01.29.15

the poet king

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:44 pm by Administrator

there are so many kinds of leaders that i have met, but the one kind of leader i have always loved most is the one i would describe as the “poet king”. in a world like ours that so values certitude, pragmatism, and infallibility, it is so rare to experience those qualities that define the poet king: ambivalence, doubt, and personal transformation, as a result of sharing in the sufferings of others.

i once heard slavoj zizek use the term “military-poetic” complex to describe the unique political dysfunctions of the former yugoslavia, and as comical as the idea was (in contrast to the more oft-used “military-industrial” brand of the West), something about the term has continued to resonate with me. after all, i’m the kind of person who would follow a charismatic demagogue (or perhaps become one himself), and my heroes have been of the same ilk. king david, the classic poet king, who inspired a nation to go to war and emerge victorious, who won the hearts and minds of his friends with his words, his music, and his spirit of dark rumination, but who died with sadness, betrayed by his sons and unable to achieve his greatest dream. king solomon, who spent the days of his rule contemplating (and eventually grieving) the very nature of rule. Christ Himself, who gave Himself to His people in the form of riddles, strange stories, esoteric prophecies, and deeply mournful prayers, before submitting Himself to a death worthy of a tragedian epic.

the poet king stands in contrast to our more straightforward paragon of leadership: the undoubting, ever-courageous, and indomitable superman who crushes his foes and embraces a pure and unambiguous victory. the presidents, generals, and industrialists that we esteem—they are zealots and veritable supermen of our times. but the poet king—he that leads with a soul of brokenness and longing—does not fit the bold pragmatism of our times. in the face of science, reason, and ever-expanding technologies, the poet king lays down his pen and his sword and unequivocally exhorts his shareholders to abandon doubt in the interests of progress.

as such, i find myself an odd fit among other leaders of my generation. i try to inspire improvement by talking about my mistakes. i seek to inspire belief by exploring my doubts, openly and in great detail. when i offer a solution, i have to be the first to critique it; and when i receive help from others, i reward them not with a transaction but with deeper relationship. it’s ingrained in what i am to be weak among others, in order to be with them in heart and in mind. i count my successes in personal breakthroughs, not in objectives accomplished. my resume resides in the people who have read the poetry of my uneven and searching life and have found my troubles worth considering for themselves.

and i think that the same can be said of the men and women i have called my mentors: an older brother in my baltimore church, who confessed his sexual sin and inspired the men of his community to join him in seeking forgiveness; a pastor of the church i attended in my childhood, who shared with his congregation the nature of his personal and debilitating battle with clinical depression; my mother, who showed through her pains, struggles, and hopes what an enduring faith in Christ actually looks like.

how i do wish for a poet king for me and for my people, in these times. someone who will question our progress, grieve our violence, and long not only for peace but also for reconciliation. someone who will not presume; someone who will seek us out and call us into light, whatever the cost may be

01.28.15

the struggle

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:25 pm by Administrator

one thing i have been mightily wrestling with over the past several months is my career trajectory. every day that passes, i feel it more and more strongly, that it’s time for me to make a change. and the more i pray about it, the more things seem to shift in my circumstances. just two weeks ago, a mentor of mine offered me an alternate career path that might take me away from clinical medicine forever. it was an opportunity that i have been waiting for but perhaps never expected to have this early in my career. perhaps not surprisingly, the realization that this possibility was imminent made me profoundly depressed. as always, i just don’t know how to enjoy a good thing when it’s right in front of me.

but the shift in my circumstances has gone above and beyond cues for change. there have been really unexpected moments of affirmation as well. this week, one of my patients brought his very elderly parents into the clinic to meet me. they’d flown in from out of the country, and on the very short list of things he’d decided to do with them, having them meet me was one of his priorities. i was incredibly moved. and over the past two weeks, i’ve had several patients tell me in very heartfelt terms what i have meant to them in their long and difficult battles with HIV and AIDS.

beyond this, two doctors that i’d previously worked with each reached out to me in the past month to thank me for being the boss that i was to them. since i lost them two years ago, i always wondered if i could have done more to keep them, and i sometimes felt guilt as well as sadness about my inability to keep them happy. but from their recent communications with me, i realized that their admiration of me is what kept us together for as long a time as we had. and i realized that even now, two years after we parted ways, they still view me as someone who influenced them for the better, not only professionally but also personally as well.

it has not all been a waste. and as much as i suffer in my work, and as much as everyone who knows me understands why i cannot practice clinical medicine for much longer, it has been a work that has brought out some of my best qualities. i’ve earned my stripes as a leader by tending to the dying and by leading doctors through some of their darkest times. i’ve built a team around me that overcame fear and dysfunction to become the highest performing unit in my company. and i’ve been a pillar in the lives of my patients, many of whom felt ignored and mistreated before they met me. as much as my thoughts tend to revolve around the patients that i dislike and the situations at work that make me angry, i owe it to the people i have touched to recognize that i have been important in their lives—and that i have been good to them.

i have never enjoyed being a doctor, not once in my life, and thus it amazes me now to consider how effective i have been at a work that i have been so consistently ill-suited for. for most of the past twelve years, i have carried a burden as a primary doc that has twisted me, embittered me, and hardened me incalculably on my insides—and yet i have persevered. on the brink of turning forty, i’m recognizing now that my story is not one of failure; it is one of strange but nevertheless satisfying success. because if i could be a healer when i was personally unwell, how much more of a man can i be to my people if i am doing what gives me delight? a part of me, just a small part of me, really believes i can do anything. and to me, that is a wonderful thing to feel. i am not the disillusioned, aging, and unhappy man that i thought i was. there is, within me, a man just entering his prime, who has not yet even begun to live.

a year ago, i asked my son if there was anything he would change about me as a father, if he could. he asked me to stop coming home from work angry. i thought about this for a long, long time, and i realized the very simple truth of what my son was saying. my son wants a happy and fulfilled father; and my moods have become the single biggest predictor of the happiness of his home. i want to fulfill my son’s hopes in me. if for no one else, i want to change what i am and change what i do, if that change can give me any chance to be good to him and to all those that i love, as i have always desired to be

01.24.15

innocence, in the face of your power

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:53 am by Administrator

it was a very bad day, and i had something to drink. enough, just the right amount—enough that i escaped the claws of what i am, but not so much that i fell over the precipice and tumbled forth, to sprawl and self-pity. it was just the right amount. and i found myself sitting in the shower in the dark, listening to Agnes Obel’s “Fuel to the Fire”, connecting with the grief of mankind.

i laughed at the rich people, because they will be dead so soon. what’s the use of it all? and i mourned those that are dying, even today, in shallow pits, face down. so many dying today, alone and in the dirt, smelling their last smells of the earth, and thinking it was sweet to walk on this soil just hours ago, however meaningless it seemed before.

it’s a terrible humiliation to be put to death; and all of us, every one, are put to death in some way. some of us are put to death by cancer—that alien invader within us, eating away at us within. others are put to death by bullets, by blades, by malady, by our own hands. every death is a profound humiliation. and not one of us will escape it, not simply the fate of it but also the humiliation of it. to suffocate under a man’s boot, to be drowned in a pit of mud and feces, to suffocate for the blood flooding one’s lungs—that sound, that agonal sound. the ignominy of it. we spend so much of our lives killing one another. but this—to face one’s end at another’s hand, or for no good reason at all—this is a truly laughable thing, and it is a humiliating thing. everything within us fought for a reason to live; in the end, even this shred of humanity is ripped from our being, and rung for every last drop right in front of our eyes.

i had an idea of us, as innocent, and i had an idea of God as impassive. He does not have to be perfect to be what He is. perfect is such an utterly meaningless thing to call someone. we have no comprehension of what it is, and it is so vastly irrelevant to the lives we live as to be even stupid. perfection is such a nothing. no, we do not believe in God because of His perfection. we believe in God because of our innocence. we live such trivially short lives, and we die such pathetically weak deaths, that God—the idea of continuity or meaning, even in the face of injustice—seems necessary. and oh, do i not feel that necessity? and it simply magnifies our innocence, to live and die beneath the auspice of such indomitable authority and power. it is a kind of oppression.

truly, we are nothing, as we suck on our last breaths and imagine our inescapably inexplicable years that simply transpired—now lost to all and for all time. it is not our dream to be immortal. it is our hope to be carried, remembered, and rendered meaningful by posterity, much like the Jewish kings, or the ones lucky enough to leave behind a word or a plaque that the present’s fools find to be amusing or worth their study.

we deceive ourselves, but that’s not of any consequence. i don’t think any of us wanted to be born into a world quite like this one, but neither does that matter. a judgment is meaningless. the future is purely idiocy. i think what is of note is that some of us believe that they have fallen upon the very secret of what will keep them from insanity in life, and from tragedy in death. i am so curious. so curious. do tell me what will keep you beautiful, while i waste away. i don’t mock you. i empathize. it is my wish to find, in the midst of all the great moments, monuments, songs, and achievements of our age, something to which i can pin myself and say “here is the thing that will be my anchor, the thing that will tell the future what i was in its past”. but you know that’s bullshit, and yet i can say that because i, like you, am innocent: innocent of all of it, innocent to my grief, and innocent to my great and unending shame

01.23.15

Skipping the Super Bowl

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:07 am by Administrator

yep, i am skipping the super bowl game for the 4th time in 7 years. SB 49 will join the Giants’, Packers’, and Steelers’ Super Bowls as one that i will be missing in its entirety.

i have to be intentional about this sort of thing. with all the parties and communal attention devoted to this particular game, it is actually harder to avoid the game than to watch it. i have an advantage since i have no television service in my home, but i will undoubtedly feel the ambient enthusiasm about the super bowl regardless. to make it a bit easier, i’ve already made reservations for a good italian dinner with my family on that evening, at a place that has no bar or television.

why do i so frequently skip the big game? because for a viewer who has no dog in the fight like myself, every play of the game is a reminder that my team isn’t fighting for a championship; and the advertisements and the half-time show are frankly annoying.

why am i skipping this game? because i really despise both of these teams. i have really tried to figure out which team to root for in this contest, and it feels like picking my favorite in a Republican primary. the process of convincing myself that one team or the other is better served by winning this championship is beyond taxing; it’s utterly demoralizing.

take the Seahawks. they think that repeating a Super Bowl is the equivalent of marching on Washington for civil rights. they have a player in Richard Sherman who shames his opponents after games, while constantly and shamelessly touting his own superiority. i respect john schneider, the man who built that team, but i don’t like their reputation, their style of play, or their personality. i don’t like em at all.

and the Patriots are just as nauseating. they had the nerve to call themselves “America’s team” in the aftermath of 9/11. they have a coach who’s a smug and very accomplished cheater; they have a quarterback who’s a bad cheater. in my book, they still haven’t lived down having a serial murderer featured on their offense, and i think that the organization overall is snidely very high on itself. plus, they beat the Eagles the one time we went to the super bowl in the modern era, and that means i will hold a lifetime grudge against them.

anyways, i’m looking forward to not wasting my time on a dumb game!

01.21.15

the playground

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:06 am by Administrator

yesterday, we took our kids to an indoor playground. it’s a very popular place in our general vicinity, and my wife has taken my kids there on a couple occasions already. yesterday was my first time there, and it was surprisingly fun for me to see how much my kids enjoyed it. amidst forty or fifty other children diving into plastic ball pits, climbing ladders, running through hurdles, and marching across bridges, my kids fit in seamlessly, as part of a little world of innocent pleasures and boundless joys. i don’t generally like “kid things”, whether it’s an animated movie, an amusement park, or a children’s book. but for precious moments yesterday, i think i reconnected with a lost part of myself that once loved plastic tubes, rope ladders, and places where kids shout and laugh.

i have to admit that as i watching the children, i was at one point struck by a sad thought—a really powerfully sad thought. you can take children from any part of the world and put them together in a playground, and they will enjoy one another. but then they grow up and won’t be put in the same room together. they’ll be Miss Universe contestants who won’t take photos with one another. they’ll join militant groups that will kidnap and execute one another. they’ll move to certain neighborhoods and harbor ill feelings toward people who live elsewhere. they’ll pull knives or guns or speak bad words to people they’ve never met. they won’t laugh with one another; they won’t make faces at each other through plastic window frames; they won’t help each other climb up the slide. they’ll be hardened, they’ll be angry, and they’ll be bad to one another. that’s how we grow up, and that’s how we grow old.

sometimes i look at the weird, ugly, and painful things in our world and i try to explain them to myself. but today, i think of my kids, and i think of the kids they played with yesterday. there’s no good explanation for it, for the thing that happens to us. it’s not all bad, but there’s plenty of sadness in it. there’s so much sadness in it, in fact, that i envy the kids. what’s beautiful about children, i realize, is that they are so different from the rest of us. it’s not any one quality; it’s every quality that they have that we have lost. i think that we look at ourselves and feel pressed to find evidence of our strength, our wisdom, and our great accomplishments. but really, isn’t it all just a shame? because i miss the playground. i miss the fun. i miss the other kids. and i miss the feel of it all. it’s heavy now, and i don’t feel the heaviness really, at least not until i see how light my children are, when they dance in that pure delight of wonderment, that thing that we give away too soon and for no good reason

01.16.15

paris, and religion in general

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:38 am by Administrator

first, more reactions to paris.

when the press rallied around a publication that was previously marginal in every sense of the word, i found it inspiring. their collective assertion that this was an attack on freedom itself was dramatic and perhaps even extreme; but even then, i could understand that this was a direct reflection of how the attack violated a principle that deeply resonates with most everyone in the journalistic profession. when one is murdered for what he or she publishes, there is a crime that has been committed not simply against the establishment but against the very core of liberal society. hence, the headline “la liberte assassine” strikes me less as accurate social commentary and more as the visceral outcry of a profession under siege.

perhaps the greatest irony of the terrorist attack against Hebdo is that the attack is already validating the content and work of the publication. and it should. the proper revenge for any violent attack against a cause is the illumination and elevation of that cause. many people will still be rankled and even offended by the anti-religious and racist implications of the Hebdo cartoons; but the fact is that these cartoons are now inevitably going to represent far more than simply edgy humor or outright prejudice. they will symbolize a defiance of those who prosecute their moral agenda by force. Western governments have learned to pick fights with the press at their own peril; and now AQAP will learn the very same.

of course much has been discussed regarding the propriety of the content of the Hebdo publication, and most in the mainstream media have distanced themselves from its anti-religious content. the question i am having some difficulty answering is the question of whether Hebdo’s content ought to be conscientiously reexamined and even censured (not censored, mind you) by society at large. my answer before the terror attacks quite likely would have been an unqualified “yes”. it’s not that i’m personally offended by anti-religious lampooning; in fact, i find it to be healthy within some bounds, particularly given the seemingly hegemonic power that religious ideas have carried in our civilization over the centuries. but i would have contended that the anti-Islamic cartoons have to be questioned given their unique societal context: a France that has actively persecuted the personal expression of Islam. the attacks, however, have changed everything for me. because to reevaluate Hebdo’s content now is to legitimize the attackers in their purposes and ambitions. when given the choice between advocating for religious tolerance and for the freedom of speech (an odd choice, undoubtedly), my leaning in this case is toward the latter. because there can be no enduring tolerance of faiths without a free press; and religious tolerance enforced through the restraint of public opinion is tyranny. any discussion right now of what is proper or improper about Charlie Hebdo only stands to detract from the primary issue of importance: that a group of persons sought to silence their enemies through force, and that group of persons cannot be permitted to prevail.

to me, there is a legitimate social discourse to be had around the content and implications of religion, if the religious and their detractors are to coexist in the coming times. i’ve previously written about my fears that anti-Muslim sentiments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secular society’s increasing agitation against religious elements in general. as long as those of faith continue to contend that religious freedoms and the preservation of their customs take precedence over liberal practices of tolerance and open dialogue, there will continue to be a hotbed of tension separating the ardently religious from their ardently secular counterparts. i’m impressed that the Catholic church and its new pope are entering this discourse with intentionality and avidity; i’m not so impressed by American Evangelicals, who continue to draw hard and fast boundaries around issues such as homosexuality and feminism. Christians and Muslims alike have to see in the distorted reflection of the Hebdo cartoons an opportunity to confront what the secular world most fears and misunderstands about their systems of belief. it does no disservice to these traditions to at least consider how and why the tension between secular society and religious communities is growing around specific trigger points rooted in ideas of individual morality and social ethics.

my belief is that God is relevant but so frequently misrepresented. the misrepresentations are so egregious and dangerous as to make me believe that we might sometimes be better off not representing Him at all. the consuming passion of the Evangelical church has been to expand and recruit new believers; but i wonder if our great size and diversity of beliefs creates a great confusion as to what we are, even to ourselves. i appreciate the secularist counterpoint, even if i sometimes see in it a great and troubling nemesis for our people. because their critiques and attacks remind me that there is a contrast between the image of God He puts forth and the petty, violent, and prejudicial idea of Him that we preach through our ways.

01.15.15

The Decorum of Grieving

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:05 am by Administrator

Post-entry disclaimer: the New Yorker article pre-dated the second attack as well as the Paris “unity rally”. as a result, my critique of the article misrepresents the article’s content and purposes. but i won’t scrap the entry, since i stand by my general sentiments about the unity rally nonetheless.

an old friend of mine had an article published in this week’s New Yorker about the “unity rally” in paris. my wife ran across it on Facebook and shared it with me. i was sick in bed today with nothing else to do, so i caught up on emails and ended up reading the article. i felt a little unsettled (and perhaps even a bit confused) after the first read, so i read it again. and then i read it a third time. and it struck me at long last that this was not an essay about the political and historical ironies backgrounding the rally in Paris; and it was not a commentary on the unjust lack of similar attention paid to other and equal atrocities throughout the rest of the world. no, this was an essay about the decorum of grieving. and the writer’s message, between all the lines of elegant and occasionally obtuse prose, seems to be that the French (and the world for that matter) have grieved this particular tragedy a bit too dramatically. the French—with their colonial history, their legacy of racism, and their tradition of “better than thou” secular wit—ought to recognize that many in the world stand to be offended by too lugubrious a display of mourning, in this particular case. “rein it in”, in other words. tone it down please, and be respectful of the rest of us who also have legitimate things to grieve throughout the rest of the world.

perhaps if we were all so razor sharp and cognizant of the various prejudices and hypocrisies that invalidate our legitimacy as mourners, then none of us would ever attend such rallies as the the one that occurred in Paris. but then we would be depriving ourselves of an essentially human experience, if there ever was one: the right to respond to tragedy with a deeply felt and collectively expressed sadness. when something of this magnitude occurs to someone, don’t we accord the right and privilege of mourning to those closest to the victims? don’t we give them some space and freedom to determine how they will send off their loved ones, and how they will begin to move on? the French chose to express their pain through a rally, and to their credit, it was a rally that included (if not highlighted) the mourning Muslims among them. it was a rally that branded no enemies. it was a rally that was openly invitational and inclusive. and yes, it was a rally that became far more dramatic than anyone could have expected. perhaps people who had no right to be there were prominently in attendance. but i would argue that most of the people there had no right to be there, for various reasons associated with their races, beliefs, culpabilities, and associations. nevertheless, a great multitude of mourners were drawn by a common sense of urgency; and they engaged in a grieving that briefly transcended religious, national, and racial lines. perhaps this was inappropriate or indecorous? i contend it was human—and human in the best sense of the word.

there are many peoples and tribes that have much to grieve. it is their right to grieve and to determine the proceedings of their mourning. i would hope that when the object of grieving has the power to move us toward a mutual appreciation and a common sense of humanity, we might come together and share in that grieving. we take that opportunity so rarely, and sometimes even when it does happen, we are left with sentiments and beliefs that ultimately divide us. but i think it’s nevertheless worth hoping in, that when we come together to share a common pain, we are changing in the process, and we are emerging from our legacies, our histories, and our identities with the potential to become something new.

i say let the bereaved grieve, and let them grieve loudly. let these bodies be mourned, and let them be mourned in spite of all other bodies that remain to be mourned. for however long, let us be Charlie, let us be Jewish, let us be Muslim, even if it makes us foolish in the process. seventeen people in Paris died in sudden and terrifying circumstances, and their countrymen want it to mean something both good and hopeful. i am willing to see all manner of hypocrisy revealed, if it means that we might be allowed to join them, and, for just a little while, be as one.

01.13.15

the terminal

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:14 am by Administrator

they are waiting
two attendants, with hands clasped before them
smiling, as if in repose,
looking in our direction, but not at us.

us.
we are seated, two seats apart,
and between us are bags
that i see in the corner of my vision.

something that looks like a woman’s bag,
and something like a backpack,
and something beneath that is too large.
they may ask us to check it in.

the light is gray, reflected off of tall windows
rising steeply at an angle, framing a darkness
that looms, more than settles.
it’s very quiet. i think we’re alone.

and that is when it stirs, only as subtle
as a single grass among other grasses
plucked like a string, just so,
by a hair of a wind

the thought, that i dare not speak,
that we are both thinking the same thing.
you might walk the other way,
not the forward way.

not past the two women, who have now receded
as if pulled back by a stretching planet
but the other way, past a glass door, and another glass door,
past a noise and a rumble and many lights

to a world beyond the rings of waiting cars,
beyond the rings of turning carousels,
all circling around this silent room,
where we look forward, listening.

you’re there. and without memory
or speech to serve me, i don’t know
where we are going or why.
i feel something, but i can’t say what it is

i sense the empty hallway before us,
that goes into a waiting craft.
they are waiting, but they will not call.
i might go, but you might not follow.

is this how it ends
without a word, without a knowing,
only the smell of this place,
a neutral smell

amidst a light that is not harsh,
a sound like a hum, a temperature
on the skin that feels like night
not yet cold, not yet?

i know that there could be words,
but to speak a word would be to say
the wrong thing, the wrong thing,
and so i must know, something.

they are waiting, i’m sure,
but i’m knowing this now.
i will not go, facing forward in my seat
for a performance that never begins.

i will not go, and sit alone,
and in the certainty of that fact
i feel a door closing,
the attendants folding upon themselves

lines bending, tensing, circling,
a shifting all around.
this is not me, it’s you,
and this is the room you are making

and it’s all i can do now,
but with my left hand, i push,
i push with all my silent might
against our things

the bags fall without sound,
and even now i do not turn
as i slide into the seat
that was between us.

and i can see now
there is no door ahead
there is no door behind
and there is no word for this,

for the leaning that i can feel,
i toward you, and you toward me,
or for the nearing, that journey,
sideways.

belief

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:09 am by Administrator

from time to time, i wonder to myself if belief is a cheap thing.

i struggled to understand what belief was when i was a kid. belief was mostly a religious concept to me back then, and i understood it as a condition of “active acceptance”. and as my church experience tended toward the charismatic, i almost came to view belief as an “actualizing sensation”. i could believe something into existence. i could make a miracle happen by believing it could happen. i could succeed at something by believing in myself.

in my 30s, i graduated from that idea of belief to the idea that i currently hold—a belief manifested in rootedness. nowadays, you know that i believe in something if i stick to it, even when i have good reasons to abandon it. i’ve had good reasons to leave my job, my church, and the sports teams that i’ve stuck by. but i’ve remained with them for a reason that transcends mere loyalty. i believe in those organizations. and more specifically, i believe in very specific people at those organizations. in fact, it is my belief in individuals that has inspired my belief in their peoples. i could fairly say that my entire life and all of the commitments that i engage in revolve around my belief in just a few people. belief is the very foundation of all the work, life, and love that i have.

at my work, for example, i think it’s fair to say that i’ve stayed at my company for as long as i have because of my belief in two people: my co-director, and a personal mentor in senior leadership. my relationships with each of them have taught me one very critical thing about life: that the most important predictor of success and happiness on the job is one’s fit within his or her team. there is no single personal attribute that can guarantee success and productivity in any situation. it’s that complex interplay of personality, relationships, and interpersonal dynamics that make or break a situation for any member of the team. if there’s anything i could teach my children about making it in life, it’s the simple fact that their self-awareness of their needs and their effects on others will be the difference between success and failure in most every venture. their educational degrees, skills, and wealth of experiences can only matter insofar as the quality of the teams that they create.

the same goes with church and spiritual community. it’s not sufficient to believe in a cause or a religion. i’ve put down roots at my particular church because i believe in about a half a dozen people in that community, including its head pastor. belief in those people connotes a lot of things. it connotes mutual dependence. it connotes a sense of shared journey. and it connotes a deep motivation to influence the other toward betterment or deeper fulfillment. the interesting is that i don’t necessarily like all the people that i believe in. but i recognize that the stakes for those particular relationships are high. if those relationships fail, then i fail. if those individuals fall, then i fall with them. belief is about intentional and persistent devotion.

lastly, my belief in the Eagles and Sixers has taught me the very same lessons about belief. every year, of course, i go through the internal process of evaluating my loyalty to those organizations. decades of embarrassment and heartbreak can go a long way in alienating a fan base; and i’ve been through the wars with these teams. i’m really not proud of the anger and resentment that i carry within me from all the tragic seasons, because winning is what i live for. in most everything i do, i reap joy from doing it better than others can. and the Eagles and Sixers have not distinguished themselves as winners.

but one can believe in teams that consistently lose, if one can believe in the people associated with those teams. i believe in won ho, the roommate who made me watch Sixer games on television with him at our philadelphia apartment; the guy who had me over when the Sixers had their first series victory over the Pacers; the friend who celebrated “4th and 26″ with me at his friend’s place in Jersey; the one who shared that terrible silence with me in the aftermath of the Eagles’ loss to the Pats in ‘05. i believe that we have not shared that much pain and anguish over all these years simply to go to our graves with emptiness and loss. i believe in philadelphia, because i believe in the importance of a personal relationship. that is why i believe.

it does not reduce my faith in an organization when i recognize that its value to me resides in one or two important relationships. it clarifies the nature of that faith; it makes my adherence and my perseverance meaningful. because i am not a man of great causes and ambitions; i’m a guy who was created and designed to believe in people. believing in them makes my life worth living, and it enables me to experience life’s greater pleasures. and even now, it enables me to understand why, after yet another miserably failed effort by the Eagles, i continue to keep a corner of my soul empty and utterly reserved for the Lombardi trophy that is destined to complete my life someday

01.09.15

class struggle fuels a militant secularism; and the necessity of an ecumenical strain

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:45 pm by Administrator

as an observer of what’s going on in ferguson, paris, and so many parts of the world where society is at war with its detractors, i feel a fear that goes deeper than my fear of terrorism or sudden violence; it is my growing fear of systematic aggression against those who adhere to religion. as one who balances himself on both sides of the ever-widening gulf between the secular postmodernists and the self-ascribed religious fundamentalists, i feel less conflicted than stretched at my core. because i, like my countrymen, feel rage against the terrorist; but i, like others who have no voice, am afraid of that forceful backlash welling up in the heart of a world that increasingly views religion as the principal evil in these divisive times.

at its root, i believe that so many of these agitations are rooted in social and political inequalities. surely, race and ethnicity have become major themes in these battlegrounds, but at their core, they are class struggles. french algerians that grow up alienated and disenfranchised in their country of birth go to the middle east to gain a different sense of identity in the civilization of their forefathers. they return to the west with a new sense of self; the westerners call them “radicalized”, but they consider themselves validated and empowered. many of them will protest the micro-aggressions against them through politics, art, and other mainstream discourses; but a few, just a few, will take up arms and do the most loathsome of things—kill in the name of an identity, a cause, and a religion. and those moments are enough to fuel a national loathing of these people, who were once viewed as poor and powerless, but who have now become insidious, treacherous, and evil in the eyes of the secular majority. those with power will find it in themselves to crush the dangerously religious among them. and thus do we witness an emerging and powerful force in the culture of the west: a militant secularism, dedicated to the undermining and extinction of those countercultures rooted in dangerous superstitions.

even here in america, we must sense it as well—a gathering sense of frustration with and even hostility toward the vigorously religious among us. the Christian Right in particular, though marginal among the religious majority in america, have inspired the ire and hatred of the urban mainstream, with their patent racism, their intolerance of gays, and their ideological extremism. it is still fashionable for a professional politician to claim religious affiliation, but increasingly they take care to label themselves in a manner more palatable to the emerging and moderate secular base: churched enough to adhere to “family values”, but not so mystical as to eschew pragmatism. ardent religiosity is naive at best and perhaps dangerously narrow-minded at its worst. america, despite its token pieties, is the world leader in rational secularism. and the misbehaviors and hypocritical ugliness of its own hyper-religious factions has sustained america along this trajectory, even as the global opinion of religion in general is being tainted by the sensational violence associated with islam.

it is perhaps too late to separate the emerging class struggles from a broader “clash of civilizations” that they are too often conflated with. what began as the protest of disenfranchised and poverty-stricken peoples is becoming a much broader ideological battle between the militant secularist and all of his foes throughout the world. and in this context, i posit this belief of mine, lurking there behind every other media-driven theory: that what has begun as a war against fundamentalist islam will eventually develop into a persecutory critique of christianity in the west. as much as our principles may differ, i can’t help but believe that our fates as people of the book are intertwined.

even in myself, i sense this inescapable conclusion, that religion really has no place in the science-based, inclusive, and entrepreneurial society that the West is building. men like bill maher are only articulating what many of us are perhaps afraid to admit, that we loathe the prejudice, provincialism, and the false promises of the exclusive and monotheistic religions. where religion serves the public interest as a space for moral reflection, it serves a purpose; but where it asserts its unique claim to a universal truth, religion is not only unproductive but insidiously dangerous. terrorism and violence seem to be only the very tip of the iceberg; the real danger of religion lies in its underlying philosophy of protest against collaboration, tolerance, and mutual identification. even Christianity, as profoundly as it has influenced the humanism of the West, could never be a religion of relative truths and universal tolerance; it is, at its core, a pure and total rejection of all other religions and philosophies of enlightenment, and thus it will always spawn a counter-cultural strain in every generation that believes.

perhaps even in the absence of persecution, american evangelicalism would fade, given the postmodern cultural milieu. but the wrath against fundamentalist islam might very well accelerate that course, leading me to wonder if american protestantism has a future. my feeling is that it does not, in its present form. the american evangelical church doesn’t have the institutional hardiness or the cultural roots to weather a generation of anti-religious persecution. in our society, megachurches collapse in days, not even in weeks (see “Mars Hill”); church leaders are invalidated by the court of public opinion in twitterized milliseconds; and the faddish nondenominational churches that are so successful nowadays have no buttress or organizational safety net to sustain them in spare times. when i look ahead to the horizon, i wonder if the Catholic church remains our best chance at safeguarding our religious tradition through the turbulent times ahead. and i wonder if the purpose of the American Evangelical movement (and perhaps even the broader Reformed movement as well) is simply to reposition the Catholic church in such a way that it can better speak to the anti-institutional, socially progressive christian believer of the new era.

if we recognize that difficult times are in store for those who maintain the primacy of religion, might there not be more openness (or even urgency) regarding ecumenism? the american evangelicals will always refuse to view themselves as a parachurch movement, but i wonder if that will not be their historical legacy in the coming centuries. as i’ve hinted at in previous entries, i am not opposed to the ecumenical dialogue; and i have contemplated for myself whether a “return to catholicism” might not be ultimately both proper and necessary for the purposes of the broader church. it’s not simply that the catholics have the institutional memory and the resources to survive the storm; they also continue to represent our best vision of what a multinational, diverse, and socially active church can look like. in the face of the world’s growing rage against the scourge of religion, it is a church deeply imbedded in society and its history that has the best chance of asserting the ongoing relevance and vitality of God. militant secularism will punish the adherents of god; we can only hope that the church can stay that blow and absorb that anger, as a unified people

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