09.29.13

His favor

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:55 am by Administrator

at a company retreat today, i gave a talk to about seventy docs and mid-level providers, ten administrative leaders, and the CEO of my company. the talk was well-received.

about half a dozen providers thanked me for the talk and said it was their favorite talk of the day. three administrators including two VPs told me it was “better than good” and even “very inspiring”. one doctor said that she had been nearly driven to tears. two physician leaders called me “a motivational speaker”. a senior program administrator interrupted a conversation i was having to tell me it was the best talk she had heard in her life. and the CEO even came around to find me before leaving, and he congratulated me effusively in Spanish before giving me a bear hug.

there are two things about all of this that make the effusive feedback particularly poignant to me. first, i can’t remember exactly what i said during those twenty minutes at the podium. and second, i had nothing prepared when i walked into the ballroom this morning. i was the only presenter aside from the CEO who worked with no slides.

it’s not that i was unprepared due to total negligence. in fact, i’d proposed my plan for the section to my boss several days ago; but i learned yesterday afternoon that he didn’t want to move forward with my idea. he assured the VP who was working on the talk with me that i’d be smart enough to come up with something else. thus i found myself jotting down frantic notes during the first three presentations of the day, unsatisfied with what i was coming up with and increasingly convinced that i would flub the talk.

i wasn’t merely nervous about having no clear content to discuss. i was nervous because the political ramifications of my section were not insignificant. i had been asked to handle what i believed to be the single most challenging part of the program—a section devoted to explaining to the doctors of my company why the senior leadership had chosen to embark on a particularly intimidating program of comprehensive process change. in delivering this content, i had to be cognizant on the one hand that the docs are generally cynical of corporate initiatives like this; and on the other hand, i had to be careful about linking the program too intimately with their sundry complaints—the can of worms that my boss was understandably cautious to open in full view of the CEO and the VP of HR in attendance.

thus, as the hour of my talk approached, i realize that i wasn’t exactly sure what i was allowed to say; but neither could i simply throw out a bunch of fluff for fear of antagonizing my provider colleagues. so, when the time came, i took up my scribbled notes, i picked up the microphone, and i started talking. and for the life of me, i really cannot remember exactly what i ended up putting together, right there on the spot.

when i think about the comments i got after the talk, i realize that there are certain themes to the feedback that capture what made it meaningful to my audience. people felt my passion; they believed that i was sincere; and they felt that my words resonated deeply with their beliefs. beyond simply connecting with me, they found my ideas substantive; they even quoted back to me specific terms and ideas that they had found provocative.

the profound disconnect between my experience of the talk and my audience’s experience of it is more strange to me than amusing. i think about it this way: that during those twenty minutes, in a public space, i allowed myself to struggle out loud within the pressures and confines that had been imposed on me. rather than craft a talk to meet the expectations of my audience, i simply articulated my tensions in negotiating all the parameters i was subject to; and in the process of taking that journey with me, my audience understood in a profoundly personal way what i was struggling with. it was a struggle that mirrored their own struggle; and so it was a journey that validated their own.

public speech is often a strikingly spiritual experience for me. as self-involved as i generally am, when i speak to large groups about something that i believe in, i often lose myself in that experience. for those minutes, it is nothing less than derealizing for me. it is as if i am loaning out my spirit; it’s as if i’m letting myself simply become a passive channel for the essence of something or someone else. when i consider this, i remember where i first realized this particular gift of speech—when i delivered a teaching at my Baltimore church’s men’s retreat six years ago

in many ways, that was an experience remarkably similar to my experience this morning. i was under pressure; i felt terribly inadequate; and yet i found myself inundated with intense affirmation afterwards. my pastor approached me afterwards and asked me to consider whether or not i had a particular gift related to public ministry. that evening was when i first began to realize what God wanted to do with my life. it’s when i discovered that God intended to put me in front of people, to speak to them, and to experience closeness with Him through this experience. six years ago in Baltimore is when i understood for the first time that my calling is like Aaron’s calling: to be the mouthpiece of greater men, and to connect people through my words to something divine.

on my car ride home today, i realized that what i had experienced today was confirmation of the Lord’s favor—the evidence of His intention to use my life for the blessing of His people—and i began to pray like i have not prayed for a long time. i repented, deeply repented, of angry and hostile feelings that i have harbored in recent months against people who have hurt me. i saw my anger for the truly shameful and senseless thing that it was; and i begged God for forgiveness. i felt the spirit of God so sharply on me that it was like experiencing smell for the first time. i wanted to be right with God, because i was so instantly aware of who He was. this is the favor of God: being powerfully used by Him, and being both overwhelmed and overwhelmingly humbled in the process.

i am reminded today that for many years of my childhood my mother prayed that i would not be meek; she yearned that my words would be bold, as a reflection of true courage. and though i was temperamental and shy, there was always around me this thick and unremitting expectation of boldness. three years ago, God gave me the vision of a lion and commanded me to make good on the seed planted in my childhood.

i remember now that i was meant for the experience of God. i was designed for the experience of God. and now that i know it for sure, i know i am ready for it, whatever my calling may be. for thirty-eight years, i have been a man wandering in the wilderness, unsure of himself. but now i come out of the brambles and the weeds, and i come with boldness, willing to say the things that he places on my tongue

09.24.13

hope

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:01 pm by Administrator

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.

and then love takes the cake, according to Paul. but my question is “what about hope?”

recently, i asked my wife to tell me what trait or quality God is most pushing me to value and understand, at this point in my journey. she thought about it for just a minute and said “hope”. i thought about that for a moment and asked her, “well, what is hope anyways?” and that’s when i began to suspect that this was worth more reflection.

faith and love make sense to me, in very practical terms. faith is what you need to stick it out; there’s so much in life that challenges belief, and there’s enough evil to infect the world with rage a hundred times over. there’s no basis for persevering in what is good, outside of faith. and love is extraordinarily compelling, not only to religious people but also to people who don’t subscribe to religion at all. love is so widely valued that it is almost pedestrian; it is nothing if not good. so many people would argue that love is the essential point of spirituality, no matter what you believe.

but hope does not make sense to me. i know that at least part of the reason that my wife thought of my need for hope is that i often fail to project things that are frequently associated with hope, such as positivity, optimism, and good cheer. but when i asked her if she actually meant positivity or optimism, she was adamant in sticking with hope as the thing i must learn to embrace. if i embrace hope, i may come to demonstrate positivity and optimism as well—but these qualities do not essentialize what hope is.

what is hope?

i think of hope as an emergent quality, more than as an innate quality. in other words, hope is the result of faith’s intersection with either an unremitting struggle or a dire-appearing future. one exercises faith in the face of severe persecution or anxiety about the future by expressing hope—a conviction in a favorable outcome despite all evidence to the contrary. as such, i look at hope as situational; it is extraordinarily difficult for me to understand hope as a manner of being. but when i think about the “hope” that my wife is referring to, i think she is talking about hope as a constant and telling manner of approach to life. she is talking about hope as an aspect of identity.

if i might be permitted to speculate, i think i am not the only one who struggles to understand hope apart from situational optimism. i think it’s a generational struggle for us to understand hope, not merely because of present circumstances but also because of present-day culture. secular humanism, American rationalism, and Western empiricism come together in our day and age in the incredibly compelling idea of carpe diem–”the seizing of the day”. to me, carpe diem is not simply a license to hedonism; rather, it is specifically the idea that life’s true pleasures lie in its immediate experiences, not in its plans, deferred gratifications, or theoretical meanings. i take carpe diem to heart. as a result of this belief, when i have a great day, i believe my life to be worthwhile; but when i have a crappy day, i am inclined to find my life futile or unsatisfying. i used to label this response as a reflection of my impulsivity or emotionality; but actually it is a very natural extension of my belief in life as defined by its series of daily experiences.

the idea of my afterlife is not a source of hope for me. i can’t explain this well. but perhaps the most direct way of describing my lack of enthusiasm for heaven is to say it as follows: i have no control over what heaven and hell look like, and i don’t believe that my actions will determine which place i’m headed to. ultimately, therefore, heaven and hell really do not matter to me in the present. the afterlife is something to be sorted out when the time comes. until then, i have more than enough in the present life to absorb my attention (for better or worse).

here is where my theology challenges me to grow. i believe that hope exists in a man’s life in proportion to his awareness of intrinsic depravity. the more one is convinced that his sin is a fatal flaw, the more he is compelled to actively and constantly anticipate (if not strive towards) his sanctification and eventual redemption. i put sanctification and redemption in that order, because to me that is the sensible progression. the man who is genuinely engaged in the process of becoming like God, joined in His death and resurrection, does not merely experience salvation as a confession of Christ’s lordship; he does not find himself valuable simply on account of his newfound belief system. rather, he experiences his value as a result of a transformative process which radicalizes his identity; he sees his life redeemed as the result of goodness and godliness taking root in his being. hope is the recognition and full ownership of this sanctifying trajectory; it is a reflection of profound satisfaction in one’s process of redemption.

seen in this light, to lack hope is to demonstrate utter self-satisfaction. “hopelessness” is a state of being that is universally experienced by those who have not met Christ. it is not a state of emotional depression, pessimism, or spiritual catatonia per se; rather it is simply the state of being unaware of the true value of a life redeemed by God. hopelessness, to put it simply, is the quality of being unable to see the difference between a penny and a diamond. to one who is hopeless, all things are of generally equal goodness and beauty, and because of this, nothing is particularly good or beautiful.

the more i think about it, the more i believe that God is calling me to be sharpened in my experience of life. ironically, He wishes me to seize the day more than my carpe diem nature is capable of seizing it. God wants me to keenly understand the difference between goodness and evil, between the worthless and the worthy, between the beautiful and the mundane. God wants me to be so attuned to what is precious that my eyes and my heart are simply entrained to these things, to the degree that there is, in every relationship and in every action, a compulsion to enjoin myself to what is redeeming. one cannot live, in God’s concept of full living, without experiencing hope. faith and love may get the thunder and the praise, but hope is the tell; and for me, my relative lack of it is a sign that i am too quick to forget what truly makes life worth the living

09.20.13

eagles recap

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:21 pm by Administrator

i’d like to direct you to my August 30th preseason projections, and specifically to my week 3 prediction:

3. Kansas City: 14-24 Loss. KC won’t win this one, so much as the Eagles will prevent them from losing. All the hype about Reid’s return to Philadelphia will simply distract an already undisciplined Eagles’ locker room.

i was not only correct on the spread but quite close on the score; and i think my one-liner was right on. KC certainly did nothing to win last night’s game, other than to avoid turning over the ball. the Eagles on the other hand prevented the Chiefs from losing. they did this in classic style, with boneheaded Michael Vick throwing a casual interception in the first quarter to a completely uncovered pair of defenders who really had no choice but to run the ball in the opposite direction for a touchdown.

the guys i watched the game with are not philly fans by any means, but they were rather surprised by my hostility toward chip kelly. i broke it down for them as i’ve broken it down on my blog innumerable times. kelly chose vick. in this single decision, he deflated the city of philadelphia and set us back by two years in our rebuilding process. it is a quarterback decision i would describe as convenient, spineless, illogical, undermining, and self-defeating. watching Vick singlehandedly give away the game last night reminded me of why i discontinued cable TV in my home three and a half years ago. NFL football is a fork that stabs me in my right eye, over and over and over again.

i really don’t care how smooth or fast the Eagles might look on offense. i want Chip Kelly demoted to offensive coordinator (and he can leave if he doesn’t like that). i want a defensively-minded head coach, and i want Vick kicked off the team immediately. i want boring boring football that’s won one yard at a time at the line of scrimmage. i want wins. three games into the season, the Eagles are proving to be exactly what i thought they were: pretenders who are still trying to learn the fundamentals of the game.

09.19.13

happiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:45 pm by Administrator

someone i’m acquainted with is contemplating divorce after years of struggling through what she believes to be an abusive relationship. hearing about this made me fairly distressed last night. the distress was a bit unusual to me because i’m not particularly close to this acquaintance. the more i thought about it, the more i realized that the news affected me so much because it was bad news; and given my recent state of mind, i’ve been terribly hungry for good news. it is as simple as that; i feel like i simply can’t stomach any more unhappiness.

i complain a lot about my life. i complain about it particularly to my wife, who admitted to me last night that she often wonders whether there is anything truly meaningful to me about my work or my responsibilities at church. “how can you say that?” i exclaimed indignantly, and then i referred to this blog (which she doesn’t read regularly). “of course my responsibilities are meaningful!” i asserted, to which she responded by asking me why then i am ever unable to articulate the meaning of my various commitments directly to her. it was then that i had to admit (with some shame) that i feel she is the only one i can honestly complain to. i want to be negative with her, because i have nowhere else to put all my anger and frustration about my generally unhappy life.

and that’s when my wife asked me if i am in fact unhappy. because by her definition of happiness (a conviction in the worthiness of her life activities), i should be happy. i retorted by saying that this is an unreasonable definition of happiness; happiness is a happy feeling. she asked me to describe when i’ve felt this sort of happiness. i went on to describe one of our recent vacations; i also described (surprisingly to myself) multiple moments from childhood, when i experienced memorable euphoria. my wife thought about these responses and summarized my sense of happiness as follows: happiness is total freedom from expectations and responsibilities, essentialized in the carelessness of the childhood state. i agreed with this definition; to which she basically replied, “Grow up”.

increasingly, i find that people don’t really care about my unhappiness. this really bothers me, as my unhappiness used to be a very powerful element of my life when i was a child. when i was seven, i could claim that i was unhappy because of too much pressure from my parents, and my parents would actually worry and show concern; occasionally, they would let me get out of a violin lesson. when i was twelve, i could play the unhappiness card to get my parents to stop fighting with each other, or to seriously consider letting me do something my way. when i was twenty-four, i could declare my life as woefully unhappy, and mom and dad would instantly worry that i was on the brink of dropping out of medical school, thus headed for inevitable ruination. my unhappiness used to be powerful; and that made the experience of unhappiness more real to me.

with time, i have taken on newer and more intimate acquaintances, such as my wife and God. my wife tends to laugh at my hyperbolic and sweeping generalizations about my tragic life and the broken world. on my weaker days, i see the humor in what she’s observing, and i’m compelled to join her in laughing at myself. even God chooses not to enable my unhappiness, often taking a decidedly insensitive stance on my heartfelt confessions. take this recent exchange:

Me: have you abandoned me God? don’t you care about me, the servant you have called? can’t you see? i’m unhappy.

God: Oh, no… you’re unhappy… SO FUCKING WHAT???

Me: What?

God: GET OVER IT. Trust me; i can make your life a hell of a lot worse.

lately, I’ve had to admit that my being unhappy is less and less of a big deal. in fact, i wonder if my wife doesn’t have a real point: that happiness the feeling isn’t something to quest for as much as it is the occasional by-product of a happy life. in any case, now that i’m surrounded by people who are unimpressed with my emotions, my emotions have become considerably less interesting to me. i’d daresay that i occasionally wonder if, when i feel unhappy, i really am actually unhappy. here and there, when i think about it, the process of emoting unhappiness is actually a very happy experience for me. and then when my wife makes me laugh at myself, i wonder if this is not the greatest kind of happiness—to be a skeptic of myself, to the degree that i become a true fan of my own histrionics.

i don’t mean to diminish the importance of legitimizing and even validating one’s personal ill feelings. and i wouldn’t say that God has generally “Ferberized” me in His relationship with me. but more often than not these days, i sense silence more than concern when i indulge in expressing my unhappy feelings; i sense from my audience a respectful patience. because everyone who knows me understands that these feelings are not going to make me renege on my commitments or leave my community; everyone who knows me understands that i am more defined by what i do than by what i feel. this is the mark of God’s process in me. yes, the feelings matter; because when i don’t act on them, i show evidence of change.

if i could, i would root out the childish, selfish, entitled child within me and simply feel at peace with my world; but God has fashioned me to grow by battling my deep, internal addiction to a certain kind of happiness. i believe that i am denied this happiness, so that instead what i may discover is joy

09.18.13

authority

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:21 am by Administrator

i’ve been tired as of late. extraordinarily tired. it’s the kind of fatigue that a good night’s sleep can’t take away. it’s the kind of fatigue that comes from a life of ceaseless work. i have my weekday job, caring for people with addictions, mental illness, and neverending demands. i have my weekend job too: an 8-hour workday at church that sometimes feels like a terrible succession of meetings. i find myself awaiting the weekend of my weekend, but somehow that eighth day never arrives.

after months of this fatigue, my attitude has become exceedingly bad. i vary between frustration on the one hand and an unexplainable and constant hostility on the other. i try to rest and get away, but i don’t know how to rest and where to get away to. lately, even my home has felt invaded, by family members with family problems. i retreat to my bedroom, where it’s inescapably hot, and where i struggle through hours of insomnia. there’s been no rest.

and so, with time, i have begun to feel like the victim of my own life. hence, what happened today at work, when i expressed irritation at a double-booked appointment at the very end of my day. i didn’t throw a fit, but it suffices to say that i wasn’t subtle about my feelings. in any case, word got around about my disappointment, and the staff member whose inadvertent scheduling mistake had led to the double-booking came by my office at the end of the day in tears. she was terribly embarrassed, and she couldn’t stop apologizing to me. and i felt suddenly embarrassed, because i realized the truth of it right away. i wasn’t the victim; i had become the victimizer. the consequences of hurtful words or actions—these are the true consequences of authority.

i was penitent on the drive home. i was sorry about a great number of things. about my resentment. about my weaknesses. about my sinful and utterly selfish thoughts. about my harsh judgments of others. about my anger, my tendencies toward violence, and my pride. the one thing i felt most badly about was bringing my staff member to tears. that to me felt far worse than anything i’ve recently felt or done, and i sought to submit that to God, for forgiveness. it was then that i felt God speaking to me.

you once asked me for something, He said. is it what you still desire, to the rejection of all other things?

and i remembered then, as i drove up the hill to my neighborhood, that it was on this part of my drive nearly a year ago that i had begged God for His favor.

i couldn’t answer the question. because i know better now what God’s favor is. God’s favor is no happy blessing. it’s no relief from suffering, no shelter from the storm. God’s favor is a conferred authority; it’s a role that one takes, from which there is no escaping utter accountability to God in His plans and designs for His people. this sort of favor is unusual; and it is a calling that demands the entire life of him that is favored. this manner of authority cannot be enjoyed the way worldly authority is; it does not satisfy the ego, but rather it breaks the very basis of one’s self-understanding. the authority conferred as a measure of God’s favor inescapably brings a man into intimate knowledge of his weaknesses, limitations, and frustrating incapacities, to the degree that such a man cannot live with himself apart from the grace of God. the authority conferred by God is authority indeed; it can be abused, and it invariably is. the cost of that abuse is humiliation; the fruit of the repentance that follows, as thorough as it must be, is total surrender to the conquest of God.

i resist the favor of God. but i can see in the lesson He is teaching me that i must make a break with my old patterns of thinking. i am tired, yes; much is being demanded of me, and in the eyes of the world, i have reason enough to go my own way. but that is not the path that has been chosen for me. the path to God’s favor is authority; it is the authority that forces me to contend with everything in myself that is incapable of governing myself, much less others. and it is not a happy path that assures my longevity and happiness. it is a path that will break me, time and time again, and it is a path that will ultimately kill that within me which cannot pass through the divide with the Lord. i accept that the favor of God must cost me my life.

i fear always that you will abandon me, Lord. i fear that you will pass me over. and you ought to. i am temperamental, not even tempered. i am easily wearied, when others might persevere. i look at myself and my influence on others, and there is so much to despise. i would never have chosen me. never. but here we are. i am like the beggar who has run across a treasure spilled upon the road, and no one is around to claim it. i have no shame, no shame whatsoever. i will take that treasure and be rich. so take this as my answer. i fail and i keep failing; but until you take it from me, i will have your favor, as fully as i can hold it without falling apart from its weight. i know only one compass for my destination, and that is you. whatever the cost, i say to you, give me your favor. shamelessly, i demand it of you. give it to me, that it may consume everything within me, that i might know everything wicked in my bones and be done with it, for all time

09.10.13

what i am proudest of

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:29 pm by Administrator

i interviewed someone this morning for a job at my company. it’s one of the aspects of my job that i most enjoy. interviewing people invariably gets me excited about things that excite other people. i come away from these interviews feeling more personal focus with regard to my own goals and aspirations.

i always ask the candidates what achievements they are proudest of. though i expect that it should be an easy question for them to answer, i find that it is often difficult for them to articulate an answer. even the candidates with very extensive experience and very refined CVs often have difficulty crystallizing their accomplishments to identify central themes or cardinal strengths.

when i direct the question to myself, i realize that it is a question that is even difficult for myself.

but when i think about it, i do have an answer. the answer is simple: i am proud of my disciplined life.

there are other theoretical answers. i am proud of specific situations in which i’ve changed a patient’s life. i am proud of moments when i’ve helped doctors under my direction, whether in matters as simple as achieving bonus pay or as complex as discerning long-term career goals. i am proud of moments when i’ve inspired colleagues and staff through public speech—and there have been many of these moments.

the reason that my answer doesn’t consist in these things, whether in personal mentorship, patient care, or public speech, is that these things come easily to me. i intuit and empathize naturally; meeting people where they are is easy to me; and speaking extemporaneously and from the heart is one of my strongest competencies. on the other hand, discipline is extraordinarily difficult for me. submitting myself to a routine, taking on structure and accountability, and producing results consistently are things that do not come easily to me.

i look at the disciplines that i’ve embraced, and i look at these as true evidence of personal transformation. that is why my proudest achievement is discipline, in its various forms.

every saturday, i clean the house. i clean every part of it. i scrub down the bathrooms; i clean the toilets; i dust and polish the furniture. i vacuum the floors and then i mop them. i do the laundry, and i fold the laundry. i take out the trash. i scrub down the kitchen sink until it gleams. on the rare occasion that i have not cleaned the house on a saturday morning, i feel it on sunday; it is a tug at my heart, and it is a prompting to make good on the commitment i have made to myself and to my family.

every morning, i run two miles; it is the same route every time. when i finish my run, i water the plants. once last year, when we temporarily moved out of our house while our plumbing was getting replaced, the plants wilted and i lost two flowers in our garden. i never forgot what one week of negligence did to those flowers. every morning, i dedicate myself to the disciplines of exercise and of caring for our garden.

every evening after dinner, i clean up the kitchen and i do the dishes. i take pride in the fact that every evening the house looks as clean and orderly as it did that morning before the kids woke up.

every night, i put myself to bed before 10 PM. i routinely avoid doing anything that will get me overexcited before bedtime so that my “bed hygiene” is consistent and healthy. i don’t stay up late on the computer; i don’t watch movies late at night; and we still don’t have television, which means i’m not tempted to kill time or veg out in front of the TV. i spend my evenings reading or catching up with my wife.

every month, i tithe. i tithe the amount that i owe. i don’t consider tithing optional, and i do it as a matter of routine. if i’m late on the tithe, i feel the pull on my heart; i feel compelled to get back on schedule. sometimes it hurts to tithe. but when i follow through, i feel the fruit of that discipline. i have not missed a month of tithing in over four years.

i don’t take pride in these disciplines because the activities are laudatory in and of themselves. i recognize that a lot of people would look at these activities as very ordinary; and perhaps it’s even laughable to some that i would take pride in such mundane things. but for a man like me, these disciplines represent a transformation in my life. for many years, the only discipline i respected was my schoolwork; cleaning up after myself was something i was not taught to do in my childhood home. other people handled the bills, the gardening, the housecleaning, and the scheduling of my various lessons and appointments, so that i could focus all my energy on performing in school. above and beyond this, i was an only child, accustomed to being served, to being heard, and to having exceptions be made on my account. for me to take on structure and responsibility, i had to change. by God’s grace, i have learned through my marriage to value discipline. i have learned that for someone like me, the discipline of service is the strongest evidence of my love for the people that i serve.

discipline is what i pride myself in. it’s really quite mundane. but i can’t think of anything that more strongly evidences my walk with God. if i love something or someone, i’ll submit myself; and i’ll prove that submission by the things that i do every day, every week, and every month, without being asked. i’ve learned this critical lesson: that the best approach to life’s struggles is not the creative solution but rather the hardwired solution. this sort of pragmatism from an idealistic, self-directed, and generally individualistic man is something i consider notable; and i aim to make it the hallmark of my life.

09.07.13

obama’s legacy

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:37 am by Administrator

whether my generation likes to admit it or not, we will be forever linked to Obama. it was the post-9/11 Gen Xers who agitated most for Obama before the 2008 election. it is the Gen X voice that Mr. Obama has been best attuned to since he entered office, and it is to Gen X ears that he has consistently tailored his message. whether the issue was gay marriage, military withdrawal from Iraq, Guantanamo, or the economy, Obama’s rhetoric has almost always been sensible to his urban, disaffected, Gen X voter base. for these reasons, i think it might be Obama’s legacy to be remembered not only as the first black president but as the first Gen X American president as well.

no one can deny at this point that Obama’s presidency has been a mixed bag of results, at best. though i’ve agreed with him on virtually all the major issues (excepting certain critical aspects of his approach to healthcare reform), i’ve found him to be a remarkably ineffective political leader. and perhaps this is because of his uniquely Gen X quality: the inability to understand the vital importance of principle in engaging the hearts and minds of the elder generation. obama was expedient when it suited him (i.e. making deals with big pharma to give them a pass on healthcare reform); he was remarkably uncompromising when it came to more openly controversial issues. he relied heavily on his strongest competency (public speech) but failed to be any good at the skill that most matters in his line of work (relationship-building). we’re at a point where obama has lost friends that ought to have been easy to retain; and he’s failed to build bridges with enemies that he believed he could win over (such as Iran and Russia).

his approach to egypt, libya, and syria has been baffling, and i think time will only expose with greater severity just how unfortunately he represented America’s interests in the Middle East. but obama’s approach to syria in particular has become inscrutable to me. the more i think about it, the more i believe that syria represents the great divide erupting between our Gen X president and his Gen X voter base. we have been willing to tolerate obama up to this point because we have considered him one of ourselves. but by advocating military action against syria, obama derailed us at last. he is going one way, and we are going another. he has become one of them—the tragically disconnected, utterly misguided politicos who are the butt of our jokes and the objects of our scorn.

we are tired of war. my generation never wanted “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan. we couldn’t believe the hawkish rhetoric that led us to war in Iraq. yet my generation was the one that fought in those wars and came back with the PTSD, the crippling dreams, the unarticulated and voiceless rage against the logic of our times. if we had our way, we would have deserted iraq and afghanistan years ago. we would have had the gumption to say that what happens to those countries really doesn’t matter to us at all. let them live. let them have their governments and their disagreements with us. let al qaeda form up and try to attack us again; they’ll do it anyways, even after we raze a dozen countries to the ground. but let us, in our country, have a few years of peace. let us not be complicit in the senseless murder that we have become famous for, in every other country of the world.

we do not care if syria uses chemical weapons against its people. we do not care how the syrian government kills its children, whether by bullets or with sarin gas. it is all an evil to us, and it is an evil that is gladly repaid with more evil by that government’s enemies. and it is an evil compounded when we join the fray, launching our faceless missiles and our 90-day wave of death across that ravaged nation. murder, regardless of its agent, is evil, and we want no part in it.

i mourn obama, and i mourn the hopes that i had in him. syria is where i draw the line, and i stand on this side of it, and he stands on the other. i say now that it was my mistake to believe in him all these years. it is a Gen X kind of disappointment; and it is one that i think we will remember with great acuity, as obama’s legacy

09.03.13

brokenness

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:02 pm by Administrator

as of late, i’ve been trying to understand why it has become so hard for me to feel emotionally engaged in church settings. this line of self-exploration, consistent and probing as it has been over the past several months, has led me to reconsider the idea of brokenness.

i grew up in a korean-american revivalist setting that strongly emphasized the fundamental role of “brokenness” in the Christian spiritual journey. prayer meetings, youth revivals, and church retreats pivoted on the experience of breaking down an individual in some way. our pastors were quite adept at facilitating this process of breaking, mostly by validating and expanding on the incipient sense of guilt prevalent among sexualizing adolescents. whether by probing into guilt, inadequacy, or insecurities about the future, our spiritual leaders steadfastly refused to normalize our coming-of-age experiences, instead funneling those energies into a darkly psychological quest to undo ourselves and to be rebuilt in a purer mold.

was it psychologically demeaning or damaging to be handled in such a way? and even beyond that, was there spiritual truth in the identity concept we were indoctrinated with? that is too difficult of a question to answer. what is evident, however, is that we learned to connect with God through our mournful and penitent self-loathing. we came to cherish intimacy with God as the result of a self-cleansing, self-abnegating emotional experience by which we projected, externalized, and ultimately marginalized the reprehensible aspects of ourselves. we came to believe in the essential duality of the spiritual self. only recently have i graduated from this self-concept—and that only after years of dialogue and critical self-examination.

it wasn’t until my college years that i encountered Korean-American pastors who actively resisted this culture of brokenness. i recall one pastor who was very much angered by the idea that brokenness was an essential and healthy aspect of the believer’s journey with God. “God meant for us to be whole, not broken!” he argued, with a passion so visceral that i never forgot his words. they were sensible words to me at the time; they were revolutionary words to me because they defied the paradigm we had inherited from our elders.

i moved away from the pursuit of brokenness in my 20s, and i also moved away from circles that practiced Charismatic prayer and worship. the open experience of shame became unfamiliar to me with time; and perhaps for a while i considered this a very healthy thing. but recently i’ve begun to wonder whether my inability to quest for that kind of brokenness has hindered me. after all, i really do not experience the level of emotional connection in prayer that i once did. i long for that, from time to time. there is an ache in me for that crying, that wailing, that flagellation of self. i think that this sort of experience is the essence of spiritual ecstacy—an externalization of self, an empowering reflexivity, a new sense of self-awareness. it is compelling, if not frankly intoxicating. and i think that it can be quite addictive.

i wonder nowadays if i’m a recovering “revivaholic”. there is a hollow in me, and i find myself trying to fill it, and i judge myself for my lack of emotionality, even as i guard myself against it. and all the while, i earnestly seek to understand what the authentic experience of God ought to mean, for me and for people like me. i can say that i don’t really want to experience brokenness; there just isn’t anything attractive about it to me. but i want what brokenness once afforded me—a genuine sense of connection with God, and a simultaneous and intense feeling of rebirth. if i could experience that through human relationship and through the ordinary spiritual disciplines, then i’d have it as much as possible. but the fact is that i’ve never experienced that outside of the charismatic worship experience.