12.31.14

the wild, the frontier, a loneliness

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:55 am by Administrator

we went to see “The Wild” last weekend, mostly because we needed to get out, and partly because the movie was so thoroughly lauded by reviewers. after it was finally over, we looked at each other and shrugged. when your first impulse is to say “it was okay, i guess”, it was probably not okay but you’re nevertheless reluctant to admit that the 3-hour commitment to the movie (including driving, parking, and all the rest) was a total waste.

perhaps my standards for a “personal journey” independent film are a bit on the particular side. i have nothing against the genre (and it seems to be an increasingly popular genre). but it is hard for me to sustain the journey of a thousand miles with a dark and complex protagonist if i am not properly coaxed along the way. and somewhere near the border of california and oregon, i kind of wanted out. flashbacks of sad moments, conversations with mom, and drug use, interlaced with lots of hiking scenes—hiking to the soundtrack of heavy breathing, screaming, and occasional profanity… i kept thinking i’ve seen this movie before. but i still can’t figure out whether i’ve actually seen a movie like this or whether it just reads a bit too much like ordinary life during its more desolate stretches.

in any case, it seems to be a very american thing to want to find oneself in nature after losing oneself in the excesses of consumer society. i think we borrowed that aspect of our culture from the native americans. i myself have often retreated to nature in search of clarity; and when i look ahead to my 40th, i find myself craving a vision quest of a kind. i connect with symbols from nature, and i connect with them more intimately in the absence of distractions. and there are so many distractions in urban life: electronic media, advertisements, information, demands and obligations. in another century, i think i would’ve been a frontiersman or explorer. the same thing that drove my parents to leave their country of origin often tugs at my insides. it’s that sense that i don’t belong here, that life could be simpler if i could burn what’s behind me and give myself completely to what lies ahead. i always crave the undiscovered country. but there seems so little of it left, in our world.

i think that frontiersmen choose the frontier not because they prefer solitude but because they feel relegated to it. who wants to be isolated? no one. but frontiersmen were solitary men even before they chose to leave civilization. perhaps they felt more alone when they were among others.

i have never been more involved in community than i am now. but there is a certain loneliness i’ve always had that is somehow more intense nowadays. my differences with people and with society in general seem thicker and more weighty. i’m extroverted and crave stimulating company, but the repeated disappointment of that expectation makes me feel all the more raw and unfulfilled. i don’t know what it is that makes me feel like such a misfit in my various roles and capacities. i wonder if the socialized persona i’ve taken on is too obviously a mask. i wonder if it fits so poorly that even i can tell that i am not the man i claim to be.

as i age, i grow apart from my friends; i regard myself with greater ambivalence; i feel things with less anxiety but also with less clarity. i so wish to lose myself in the things i do, as i once did back when i listened to music, danced with people i didn’t know, explored cities by foot, and dreamed of a great romance. but an inner drive to rationalize too often undermines my stubborn adherence to the ideal of mystery; and so life is not mysterious to me, and my imagination has little to play with. i have my recurring and insipid fantasies to trifle with, but what became of that great and dusty warehouse of dreams? all day long, i get up and i sit down, and i say things to people that couldn’t be more disconnected from my ragged and raging internal dialogues. the frontier is insanity now. it seems to be nothing else, other than the total loss of consciousness

12.26.14

more insights from the enneagram

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:16 pm by Administrator

as an 8 with a strong 7 wing, i am consistently defined by two strong tendencies in my relationships with others: 1) my need to be avoid being manipulated or controlled by others, and 2) my discomfort with dependency (mutual or unilateral). as a result of these two factors, i shy away from real intimacy with people, though i do enjoy the occasional catharsis of mutual disclosure, confession, or even confrontation. of note, i tend to feel uncomfortable with people whom i perceive as depending heavily on me for personal or emotional fulfillment. i develop my closest friendships with individuals who are strongly independent and self-assertive. i’ll offer andrew and won ho as primary examples.

i think that these observations help explain something about me that i’ve felt guilty about for a long time: the negative feelings i’ve developed for certain of my clients. with these particular clients, the characteristics that i struggle with most are their tendency toward helplessness and their proclivity for emotional dependency. in my line of work, i treat clients with a whole host of personality and psychiatric disorders, ranging from meth addiction to bipolar disease, from borderline personality to severely disabling paranoid schizophrenia. i can handle clients who are angry with me, pay little or no attention to what i say, or refuse to take my advice. but i have a very difficult time with the subset of my clients who seek me out frequently and with anxiety because they feel dependent on me for functionality. they are some of my most respectful and self-effacing clients; and perhaps for this reason, i often feel ashamed of the negative feelings i invariably develop toward them.

this extends to my social relationships outside of work as well. when i’m pursued in friendship by someone who seeks me out for personal validation or intimacy, i instinctively withdraw. and when i reflect on the specific people who have triggered this reaction in me, i find that they share the same mix of characteristics: predominant frustration, repressed desires, passive-aggression, and low self-esteem. as with my patients, i realize that i react to these people in this way not simply because i dislike them but because i fear their capacity for dependency and the controlling behaviors that seem to follow. as an 8, i just can’t have that.

7’s prefer the idea of intimate relationship as two independent people engaging in a safe interaction of equals, characterized by natural alignment and mutually understood boundaries. they would never acquiesce to the idea of love or friendship as a “unification” or “oneness”. that characterizes my approach to friendship and marriage fairly well. as it is my starting point in my spiritual journey, it doesn’t surprise me that the idea of unity with God has always been so pivotal and important to me. i just can’t take the idea of submission or self-loss lightly. and as the idea is so intrinsically difficult for me, it has become the very crux of my concept of the afterlife.

of course these reflections bring me back to the topic of Christian community. it seems fairly obvious now why i have preferred being on the margins of most every church community i’ve ever been a part of, up until now. i don’t like mutual interdependency. i don’t like giving other people power or influence over what i’m becoming. in this way, i’m the anti-jeb (see prior entry on jeb). my priority in every social situation is to maintain my integrity and independence, even if this comes at the expense of meaningful or deep relationships. i struggle against that fact; and more than ever before in my life, i’m feeling called to wrestle with that aspect of me.

as a result of the recent path i’ve taken with God, i do try to persevere in the relationships that trouble me; i try to push through without withdrawing. and i’ve found that when i push through, i do break through to moments of real satisfaction, when i realize that the relationship is worth the effort. on the other hand, i experience greater frustration with those people as well, frustration enough to boil over and really affect the way that i treat them. it’s a real stretching experience for me, and it’s an unpleasantness that i would not have tried to hold and work through even ten years ago. but the struggling and the persevering is teaching me this interesting fact about the people of God: one engages in relationships not simply for personal satisfaction but for God’s satisfaction. God is more glorified when we give ourselves to people that we don’t like; and He honors that sacrifice by illuminating, through these relationships, what true love really is

12.25.14

NFL ‘14: Just another year of fantasy football

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:53 am by Administrator

back in august, i got a lot of raised eyebrows and guffaws from various friends when i predicted another season of underachievement from the Philadelphia Eagles. and when they blasted forth to a 9-3 record, even i had to wonder if i’d gotten it wrong. maybe this team is better than i thought it was. maybe chip kelly is a better coach than i gave him credit for being?

you can see what i think of chip from my 9.17.14 entry. i quote: it strikes me that kelly’s tempo is too fast for even him to properly control the game. it’s possible that his style of play masks his intellectual limitations, particularly at critical junctures of the game. obviously, i’m not a chip kelly fan and never have been. but my critique of him after the september victory over indianapolis wasn’t intended to be a personal jab at his intelligence. i think chip kelly is an above-average tactician, and he proved that in several impressive victories that he pulled out this year. but he hasn’t proven to be so astute with the details of game management, and it cost the team. when we needed to make defensive adjustments mid-game, he didn’t make them; and when the offensive line was struggling to execute, he was content to let the opposing defense dictate the flow of the game. chip kelly’s struggles with play-calling and adaptation allowed the Eagles to appear alarmingly and predictably one-dimensional, and of course this has to raise the concern that he’s a one-trick pony.

i don’t dislike chip kelly the man. i admire his dedication to the game, his individualized approach to his players, and his willingness to think outside the box. but a good head coach in the NFL has to be more than a “football mind”. he has to be an astute evaluator of talent, and he’s got to be agile and adaptive in the flow of the game. i’ve previously blasted kelly for his choice of vick over foles in 2013 as well as his debacle of a 2014 NFL draft. i’ve also bewailed kelly’s inability to consistently use pace (his core competency) to his advantage; in more than a few games, the eagles’ tempo on offense actually seemed to undermine the performance of the offensive line. in short, i don’t know if kelly has what it takes to make the Eagles an excellent team. like andy reid, i think he’s knowledgeable enough to make us above-average—which just isn’t good enough.

i’ve been following darqueze dennard this season, and i continue to believe that the eagles made an almost unforgivable mistake passing on him at pick 22. that was our shot at a lock-down cornerback. we needed a player of his potential to neutralize the primary weapons of our NFC East rivals: D-Jax, Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant. we lost that chance, and we settled for marcus smith. marcus smith, whom i summarized in my post-draft entry on 5.16.14 in the following manner: in the NFL, he’s not fast for a guy his size. in fact, he’s too small to play end, and he’s not a particularly standout athlete at linebacker. he’s a “tweener”. most pro scouts look at him and see a great deal of risk. chip kelly looks at his measurables and thinks he can see what no one else can. and seven months later, this is the Marcus Smith who is now being hailed the biggest possible bust of the 2014 draft’s 1st round.

i’m not as mad as you might expect. because i began the season with low expectations, i enjoyed the good moments, like the Thanksgiving Day beat-down we delivered in Dallas. but neither am i convinced that we are a team poised to improve. terrible drafts in 2013 and 2014 have set us so far back in our ability to develop that i don’t view us as being poised for a deep playoff run for at least two more seasons. we’re going to have to build our broken secondary from the ground up, and there are no magic solutions that will be available to us in free agency (not even darrelle revis). we have to do it the way ozzie newsome and john schneider have done it—by understanding college players beyond their Combine measurables. i just don’t trust Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly to do that; while they’ve done passably well with the offensive line, they have proven to be incompetent in identifying quality talent on the defensive side.

in any case, i satisfied myself with another year of fantasy football, as i’ve done for the past decade of Eagles’ mediocrity. and i just won myself a second trophy in a row, making it 3 total since i started the league 8 years ago. the Eagles may not have made it a season to remember… but as always, i found a way to get by.

12.24.14

justice, injustice, and grace

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:23 pm by Administrator

this morning, i got up extra early to pick up coffee from starbucks for my staff, for our christmas eve breakfast. i was shocked at how busy it was at the starbucks, and the line almost extended out the front door.

in any case, while i was waiting in line i saw four police officers having breakfast together at a table. i don’t know what came over me, but i felt suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. it was actually a mix of emotions, but the predominant thing that i felt was compassion. nowadays, men in uniform must look out at the rest of us and wonder what we are thinking of them. i wanted them to know that they are appreciated for the hard work they do, for their thankless and difficult labor, and for the burden they must carry on account of the news. so i ended up buying each of them a gift card; and i told them that i was thankful for the work that they do.

in the midst of all the fighting and tension and debating surrounding the recent events of police killings, i have felt strangely suffocated, as if i were trapped and there were no way out for me. at points, i thought that i had something to say about everything going on. but then i lost my convictions and found myself lost. i think that i’ve felt this way because i remain conflicted about matters regarding justice, race, and violence. i see a little of myself in everyone, in every side. i feel paralyzed because the fighting on the streets and in the media mirrors a battle within me, in which there are always casualties but never victors.

this morning, i felt profound relief when i finally found the words to say. and when i said them—a simple “thank you” to random cops that i’d never met before—it was a moment of release and resolution for me. because the way out for me, i realize, is to speak to real people, not to big and imagined audiences of people defined by their professions, races, or beliefs. it has always been that way for me. and i think it always will be.

i believe that there is a problem with police brutality in america, as there always has been. it is not an issue isolated to the culture of policing; it is an issue imbedded in america’s broader problems with social segregation, racial prejudice, and inequality. and these incidents of violence committed by or against police have to be taken seriously. we have to examine them deeply and conscientiously, in order to illuminate the systematic injustices that we perpetuate through our laws and practices. but in all this exploration and in all of this heated discourse, each of us must find a mooring in our personal relationships and actions, rather than in broad ideological stances or in vague critiques of peoples. because when we are simply part of a cause, we reinforce the boundaries that we actually mean to transcend; but when we are individuals trying to understand individuals, there is real hope of reconciliation.

i wish that i could make sense of it, but i cannot. i only know that while i am never surprised by race-related violence and controversy in america, i continue to be surprised by individual people that i work with and meet every day. black people, brown people, yellow people, white people, poor people, drug-addicted people, and high-brow people—they keep surprising me, and by the surprise i know that i expected something of them that simply wasn’t true, and by the surprise i know that they are changing me and redeeming my perspective. for the people that i know and love, i wish for them challenging and transforming relationships. i wish for them redemption and change. i wish for them moments when they can say the thing that really matters, so that each of them might find his way out of the trap and get free

12.23.14

the gospel and its the psychology of trauma

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:51 pm by Administrator

we live in a society in which so much premium is placed on our credentials. we aspire to be a “meritocracy” of sorts, after all, and we’ll listen to anybody who has something to say, provided that he’s got the credentials to prove his credibility. we’re a people who place much stock in test scores and CVs; and we invest so much in our education and job experiences because these represent leverage. for a person in this society fighting for survival, for opportunity, and for success, one’s identity is equivalent to one’s leverage, and one’s best leverage is the stuff of his identity.

the idea that one might actually believe himself to be fundamentally uncredible is incredible. we assume that even the most obviously corrupt among us—venal politicians, for instance—could sincerely argue on behalf of themselves, as advocates of their unique motivations and values. we don’t fault them for their deep-rooted beliefs in themselves; we fault them for their carelessness and inconsistencies in self-expression. one’s faith in oneself—and his ability to demonstrate his credibility in specific ways—is the key to one’s standing and livelihood in this society.

in the Gospel, i find another idea at work: that each person is fundamentally uncredible. and throughout the Bible, in fact, it seems evident that God finds falsehood in the heart of any man who derives a personal sense of credibility from anything outside of God’s law and His promises. while contemporary man builds up himself so as to leverage himself for gain, Christ exposes the brokenness of a man so that he is unable to conceive hope outside of the grace of God. humanist philosophy, in its high appraisal of man’s intellect and capabilities, points toward self-esteem and self-revelation; but biblical philosophy presupposes man’s failure as well as his inevitable need for deliverance.

the church exists at the intersection of contemporary culture and biblical assertion. it must weigh on the one hand the idea that the society of our times decries the ego-destructive trajectory of atonement theology as frankly abusive and unhealthy, a means of manipulating individuals and compelling them into crippling dependency on others. on the other hand, the church must also consider Paul’s strong (if not even harsh) emphasis on the necessity of veritable ego replacement—the supplanting of sinful self by a new and foreign spiritual life—as the substance of both salvation and sanctification. far from simply describing Christ’s work as the restoration and liberation of self from the plague of death, Paul argues that the point of the Gospel is the death of self unto personal enslavement to the person of Christ. there is no enlightened state of personal liberty at the apex of the spiritual journey mapped out by Paul; more correctly, there is the utter reclamation of self by the divine creator, manifest in a total personal dependency on the Lord’s leading, consummated in the loss of self in a mystical union with His spirit.

in brief, the Gospel declares that the path to salvation is what modern psychologists would deem a post-traumatic psychology culminating in a deeply dysfunctional dependent personality. the idea of crippling a man to the point of feebleness and then chaining him to an all-consuming faith in the unseen strikes the modern man as abusive. and because the church must abide in both worlds—the humanist world of equality and liberal ideals, and the biblical world of binary fates and moral absolutes—we negotiate the Gospel with the intention of emphasizing those elements that can be embraced by both worlds. hence, the necessity of forsaking one’s credentials and rooting oneself in a profound sense of unworthiness might often be considered the punitive edge of the Gospel, tangential and perhaps unnecessary to the preaching of Christ’s truth in the present time.

still, i am impressed that the heart of the Gospel is trauma and traumatic psychology. we may skirt around these particulars, but we’ll be unsuccessful in this at some point. the absence of personal worth, the contemplation of both emptiness and shame, the desperate need for ego fulfillment in a surrogate identity or even in a dream—these are core elements of the mystical truth buried in the scriptures. there is no other way to the resurrection, except through the consuming embrace of sin, which leads to that pit where one finds his life unlivable, out of which arises the abandonment of all self-assurances, and which points to the total submission of self to the deliverer God. the salvific journey is rooted in trauma; it reveals itself through total dependency on another. and the only thing that distinguishes this vision from the religious concept regarded by Christianity’s modern-day detractors is the believer’s view that the trauma of the journey is rooted in one’s natural identity of sin—an inevitable and universal trauma, no less. independence, self-sufficiency, and self-actualization—these are impossible to the one who has met God. to the person who has encountered the living Christ, personal credentials of any kind are senseless and vain; there is only God’s grace and the refuge it provides

12.22.14

My comparable

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:47 pm by Administrator

against the inexorable winds of man’s passing times does God set His face and contend: see here, i give you Christ, within whom you will find refuge, and against whom you must test yourself. His intention is to cut you to your core and to rend you free of death; seek out His mind and be saved!

there are so many comparables, in life. there are comparables for the properties one owns. there are comparables for one’s investments. there are comparables for self—one’s peers, one’s children, the children of one’s peers. we have around us, in this great system of information and society, a whole host of comparables, against which we can measure our performance, whether in earnings, or in the stability of our relationships, or in the quality of the wisdom we pass onto our progeny. and it isn’t merely a surrogate for self-knowledge; it is self-knowledge. in this short life, and in the face of such protean variables, it is our chosen comparables that define how we view ourselves.

but there is only comparable for the thing that matters most. in the relinquishing of the death in one’s being, in the transformative journeying toward life everlasting, there is only one person against whom any personal comparison is meaningful. Christ made Himself a man, and He committed Himself to God unto death, and He returned from death to demonstrate the resurrection. He is the exemplary man, against whom we are called to compare ourselves in a constant and yearning reflection, not for the purpose of self-perfection but rather for the purpose of true self-knowledge. one knows himself according to that which he compares himself against. and the content of Christ’s life will cut one to the core; it was meant to do this, and it will keep doing this, until all the deathly things in him are cut out, until all that is left is that which survives that savage blade, that immolating gaze, that eternally knowing and utterly uncompromising mind.

i have gotten lost in the foolish pathmakings of my time. in truth, i know only one sure way to go. let me test myself against you and be found wanting, again and again. but in that testing, breed life in me, a hope of becoming your likeness, and from my heartfelt repentance build a life of simple devotion and loving thought. remember me, oh God. i am yours. i have no script for living but for the words you gave me, and you tell me that though i prove myself futile, mortal, weak, and insignificant, i am beloved, because i am yours

12.17.14

eric taylor: man, myth, and mentor

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:54 pm by Administrator

i’ve just finished all 5 seasons of “Friday Night Lights” on netflix streaming. and before i go into my thoughts on the show, i just have to say that i initially had many reservations about upgrading to a streaming plan last year, but fortunately so many of the streaming selections are so bad (”house of cards” and “friday night lights” excepted) that i haven’t really been tempted to make much use of the feature. that being said, “friday night lights” has certainly pushed the pause button on my sex life as of late.

“Friday Night Lights” presents itself as a show about high school football in texas. it takes about a season and a half, but you realize after a while that it’s not really about high school football or about life in texas. FNL is about coaching; and it’s specifically about how coaching creates culture among young men. the show succeeds in a melodramatic fashion when it dwells upon the effects that coach eric taylor has on the personal lives and aspirations of his individual players. and the show precipitously weakens (often to a laughable extent) when it tries to develop interpersonal dramas unrelated to taylor’s immediate sphere of influence. that’s FNL in a nutshell; it’s the eric taylor show.

make no mistake: eric taylor is put forth as a hero in the most unidimensional and infallible manner imaginable, and there is very little subtlety to his character. across some 80 episodes, i never once witnessed eric taylor in a single moment of regret, moral crisis, or personal doubt. he never once broke the law, betrayed his ideals, or flashed even momentary incompetence. eric taylor was not simply a perfect coach; he appeared to be a perfect man. and the only thing that saved his character from being completely and fatally unbelievable was kyle chandler’s ability to bring a certain unpolished stubbornness and raw candor to eric taylor’s otherwise spotless veneer.

despite eric taylor’s moral perfection, there are some vaguely disturbing patterns to the relationships that he creates. first, he repeatedly becomes a father figure to his black players (smash williams and vince howard) in a way that he never demonstrates with his white players (even the fatherless ones, such as tim riggins and matt saracen). taylor not only meets a core emotional need in the lives of these young black men; he also connects them to the mainstream and effectively socializes them. the implication here is unavoidable: that no one can “rehabilitate” an underprivileged black kid the way a white man can. it’s not an obvious flaw, but it’s there to be wrestled with, just as race in general is occasionally (but not compellingly) addressed and without satisfactory conclusions.

second, eric taylor never appears to develop close friends or family outside of his wife and daughter. it’s a pattern that holds true across the span of the show. he handles his problems alone; he requires no confidante; and others come to him for counsel, never vice versa. a hierarchy of relationships takes shape in the town of Dillon, and very clearly eric taylor emerges as a kind of monarchical authority in this microcosmic society. his style is unilateral, his judgments are incontrovertible, and his rule is inescapably enlightened. in brief, he’s mythological in his self-sufficiency.

in the face of all of these troubling factors, the question i ask myself is why i find the character of eric taylor so distinctly likable. my initial answer is that i admire him in his ability to mentor younger men. but in fact, this doesn’t describe my impression of eric taylor at all. after all, eric taylor models self-sufficiency, self-assurance, and inflexibility—three characteristics that are stereotypically male but not particularly correlated with personal growth and future success. i don’t think that any classic monarch (or any perfect man for that matter) can be an effective role model for imperfect adolescent boys. it’s a matter of opinion, but the qualities that make eric taylor a winner on the field are not necessarily qualities that make him a great role model in general.

no, i find eric taylor so likable because of a classically american trait that i recognize in him: his genuine, unabashed, and utterly naive innocence. here is a man who deeply believes that football is the quintessential metaphor for all of life’s important battles. eric taylor is a man convinced that victory on the football field captures mankind at his greatest: immortalized in his adolescent prime, able to conquer all of life’s challenges through courage and honesty, and blithely ignorant of the importance of any education outside of the team playbook. it’s this simplicity and exceptionalism that makes eric taylor instantly recognizable to all of us, as the veritable mascot for america as we know it. and anyone sufficiently postmodern in his outlook might recognize why eric taylor, for the very same reasons, is a profoundly disturbing symbol of our times. as america plays out its game of world conquest at the expense of the lives of young men, so does eric taylor play out his aggressive and destructive game through the lives and sacrifices of his high school boys—who interestingly suffer remarkably few casualties over taylor’s immensely successful five years in dillon.

seen in this light, Friday Night Lights offers a remarkably poignant critique of american culture and an insidious portrait of american society at its core—self-involved, jingoistic, and self-assuredly idealistic. as a modern-day soap opera about football in texas, FNL is passable entertainment. but as a dark and edgy commentary on the society of our times, Friday Night Lights is fascinatingly a success

12.12.14

the priesthood

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:59 pm by Administrator

for years, i’ve looked at career options the way many of my peers have: as discrete means of relating to the world. but yesterday, i think i sensed God pushing me to see “career” in a different light—as my chosen way of relating to Him.

for the short time i’ve got on this world, i can pick my line of work. i really can. and i think this realization reflects a few things about what i’ve learned along the way. “calling” is not a reflection of God’s compulsion to control each of us; rather, “calling” is the label we place on our compulsion to be of use to God. for many years, i waited for God’s “calling” in a specific manner because of my misreading of the biblical narrative. after all, there have been many biblical stories of people (i.e. jeremiah, moses, and noah) who were seemingly led by God into priestly or prophetic vocations at odds with their natural inclinations or desires. nowadays, i really dispute that reading of the bible. i dispute it for a few reasons. first, on account of my evolving understanding of God’s sovereignty, i’ll say that it’s obvious to me that God does not need any particular person to do any particular thing for Him or His kingdom. second, it’s very clear that God loathes half-hearted or reluctant service; He would never accept an unwilling offering from a servant. third, my personal experience with self-delusion around the idea of a calling has convinced me that the mystique of a career calling—as something specified and compelled by God for an individual follower—is self-serving. and fourth, my recent discovery of the enneagram and its very compelling implication that inclinations toward power, rule, and principles are innate has begun to convince me that people are simply going to do what they were designed to do. they can try to live in contrast to their designs; but they will inevitably be most fruitful in the work that they are psychologically most aligned with.

this may seem self-evident, but i must state it to myself nonetheless. a priest is not superior to a craftsman; a prophet is no more valuable than his scribe. there is no grand hierarchy of professions, according to which we take our value in the eyes of God. as described by Paul, to each is given the identity of a vessel, and to each something is given for him to hold. the common purpose of all is to pour out what he or she has been given. as simplistic as that sounds, it is that simple.

within the auspices of my design and my inclinations, i have this choice, to commit myself to a work for the service of my people and of my God. in this decision, i am confronted by a fact: that my choice of work determines not only what role i will take with regard to my people but also what relationship i will have with my God. if i take for myself a work that requires that i attend to the needs of the sick day in and day out, then i forfeit a life of reflection. is that not obvious? and if i take for myself a work that requires that i attend to the sacraments of communal worship, then i give up a certain opportunity to determine the ways of the world outside the walls of the church. neither profession is better; but inherent to each is a very particular way of interacting with the Lord.

i am finding it harder and harder to hear God the way i once did. there was a way that i listened to God in my youth. it is hard for me to describe, except that there was a certain aura about the presence of God that i was acutely sensitive to. i find it terribly difficult now to sense that, and to be awed by it. for years, i think that i have simply assumed that this change was a product of my spiritual downfalls—that i could have it back, that particular experience of God, if i would simply get right with Him. but lately, i’ve felt the Lord pressing me to understand one simple and very basic thing. the way that i sense God is not simply a product of my innocence or devotion; it is a quality inherent to the role that i take on with respect to His kingdom. if i choose to be in the world and of the world in my particular service to God, will i not experience Him much differently from another who chooses to separate himself from the world in his chosen devotion? the Lord honors all work done in His name; but the question for me is exactly how i am designed, in my innermost parts, to hunger for God and to hear His voice.

as i grow older, i recognize that my choice to go into full-time ministry has little to do with my giftings, my potential, my sacrifices, or my importance to God. my choice is a simple one; it is a choice about how i will receive life from God, and it is a choice about how i will commune with Him. and the older i grow, the more i recognize that all the voices of the world, however grateful or gratifying they might be, cannot replace that singular voice of God that i so long for, that i heard when i was a child. i was designed for the priesthood, and i sense that every day when i anguish in the midst of all the things i receive and am not receiving. i was made for walks with God; i was made for mountaintop moments with God; i was made to languish, ruminate, and wrestle with God, in all the private and personal ways that make the priest reckon with the dangerous, profoundly feeling, and infinitely moving God. i could choose to receive life from the Lord more indirectly, and i could choose to make myself a man that works with the earth, in its principles and forms. but there is something i will always and necessarily relinquish if i choose that way.

the Lord reminds me that it is not His wish i must reckon with but mine. you can have what you want, He says. to which i say, did i not tell you that i want to love you above and beyond all other things?

12.10.14

tuscany

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:54 pm by Administrator

somewhere amidst the swirl of tempered greens
rubbed into reds and browns, a landscaped blurred
to vague impressions, i fell in.

my feet ground deep past breaking twigs and scattering rocks,
the only sounds but for my breathing,
a panting at once singular and unfamiliar.

the light sought me out through the maze
of thin and low-lying branches
but i hid beneath their tangles of fruit.

my face almost flush against the earth,
my eyes consumed with the land, and my smell
the smell of sweat and of the dew upon the plantings

i considered that to get lost is to bury
all the things we cannot help but be
when we are plucked and cleaned

and so i drove my fingers into the rich dirt,
let it crumble between my fingers
to worms, to strange little forms,

and imagined that here at last
is where i will see what is left of that boy
who went into the hills so long ago.