the purposeful, and the pointless

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:49 pm by Administrator

i’ve been reluctant to write for the past couple of weeks. i feel like i’ve been wading through a bog. every step has felt unsure and excruciatingly heavy. all around me is a dense fog, and just when i think i’m discerning something, i realize it is a trick of my imagination. ordinarily, i would laugh at all this and mock myself for dithering unnecessarily. but i find myself incapable of laughter. this path i’m on, this path that i commit myself to with such resolution, is a path that leads off a cliff. granted, all conceivable paths and their detours ultimately lead there. but for once, i’m going to allow that the dithering is not only rational but perhaps necessary.

i’m nearing 40 now. as i’ve written previously, the whole discourse of success and failure is starting to feel untrue and even irrelevant to me. i’m faced with this prospect—that the only sensible way for me to proceed is to take stock again of the destination. the destination has been heretofore undefined. i can define it, if i choose, and strike out for it, even if the path i end up taking goes nowhere in particular. aren’t we all going nowhere in particular?

it sounds adolescent of me, but i’ll articulate this thought in a different way. the process of maturing, it seems to me, is the process of focusing on what is purposeful, while graduating from a fixation with what is pointless. children perseverate on realities that cannot be changed, such as good and evil, the tragedies of death and war, the inconsistencies inherent to what we say and do. adults, philosophers excepted, don’t waste their time on such things. they devote their energies to what is purposeful in their minds: making the best of bad situations, preparing for inevitable demise, and deluding their children into believing in a structured if not foreseeable future. the utter ambiguities and even falsehoods of things—children are attuned to these things, but we the adults are method actors in our fictional world. we believe in our stories; they have become us.

lately, i’ve felt a growing weariness with the purportedly purposeful things. delaying my death, minimizing risks of various kinds, preparing for all manners of contingencies, and following the news about zimmerman and tsarnaev. all of these things which delineate the edges and openings of our imagined cities and spaces, they are like beams that hold the whole house together. the other day, i walked around the perimeter of the house, admiring it in its geometries and materials, comparing it to the other great edifices we have erected in prior centuries. this house is a masterpiece. but then i sat on a patch of dirt and wondered why i can’t sleep and eat here, on the pebbles and weeds, passing the time before the storm clouds and the waves. i remember, out here in the cold, that i’m no less lost in the garden than i am in the den, before the hearth. but inside the house, i cannot see the raging world for what it is; out here, i cannot avoid noticing that the world is terribly untamed, and it makes me feel quite small.

i’m trying to work past the sadness i feel when i look at my life. it shouldn’t make me feel sad to recognize that the purposeful things are actually pointless things reconstructed. that i work so hard to keep out the wind and the rain strikes me as so laughable. if there’s comfort to be had, it’s not in justifying those efforts, or in recognizing that i’m acting no differently from anyone else. if there’s comfort to be had, it’s in recognizing that perhaps it’s beauty of a kind, to imagine that we can play with the pointless things, as if they were purposeful.

i do want to play with my life. i’ve resigned myself to the inevitable idea that this play will not be fun, at least not in the way that we expect childhood games to be. but the play need not be fun to be pleasurable, in some way. to see it all as a bunch of matchsticks strewn on the floor, or to toss it around like marbles or cards—it’s power of a kind, in an authentic and really human form of power. to play with one’s life doesn’t mean that one does not take it seriously; very much to the contrary, to set out and play with one’s life is perhaps to dignify it for what it is. it demands creativity; it demands hope; it demands the utmost of one’s imagination. to play with my life means that i need not assume that the questions of suffering, starvation, and injustice have answers. in fact, i can assume that our great wars and terrors are no more inevitable than the outcome of any game of chance. i need not play by those rules. in my game, men should not kill, starve, or deprive other people; these things happen when the rules of the game are broken.

this exercise was pointless. it was not purposeful. because it was pointless, and explicitly so, it was not untrue. like burning down the house and turning my back on the flames, it is my way of playing the game. no rule but to pass the time. no victory, but on the other hand no way to lose. like my son, on the floor with his many toys, who wanders from one imaginary game to the next, in no discernible order and with no eye to the end, until, incidentally, he puts down his head to consider something vaguely peculiar and, seemingly by accident, falls asleep


Reflecting on Uganda

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:30 pm by Administrator

a couple of days ago i heard an NPR story on the documentary film “God Loves Uganda”, a film about the effect of American Evangelical missions in inspiring a vicious culture of anti-homosexuality in Uganda. featured in the film are several leaders of IHOP, a Kansas-based organization heavily involved in missions in Uganda. the documentarian links IHOP to the murder and persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, as well as to Ugandan laws banning homosexual practices. since hearing the story, i’ve read a few websites reviewing the film and other sites commenting on the relationship between American Evangelicals and the culture of religion in Uganda.

i haven’t watched the movie, nor am i very familiar with the practices and beliefs of the International House of Prayer. but i’ve spent a little time in Uganda, i have friends who are Christian missionaries, and i myself have contemplated a career in Christian missions. and, on top of all that, i have extremely strong feelings about gay rights and about Christian ideologies as they pertain to homosexuality. for all of these reasons and more, i had a lot of visceral reactions to the NPR story, and these reactions have triggered even deeper qualms that i have about the church and about my personal theology. as troubled as i feel today, i’m writing about these reactions—for clarity, and for my own well-being.

i’ll begin by saying that i have never before felt more ambivalent about the enterprise of overseas Christian missions work. i state this despite my belief that Christian missions work is responsible for a lot of very important, meaningful, and charitable contributions to needy people worldwide. my concerns about the enterprise are mainly focused on the vision of the enterprise. i’d describe these concerns as three-fold: my concerns about cultural imperialism, the misrepresentation of God’s primary intentions, and the effect of missions in undermining the reputation of the church.

regarding the first of these concerns, there’s a lot of literature out there right now on the distinctively Western cultural bias that accompanies the transmission of religious ideals in the developing world. much of it is subconscious. much of this bias serves to decrease the relevance of missionaries and their beliefs to their target audience. in the context of recent world history, this manner of representation of the church is unfortunate, to say the least. cultural imperialism connotes Western conquest. and here’s the thing i believe: this sort of cultural imperialism is inevitable and unavoidable, when Christian missions are invariably carried out by whites and Asians from a small subset of the world’s societies. the cultural milieu of religious belief can’t simply be distilled or extricated from one’s testimony; it is profoundly and psychologically rooted in one’s belief system.

i read a book a few years ago that argued that a greater voice for minority subcultures in the American church could help to mitigate this monolithic effect of cultural bias on missions. but i disagreed with this thesis, because i consider minority subcultures, when it comes to the American church, as offshoots of the dominant paradigm. in other words, every American church, whether black, Latino, white, or Asian in its predominant demographic, is at its root indelibly a representation of the quintessential American church—a church formed around humanistic Western ideology and the uniquely American approach toward world history and progress. you can’t cut it out, and you can’t work around it. the American missions enterprise is an American missions enterprise. for better or worse, it is as social, political, and cultural as it is ideological, in its approach to its global audience.

that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. but we have to acknowledge that America has changed dramatically over the last fifty years, in terms of what it represents to countries of the “developing world”. America was once widely perceived to be a champion of national self-determination and representative democracy. nowadays, it is undeniably better known for being an aggressor, whether in war, general foreign policy, or economic collaboration. the Evangelical call for cultural “war” (as described by IHOP’s leaders) fits snugly within this very American approach toward global dominance in other arenas. whether this association is fair or not, the American church at some point has to recognize that it is being perceived as an American institution with an agenda of global conquest.

i believe this to be a fair assessment of the American missions enterprise, which leads me to my second of three concerns, regarding the misrepresentation of God’s intentions. i’ve written much previously about my evolving understanding of God’s overarching plans for the world. i think that it’s so critical to understand what the transition from the Old to New covenants really reflects about God’s intentions for the world. Israel under the Old Covenant represented the possibility of redemptive nationhood—the idea that a single and sovereign nation could represent God to the world, for the purpose of the world’s redemption. that covenant was dashed to pieces, as a result of Israel’s repeated failures to respect that covenant. the New Covenant, as described by Christ and delineated by Paul, was to be distinctively different; at its root is an eschatology that presupposes a ruined world order and the necessity of a novel, transcendent, post-apocalyptic society. in other words, the transition from the Old to the New Covenant means that the paradigm of world conquest is inappropriate for the church, because the world as described by Christ cannot be reclaimed.

to describe God as one who wishes to reinstall theocracy—or at the very least a world entirely penetrated by the influence of the Gospel—is to fundamentally misrepresent the meaning of Christ and His mission in the world. Christ came to call a specific subset of humanity—His people—to consecrate themselves in preparation for a new kingdom to come, and to spare them the fate of the fallen world. His cause was not ideological, and it cannot be accomplished through cultural or social transformation.

given these things, i consider the American missions enterprise (and i hope it’s becoming clear why i’m terming it as such) to be, at its root, deeply misguided in its self-perception as an agent of conquest or war. hence, the discourse of cultural conquest and war employed by organizations such as IHOP is disturbing to me. even if these organizations do not intend for the murder and imprisonment of disadvantaged minorities and gays in Uganda, their self-representation is nevertheless violent, at its core. and this is the heart of my third concern. the work of the American missions enterprise overseas is, at present, often a profound insult to the reputation of God’s church at large. specifically, it is embarrassing to those of us who fear the idea of the crusade, who do not share the belief that the “reaching of the unreached” is God’s primary directive to us, to the near-exclusion of all other spiritual prerogatives.

when i hear stories like the NPR story about “God Loves Uganda”, i feel shame and embarrassment. because whether i like it or not, i am a part of this unfortunate subcultural movement dedicated to the conquest of the 10/40 window. i do not know whether the documentary is fair and balanced, but i know that my personal concerns about American missions work overseas began for me ten years ago in Uganda, the focus of this documentary. it was there, in 2003, when i met the Colorado missions couple that would forever change my perception of the American missions enterprise. taking condoms out of the hands of Ugandan youth and preaching a blithe and ignorant message of sexual abstinence, this missionary couple undermined the important work of health educators seeking to stem the HIV epidemic in that country. their contribution to the confusion and even death of the people they aimed to save provoked in me nothing less than hostility, an anger that infects me even to this day. i stand opposed to those who spread the word of God in a manner that destroys lives. and i always will.

the church in America is approaching a crossroads. Evangelicals bewail the cultural war in America that they believe they are losing, with regard to gay rights, social norms, and the like. but in truth, the battle they are losing is for the favor of God. their blasphemy and disobedience threatens to make them loathsome to God. why would He choose to be represented by such ignorant, hateful, and self-righteous people? the war that the American church is losing has nothing to do with homosexuality; rather, it is a war for relevance, both in the eyes of man and of God. and now, the American church truly stands to lose everything—its lampstand, the blessing of God, and the ability to pass on the faith, even to its own children


korean culture probably offers no clues in Asiana crash

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:54 pm by Administrator

there was an internet news article published on the probable linkage between korean culture and the circumstances that led to the Asiana airline crash in San Francisco. nowadays, it’s pretty rare when the news, or specifically the way that the news is reported, pisses me off. i don’t expect much of “journalistic integrity”, now that facebook and twitter have essentially polluted news culture to irredeemably low levels. but this article was strikingly offensive to me, mainly because of its preposterousness, and partly because of its pseudoscientific justification for a wide-ranging indictment of a people.

i should start by stating something that i find very obvious. if a pilot, regardless of his level of training, requires his co-pilot to avert disaster and save the lives of their passengers, then the manner of communication between the two pilots is not the main problem. the pilot’s lack of competence is the problem. it seems basic to me that a pilot at the helm of a passenger plane should know how to land a plane safely; and if he makes a devastating mistake that threatens the landing, then he probably should not have been flying the plane in the first place. i don’t want to be on a plane if my safety hinges on the quality of communication between the pilot and his co-pilot. the main issue here is whether the lead pilot committed human error.

while the co-pilot’s ability (or inability) to communicate with the pilot might be relevant in an investigation of a crash, the co-pilot’s awareness and competence should not be assumed. never mind whether or not the co-pilot felt “comfortable” talking to the lead pilot; was the co-pilot in fact aware of the situation and thus capable of intervening, to prevent the crash? i think that there are a variety of questions that first must be answered before we can rightfully assume that the manner of relationship between the two pilots had any plausible bearing on the breakdown in proper processes.

all of this is to say that an open conjecture that “korean culture may offer clues in Asiana crash” is not only premature but also illogical. it’s a speculation that, even in casual conversation, would seem very dubious to me. but as a national news headline, it’s no longer merely an unsubstantiated idea; it’s irresponsible journalism. because the intentional correlation between an ethnic identity and a tragic death always conveys a clear message to the lowest common denominator of reader; those Koreans caused that crash.

the author of the article is of Korean descent, which unfortunately might convey a mistakenly authoritative sense of Korean culture. couple that with her reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s grandly impressionistic works and you have a pseudoscientific justification for a racist theory. no, i don’t use the “R” word lightly. a statement like HeeWee’s, positioned as it is in the national media, regarding an incident of this magnitude, must be treated with no less severity than what attended the “Chink in the Armor” story authored by ESPN regarding Jeremy Lin. i think a thorough tongue-lashing media backlash is in order for Ms. HeeWee. pseudoscientific racism is still racism, as Herrnstein and Murray can well attest to.

all that being said, people say stupid things all the time, and i’m inclined to extend grace. i hope HeeWee gets a chance to retract her incredibly farfetched story and publish a formal apology for this insult to our collective intelligence.


the castle

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:25 pm by Administrator

By night, the castle is built
of need, of fear, of love,
shaped and hardened
by the pressing of hands,
with an eye to the ocean.

In the morning, I find
it has become something else,
crumbled, misshapen,
not the thing
we had made.

I feel cold at dawn, witness
to a different temper of sea,
a louder, angrier sea.
I don’t know what it did
but everything’s changed.

I want to have a smoke
or a stiff drink, but it’s early.
So I’ll play with the sand again
as if, strangely enough,
it were mine.