definition of hell. Hell is having to be myself, for all time. i understand now that what is happening to me is a transformation that is, beyond self-sublimation, a self-replacement. there was a robe placed upon me by Christ, and it is no temporary garb to disguise me until my flesh beneath is restored to glory. the robe placed on me is the robe of His flesh and blood, and i intend to wear it for all time. what’s beneath that robe will be of no consequence to me or to those who look upon me. when they see me, they will see Him.

when i say that i crave His clothing and not nakedness, i am saying that my core identity—what sets me apart from everything else that has been made—is not something integral to my flesh or to my sin, but rather it is something written upon the robe with which i have been clothed. everything else i consider a loss, to quote the apostle Paul. and thus there is nothing to be gained from nakedness. what is there to be said about me must be said by God. as for me, i will let Him testify as to who i am.

what Adam had in the Garden of Eden was very special. it was a paradise lost, never again to be rediscovered. in my paradise, my people will be clothed. that clothing will be our flesh. it will be grafted to our being; it will be the substance of our body; it will be our only identity, in the next life

03.22.13

The Wire, Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:36 pm by Administrator

after recently going through all episodes of the first 4 seasons of the Sopranos (for the third time), i decided a couple days ago to revisit an oldie and a goodie—season 3 of the Wire. and boy is it a goodie.

there was a time when i regarded The Wire as the best TV show i’ve ever seen. but as time went on, i think that i forgot what was special about The Wire. and reexploring The Sopranos tempted me to think that perhaps The Sopranos in most respects was the better show, with its sleeker look and its more established cast. but the thing that i forgot about The Wire (and am now remembering with keenness) is the true brilliance of its scripted dialogue. The Wire convinces us that it depicts the real Baltimore (whether or not that is actually true) because the dialogue, in its sound, delivery, and content, truly connects us to a visceral experience of raw, unpredictable city street life. beyond being merely witty and funny, the words of The Wire’s characters are frequently shocking and sometimes surprisingly revealing. it’s everything that’s best about stage drama, except that it’s somehow able to retain its remarkable spontaneity on film.

i first followed The Wire when season 2 was getting its first run on HBO. a few residents and i at hopkins began to follow it religiously. it was only natural that we took to the characters right away, because they reminded us so much of our own patients. even to our “trained” ears, the Brits on the cast (i.e. Idris Elba) mastered their dialect work. we saw the actors at Inner Harbor digs; one of my friends claimed she was hit on by “McNutty” at a local pub. Bubbs bought a round of beer for my chief resident and a couple of his friends. i saw Dave Simon talk a couple of times, and Herc held my baby boy during a cast signing. all of these were poignant memories during a poignant time in my life. the raw flavor of the show to me was a perfect reflection of the gritty profanity of the city and its strange sadness. living in Baltimore made me a city boy, for better or worse. and when i watch the Wire, i remember how my desperation and fatigue on night shifts in the hospital ran together with my patients’ own stories of suffering and survival. we were all just trying to get by. we made a ritual out of laughing at stupidity and delighting in the bizarre, as if by celebrating our pain in its various forms we could make it through, intact.

on this viewing of season 3, the character i find most interesting, oddly enough, is Bodie Broadus. caught between almost stereotypical extremes—the brutally soulless Stansfield crew, the strangely cerebral Stringer Bell, and the comically self-deprecating police force—Bodie is a character navigating his own perilous journey with only his conscience and his personal code to guide him. his last stand remains one of my most poignant memories, not only from the show but from all of my time in Baltimore. in retrospect, it’s possible that i connected with the character of Bodie because i once found our journeys to be parallel. Bodie is a young man who did his best to do the right thing within a bad universe; he was a good soldier who died for a bad cause. for years, i saw myself in the same way, a man trying to transcend his own corrupting cynicism in the hope of becoming an idealist fulfilled. six years of suffering the lonely night watch over the shooters, the prostitutes, and the knuckleheads couldn’t help but kill something in me, no matter how genuine my intentions. Bodie got his bullet defending his corner, on his own terms. i took mine, in a figurative sense, by moving far, far away

03.21.13

what do you want

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:15 pm by Administrator

you keep asking me what i want. and my answer is difficult; my answer takes time. you ask me what i want more than anything else. and because my answer is neither simple nor clear, it is no answer at all. it is my prayer.

i want so many things!

i want money. not because i like to buy things. outside of food and nice hotels, i can’t seem to find things that i like to buy. nice clothes are wasted on me. i don’t like to travel. i don’t like to buy gifts, for myself or for others. no, i don’t like money because of its usefulness. i like money because i have been taught since i was a child that money is power. i want power, because the older i grow, the more enemies i have, and the higher are the stakes in the games i play. it would be good to reward those who help me, and to lord it over those whom i despise. this is why i want money.

i want love. but not because i want for affection. it’s worship i desire. why not be waited on and served, why not be adored by anyone of my choice? beautiful women, powerful men, and even spiritual leaders—i’d wish them all to worship me. i would not call it worship, though. i’d call it any number of other things, like respect, or affection, or friendship, or sympathy. but when i look at the envy, the lust, and the ambition which color these things, what i really want is to be worshiped. they need not make a statue of me or bow down. i only crave their bodies and their minds.

i want victory. not because i have a goal in mind, or a cause to fight for. i want to win, because of the thrill of winning, and because of the meaning it gives to my life. there is that black hole in me, deep enough to disappear in. i call it boredom, or lack, or even the deepest of all depression. even worship cannot fill that hole. but the momentum of war, the endless pursuit of absolute victory—this is the bridge over that limitless chasm. i would, if i could, create a lifetime of games that i would win. i would win absolutely if i could, at the cost of lives, and for the prize of nations. all my life would be the ring, and no satisfaction could rival the bloodletting, if i could fight and win, on and on, for as long as i lived.

i want power, and worship, and absolute victory. these sorts of desires i once feared and suppressed; i called them evil, and i aimed to deny myself of them. but in fact, i want these things more than i did when i was younger. i will always desire these things, as long as i live. it is not saddening or pitiable; it is simply mundane. to measure myself, and to know what i truly desire, is to know that i am no different from the rest of my kind. truly we exist in one another’s worlds simply to test ourselves—to be ruled, to be conquered, and to be consumed.

but there is, beneath all of this, another desire that has been there within me. even before i knew your name, that desire was there. i wanted power—over evil things, and over the evil within me. i wanted glory—the sort of glory only you can confer. i wanted victory—absolute victory over death and the fear of dying, and victory over the things in life that trouble the soul. yes, from the beginning of my memories, there was another desire, and it was not so different from all the rest of my desires, except that at the center of this desire was you.

when i am sick and you touch my face, i feel loved. when i am sad and alone, and you take me up a hillside to look at the things you have made, i feel special and specially chosen. you take the little moments—times when i am defeated, times when i am hungry, times when i am lost—and you open my eyes to the funniness of the world and to the great magnitude of the heavens. when you take me in your arms, and when you read me the story of how you lived and died for my sake, i am a lamb who lost my way but was found; i am a black hole now filled with substance and light; i am a broken man who has been mended and healed.

my desire, beneath all other desires, above all other desires, is to delight in you all my days and beyond. i quest for your favor. i wish that you would call to me, like you called to Jonathan, to take up arms against a seemingly unconquerable army. i wish that you would call me, like you called Elijah, to contend with the idols of mankind in a test of faith. i wish that you would send me to be your face and your hands, to your people. i wish these things, because i long for you God. the love of my life, the origin of my every passion, the endpoint of every journey i take in my mind and soul. i want you to favor me. i want you to be able to hold me up as you held up Job, before your friends and enemies, to boast that here you have a man who genuinely worships you.

i want so many things! i want to be worshiped. i want to have my way. but more than these things, i want your favor, oh God. believe me, as i believe you when you tell me you will give me my heart’s desire. i will not stop being a selfish and cruel man. but there is, in me, enough will to drag this beast within me all the way to Calvary, if you will help me nail him to the crossed beams. my greatest desire is for you. this is my answer. give me what i want! and i will be yours

03.19.13

the thing i love about you

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:58 pm by Administrator

it’s the way you take the time we pass together
and make chapters out of our ramblings
and gambolings.

it’s a life of recurring themes, you say;
and it makes me laugh, to see myself
in your eyes.

whether it’s the fiftieth time i said
‘a small amount’, as opposed to ‘a little’
or less;

or the third time in a day that i took notice
of the color of your lipstick, or the way
you touched me.

we hold each other’s moments, and they become
bookmarks, or folded page corners, or memories
worth remembering.

i can’t remember the last time i told you
that the thing i love about you
is this:

life that transpires in parts, paragraphs, and pages—
a story worth the paper, or life as you’d have it,
that it’s written on

03.13.13

recent events, exploring “legacy”

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:14 pm by Administrator

this past friday my wife and i got out to Hollywood to see Sasha, who added L.A. to his Involv3r tour seemingly at the last minute. it felt weird going clubbing in Hollywood, when i’m 37 and have kids at home. but of course i’ll never pass up an opportunity to see Sasha if i can help it. it was ultra cool seeing him spin again, though the experience wasn’t without its usual annoyances: burly guys banging into me on the super-crowded dance floor, getting felt up by a drunk woman while i was taking a breather, being subjected to 3 hours of the opening DJ because Sasha’s flight was delayed. but when he did come on, he brought his usual flavor. it took me back to Nation on Christmas Eve, 2001.

Wondercat, wherever you are, i thought of you. don’t you know, Sasha’s still got that beautiful beautiful music…

in any case, i recently went to a science conference on the East Coast and reconnected with old friends from O. as usual, we picked up where we left off, with the usual ruminations about career path, anxieties about the future, et cetera. i never fail to appreciate how hard it is to build a career in basic science, given how competitive it is, and given how much of the funding seems to ride on lucky breaks at the right time. nevertheless, though i don’t regret leaving the academic path, i always feel intense nostalgia when i catch up with old friends from lab. there is something undeniably special about being deeply connected both to one’s institution and to one’s scientific pursuits. it is like religion, in a way. the science becomes one’s purest pursuit of truth; and the university becomes one’s true community of like-minded souls, a bastion against the commercial world beyond.

the john was the most intense experience of community i’ve ever had in my life, and even now it is hard to look back and remember how much i really wanted to stay. if i’d had my way, i’d be a professor there, and more importantly i’d be paving a scientific exploration of my own. but it did not work out that way. i have gotten over my feelings of failure. i’ve come to look at it this way: that God was jealous for my life, and He refused to share me with the people i most loved. He wanted me to devote myself to the people that He loves. it is hard for me to love God’s people in the same way. but i am trying.

it’s instinctive for a man to crave tribal identity, a belonging to a collective. it’s in our identity. i’m often tempted to think that it was God’s original intention to conceive man as part of a larger people; “God’s people” must have been his original preoccupation. but when i read the story of Genesis, i see it differently: that in fact it was man, not God, that compelled the idea of a tribe. after all, it was originally God’s idea to relate to man as an individual. it was only after the initial plan of creation was revealed to God’s satisfaction that He saw in Adam a need for a helper. God created Adam’s “tribe” out of an emergent need; it was Adam who called for society. and even afterwards, God continued to struggle with the outgrowths of this human compulsion. He scattered the people when they came together beneath the banner of Babel; He favored Noah the individual even as He saw fit to wipe out Noah’s people. i think that with Moses as well, God was content to contend with Moses the individual and to break His ties with the Israelites; had it not been for Moses’s intercession, God might have seen fit to begin again with just his one servant.

while the Bible adopts a civilizational narrative, the story of the Old Testament is that God has never been comfortable with man’s approach to socialization. again and again, God has found His voice in individuals who were outcasts among their people—the prophets and judges—and He has aligned Himself against the peoples with their structures, their kings, and their laws.

yet God has borne with the societies of man, however egregious, because He has recognized that man’s soul calls for tribal belonging. God cannot reach the heart of an individual man unless He ultimately connects the man to a people. it’s for this reason that His blessing to Abraham was expressed as a legacy. and man, in turn, when he is self-aware and connected to God, seeks God’s blessing in progeny. it was so with Abraham. it was so with Moses, when he begged God on Sinai to preserve the Israelites. and it was so with Solomon, whose heart’s cry was to lead his people to prosperity and glory. one sees these echoes even in the writings of Paul, who saw his crowns demonstrated in spiritual progeny—the churches that spawned from his ministry.

God has suffered with “the people” on account of His love for the individual (i.e. Christ, and his forebear-types). man, in turn, demonstrates his godliness when he lays down his life for the people given to him. the tribe is the substrate or context within which God and man demonstrate their mutual faithfulness and love. it is the tribe through which God grants blessing, redemption, and immortality to the individual, and it is the tribe through which man worships God by means of service, acts of love, and self-sacrifice.

i understand, the older i grow, how my struggle to invest myself in communal identity reflects something about the fundamental struggle of creation. in all the universe, there is nothing more beautiful than a human being; and yet, in all of creation, there is nothing more terrible and evil than a man. to love God’s people is to suffer and to ultimately die to oneself; Christ Himself experienced this, and so will every man who seeks to follow Him. but this is the rule of creation, and this is the parameter of God’s relationships with man. until we are in paradise, we necessarily express mutual love indirectly, by interceding for and serving the people. and the greatest blessing we can hope for—the very shape of God’s favor—is essentialized in legacy, one’s spiritual children across the generations.

does this mean that God and Adam in the Garden is the paragon, and that the concept of the church is necessarily a product of the Fall? to some degree, i actually believe this to be true. the church, as the outward projection of God’s form to the fallen world, is only necessary in a world which resists identification with God. the design of the church, after all, is to demonstrate God to the unbeliever, as His chief witness. on the other hand, though, i don’t see Adam and God in the Garden as representing an idealized interaction between two individual entities. Adam wasn’t a man as i am a man; Adam was a man who was deeply connected to God and to other lifeforms, to the degree that he could commune with God and talk to other beings in the created order. Adam, in other words, had a psychic connection to God which transcends what we ordinarily understand of individual beings, in the post-Fall state. Adam in the Garden had not yet experienced alienation; Adam had spiritual interconnection with his world.

i believe that heaven consists in this collective consciousness. the burden of living as oneself, in the post-Fall alienated sense of oneself, is a hellish burden; and none of us wish for an eternity of this sort of individuation. thus, while heaven need not carry on any organizational trappings, as in the church, or as in any other hierarchical social structure, neither will it be a series of one-on-one relationships. it will be interrelationship within the God entity. it will be creation in harmony, an extended God consciousness that intimately unites His self in its various manifestations.

thus, among the chosen, “the people” is a transient identifier; it only approximates the experience of collective consciousness (i.e. nirvana) we will have in the next life. but to those who are not of the elect (those who persist as individuated entities), “the people of God” will perhaps have enduring meaning, as the identity of those who rule the non-elect in their most perfected society (i.e. utopia).

03.11.13

above the cloud

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:53 pm by Administrator

the eye always searches for patterns,
whether in lines that are roads, or in the geometries of cities.
but then we break through the clouds
and see, without sensing.

it’s like hurtling beneath the glow
of sleep’s eyelids, past the purple of dreams,
toward the unreachable hulks of black stone
in the distance.

my children run past me across the ridge of cloud
soundless but for the bird song of laughter
and the murmur of the wind that carries them.
they are two or three, and never more.

i too am young, young enough to forget patterns,
those lines and grooves that tell the story
of earth’s age and mine, like a map
of preoccupations, or of lost time.

i run, not burdened with the metal of the craft
but light with a feeling, only wishing
to stay with them upon the cotton plains
that lead to darkness, always near

03.02.13

stoker

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:51 am by Administrator

{spoilers}

i’ve once written that Lost in Translation is a cinematic litmus test of one’s fundamental sensibilities. there is an experience of intense self-awareness that people either have or don’t have on their first viewing of the movie. it transcends mere enjoyment; some people profoundly “get it” while others really do not. it’s one of the most polarizing films i’ve ever witnessed.

when i reflect on this, i wonder if the aspect Lost draws on is one’s fundamental pathos as a journeyman in life. perhaps the movie exposes those who most acutely experience life as solitary wandering—a lonely and perpetually unrewarded yearning for fulfilling intimacy.

in any case, if Lost in Translation is a litmus for the hopeless romantic, then Stoker is the true litmus test of the cynic philosopher. the lover of the straightforward narrative will balk at Stoker’s surreality; the believer in the moral underpinnings of human psychology will roll his eyes at the excesses of the film. but a few of us will watch Stoker, and we will feel kinship with Park Chan-Wook. in the weird synergy between the protagonist and her uncle, we will discover a reflected and strangely intuitive connection with one another.

of course, this is all in the spirit of melodramatic self-mockery, but then again so is Stoker. this is a dark comedy of a shape and form previously unexperienced by a movie audience anywhere in the world. it presents itself as allegorical horror—seemingly a twisted coming-of-age story regarding a young woman, who realizes her preternaturally dark nature only after falling into a freakish, forbidden romance with a deranged, homicidal uncle. but there’s of course more to it than this. there is the choreography of the movie, which takes precedence over its script. there is the choreography beneath this choreography, by which two wander into synchrony, each becoming fully individualized in the process. and then there is the deeper commentary on the basic struggle of human existence: that tension between believing in one’s given story (however foolish that traditional narrative may be) and actualizing one’s own story (as self-destructive as it necessarily is).

there is that one moment when the protagonist kills the very love of her life, thereby exposing the exquisite contradiction of growing up in the weird intersection of human nature, moral law, and the primacy of self-understanding. it is a singular moment that really cannot be adequately explained in words. it is very much like the culminating moment there in Lost in Translation, when two impossible lovers share final words that the rest of us are not meant to understand. Park renders the moment with something less than brutal satisfaction. this is not the tongue clipping of “Oldboy”; it is a moment pointedly less theatrical. appropriately so, because it is, despite its violence, a mundanely universal moment—the moment when each of us killed something of ourselves in order to live with ourselves. it is the moment when we discovered what we truly are.

stoker is special. it will generally not be understood. for us, the ones who do understand, its certain genius will make it a deeper pleasure, with time