the sculpted

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:01 am by Administrator

it was a very cold night when i wandered into the Boston MFA back in March and chanced upon Nishida Jun’s Zetsu No. 8. i was not prepared for what i saw there. alone, ruminative, and very much trying to run away from something, i was stopped in my tracks by the exhibit, veritably wonderstruck. it looked like something erupted from long-repressed agony, abruptly transfixed in mid-explosion, and then unnaturally suspended without any hope of resolution. i found myself curiously disturbed and intrigued as i circled the grotesque pieces. among other striking things i came across that evening, including Duveneck’s terribly haunting effigy of his wife Elizabeth, Zetsu No. 8 remains fixed in my memory like a jagged splinter embedded just beneath the surface of my patent thoughts, begging to be extracted, like an oddity or pain that i can forget for a while but never fully escape.

i find it increasingly true that when i am lost in life, i cannot access myself through purposeful language. i have to find a movement or a motion that pushes against the irrepressible currents of my life, just strong enough that i can find a motionlessness, upon the crest at their convergence. a strange relic of someone else’s creation can be just the thing to provoke a conflict of tides. i felt it in the Morgan Museum, among friends. i experienced it when i listened to Northern Exposure for the third or fourth time and realized that i really understood it. when i am troubled, more often than not, i go to the places where i can escape the logic of relentlessly consecutive moments. i go to places, whether literal or imagined, where purpose comes second to necessity, and where necessity is defined by the unarticulated but ever-present urgency to be more than physical—to exist beyond the confines of oneself.

in any case, i identified with Zetsu No. 8, but i did not know why at the time. today, i think i do understand. Zetsu No. 8 was sculpted not simply to depict the organic through the inorganic; it was sculpted to defy its own static appearance in its projection of motion—a restless, chaotic, irrepressible motion. and yet, there was terrible irony in the way Zetsu was presented: boxed behind plastic or glass, preventing movement, breathing, or expansion. it was a travesty against its nature, to be so constrained. there was something that connected me to Zetsu No. 8, to its grotesqueness and despair, and i feel it now, when i remember


bring it together

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:51 pm by Administrator

i have my tough and deeply frustrating seasons. they happen with enough frequency and regularity now that i can’t really afford the luxury of one-upping myself every single time. in truth, my cycles of burn-out are consistently fueled by the same issues, the same kinds of situations, and the same terribly human characteristics underlying all of it. every time i lapse into this kind of dejection, i hate people. i really hate them. every time i fall into this kind of funk, i see no meaning at all in what i’m doing. but every time, without fail, i come to an understanding that what i hate and struggle with is a very mundane thing. and i’m going to explain now what that thing is.

i spent some time today at lunch listing the things that have been aggravating me to no end. i first listed the person or thing; then i briefly summarized what i have disliked about that person or thing. here’s an excerpt:

My team: my team troubles me because i can’t trust them to 1) drive improvement and 2) influence people.

My patients: they keep hitting me up for unexpected things at unexpected times.

Everyone: they are not intentional about relationships or about life in general.

i went on and on and on. i listed my various bosses, friends, partners in ministry and even my computerized medical record system. the more i wrote, the more i realized how much anger and frustration i had been suppressing. and the more i vented that anger, the more i saw a common theme emerging from all of it.

i ended the session by targeting the individual who aggravates me more than anyone else i think of.

Myself: i lack clear, consistent priorities. i lack devotion to anything in particular. i constantly have strong but unmet needs. i cannot identify a consistent source of both pleasure and restoration.

and when i wrote about what frustrates me about myself, i recognized the thing that frustrates me about everyone else. we are a people who are not devoted to anything except to ourselves. we are allergic to devotion. we look at devotion as provincialism, or primitivism, or simple-mindedness, or enslavement. but we do not look at devotion as something natural or even good. and thus we are who we are: fickle, self-absorbed, and useless to one another.

when God confronted me nearly two years ago, and when He asked me what it is that i desire above all other things, i realized then that everyone who met God does desire Him. as good as He is, that is only natural. but those who have met God do not necessarily desire Him above all other things. they desire Him among many other things that they desire. it is this normalization of God that angers Him more than anything else. when we look back at the Old Testament, the sins of the heathen nations grieved God; but Israel, in its repeated tendency to view God as just one good God among many relevant gods, angered God in a unique and veritably overpowering way. because just as God refuses to share His people with other gods, He demands devotion in return: a single-minded claim to God’s kingdom, to the rejection of all other glories.

even throughout the New Testament teachings, it is very much the thrust of Paul’s teachings to emphasize that devotion to the one true God was Christ’s main purpose in coming to earth. where the laws and teachings of the Israelites had confounded their understanding of God, Christ brought illumination and light to the real purposes and passions of God. and while Paul sought to teach scripture and to enlighten his followers as to their truth, the ultimate point of his teachings was not simply to convey a knowledge of God to the church. the ultimate point was to encourage the church to know God so as to be devoted to Him and to no other. this is a devotion that the follower of Christ must embrace in his private thoughts; and this is a devotion that must be manifest to any and all who are in relationship with that believer. all other aspects of the Christian life—evangelism, worship, service to believers, and obedience to the world’s laws and governments—fall under this mission of overt, uncompromising, and utter devotion to God and only God.

bring it together! exclaims the Spirit of the Lord. you know what displeases me. you know it because you see it—the lukewarm, despicable thing—even in yourself. you are discouraged because you are not worshiped and served by your people. imagine what i feel—i who am actually worthy of that worship, i who can edify and preserve those who worship me! i call you, in your time of bitterness, to be devoted to something or someone. be devoted to anything! but be devoted to it truly, and have your fill of it. i promise you this: if you are devoted to me, you will not only have my favor; you will actually enjoy it. that is the living. it is as simple as this.

today, i remember that my purpose is devotion. whether it be to one servant at my church, struggling to worship because of all the work that is required of him there. whether it be to my son, who wants me to enjoy the origami creations that he makes for me. whether it be to my patient, who travels long distances with great, heavy burdens, just so that for a little while he might find relief in my counsel. my purpose is not to juggle many responsibilities, handle much work, and be fruitful in many things. my purpose is to be devoted. in every place, and in every relationship, to be devoted to one very meaningful thing, and to be fully devoted, unto self-loss, and for the purpose of showing the world that i belong wholly and undivided to only person in the entire universe.

oh lord my God, who came into the world as the Christ, i am your man, i am your man, and i need to bring it together today and always, because i am yours and nothing else, for as long as i live.


reflections on the walking dead

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:29 am by Administrator

for three and a half seasons, “the walking dead” was a mostly intriguing and well-acted television show. then, at episode 13 of season 4, the show became much more than that. on the brink of season 5, after the soul-searching moments and piercing dialogue of season 4’s closing stretch, “the walking dead” is no longer just a classic Western in the guise of the post-apocalyptic deep South. it’s veritable Greek drama in all the good ways, with a hero come into his own, and a band of long-suffering companions, all troubled, all changing, and all vividly relevant.

it suffices to say that i already like it far more than “Breaking Bad”. the writing is just part of that. the chemistry shared by the cast is palpable. you get the sense that all the days of filming out in the heat of Georgia wilderness has fostered a certain kind of visceral purpose among the actors. there’s genuine familiarity bleeding into the constant sense of shared desperation. and what’s fascinating is that this evolving chemistry among the actors very much deepens the story they are trying to tell: the story of strangers banding together for no other reason than to survive, only to discover that without true relationship that survival becomes pointless.

the thesis of “the walking dead” is that regardless of his lot mankind will continually seek to establish or recreate basic familial bonds. more compelling than truth, power, or even personal safety is the idea that one belongs to a family. even in the absence of any other logic for living, that sense of identity is enough to create purpose, trajectory, and a basis for any imaginable pleasure. the people of “the walking dead” don’t live and work together so that their personal interests are served; in fact, they put themselves at extraordinary personal risk to preserve the space in which they live and work together. for them, it is spiritual, even when they cannot agree on religion.

the irony is that this need for mutual belonging does not become evident to the show’s characters until they are subjected to extreme stress and isolation. once society has dissolved, they begin to understand the real value of society. but they rebuild it in a different way. law is not primary; trust is primary. if you are trustworthy, you belong. and if you belong, you are not bound by rules. the unspoken mutual belief is that one will fight for all, simply because the “all” is all that one has.

i wouldn’t make it in the apocalyptic world. i’m not hardy enough, nor do i have enough of a will to live for the sake of living. but the show has forced me to consider in a circumspect way why it is that i live and invest myself in my various communities. is community the reason that i live in society? is it the thing that lends me a purpose for living every day that i’m alive? i come to this conclusion: that when society is a luxury we share, we can’t possibly understand what it is. in the next life, i think that we will never take that community of souls for granted. we’ll know what the alternative is. we’ll know it; and it will forever remind us that there is a difference between heaven and hell



Posted in Uncategorized at 1:50 am by Administrator

ah, this is a hard entry to write, and i can barely bring myself to write it, but i’m going to force myself to do it, because i need to remember this. the point of it all—the struggle, the pain, the responsibilities—is to understand. there’s no other point, but to understand.

i recently had an email exchange with a member of my church who is stepping down from a leadership role. i’ve been trying to address his concerns since i’m in charge of replacing him—a process i’m dreading because i know that his role has been difficult, if not in some ways thankless. in any case, our email exchange got very testy because at one point i felt that he was blaming me for his struggles in his ministry. in one particular reply, i expressed myself in vintage form, turning the tables and directing personal criticism back at him. as usual, i thoroughly enjoyed myself in the fiery moment of attack, only to experience sudden and intense insecurity and regret moments after sending the message. later, i forced myself to re-read his preceding message, and after some honest deliberation, i recognized that my own defensiveness had been unnecessary. as frustrated as he was, he hadn’t been trying to attack me or my team. i dialogued with him further, and eventually i apologized, and after more conversation, i finally came around to seeing things from his point of view. i understood.

it is inconvenient, emotionally taxing, and sometimes exhausting to understand. apologizing for misunderstandings is not enough; listening carefully is insufficient; and appeasing or submitting often misses the point. sometimes the path to understanding requires conflict and embarrassment; but understanding is not simply defined by the resolution of that conflict or the reconciliation of wrongs. understanding requires the genuine and profound embracing of another’s perspective, and more often than not this requires the utter abandonment (however temporary) of one’s own agenda and priorities. understanding in some ways requires self-loss. it requires the ability to be wrong, in the interests of seeing what is right in another’s eyes.

my life nowadays feels stretched: stretched by the demands, disappointments, and directions of other people. people want me to see things their way. i resent them for imposing on me, and i dislike them for not seeing things my way. but in the end, i recognize the value in that lesson of Stephen Covey quoted to me almost every month by one of my close colleagues: “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. understanding by definition does not directly serve the interests of the ego; it diffuses and even erases ego, in the pursuit of alignment and perhaps unity.

the older i grow, the less i want to understand, and the more i want to be understood. i get the world, and it’s a very annoying, problematic place. i have most of the answers, if not all of them, and i’d like the world to align itself with me. but i keep hearing God telling me not so among you. “if you will follow me, then you must take the trouble to understand”. He reminds me that once upon a time, i openly questioned His goodness and asked to be released from faith. but He pursued me nevertheless, in the hope that i would understand. it took more than six years, but in my own very small way, i did come to understand. that tiny bit of understanding broke my little life wide open. understanding allowed me to enjoy another person’s life; understanding let me receive God’s kind of life.

there are so many examples of people who’ve stopped trying to understand. America does not try to understand Russia; that’s why they will forever be enemies, regardless of how times change. Israelis and Palestinians do not try to understand one another, which is why they can fight about the same things decade after decade, though the generations change. this is not to say that understanding always breeds peace; sometimes one must truly understand another to recognize that conflict is inevitable. but whether it is a person, a family, or a nation, understanding between people requires less ego, less agenda, and more effort. it requires that transcendent ability to step out of oneself in some meaningful way, and to exist in a neutral space where right and wrong can be terribly and painfully relative. today, i tried to understand. it was exhausting. but it brought me closer to heaven—and to the God i serve


the death in my life

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:10 pm by Administrator

this week, i’ve been trying hard to connect with God, in a repentant and soul-searching kind of way. i think that this was motivated by a few things: recent world tragedies, deaths in the family suffered by some of my staff and patients, and personal fatigue. in any case, i’ve had some personal times of prayer this week during which i really felt God moving me not to explain the sadness but to root myself in it. so i submitted to that sadness, and i let it grip me by the shoulders. i let it sink in, with all of its silent mourning and its untold stories, and i came away from it a bit changed. i remembered that when God really touched my life four years ago, He let me name Him in a new way. He became “the God who takes the death out of my life”. and since that time, we have not been the same.

there is a distinct futility in the things of my life. when i was a younger man, this futility really depressed me. but God has taught me that the futility does not speak to my helplessness and worthlessness; rather, it is a sure sign of God’s intractable hold on my life. when i sense that futility, when i see it with my own eyes, i understand that God is pressing me to see it this way, so that i might remember that He refuses to let me be compelled by the world and its great designs. God will not share ownership of His people. He will tear society to shreds before He will allow the world to lay claim to one of His own. He is a jealous God; and He defends His children with menace.

i feel that futility in my work. i feel it with my patients who lose loved ones; i feel it with my patients who never get better. i feel it with my patients who can’t shake a meth addiction; it hollows them out, it poisons their families, and it puts them to death, in lonely places. i feel it within the walls of my company, even when my company wants to become something great, because it can only aspire to a shadow of godliness, and even then every brick of its walls is destined to crumble.

i feel that futility among my family and my friends. i see how they work and struggle, and i see how the work and the struggle wounds them and tests their patience. i see how they conjure explanations and reasons for continuing, until there are no explanations left. i feel the futility when we think and talk about money, because the money is meaningless, and because the work that we do to make that money creates nothing eternal. it is futility; but it is the stuff of our lives.

i see that futility in the things that are reported about my world, its wars, and its ravaging diseases. in truth, the world does not progress; it cycles, through the same lessons that are impossible to remember for very long. we get better at killing; it’s faster and more efficient with every generation. we get better at control; we have devices with broader reach through which we can network and influence people. we get better at deception. but we do not get better at being good. we do not get better at being happy. we pass the time, without knowing what we are doing or why. this is our world—television, war, and theories about why we continue to suffer.

i concern myself with these things, and i want to fill the futility with meanings. there must be reasons for every question, solutions for every problem, and a healing for every sadness. but the truth is that i will probably not discover those things in this life. there’s work to be done, and much of it is futile, but it is nevertheless necessary. like everyone else, i’m passing the time, until God makes sense of it, and until it runs out. but unlike the futile things, the end of the futility is no sadness. He who takes the death out of my life commands me to hope, in something i have not yet seen. with every passing year, that hope becomes a bigger part of what i am. someday, when there is no death left in my life, that hope will be all that i am, and it will be realized