remember where you are from

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:08 pm by Administrator

it seems pretty intuitive to me that in tough times a guy can derive strength from a recounting of his personal journey. i have friends and patients who routinely make a practice of remembering where they are from, in order to find inspiration in the midst of struggle.

for most of my life, i’ve failed to derive strength from my origins. in fact, my childhood was consumed by fears about the future—many of which i have since realized. i didn’t fight my way out of adverse circumstances to achieve great success. in my personal story, success was assumed and expected from the very beginning, and the truly notable things about my journey have been the occasional failures, and how painful and humiliating they were for me.

now, there has been a gradual shift in my manner of thinking over the past two to three years, partly informed by my increasing sense of partnership with God. in my times of reflection and prayer, i’ve felt God pressing me again and again with these simple words: i’m not trying to hurt you. for many years, when i openly questioned the goodness of God, i was incapable of receiving these words. i blamed Him for war, for global injustices, for the death and suffering of my young black patients in East Baltimore, and for the ravage of heroin addiction in America’s inner cities. and i blamed Him for my deep and unrelenting psychological depression as well. but God has gradually restored me by gently and continually urging me to let go of my crisis-oriented perspective.

as i’ve learned to let go of some of my anger and self-loathing, i’ve begun to look at my past, my personal story, through a new lens. for someone of my ethnic and class background, an appeal to origins is not often particularly inspiring, but God has directed me to remember my spiritual origins. and my spiritual origins lie in discrete moments of failure—those painful moments that transformed me. i find God challenging me to understand these moments not as personal failures but rather as my most revealing moments, the moments that most powerfully altered my style with people.

i think that every believer must learn two distinct aspects of fallenness. the first aspect is that of base depravity. the more one embraces this aspect of fallen identity, the more deeply one places himself beneath God, as His subject and as His dependent. the second aspect is that of inherent limitation. one must learn through failure and through hardship that one was distinctly intended to be limited among his people—unable to serve, heal, and positively influence the lives of others apart from God’s continual outpouring of grace. the more one embraces this second aspect of fallenness, the more one understands that the personal motivation to do good is of vastly less importance than the willingness to obey the Lord. this latter truth is at the very heart of what separates the Christian from his postmodern agnostic peer. and here is where God is most driving home the truth of what i am. He wishes to me to recognize, deeply understand, and profoundly embrace the fact that my ambition for holiness must be just one manifestation of my dedication to His Word. anything apart from this is, in the end, just arrogance.

i remember today that if the Lord were to turn His face from me for one moment, the world would consume me alive, and i would be irreparable. if God were for even a split second to leave me to my own best intentions, then i would destroy those that i love. i do nothing good apart from his continual day to day leading. i am spared the fate of my generation only because His salvation is sure and ongoing. and i live and breathe only because the Lord allows me to enter His presence, where no death can follow. my life means something because the Lord dreams a dream for me, and in a very small but meaningful way, He lets me share in that dream.

i remember where i am from. my past is littered with disappointments and failures, but they are the source of my strength. i have hurt many people, i have used influence to undermine those that i love, and i have betrayed my wife and my God. but beyond being forgiven, i have discovered triumph upon the foundation of my fallenness. i remember where i am from. the burdens of my past have become the girding around my waist, the piercing of my ear, and the clasp of the robe given to me by Christ. and because of this, i am content to obey


the past, and richard sherman

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:21 pm by Administrator

we went to see Farhadi’s “The Past” (Le Passe) this past weekend. i was really excited about the movie because i’ve become a big fan of Asghar Farhadi. his last work (”A Separation”) was deft, fresh, and really provocative, particularly in its storytelling style—which i would describe as psychologically probing. Farhadi does not content himself with the usual plot devices and character sketches. he is consumed with uncovering the deeply conflicted motivations of the post-modern individual.

“The Past” turned out to be a great deal different from “A Separation”, mostly for two reasons. the frame of reference in “A Separation” is clearly established from the outset, and the viewer is immediately sympathetic to the three central characters: a married couple on the outs and the teenage daughter caught between them. in contrast, “The Past” is intentionally mysterious, keeping one at arm’s length from each of the characters and their perspectives. there’s an important symbolic scene right at the beginning, with the two principal characters talking soundlessly to each other through a glass barrier. one sees that there are relationships; one guesses at the feelings driving those relationships; but one discovers quickly that everything else will be hinted at, mostly indirectly. if there’s any footing for the audience, it’s tentative at best.

the second reason that “The Past” is so different of an experience is that the real stakes facing the cluster of characters are never fully revealed. while “A Separation” centers on a murder charge facing its protagonist, “The Past” meanders around various questions surrounding a disturbing but nebulous past suicide attempt. because the central fixation is diffuse, “The Past” never summons the intensity of “A Separation”; there’s no urgency surrounding the resolution of the things that plague its characters. as such, “Le Passe” functions more as a meditation on guilt than as a story. it dwells, without journeying. the beauty of the movie lies in its moody ruminations which find no resolution. but in the end, it’s not a particularly memorable film.

something that will be quite memorable is richard sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews after the Seahawks’ exciting playoff victory over the 49ers. there’s been so much back-and-forth in the media about sherman since the interview that it’s perhaps impossible to add a new perspective. but i’ve got to say this: sherman added insult to injury, and it was his intent to shame the opponent that he had beaten. if there’s a word for that, it’s “ugly”.

richard sherman is a hard-working, dedicated, and generally professional guy, but what he said was downright ugly. anyone who’s ever won anything meaningful got there by taking some losses along the way; and sherman should know as well as anyone else that it’s not cool to get kicked while you’re down. when sherman shamed his opponent on national television, he didn’t merely show passion, emotion, or pride; he showed something ugly about himself. among all the excellent things he’s doing for his team and for his community, he won’t want to be remembered for this. but regardless this is one of the things he will be most remembered for.

when you are a leader, and when people pay attention to what you say, you have a remarkable opportunity to advocate for those who most depend on you, and you have the ability to make people believe in something bigger. Richard Sherman led us to believe that his great play—and his team’s big win—was all about a personal grudge against Michael Crabtree, a struggling wide receiver who spent most of this season fighting his way back from an Achilles injury. that strikes me as petty, and it unfortunately reduces in my mind what Sherman accomplished on the field on Sunday. it was a fall from greatness to utter triviality in the space of five minutes, and that strikes me as one of the saddest things i’ve ever seen in an NFL football game


football, spy thrillers, jack ryan, and breaking bad

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:39 am by Administrator

i’ve just recovered from a string of recent illnesses, and now that my mind is back to moving at normal speed i find myself working through a glut of pop culture material that i’ve been heretofore slow to digest.

first, i’m going to squeeze out a bit of mental diarrhea on the usual odds and ends. i’ve heard a lot of stories on npr about the persecution of gay individuals in Russia, but i have to admit that i’ve failed to grasp any of the specifics about what is going on there. i’ve simultaneously heard a lot about U.S. state laws against gay marriage being overturned by the feds, but i can’t recall which states are involved. here’s my first reaction to all this gay-themed news: does this mean that the International House of Prayer will move to Russia in the near future? i’m waiting for IHOP to extol Russia’s latest victories in the “cultural war for God”… with all the anti-Chechen sentiment in Russia, IHOP might be well-served reinventing itself as the “KGB”: Kuran-burning Gay Bashers for Christ!

i predicted a 5-11 season for the Philadelphia Eagles after Chip Kelly announced Michael Vick as his starting QB in early August, so the season turned out to be a very pleasant surprise for me. Kelly not only reversed his bone-headed QB choice (perhaps he didn’t really have a choice when Vick went down) but he also managed to resurrect something of a defense along with Billy Davis. obviously the Eagles’ defense is still atrocious and mostly to blame for the playoff loss (which was a 60 minute highlight reel for Mark Ingram), but the team did a fair job with a junior varsity defensive squad in the second half of the season. the year did a little (just a little) to quell some of my long-standing rage regarding Eagles mediocrity, but i can’t deny that the team has a real identity now.

about ten years ago, i had an interesting debate with an English friend of mine over the merits of American football. he was a rugby fan, and his main criticism of the NFL game was all the stoppage of play. there’s more dead time than play time when it comes to American football, and nowhere is that more gnawingly evident than in the stadium when you don’t have instant replay and color commentating to fill in all the gaps. i think it’s very true that football is a lot better on TV than in person. that being said, it’s the stoppage of play that makes NFL football the really fast game that it is. in rugby and soccer, guys can’t go full-speed, because they can never save up for a burst. in football, guys are sprinting off scrimmage, and they’re going full-speed more often than not on every single play. that’s what makes the impacts and tackles so dangerous. if there was no stoppage of play, guys would be pushing, hitting, and running with 25-30% less power; it’d be less dangerous, and it’d also be almost unwatchable on television.

now, there’s an important lesson for the spy thriller genre to be drawn from the merits of American football. there’s no top speed without breaks in the action. one thing that consistently annoys me about American action movies (and spy thrillers among them) is how poorly many of them are paced, to the degree that they can turn drawn-out action sequences into a positively plodding affair. the last two Transformers movies that i saw had so many moving pixels for so many consecutive minutes that i actually found my eyes gravitating toward the red-lit Exit sign. action in and of itself is no more exciting than a pile of groping rugby players. it’s all the signals before the snap and the shifts along the line, a consuming paralysis of nerves and anticipation suddenly culminating in a furious surge toward collision, that thrusts the viewer into that cycle of suspense and violent release that we all love. a well-directed action flick attends as much to the rituals of play-calling as it does to the bells, whistles, and tricks that make the play blow up in your face.

in any case, this is at the heart of my disappointment with the latest jack ryan movie, which i saw today while my kids were catching Frozen with the rest of the family. the violence, when it happens, is neither surprising nor cathartic. the segments between all the explosions and shootings don’t really prime the audience for the ensuing action, which consequently transpires as trivial and generally unnecessary. you’ve got to set the table and the mood for a great meal; you’ve got to smell good sex before you have good sex. the NFL makes you want to see guys hit other guys as hard as possible. jack ryan makes you want to take a nap. i feel sympathy for chris pine, an all-american good guy who never really gets his shining moment in this tepidly scripted, awkwardly directed, and rather bruising affair.

when i want to watch a spy thriller that’s the equivalent of the Denver Broncos offense, i pull out the Bourne movies. there’s absolutely nothing i can knock about any of those three movies. they are hands-down expertly paced. by comparison, i find just about every James Bond movie (except for Casino Royale) reminding me distinctly of the Washington Redskins: an overhyped franchise so self-involved and incompetent that its best moments are just really bad inside jokes.

and finally, we come to that grandly epic genre of the cable television crime drama series. i am one of the lucky few who have just started watching Breaking Bad, and having just finished the first season, i am confident that some of my best days of television lie ahead of me.

now, i am admittedly a snob in many respects (according to my wife), so i’ll acknowledge that it might seem suspect when i raise an eyebrow at the first season of what is generally acclaimed as the greatest television series ever made. here’s my assessment of season one: it’s formulaic and not particularly believable at points, and it’s not quite so nuanced in its rendering of Walter White as i was led to believe it would be. the first season strikes me as decidedly inferior in most every respect to the corresponding first seasons of the Wire and the Sopranos.

but Breaking Bad is cohesive in its storytelling, and bryan cranston is a truly unique television presence, projecting an intriguing mix of latent menace and disarming vulnerability. season one, despite some of its fairly weak moments, lays down a sure foundation for what undoubtedly will be the fascinating transformation of Walter White and his middle-class suburban life. i’m not hooked or awed—but i am definitely engaged.


a reconsideration of “devotion”

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:24 pm by Administrator

if we define “devotion” according to Merriam-Webster (a strong attachment or affection defined by dedicated loyalty), then i think i’d have to throw out my entire last entry. i am devoted to my children, in that respect.

what i’m trying to get at is a concept that lies between devotion and obsession, and there’s no specific word for that.

but even when it comes to devotion, i imagine that one can (and should) be specific as to what one is devoted to. if i consider myself devoted to my children, what am i specifically devoted to about their existence? am i devoted to their happiness? am i devoted to their success? am i devoted to their longevity? God Himself is not devoted to my happiness, success, or longevity. so shall i be devoted to these things, with respect to my children?

i feel strong feelings for my children. i could describe this as devotion of a kind. but the closest i could get to specifically defining the object of my devotion would be in this way: i am devoted to the venture of enjoying my children in the healthiest way possible. i don’t want parenting to be troublesome or burdensome for me; and that is not entirely a selfish objective. if parenting were burdensome for me, i’d project that stress and fatigue to my kids. no, i want to enjoy parenting, and for me enjoyable parenting looks very hands-off and laissez-faire.

perhaps the contrast i see with respect to other parents is that they are devoted to different things in their relationships with their children. they’re dedicated to achievement; to discipline; to moral excellence; to a certain picture of a happy childhood. they’re willing to devote themselves to these ends to the degree that they become controlling, if not obsessed, in their relationships with their kids. i’m not willing to sacrifice my personal ease in the upbringing of my children. my devotion tends in a different direction, if it is devotion at all.

more on parenting

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:41 pm by Administrator

here’s where the digging gets tough. i might have specific hopes for my children, but i’m not sure what they are. i might be repressing those hopes, but i can’t say for certain.

in other words, i’m no Tiger Mom. in fact, i loathe Tiger Mom.

the obvious explanation for my laissez-faire attitude is that i was heavily pressured as a child, and so i’m reacting to that overbearing upbringing by unconsciously creating a thoroughly unthreatening background for my children. i think this would be a psychologist’s natural assessment of me. but i’ve pondered this particular idea for several years, and i just don’t think that it’s true at all. in fact, when i’m encouraged to give my full attention to my children and their future, i wholeheartedly embrace the importance of both structure and responsibility in their development. i do keep tabs on how my son handles his homework, and occasionally i feel very aggravated when i find that he’s been sloppy about it.

no, i’ve come to an alternate explanation for my hands-off approach to my children, and i find it vastly more compelling. it’s this simple: i am not devoted to my children.

this doesn’t mean that i don’t love them. without a doubt, i would die for them or in their place. and my feelings toward my children go beyond animalistic parental passion. i really like my kids as well. i think that they are good-looking, funny, kind, and interesting. they are vastly superior to any other children i have met, to the degree that i actually feel sorry for other parents. my children are uniquely beautiful, and i am confident that this would be validated by any objective assessment of their qualities.

but as much as i both love and like them, i would hardly describe myself as truly devoted to them. when i spend a day alone with kids, i generally pay attention to them only when they ask me for something. i don’t spend much time thinking about how to entertain them. while i’ll occasionally engage them in conversation, it’s mostly for chance amusement. they are incidental to what i consider my primary passion, which is the pursuit of God’s favor.

there are lots of Christian parents who would argue convincingly that devotion to their children is primary evidence of their pursuit of God. but i’ll be honest. i just don’t get that. i look at my children and i don’t see human beings that need my slavish attention, my designs on their future, or my hopes for their future success. i see little people that are temporarily dependent on me for food, shelter, safety, and emotional support. someday, they will be big people and they will have their own lives, and my relationships with them will change a lot. there’s only one situation i can think of in which i might need to reconsider this paradigm, and it’s in the event that one of my kids becomes disabled to the degree that i have to remain his or her caretaker. i hope that never happens.

now, this doesn’t mean that i consider myself disengaged. but clearly i don’t view my children as an extension of myself, nor do i feel pressed to influence them in any specific direction. as an example of this, i’m not even sure that i want my children to attend a four-year college. it really depends on what interests and motivations they demonstrate to me, as they grow older. it’s important to me that they take care of themselves financially and emotionally, but beyond encouraging a basic independence and sense of personal responsibility, i don’t see myself trying to live out my hopes through their lives.

obviously, where the rubber meets the road for me is when it comes to faith in God. the one thing that i might be tempted to really inculcate in my kids is a faith in God. but even here, i feel a fair amount of ambivalence, if not frank paralysis. how exactly does one teach a faith in God to one’s kids? when i was seven (my son’s age), i saw straight through the veneer of fake faith. i knew when someone was trying to teach me a religion that he or she didn’t really understand. i don’t think a parent can teach faith in God. the most a parent can do is manifest personal faith—consistent, personal, and unequivocal faith. beyond that, i think one must entrust the matters of election, personal quickening, and godly revelation to God Himself.

should i be devoted to my children, the way i wish to be devoted to God? it’s perhaps a theoretical question, as my heart tells me that this is not really possible. the closest thing i have to devotion in my personal relationships is what i feel toward my wife, but there are certain aspects of that relationship that make devotion both possible and desirable in that context. for one thing, i cannot take our mutual love for granted; it takes work. for another thing, that mutual love is necessary for so many things in our lives, including the well-being of our children. and for another, i feel compelled by God to further that devotion to my wife as a sign of godliness. these aspects don’t really exist in my relationships with my children. it’s almost as if i feel that a certain kind of love for my kids is to be expected, and anything more would be idolatrous.

here’s the thing. i’m trying to give my kids what i feel that they really need (the essentials of survival) while not giving my kids what will not help them (my deferred hopes and dreams). i think it is healthy and fine for me to be present and responsible as a parent without being devoted to them. this may not make sense to most Americans, but i’d argue it’s because we have a culture that encourages parental idolization of their children. i don’t want to idolize my kids, and i don’t think that my children are the reason for my existence.

parenting stuff

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:12 am by Administrator

i’m of the belief that there is no correct “parenting style”, though i tend to dislike just about everyone else’s parenting styles. mostly, i don’t like obsessive parents: parents who spend too much time adjudicating their kids’ arguments, managing their kids’ behaviors, and forcing their kids to maneuver through lots of extracurricular activities. i find it personally exhausting and mostly unnecessary. but mostly, i find that the stress of other parents provokes my own insecurities about parenting, and so i try to avoid stressed out parents as much as possible.

the area of my life that i’ve least explored is my parenting style. i don’t like to think about it. i don’t have any specific goals for my kids, and in fact i’m almost purely reactive in my relationships with them. if you pressed me to define my role as a parent, i think i’d tell you that my role is to keep them alive until they graduate from high school. as minimalist as this might sound, i really do like my kids, and i think that they are unusually interesting people.

i have collected some early observations of my parenting style, and i’ll list them, in an effort to begin some productive reflection:

1. when my kids cry, i often laugh. it is possible that i instinctively minimize their complaints.
2. when my kids ask me questions, i rarely answer them seriously. i use humor as my default mode of communication with them.
3. when it comes to my son, entitlement and sloppiness are two things that can upset me.
4. my children strongly favor their mom, and that makes me feel relieved.
5. i don’t mind when my son talks back to me. i often find it amusing.
6. i frequently compete with my children for my wife’s attention, both physical and mental.
7. i have been accused of treating my son as if he were my younger brother.
8. i do not like it when other parents scold my children.
9. i can’t bring myself to physically discipline my children, under any circumstances.
10. i frequently imagine that i will have “mountaintop” moments of intimacy with my children; but i haven’t had any yet.

when i reflect on these observations, i think that they represent me quite fairly in my parenting style. there is a certain discomfort with authority (and a fear of abusing authority) that i reflect in the way i interact with my children. i can’t be certain how this tendency toward fraternal interaction has affected my kids, and it may be impossible for me to know. i can confidently say this about my kids: they are remarkably independent, outgoing, and energetic children. whatever i’m doing, i don’t think i’m getting in their way.


a religion of the heart

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:06 pm by Administrator

i am reminded today that the Lord calls me to a religion of the heart and not of the mind. and even as much as i grapple and wrestle with the complexities and conundrums of the belief system structured by the biblical narrative, i am aware that the being who motivated the biblical document is very much greater than a system of principles. He is a thinking, willing spirit, very much alive and coexistent with humanity. and in light of this fact, i am reminded that in the end it does not really matter how much i intellectually grasp of the infinitely intricate worldview delinated by the authors of scripture and by Paul in particular. it matters whether i actually know the living God—and whether i am known to Him. and these are not truths that can be bought, earned, or learned. no matter how many bibles are distributed to the world, and no matter how many times the Gospel is preached to a man, God reveals Himself to whomever He wishes. apart from that revelation, the truth of scripture is inescapably lost to us all.

and even that revelation can be quite unique, from person to person. i have become a believer in the idea of a godly fixation—that God reveals Himself to a person within a very specific longing or aspiration. that fixation points to the trajectory of that person’s sanctification and ultimate union with God. with Abraham, that fixation was progeny. with Moses, that fixation was the liberation of the Jewish people. with David, the fixation was triumph over Israel’s enemies. and with Paul, that fixation was the truth of all truths. in each man’s life, God was pleased to present Himself in the context of those fixations, so as to model His grace and His deliverance uniquely to each of His own. as Paul describes, this was not to serve the purpose of individualizing God’s elect; but rather this was to acquaint each one intimately with the mystery of his unique place within God’s spiritual body.

it wasn’t until i was thirty-five that God attuned me to the nature of my fixation. all my life, i have been a competitive man, placed at odds with my peers, driven to success if not victory. it was a foundation laid for the pursuit of glory, but God crushed me upon that foundation so that i would know utter defeat and helplessness. from the bitterness of futility, i was raised up to seek the fulfillment of my ambition in another way. i know no other way to express love than to seek to be first in His eyes. i long to be special and to be viewed with special favor. it was once my psychological DNA; now it is very much my spiritual DNA as well.

i once despaired of this desire, which i considered self-serving and small. but with time i have recognized that when i am laid low, the Lord speaks to me through this fixation to raise me up. when i experience closeness with God, i find that it is consummated in the language of singularity. though the side of me that is rational insists that i am the same as my peers in belief, the upwelling in my heart clamors to be called to unique and spectacular things. i have come to understand that though i am fallen and pathetic, thus unworthy of any attention from the Lord, i have been given this fixation to be first in His eyes in order that i may fulfill the specific design accorded to me. in a way, this could be the Lord’s specific “mind game” imparted to me, simply to drive me toward an ordinary obedience. whether this is delusion or transcendent truth, i have found no alternative but to believe, and to believe specifically in the vision that has been given to me. i was not meant for ordinary ministry, whatever ordinary has meant or will mean to me in the future. i was meant to receive God’s favor. that is the substance of my religion. it has become for me, without a doubt, a religion of the heart.


a shift in preoccupations: the year in review

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:19 pm by Administrator

i can still remember how precisely my anxieties at various times in my life have been defined by my perceived “life stage”.

when i was in high school, for instance, i worried about my college years, and specifically i worried about the psychological effects of social and spiritual unrooting. later, when i was in college, i worried about “the real world”, in which i would not be subject to a structured curriculum, prepared meals, and all the other trappings of institutional life. in my post-graduate training, i worried about landing my first job; i worried about my earning potential, my future quality of life, and the fulfillment of personal and abstract hopes that i termed “dreams”. and then i landed my first job, and i worried about tenure and longevity, not because i liked my first job (in fact i hated it) but because it was now my main mode of connection to mainstream society.

it strikes me that my preoccupations always centered on my ability to maintain a forward momentum, a semblance of progress. and even when my college studies disputed this modernist notion of progress, and even when i became largely disillusioned with my dreams during my early years in the workforce, i continued to feel this almost gravitational pull toward the next theoretical life stage, with its countable challenges and its unique metrics of failure and success.

i imagine that some define the mid-life crisis as a profound and sudden sense of disengagement with this paradigm of necessary life stages. for me, as for many Gen Xers i imagine, the “mid-life crisis”, if defined in this manner, has already begun for me, albeit in gradual fashion. i sense it because i experience less and less resonance with the preoccupations of my peers; and i wonder if they sense the same with one another. to this point, we have advanced through life’s educational and post-educational stages in near-synchrony. now we are poised to propagate the very same paradigm of necessary life stages on our children—but we hesitate to perpetuate this process, for various reasons.

to return to the matter of preoccupations, i would say that before i was 35 i concerned myself mostly with the matter of career fit. the questions that arose from this preoccupation were consistent and persistent over my 20s and early 30s. what should i take for a career? what do i want to accomplish in life? how much is enough? but since the age of 35, there has been a genuine shift in my preoccupations. i’ve begun to question former assumptions about my design and my abilities. my questions about my identity have grown broader and more personally challenging; and my preoccupations have grown decidedly more psychological. how do i stay engaged in what i’m doing? how do i remain committed to my people? how do i continue to make myself useful? these are the questions that absorb me now.

whereas once i was fixated on fitting in somehow, now my fixation is on how to remain connected. i have learned over these last few years that it is a difficult and even exhausting task to remain intimately connected to a community, whether professionally, socially, or spiritually. the older one grows, the more synonymous responsibility and belonging do become; and while one’s younger self might have idealized “belonging” in its various forms, the older self begins to realize what “belonging” takes from his inner being, however much that belonging may give in return.

i hesitate to describe the exhaustion that i experienced repeatedly in 2013 as a matter of “burn-out”. there are innumerable books and essays written on burn-out, and mostly they treat the experience as a transient stage or phase in self-adjustment. “burn-out” is often posited as something to be remedied and overcome. but to me, the exhaustion i experienced is not a symptom of dysfunction, nor is it merely an avoidable consequence of overextension. the poignant and difficult moments of hardship for me this past year are a sign that i’m conflicted about “belonging”. this is probably for a variety of reasons, but i think it mostly stems from two principal concerns: firstly, whether i believe in the communities to which i am committing myself, and secondly whether i am “losing myself” in an unhealthy manner through this process of belonging.

now, for context it’s necessary for me to emphasize that i’ve largely graduated from my prior romantic notions of existing as a privileged individual outside of community. the question for me is no longer “how to belong” or “who to belong to” but rather “how i can continue to belong” when the price of that communal identity is painful. it’s not a pain that a long weekend or a personal respite can quite relieve. there are pains of misalignment; but then there is the greater pain of integration (and personal disintegration). alignment and integration exist on a spectrum, with integration pointing toward total personal submission, if not frank unity. i am at a point in my life where i feel pressed by God and community to integrate myself into communities which are decidedly imperfect (if not occasionally reprehensible) to me. it frustrates me, in a spiritual sense. at times, it makes me feel lost to what i was and to what i think that i am.

to me, this symbolizes a great challenge of the Christian spiritual journey. when heaven was explained to my youth group as a place “where all of us will sing praises to God all day”, i don’t think there was a single one of us who thought at that moment that heaven was just what we wanted. personally, i don’t really like singing praise songs; and communal prayer is often flat-out tedious. the idea of being intimately linked to others in a unified and eternal mind of godly fixation is very nearly the stuff of nightmares for me. but here’s the thing: i recognize more and more that i simply can’t persist into eternity as myself. i can’t do this because my ability to tolerate myself—the imperfect self, the finite self—is itself finite. to be eternal, i need an identity capable of eternal existence without self-exhaustion. i recognize that total integration into God is the essence of eternal life; and if i can’t accept that, then i must in turn accept that death is my only logical conclusion.

thus, i engage in this struggle to abide in connection, submission, and belonging simply because i understand this is my path to eternal existence. as hard as it is, i feel the need to increasingly experience my life as the product of my connection to others.