07.30.14

regarding facebook

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:26 pm by Administrator

the other night, i made some snide remarks about facebook while my wife was surfing her undercover account, and she responded with a shockingly profane tirade of repartees and personal attacks that left me speechless. after she finished berating me, she offered to show me some posted photos from my high school reunion, and in a grand gesture of reconciliation on my part, i agreed to partake of the insipid entertainment. i later came to the conclusion that all was not in vain. i continue to understand very well while i loathe Facebook; and through our snippy exchanges, my wife understands with greater clarity why she actually “likes” it.

on LinkedIn, i routinely see articles in circulation about why this or that person has taken a break from Facebook. there are the month-long fasts; there are the “99 day projects”; and there are sundry stentorian declarations of protest from various ex-users of various kinds. here and there, i read the articles and the comments. i like this comment: “no one cares whether you have deactivated your FB account”. and i have to agree with the comment; deactivating one’s FB account is hardly newsworthy.

but all of it reminds me that i had reasons for deactivating my facebook account four years ago, and very interestingly i now have very different reasons for not reactivating it. i deactivated my account four years ago because of two principal reasons: i was getting into some ugly on-line fights with Laker fans in the aftermath of their last championship, and i also needed to disconnect from “friends” at my old workplace. in short, the social networking site had become a strangely threatening place for me, and i needed to exit that situation for my own personal well-being.

my reasons for staying away from Facebook nowadays are much more philosophical than my reasons for deactivating my account. i’ve written about those reasons previously, and almost no one that i know agrees with me or sympathizes with my viewpoint, least of all my own wife. in any case, delving into those reasons again serves no purpose. what i’d like to consider is a different question: what kind of social networking site would i be willing to join? what are the elements necessary to my willing participation in such a thing?

1. Self-destructing connections: i believe in actively maintained relationships. if i’m not directly interacting with someone in my virtual network, then that connection should automatically self-destruct after a certain amount of time (i.e. six months) without my having to manually delete that relationship. relationships in the real world take time and energy; there’s no sense in maintaining the illusion that the threshold for electronic friendship ought to be any lower.

2. No general announcements: if you say something (an update or announcement), you have to pick your audience, as a subset of your network. communication should be intentional. i don’t need to hear anything that you don’t want my direct, personal response to—and vice-versa.

3. Partitioning of associations: i should have the ability to partition friends, family, coworkers, associates, and “others” and to control the degree to which they can access one another through me.

4. Pseudonym-based identity: there should be nothing attached to or associated with my account that can be traced to my real identity. that includes email address, school background, locale, place of work, or other personal information. i would only participate in a social network in which i could plausibly deny any link to the account. people can connect by sharing their tag information; in other words, there has to be an ongoing “real” relationship in order to create “virtual” relationship.

5. No advertising whatsoever: that goes without saying.

07.29.14

thinking about heaven, and why thinking about heaven matters

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:13 pm by Administrator

for a while, my concept of Heaven has steadily evolved along a certain trajectory, and nowadays i’m finding that the image is beginning to stabilize. i have a picture of what Heaven looks like—and what i will look like in Heaven. and even though i think that Heaven is unimaginable, i think that we are compelled to imagine it, and though i am probably wrong about the way i’m imagining it, i have to believe that there is a purpose to my imaginations.

i’ll lay out the basics, as follows:

1. Heaven is a state of being, shared among God’s elect. Specifically, it is a state of unity, in which the saints experience a shared, collective consciousness with one another and with Christ. their place of communion is discrete—a city named the New Jerusalem—within which resides the person of Christ.

2. The world outside the city, termed the New Earth, is a physical paradise, and here reside all of the souls that have ever lived who were not included in Christ. they exist as perfected physical versions of themselves, in whatever bodily age they prefer, though their ages and forms can change. in the New Earth, the non-elected people live at peace with one another, in a society governed perfectly according to perfect law.

3. As individuated identities with eternal memory, the non-elect are revealed to one another and to themselves; and as such they are left with the responsibility to work out their wrongs, in the pursuit of reconciliation. The saints, who go in and out of the city of God, mediate among the living outside the walls. The work of the saints is this work of reconciling the souls of man; it is an eternal work.

4. The non-elect interact with God by relating to the elect, who project His form and nature to the outside world. in this manner, the non-elect experience a separation from Christ; they experience God as “the other”, as opposed to the elect, who experience God as self.

oddly enough, i think that many people would think of the elect as my version of the non-elect; they might perceive Heaven as the perfected existence outside the city walls. but it’s essential to me that the heavenly experience resides not in perfected circumstances but rather in the perfected consciousness (the God consciousness). seen in this manner, one could argue that in fact it is the non-elect who are chosen to live forever, while it is the elect that are destined to be destroyed as individuals—and reborn as a collective.

the model answers some important questions for me, such as the following. what work will the saints do in the afterlife? what is Hell, and how does it serve God’s justice? what is the “new creation”, and why does Paul emphasize the idea of dual identity? what is the rebirth of the soul, preached by Christ? why does Paul repeatedly use the “body of Christ” and the “temple of God” as recurring metaphors to conceptualize the heavenly existence of God’s people?

one might speculate that i was driven to this model of Heaven by a need to wrestle with Hell. that might have been true once, but i can say with all honesty that this is not a prevailing factor in my current approach to this concept. what i can say about Hell is this. to me, it is insufficient to simply define Hell as a place where God does not reside. and for justice to be truly accomplished, a single sentencing judgment is insufficient to address the consequences of all wrongs that demand repayment. there must be a work of reconciliation among the non-elect in order for God’s ultimate purpose for creation to be served. and there is no possible work for the elect except this kind of work; without this work, God would be in communion solely with Himself—an existence no different from what He had before creation.

why does it matter, these speculations on Heaven? it matters because it highlights the real purpose of this life in relation to the next. the point of the sanctifying journey isn’t to shape or enhance one’s experience of the next life; rather, it’s to experience something of the next life in the here and now. the “inheritance” spoken of in the Word is the godly identity—the experience of deep communion with God. the elect can and should experience some of that in the present life; and to the degree that they can experience that, they demonstrate to one another and to the world the real glory of God. one should not be motivated to do good because he imagines for himself a greater prize in the next life on account of his works; rather, he should experience life as a compulsion toward goodness, informed by the already-but-not-yet experience of his perfected identity.

thus, the glory of God is best revealed when the people of God live out their identities as a redeemed people. whenever and wherever they do this, they demonstrate the lordship of God in the face of an unbelieving generation; moreover, they herald a time in which God will rule the earth utterly and profoundly, to the enlightenment of all creation.

what motivates the believer in his journey then is akin to what a child might experience if he is convinced that he is destined for greatness. he grows into that greatness not to achieve anything in particular but rather to see his promise revealed. he need not be motivated to grow and mature; growth and maturity serve his ambition to become a great man. it is the same with the people of God while they are in mortal form. they grow toward godliness by compulsion; they seek the fullness of their inheritance because it is instinctive to desire such a thing. they quest not for recognition or distinction but rather unity with Christ. this is the substance of Heaven. and this is the reason that they gladly relinquish their lives, in the pursuit of God

07.24.14

the walking dead

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:54 pm by Administrator

i’m following “the walking dead” on netflix, which has been interesting and almost as addictive as “breaking bad”. i think it will eventually fall into the same category as “breaking bad”—intriguing shows that i watch once and never again. in contrast, i recently went through the entire third season of the Sopranos for the fourth or fifth time. i’ve previously written ad nauseum about what makes “The Sopranos” different from (and perhaps superior to) every other television show i’ve ever watched, but that’s not the point of this entry.

“the walking dead” certainly has its very annoying moments, and i can already imagine that it has been butt of wildly hilarious parodies. it’s ridiculously Star Trek-ian in that you always know which member of the group is going to die when they go for a food run (the “new guy”), and yet it’s also sadistically “Game of Thrones” in its willingness to abruptly terminate core characters at any and all times. there are characters that almost never have lines, characters that intermittently surface just to remind you that they’re still alive, and characters that are so damn whiny that they are asking to be killed off quickly. in fact, just today i wiki’d one character i particularly despise and was elated to discover that she does not make it past season 3. as with “Game of Thrones”, there are scenes that i want to fast-forward through because they are so tedious. for GOT, that’s anything involving Daenerys, and for Walking Dead it’s any scene that doesn’t involve either Steven Yeun or Norman Reedus.

despite being occasional campy and numbingly gory (hacked-up brains are beginning to seem mundane), i like the way the show wrestles with a few choice questions about life and death. in the post-apocalyptic world, must we rebuild what we once had? are there different ways to experience family and society? what is the basis of kinship? what are the basic essentials necessary for happiness and for home? frequently, the show beats those questions to a bloody pulp, but here and there the show offers moments when the viewer can appreciate all of the possible answers, each in their own right.

among many observations, i am struck with one in particular: that while we walk this earth thinking of ourselves as civilized, God in all likelihood views us as “the walking dead”. interspersed among the zombies are His own people; and His people are quite literally fighting for survival, every single day.

it’s not that the zombies outwardly look all that different from the living. but they are exposed for what they are when something dramatic happens. for instance, when Jesus came to earth and began His ministry, ordinary people suddenly revealed themselves as murderers, self-righteous autocrats, traitors, and demon-possessed victims. Jesus spent His days among the walking dead, and He grieved that, even as He constantly feared for His life. He was always in danger; He was always being threatened; and in the end He was veritably consumed by the flesh-eating scourge of the Earth. Christ knew that He could not simply revive the walking dead; they had to be entirely reborn, through a miraculous encounter with the Spirit of God.

i think i fail to realize this day to day, and this is part of the reason that i also fail to recognize the utter miracle of the gift i’ve been given and the power of the perception i’ve been accorded. Paul states again and again that those who have been included in Christ are a changed people; they do not think, act, and live the way the walking dead do. and while the walking dead are constantly and incessantly destructive to one another and resistant to God’s truth, God’s people are continually renewed and prompted by the Spirit toward worship and transcendence. those of Christ and those of the world couldn’t be more different. they are of two different tribes. they are the living and the walking dead.

this isn’t to contend that human beings of various faiths have little of essence in common. but i feel the biblical truth urging me to recognize that those of Christ really are categorically different from others, and they are distinctly not of the world. and the more that i am able to explore this truth, the more i understand the true nature of the life i have been given—a transformative life, and a life empowered to drive out evil. the more i am able to see what i am in relation to the broken world, the more i can recognize that i do not belong here. i belong elsewhere, in a different world, where i will live among my kind in the fullness of my inheritance

07.22.14

making it right

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:52 pm by Administrator

the farther i go with God, the more i feel that the real question is not “how could God let these things happen?” but rather “how in the end will you make it right?” because the more i see of the world, the more i realize that creation demands both a liberation and a redemption; and the more i understand God, the more i recognize that this liberation and redemption are His consuming passion. when i voice my hope in the resurrection, it is for this; when i sing praises to God, it is with this in mind; and when i contemplate the glory of God, i realize that the glory of God consists in this. there is no Heaven without a new Earth. all of it, every piece of it and every moment of its history, must be made right. and i do not doubt that no stone will go unturned. it will be made right, somehow.

MH17 has to be made right. among many things that are grievous and seemingly unforgivable in this world we live in, the Malaysian Airlines tragedy must be made right. revenge is on my mind, and moreover i take comfort in the fact that revenge—and the justice that transcends revenge—is a part of God’s plan. after all, God does not eschew revenge. “it is mine to avenge,” God says. “i will repay”. there is punishment in store for those who murdered the people on that plane. they will suffer for this. my hope in the glory of God hinges upon this revenge and upon many acts of divine revenge yet to be revealed against evil men.

but i will grant that divine revenge and God’s punishment of evil will undoubtedly look different from what i have in mind. i would choose slow torture, dismemberment, and the public shaming of murderers. and yet, i know that the gruesome death of the sinner accomplishes nothing in the end. after all, how would the execution of these criminals undo the wrongs that they have done? no, the process of making it right requires something more than the vanquishing of the wrongdoer; it requires the heartbreaking transformation of that wrongdoer, almost to the point of self-extinction, and it requires that the transformed sinner be empowered to restore those that he has injured. within every last sinner that has ever lived, going back to the very first sinner and his cruel act that tainted us all, there must be a repentant self-understanding, and there must be profound works of reconciliation, each accorded a miraculous power for healing. down the generations, permeating every being ever created, out to the very remotest margins of our spiritual universe, this reconciliation must echo, for real redemption to be accomplished.

and even still, as i conjecture these things, i know that the plan of God for the redemption of creation goes even further. beyond reconciliation, there must be a common experience of God in store for us. it must be, for God’s glory to be complete. every one of us, in our own way, must acknowledge who He is. it isn’t right, until every mind and every heart embraces that one truth.

when i comb through that wreckage in my mind’s eye, and when i smell that blood and touch those bodies, when i singe my fingers upon the still hot fragments of a man’s vessel of hatred and destruction, i have such loathing and hatred in my heart. but where it goes is not where it might have gone, before i knew the Lord. it goes now to a place where i demand in my voice of all voices that God have His way utterly, for the righting of all wrongs, and for the crushing of all evils. i go to a place where i see that a forgiveness and a turning is demanded of us all, every one of us that has lived, and that in the New Heaven and a New Earth the work of reconciliation will be made complete somehow. i see the pain, and for every pain, there is a wound to be closed and a heart to be healed, and such is my faith, that i understand that He will do it all. He will make it right

07.18.14

the purpose of the devotional

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:52 pm by Administrator

we live in an increasingly “evidence-based” culture, and the preoccupation even now extends to the pulpit. i hear fact-based living preached from a lot of sources, and even my own pastor likes to quote heavily from research studies and journals. one research finding that he references often is that the health of a church community is most strongly linked to the devotional life of its members. a church community grows if its members pray and read the Bible; it dwindles if they do not. obviously, we do not know whether the relationship here is correlative or causal, but it is an interesting observation nonetheless.

for all of my struggles with the Bible and all of my changing thoughts about the nature of prayer, i still engage God in private meditation consistently and often. i find this truth at work: that the purpose of the devotional for me resides in my need to remember who i am and where i have come from. there is the version of my life that is preached to me by my bosses, my colleagues, my family, and my society at large; but there is that other version of my life that i have maintained in my thoughts over the years through an intimate, subtle, and even painful process of dialogue with God. it’s a private conversation, and it’s one that i doggedly maintain because it is life-giving and true.

the more responsibility that i take on and the more authority i am given, the harder it is for me to remember who i am and where i have come from. i get involved in the lives of others; i come to understand myself as one who meets the needs of others. that is good, in that it reflects spiritual incorporation, but it is not an unqualified goodness, because incorporation is meaningful only insofar as it incorporates me into the person of God. in other words, i cannot experience life simply by being a servant; rather, i serve in order to be connected to the source of my life. i do all things not for an abstract purpose, as in the demonstration of love; i do what i do because i belong to one who provokes, embodies, and forever embraces love. the focus of my life is the person of God, and i submit myself to His people because it is His body and form.

i once saw the devotional as a means of separating myself from others and from society. this is still true in a way, but it is no longer the essence of devotion for me. i am not special, in and of myself. i have the opportunity to become part of something special; but the miracle of community will elude me if i take on its burden without actively enjoying its blessing. that is the purpose of the devotional: to make sense of the thing i am becoming, by remembering where i came from and what i have longed for. my point of reference is me in the very pit of my depression, five years ago, when i felt useless and alone. i wanted to become part of something greater than myself. i wanted to get lost in God. in my devotionals, i reconnect with that lost man; and i can see through his eyes the value of the suffering and the rewards that i have experienced since that time.

i once read the Bible to gain knowledge of God—apologetic, cerebral, logical understanding of his moral system. that is almost entirely uninteresting to me now. when i struggle with theological concepts, as i often do (i.e. as with penal substitution, predestination, morality regarding sexual identity, and justification by faith), i don’t struggle with those merely because they are philosophically challenging; i struggle with them because i am compelled to negotiate the complex person of God. it is a personal thing for me. and the deeper i go into those troublesome explorations, the more i understand that faith is not about asserting a truth that does not resonate with me; faith resides in the confidence that the journey toward an answer will be fulfilled.

07.11.14

lebron james, barack obama, and donald sterling

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:12 pm by Administrator

today’s news are extraordinary. lebron james is going back to cleveland. barack obama is taking heat for not visiting texas. donald sterling is throwing tantrums in court and calling his wife a pig. all the world’s a stage!

a few thoughts about each guy:

1. Lebron James says I have a responsibility to lead.

sometimes i look at a guy like Lebron James and i think to myself, “if only we could live long enough that the money and the fame actually mattered…” the trouble with great fame is that it doesn’t extend life. it just forces one to spend more of his life defending himself from its consequences.

for a guy who’s been a good citizen, an exemplary player, and a hard-working athlete, there’s been more than enough trouble for a guy like Lebron James. some of it was his own doing, but much of it has been the result of the pettiness and cruelty of others. what dan gilbert wrote and said in the aftermath of “The Decision” was disrespectful, and a lot of celebrity athletes would not have forgiven that. but Lebron James did. and i find his words in the SI article enlightening as to why he was able to overcome these injuries.

when Lebron says that he has a responsibility to lead, i think that what he’s saying is that he has no choice but to go his own way. he’s learned that he can’t be perfect, that he can’t satisfy everyone, and that there’s no single person out there that he can entirely trust. that’s the terrible cost of being impossibly elevated and slavishly worshiped. for lebron, leadership is about transcending the criticisms, the second guesses, and the myriad voices; it is about having the courage to stick with the one thing that’s worked fairly well for him all along: his intuition.

lebron is not a hero or a saint, and he doesn’t have to be. he went about this decision in the most ordinary way that he could, and it makes me feel sympathy for him, a man trying to make the most of the little time he has left.

2. Barack Obama retorts with a quip: Really? Really guys?

barack obama remains for me a most fascinating case study in leadership. at the start of his presidency, he couldn’t have been dealt a better hand, with the Democratic congress, surging public support, and a dismal economy poised to recover. and his giftings were as good as advertised; he’s proven himself a capable public speaker and a likable celebrity. nor can one fault his brain trust. he was visionary in his goals, and much of America (myself included) has been essentially aligned with him on his core beliefs and ideas.

despite his charisma and his intelligence, he hasn’t worked well with others. he’s undermined his allies in Congress; he’s lost a lot of public support for his administration; and he’s been surprisingly bad at addressing his critics. his latest quips aimed at Boehner and the supposed litigation against the presidency aren’t really funny. in the context of fairly uninspiring times, they feel inappropriately flippant.

i think that obama has consistently advocated for the “long view” when troubling times actually call for short-term results. his decision to prioritize a fundraising tour over a visit to the hot spot of the immigration controversy confirms what i’ve felt about him all along: that he’s a cerebral guy who’s out of touch with the people. the smarter that people think you are, the harder you have to work to convince people that you actually know something meaningful. sometimes, you can be too cool; and in the end, i think that this has been the undoing of Barack Obama.

3. Donald Sterling takes the stand. said one reporter, it was like watching King Lear.

say what you want about Donald, but this is a man who’s been a major person of influence in Los Angeles for a long time. he’s nearing the end of his life, and he’s showing his true colors now, and one can see that for Donald there’s no single score to settle. there’s a whole life of griefs and grudges that he’s wrestling with on the stand, and by all accounts he’s made this trial a painful experience for all in attendance.

the sad part is that i really believe that Donald has something worth defending—his right to ownership—and he has a good case for his defense. i’ve written previously that i think the NBA’s action against Donald was unjustified, if not ominous in its implications. but i can see that Donald Sterling is not trying to protect his holdings or gain justice in this matter. no, Donald Sterling feels that his whole life is on trial, and even if he had no legal opponents, he would be contending with his own conscience in that courtroom. it is a battle he cannot win.

when an aging leader falls apart in this way, one must recognize that the real fault is not simply in his character; it lies in the quality of his relationships. at this time in his life, there ought to have been people to advocate for him, to protect him from harm, and to help him enjoy his last years with dignity. Donald has had no shortage of lovers and friends; but not one of them stands with him now. that is a bitterness that no judge can adjudicate. there is no scenario for Donald in which he wins; there is only the manner in which he loses, and the words that others will author to memorialize his defeat

07.10.14

fullness/justice

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:29 pm by Administrator

i’m ripping off the foucault “power/knowledge” thing, but i do like the forward slash in this particular situation. “fullness”, my word for a particular kind of personal subjective experience, is not equivalent to justice, nor is it predicated upon justice. more correctly, there is an interdependence rooted in common identity. in some ways, they are flip sides of the same coin.

it is hard for me to define fullness. i think that the closest word for it is the Hebrew concept of “shalom”. and the easiest way for me to describe it is to describe what it feels like to lack it. when i am among family or friends who ought to understand me, and yet i feel disconnection and even futility in the simplest of conversations, i miss fullness. when i have achieved or won something that i assumed to be significant, and then i realize that the achievement is somehow less than i might have perceived, i am lacking fullness. when life goes on, in all of its usual patterns, and yet i cannot move with the tide for whatever reason, and yet i cannot be still for all the forces pulling at my life, i feel at a loss. i am not full. i am uprooted.

my world lacks fullness. its art, its glory, and its great moments stand for something, but i cannot discern what that thing is. the people i spend time with lack fullness; they define themselves by what they do and what they purchase, without any clear sense of what they are in the absence of these things. and i lack fullness as well. i consume the things that intrigue me, and the taste of them leaves much to be desired, and the hunger that drove me to that consumption remains unsatisfied. i walk about like a man lacking sleep, and i’m exhausted enough to sleep anywhere, but for some reason i cannot bring myself to lie down in any one place. so i stagger down one path or the other, fatigued almost to blindness, convinced that i require a bed when in fact every door is locked and nature itself offers no shelter from the cold. i know the thing that i’m looking for. but as simple a thing as it is, it is not at hand, and it never is.

justice is part of that thing. i know it, because the times i feel emptiest are the ones when i feel cheated of it. within society at large, i feel most ill at ease when i see a social injustice unfold: a terrible war, a people oppressed by law or by prejudice. i feel it in the ironies, like when a friend talks about the evils of mass-produced food, and yet millions live on the brink of starvation. there are the injustices within personal relationships, as when one sacrifices more than the other, or when one abuses his or her authority over another. and these injustices are rooted in a culture of injustices, built upon abuses and patterns of behavior witnessed in the earliest years of childhood. to see one injustice is to feel the weight of all of them. that is depravity. it’s not any one thing that is evil or amiss; it’s the way all of the injustices together tell the story of how we fail one another—and how that failure is so inevitable that hope itself is futile.

there is no fullness without real justice in all things. and justice is not truly authentic unless it bears itself out in hope, and in the fullness that grows out of hope. the rights and wrongs of law are not meant to be ideas or boundaries; they are meant to preserve a personal experience of fullness which cannot exist apart from communal, if not universal, lawfulness. and spirituality is that thing which demonstrates itself when that fullness is thwarted. for me, spirituality entirely consists in a presumption: that the empty things ought to be full.

i have my various prayers. today, i pray that if God is what we believe Him to be, then He should have His way. and as for me, though i know what fullness ought to be like, i lack it and i know i will never have it in this life. i pray for myself, that i may be spared as much suffering as possible in my transit through this life and into the next. as there can be no justice in this world, neither can there be shalom. i wish for so many things—the end of war, the end of corrupt authority, prosperity for Africa, and the unity of nations—and they are wishes that falsely imply my conscience while actually attesting to my futility. i reside in that bent line between fullness and justice; i am bent from the tension and the terror of our times. but i hold to that line. it is the nexus between two things i cannot live without, and it is the only place where religion holds any meaning for me anymore

07.09.14

looking back

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:00 pm by Administrator

i went back to the old site to read my blogs from 2002 and 2003. it was mortifying. it is particularly embarrassing in hindsight because i know that my peers and co-residents were following my blog at the time. i had lots of things to say about them, about my patients, and about my erratic feelings and general discontent. though it was painful reading, i forced myself to relive the twelve months of my intern year; and in doing so, i reexperienced the person that i once was. it was a jarring experience.

i’ll start with some of the simpler observations. i was a different kind of writer back then. i wrote with my speaking voice, and i wrote restlessly. if i couldn’t find the right word for a feeling, i put together whatever came to mind. as a result, my language was imprecise. as i read through my old blogs, i found myself embarrassed by my syntax and vocabulary. it was a decidedly unsatisfying experience of language.

my writing style began to change in april of 2003. the experience of spring after such a terrible winter radically changed the way that i saw the world around me. i began writing not so much to record my reactions as much as to depict my subjective universe. i think it was a sexual thing, but it was also a reflective thing. i could see the end of intern year approaching, and the experience of hope (after such a desolate time) profoundly transformed me.

another thing that informed the stylistic changes in my writing was my growing awareness of my readership. anonymous readers emailed me about my experiences; and old friends were actively following my blog, to my surprise. i began writing for them. instead of using my blog to dump mental trash, i began to explicate myself through my words. i looked for things to write about, and i started to think about how i wanted to write those things. i think this is part of the reason that i changed so much as a writer toward the end of that year.

and my last observation is that i was profoundly depressed at that time. the most painful part of reconnecting with my 27 year-old self was being reminded of how deeply i felt sadness, loneliness, and regret in those days. i felt trapped in my life. and this was a sensation that continued to haunt me well into my 30s, until my breaking point four years ago.

i could never now write a blog like the one i wrote back then. i was so transparent in those writings; i was so out of control and so terribly vulnerable. for certain, i still write about very personal things, but the blog i wrote twelve years ago was veritably dedicated to my self-humiliation. it’s as if i’d been on a mission to prove myself failed, so that my failure could be accepted by myself and by others, so that i could be freed from any arbitrary expectation of great success. i wanted to get my life back, but i wanted it on my own terms. i wanted to be free—free of debt, free of obligation, free of responsibility. it took me a long time to realize that perhaps i was truly seeking something very much the opposite of that: a life defined by my giftings, my responsibilities, and my role within God’s given community.

looking back enables me to understand better what i’ve become. in a sense, i’ve become more precise even as i’ve become less emotional. i still experience life with intensity, but i don’t feel that intensity as passion, per se. nowadays, i experience that intensity as a lurking, unshakable anxiety. it is subtle, but it is always there, preventing me from identifying too quickly or too deeply with any one person, place, or thing. my subjective universe doesn’t look vivid to me anymore. it looks gray. it looks very very gray, and it takes more effort now to separate shadow from form, affect from memory. life was once confusing and difficult, but now it is plainly opaque. it is not meant to be shaped or understood. it is just an abiding within self. and i am thankful that i am mortal. more than i ever did before, i understand the beauty of rebirth: the promise of a life after death, as something transcendent, and entirely new

07.06.14

that sweet solitude, and how residency took it away

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:36 am by Administrator

a couple of years ago i read a spy thriller called “Shibumi”. it was a quick read, very entertaining. the most fascinating aspects of the story were the texts describing the protagonist’s keen ability to go away in his thoughts and enjoy a certain ecstatic kind of solitary meditation. in this state, he could intuitively experience the simple, inherent beauty of static realities.

it resonated so much with me because i feel like i once had a very similar quality. solitary reflection used to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my daily life. i’d look forward to my quiet moments before sleep, or my times away from people. it wasn’t because i was introverted. it was because those moments held a kind of beauty that i could not experience with people. i was comfortable with what i was; and in those moments i enjoyed being with myself. that was then.

for many years, i’ve tried to figure out why i can no longer enjoy solitude like i once did. what happened to me? was it just growing older? was it losing my imagination? was it the natural result of acceding to a life of predictable rhythms? for years, i tried to understand it, because the moments that were once beautiful to me have since become tedious and terrible. i cannot describe it adequately, this change. i can only say that it is a terrible thing to experience solitude as something burdensome and even boring, when that very same solitude was once such a comforting and beatific experience. i am perpetually at odds with myself now. i am constantly filling my spaces with people and with noise. i can’t be alone.

this evening, for some very strange reason, my thoughts took me back to the story of the hopkins whistleblower, who in 2003 wrote a letter to the ACGME reporting the medicine program’s violation of the new work-hour restrictions. i was a second-year resident then. i still remember how it went down: how the news about his disloyalty spread like wildfire, how my friends in the residency loathed him, how a vengeful sentiment spread throughout the program and reinforced our culture of aggression and exceeding self-righteousness. never mind that he was right about our self-abusive practices. this man was threatening our program and our careers. we took all of our exhaustion, our anger, and the bitterness of our terrible nights, and we committed ourselves to destroying his career. i never knew him; i never said what i felt with words, nor did i find a way to punish him personally. but the rage of my peers was my own rage. this was our home, and he was trying to bring down the whole house. we let him have it. he didn’t make it even a month.

this evening, i read a retrospective that he published about the whole affair six years after it happened. through his description of the program, i could see myself through his eyes: blazing hot, arrogant, and bent on revenge. but i could also see the part of me that i never got to show him: the side of me that had suffered deeply during my intern year, on account of those hundred-hour weeks, those sleepless nights with the unpredictably ill, those savage morning rounds under the icy glares of critical minds. i was the brooding, displaced, unhappy outcast; i was the one who didn’t fit in. i was the one who could not hang with the bitingly cynical, caustically witty, chauvinistically male, and devilishly drunk cadre of young hotshot Osler marines, who hounded the weak with deprecating humor while worshiping themselves with flippant tales of lives lost and saved. that was the side of me that i hid, while i laughed and bullied and got drunk with men i despised.

i began writing this blog the year i began internship. i thought that it would keep me human. but it was in fact a record of how i tried again and again to suppress the fearing, doubting, ill-fitting side of me. while inwardly i loathed what i was becoming, outwardly i took on the form of the men who had power in my life, and i learned to act as they did. i learned to project certitude always; my love for any battle of wills was kindled; and i learned to take pleasure in making a public show of belittling anyone who disagreed with me or stood in my way. i became a doctor by learning how to be an intellectual bully. i paid the price for growing up that way. i earned the ire of a preceptor in my fellowship; i made enemies out of people who could have been lifelong friends; i lost my first job out of training. in all these ways, i failed, because i could not stay true to what i was. and my failure went deeper than these. i lost shibumi. i lost the ability to be alone with myself. i became the thing i most despise, in the entire world.

i never boast about the places i came from. harvard. penn. hopkins. because i hate those places. i learned a certain pattern of learning and leadership from those places, and they taught me how to drive myself toward achievement by creating an unfillable hole in my soul. i think that it has taken me seven years to begin to understand what all of my education and training has done to me, and still, i am only scratching the surface. but i have unearthed enough to see that my initial theories were wrong. it was not the gomers, the shooters, the addicts, and the pathological liars of the east baltimore variety that killed something inside of me; it was the men that i looked to for guidance, who instead taught me that greatness and power lie in one’s ability to make light of the suffering of others. a part of me has never stop resisting that lesson. and that is the only reason i am still alive.

i don’t know if i’ll ever have those delicious moments of private meandering and meditation again. when i am alone, i too often get lonely. when i am not occupied, i begin to feel useless. it’s all the terrible corroding and conditioning that i’ve been subjected to all these years; the damage has been done, and some of it i imagine is permanent. but here in this virtual space, where i have written faithfully for twelve years, there is still a connection, however slim, with the man i once was. he was just a boy then. he was at the shore, losing himself in the ocean and its endlessness, looking out toward his future and very much afraid of what he would become. his private moments were full of doubting and questions and struggle; but those moments were his, and they were vital moments. when i remember those times, i remember that i was once a man that i loved. i once lived a life that i believed in. i didn’t have to hurt anyone or anything in order to feel good about myself.

i will never be that man again. but as long as i write, i remember that a part of him is still with me. it is not enough for me. but it is enough to keep me writing