03.24.15

home is where the heart is

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 pm by Administrator

being the man that i am, i agitate, i crusade, i compete, and i fight. i habitually overextend myself, i get tired of things, and i constantly clamor for something vital, something new. i lose myself in my pursuits. i get so lost sometimes that i go empty. for someone like me, the ritual of returning home is so important. and i’m not talking about home in the physical sense, though there could be an overlap of experience. i’m talking about home in the anchoring and spiritual sense. they say that home is where the heart is; but for me, home is that state of mind that i consider my essential self. my home is where i sat at the kitchen table almost exactly five years ago, looking out the patio door upon the view of the hillside. it is where i sat alone and with nothing, and it is where, in the face of my emptiness, i named Him the God who takes the death out of my life.

at the time, i was hating not only my daily job but my life in general. it was a moment in my life when i had to admit that my career was not only a profound mistake but also unsustainable for me. i had a family to care for, and that was increasingly a financial and personal burden that i resented. bereft of joy, of purpose, and of any clear idea of the future, i fell into what was possibly the deepest hole of my life up until then.

but there was, in the relinquishing of my prior sense of self, a powerful sense of liberation. yes, without work, i would be financially desperate. but in the face of that, i felt invigorated, not helpless. my prior anxieties, about money, about the future, and about myself, became trivial to me; and i reclaimed a sense of life as the indiscernible, unpredictable, and very spontaneous thing i could actually value. in those days, my mind twisted and turned and wrested itself loose from a trap, a structure. on the other side of those bars, i discovered myself to be not the victim and the oppressed but rather the ambitious and unrestrained. i was breathing deeply. in the eyes of society, i was becoming a zero: someone without a plan. but in my spirit, i was alive.

zero is where my home is: that place where i have no job, no plan, and no fear. zero is where i began a new spiritual journey, from the faux wisdom i had inherited to a mystical hope that i was called to. and when i sat there in my kitchen and looked out at the world stretching beyond my patio doors, i felt for the first time a deep kinship with Moses, who spent his last moments apart from his people looking out a promised land he would never step foot upon; with Jonah, who looked upon the work of his life and sought to understand; with John, who spent his last days in exile, wrestling with a revelation of a world that was soon to replace his own. all men and women called to Christ are leveled and razed; they are brought to their knees, even as their chains and cages are broken to pieces; they are reduced to nothing, and yet they arise with something real.

my journey began in a place where something important was taken from me; and it was there that i learned that when God takes something from me, He replaces it with something vastly more precious. this is the pattern of my life. and this is the place where God desires me to return, time and time again, to build His altar, and to give my offering

03.19.15

the vending machine

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:02 pm by Administrator

among the few things that make me angry on a recurring basis, there is the break room vending machine.

if it were a consistent issue, then i think i’d feel differently. about 75% of the time, i can get the beverage i want out of that machine. but 10% of the time, the machine is just about out of everything. another 10% of the time, the machine won’t take my dollar bills or change; it just spits them out without any explanation. and the last 5% of the time, it takes my money, but it refuses to give me anything i ask for because it can’t give me correct change for the item. it says “correct change cannot be dispensed”. and that’s when i really want to kick the fucking machine in the ass.

i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why i’m such an angry person in general. the attachment theorists tell me that i’m angry because i had inconsistent bonding with my parents when i was a child. it’s not that i lacked bonding entirely (which would have made me pathologically withdrawn or suspicious); it’s that i constantly had to discern if and when i needed to be on my guard at home. i learned to perform in a certain way if my parents were in a bad mood. i learned how to behave so as to reduce tensions in the home. i learned how far i could push an issue, and when i needed to back off to preserve the peace.

it wasn’t necessarily a bad way to grow up. i actually think that my childhood experiences elevated my “EQ” to a high level, which is a competency i apply just about every day and generally to good effect. but with the people i am closely connected to, i tend to feel variations in emotional accessibility and mood very acutely; and this impacts my ability to trust and to engage people consistently over the long term. though i am externally vulnerable and approachable with people, i am internally self-protective and reluctant to share genuine intimacy with others.

the last time i got mad at the vending machine, i thought about how common that particular experience is in my life. though i resent the vending machine for making me guess if and when it will actually operate properly, i am not entirely shocked when it fails me. in fact, deep down i think i wonder if it is not my responsibility to discern what mood the vending machine is in. it makes perfect sense, in fact, that the vending machine only wants to give me a diet Sunkist when it feels like it. yeah, it makes me mad; but it’s my job to get over that feeling and to move on with my life. that’s how the whole world works, doesn’t it?

the worst thing about being a “vacillator” is that i can’t tell when i’m doing this to my own kids. i just know that i do. my son constantly peppers me with questions about things (”who is your favorite Sith?”, “why is the sky blue?”, “what does alcohol taste like?”), and about 80% of the time i’m just not in the mood to really answer the question. so a lot of the time, i tell him “I dunno”, “I have no idea”, or “I’m busy right now”. when i am in the mood to answer his questions, then i’ll give the most thorough and pleasing answer i can possibly imagine, and when he fails to be impressed by my answer, i invariably feel defeated. i subsequently blame him for not really being engaged. but i am the one who is not engaged. and i force my son to discern if and when i am actually present with him and willing to listen. that bothers the fuck out of me.

here’s the thing i have learned. i can’t change this about myself. i have learned to alternate emotional intensity with emotional withdrawal; i simply can’t maintain presence and focus with everyone at all times. i have learned to be very attentive to things and people that are critical to my survival, because that’s how i was trained to approach life. but perhaps i don’t need to change that aspect of myself in order to give my son a more consistent parent. what someone like me really needs to do is to keep a mental list of all the half-assed moments and answers that i give him. when i’m ready and willing to be focused just on him, then i need to go back to that list and close the loop with him, on as many of those things as i can. i can show him that his questions and his interests matter, even if i can’t show that immediately and upon command.

it’s like the vending machine. as crappy as that vending machine is, it would go a long way for me if it would just walk over to my office when it’s restocked with sodas or change and give me the thing i asked for three hours ago. but it never follows through, and so i hate it

03.16.15

the God who penetrates me

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:47 am by Administrator

it was a little over three years ago now that i very nearly lost my marriage. my memories of that time are very much streaked with pain, blurred from the tremors of deep anxiety and fear that plagued me in those days. nevertheless, i wander back to those memories from time to time, particularly my memories of the first few days that ensued after the crisis erupted. i return to those memories because they were like a beginning for me. in that very fateful time, a part of me truly was born again.

today, i felt a tugging at my heart to remember, yet again. perhaps it was the cloudiness of the sky or the particular feel of the air. maybe it was just the mood that i had settled into. whatever the reason, i sojourned back to that place of agony and despair, and the man that i am now sat in that solitary place with the suffering man i was then. and perhaps for the very first time since it happened, i told myself the story of how i met God—the God who penetrated me.

the woman i had loved had sent me an email expressing the full extent of her feelings for me. on the day that my world turned upside down, my wife found that email and read it; it stabbed her to the core. she let on nothing while we had dinner together that night; it wasn’t until after the kids had gone to bed that she sat down with me in the dark and told me what she had discovered. she couldn’t say much; i tried to say too much. a day later, she told me of her intention to leave me. try as i might, i could not change her mind, and there was no time for me to carry on my desperate conversations with her. as strange fate would have it, it was the day before my annual 5-day conference in seattle, and she had plans to depart with the kids for a week in san francisco on the very same day.

she had no words for me when i dropped her off at the airport. i was crying, and my children did not understand why i was crying, and i could not explain to them why i was so heartbroken. i felt my connection to everything that i loved eroding just beyond my fingertips. in the fleeting moments between uncontrollable grief and frenzied desperation, i had only rage—rage for myself, and rage for the woman i had loved. on my plane trip to seattle, i thought that death would be merciful, but the plane did not crash, nor did the cab that dropped me off at my hotel. and so i found myself stranded and alone, in the 16th floor room of the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle. i still remember that room; i still remember the view; i still remember the silence that awaited me there.

i could go into excruciating detail on all the obsessive, relentless thought processes that my unconscious mind pressed me into those first days in seattle. i sought to justify myself. i looked for something or someone to blame. i blamed my childhood. i blamed my personality. i blamed my chronic unhappiness in my marriage. my mind was a torture chamber of repeating and echoing invectives and hollow supplications. i called my wife every hour of the day, but she did not take my calls. i called my friends and left cryptic messages. i slept three hours a night and wandered listlessly down long, empty conference center hallways never quite sure of where i was going. and everywhere i went, i prayed. i just kept praying that God would give me one more chance, just one more chance. i kept praying that God would save my life from the mess i had made of it.

but the details of my internal conversations don’t matter much to me now. my desperate prayers, i can see now, were simply internal conversations with myself. they were words that i gave myself to fill the spaces; they were words that i meant for my own comfort. but they gave me no comfort at all. i was lost, and i had no one to talk to.

on my fourth out of five days in seattle, my wife picked up my call and talked to me. she told me that she would be willing to undergo marital counseling with me and stay with me through that term; but she admitted that it was distinctly possible that she would elect to leave me thereafter. i was ecstatic. i was convinced that i would be able to persuade her to stay with me. i would change. i would do anything necessary to make the relationship work. i could not hide my elation and my confidence. and as little as that enthusiasm was reciprocated on the other end, i came away from that conversation believing that i had been granted that second chance by God. once again, i made various promises to God and to myself, as if to justify the supreme mercy that had been shown to me.

oddly enough, throughout the whole week, i had begun to experience unusual internal pains. i attributed these to the effects of stress on my body, as i wasn’t sleeping or eating much of anything. the pains were initially very intermittent, but as the week wore on, the pains became progressively more severe. they were pains down there—internal to the rectum, deep inside. they were unlike anything i’d ever previously experienced. on the nights when i was able to fall asleep, those pains would wake me up from sleep. they’d pass as quickly as they came on; but as frequently as they were recurring, i began to anticipate them with fear.

the fourth night in Seattle, in the aftermath of that very hopeful phone conversation with my wife, i was awakened again by that internal pain. it was utterly excruciating—certainly the worst bout i had experienced to that point. i rolled around in the bed that was damp with my sweat, and for an hour and a half i moaned and tossed and turned, waiting for the pain to go away. it did not relent. and so i went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet, hoping that i could pass something, whether a bowel movement or blood or whatever else was in there, just so that i could get through the pain. and there where i sat on the toilet at 4 in the morning huddled over in total agony, i heard God whisper to me in the dark.

you’re right where i want you, He said.

from the moment that i sensed His voice, i sensed His presence as well—still and silent, but powerful nonetheless. there was an anger or indignation about that presence. it was a jealous presence. i felt Him all around, and even more acutely, i sensed His part in my pain. i do not know how i made the very strange leap of logic that followed, but i understood then that my pain was of God. in the midst of all my passions and lusts and betrayals, God was even more greatly passionate, and God was even more greatly aggrieved. as i sat on the edge of the toilet seat, i felt the pain of God’s penetration into my being. i might have likened it to rape, but though i anguished, i did not feel violated. i cried, but i gave myself over to the Lord, to be had and to be had completely.

in that moment of utterly consuming intensity, everything that mattered to me—the future of my marriage, the future of my life—ceased to matter. in the dark space where God confronted me, i realized that there was nothing to be gained from winning back what i had lost. even before i had betrayed my wife, i had repeatedly betrayed the God who owns me, the God who had bought my life with His own. and i felt God telling me that i could lie to people and manipulate them for my purposes, but God would never be deceived by my words. reconciliation with Him required nothing less than true and utter repentance; and apart from genuine reconciliation with the Lord, there would never be peace, goodness, or joy in my life.

and so i understood the words of King David when he was confronted by the fact of his sin and by the lives he had corrupted and destroyed by that sin. against you and you only have i sinned, i said to the Lord. and at the very moment i uttered those words aloud, the pain in my body left me for good.

i think that my hair began graying from that moment onwards. and many other things have changed about me as well, since then. i have stopped seeing myself as a victim of my circumstances. while once i saw validity in my quest for affection and understanding, now i see the great burdens of my heart for what they are—my true offering to the Lord. since the night that i encountered the God who penetrates me, i have recognized that more fundamental than the career i choose or the relationships i maintain, more precious than the trust of my wife or the love of my children, is the sanctity of that special and intimate space i share with the Lord, who looks deep into what i am and seeks nothing less than my total devotion.

today, i remember room 1627 at the Westin in Seattle; i remember the room, the view, the great loneliness, and the inconsolable sadness of my life. i remember as well those moments when He touched me and when He released me from His embrace. and i say to God, you are first in my life, my great love and my savior, the One who has me and will always have me. forgive me for what i am. though i am treacherous and worthy of loathing, you have declared your claim on my life, and you have loved me. i remember you Lord, and i name you the God who has penetrated me. i have been loved by you, and it is the mark of my identity, and it is the pride and joy of my days, always

03.12.15

drones, iran, and chip kelly

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:48 pm by Administrator

there are three things i want to briefly write about today, and they are all about “mass destruction” in some way.

first, the bin laden letters.

the recently publicized bin laden letters suggest that the man and his organization were progressively disabled by the american campaign of drone attacks in pakistan. i can’t recall if the reporter or his/her official source suggested it, but there was a statement in the article to the effect that this was evidence of the drone campaign’s effectiveness. i’m sure that most readers wouldn’t have found that conclusion particularly notable. after all, the “successful” strikes have been highly publicized over the years, with pictures and detailed descriptions of the high-level targets that have been eliminated by the bombings.

i don’t doubt that the drone attacks have hurt Al Qaeda. perhaps by any logical analysis, they are the lesser of many evils, if one can describe them as evil. and i would describe them as evil—but perhaps with reservation. because calling something evil is a simple way of dismissing it; and in fact anything that demands the true scrutiny of the conscience shouldn’t be so easily judged. to me, the drone attacks, more than being evil, are terrifying. they represent the sum of everything we ought to fear about technology, war, and hegemony. they represent a method of killing that is remote, silent, and entirely impersonal. this method of killing requires no contending and no mutual recognition, and it exacts less (if any) psychological toll on the one who pulls the trigger. the drone attack makes the killing of a man something tactical; and by virtue of this, it makes the killing easy. if this is the fruit of our science and advancement as a people, then we have this to boast: that we as a people have now found a method of killing that is both palatable and compatible with our way of life.

there are no powerful voices advocating the cause of the innocent who suffer the ravage of drone warfare. this makes me terribly sad. it makes me feel at odds with our times. and it makes me feel sad for my children, for the terrible things they will witness and be compelled to accept. whether we notice it or not, drone warfare is changing us; it is changing the way that we view life, and it is changing the way that we live.

i don’t think i’ve ever seen anything like what has recently transpired with the congressional letter to iran. my reaction to this unusual development is somewhat complex. on the one hand, i feel that showing an internal lack of unity to one’s rival or enemy is generally counterproductive; and however it may be politically expedient to the enemies of the president, it is poor form for the entire american leadership. on the other hand, i have questions about the president’s approach to rapprochement with iran. the timing of it, with respect to both the crisis in syria and the president’s term of office, suggests that this is a legacy moment for him—something that resonates very deeply with his geopolitical beliefs. and i suspect that i do not agree with his beliefs.

for several years, i’ve had real problems with the foreign policy of the obama administration. the real point of departure for me was when obama tried to gain authorization for air attacks against the Assad regime in Syria two years ago. i have faulted him for being reactionary, misguided, and short-sighted. but his latest initiatives to ease sanctions on cuba and iran do not fall into the same pattern of irrational overreaction; they are proactive and paradigm-shifting. as such, my response to these maneuvers goes beyond a mere critique of his personal style. for the first time since obama took office, i feel a difference of opinion with the president on ideology.

the violence and upheaval of the middle east are rooted in so many deep historical traumas—european colonization, international treaties, anti-Zionism, and the displacement and persecution of Palestinian Arabs—but there can be no doubt that among all these factors there have been a select few parties that have consistently agitated for conflict and unrest. one of these parties has been hezbollah. whether or not one shares their beliefs and sympathies, one must acknowledge their role in repeatedly provoking tensions between israelis and palestinians. hezbollah is the ideological and military extension of a Shi’ite coalition funded and supported by Assad in Syria and the revolutionary cadre of Iran. to secure enduring peace in the Middle East, one must contend with Hezbollah; and to contend with Hezbollah, one must reckon with both Syria and Iran.

to begin high-level diplomatic negotiations with Iran when it has not changed its official stance on Israel or Hezbollah is to effect a fundamental shift in america’s role with respect to the crisis in Palestine. what it looks like is a sign of weakness—a concession to Iran. it is a message to the Ayatollah that Iran can maintain its role in destabilizing the region in return for a demilitarized nuclear program. and it is a message to the world that america’s current obsession with ISIS is sufficient to distract it from any of its other long-term regional interests. it’s an eyes-wide-open blunder, no less, and it should be terribly disturbing to any student of american foreign policy.

and now i’ll shift my attention to perhaps a force more destructive than drones, ISIS, and iran combined. that force is chip kelly, head coach of the philadelphia eagles.

by all accounts, chip kelly is proving himself to be ruthless—a calculating, controlling, and decisive leader who moves players like chess pieces and cuts veterans without regard for sentiment or loyalty. his past week with the Eagles has veritably wreaked havoc upon the roster, with two blockbuster trades and two major free agent signings, all seemingly designed to transform this team into a machine that can run his system with efficiency.

and for the first time since chip kelly began his term as HC, i’m with him.

granted, i think that it’s generally important in an organization that a leader have a deep understanding of his or her team. a great leader exhibits the capacity to maximize results from the talent he’s got, even if it means adapting his approach to make that happen. in my opinion, chip has failed in almost all of these regards since he started with the Eagles. he failed to learn this team in his first year, and in his second year he showed real weaknesses in talent evaluation and game management. i’ve ripped him for his mistakes in the 2014 nfl draft, and his disastrous december only validated all the concerns i’ve had about his play-calling and personal inflexibility.

chip is a one-trick pony, and in order to win he needs a team that can do that trick reproducibly and well. lesean mccoy showed indecisiveness and an aversion to contact through most of last season, so chip ditched him while he still had trade value. nick foles, as good of a quarterback as he potentially can be, showed a predilection for severe mental lapses, so chip moved him while his stock was still artificially inflated by a 14-4 personal win record. he was aggressive in acquiring a young star at linebacker (Alonso) and an upper-level cornerback (Maxwell) because he needed a boost in talent at both levels on the defensive side. and now, with Bradford and DeMarco Murray, he’s got two skill players who are intelligent enough and hungry enough to play football his way. in short, chip did what chip needed to do to dig himself out of a hole.

the rest of america doesn’t understand why chip has been so frenetic, because on paper he seems to have a resume with the Eagles that shows success. but in truth, chip has done much more poorly than his regular season record suggests, and the aggressiveness he’s demonstrating is the absolutely appropriate response to the desperation of his situation. chip kelly should be coaching for his job this season, and he’s got a lot to prove to himself and to philadelphia in the 2015-2016 season. i think that he now has the squad that he needs to win his way. i don’t think chip kelly is anything better than a football mind at this point in his NFL coaching career; but he can prove me wrong this year, if he does it right. and from the look of things, he’s off to a very good start.

03.09.15

Of color

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:10 pm by Administrator

all the recent news stories surrounding race—Ferguson and Oklahoma U, among many others—have only one consistent effect on me. they make me emotional. but they don’t change my mind about the issues.

here’s another thing that i’ve observed about my own reaction to race. my biases flip, depending on the people involved, the scenario presented, and where my feelings are at that moment in time. but i always have a bias. and i rarely feel certainty about when and how i can express that bias. as a result, i have grown accustomed to expressing a “race neutrality” in public in most everything i say and do, when in fact i am anything but neutral on race. i think that if my biases on one particular matter of social debate were closely examined, i could be accused of racism by one camp or another; but if one examined my biases on multiple race-related matters simultaneously, he would find no consistency in the content of my “racism”. if i am racist, then i am a racist who has no definite beliefs about the meaning and repercussions of race.

it’s this strange mix of socially imposed constraints, personal passion, and variability in biases that makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to position myself with regard to racial reconciliation. the position i take most often is that race is not as central as people make it out to be. accordingly, the people who make me angriest in the public forum are those who rapidly and reflexively respond to conflicts by defining race as the primary issue. for example, i had a series of rather heated exchanges with an old pastor friend of mine five years ago when he adamantly insisted on Facebook that racism was to blame in the police arrest of Henry Louis Gates. i called him out for inciting controversy, and he called me out for ignoring the obvious. he subsequently toned down his rhetoric, and i subsequently quit Facebook. that exchange and all the emotions around it still essentialize why i avoid not only Facebook but also the complex public discourse on race.

my children do not hear me discuss race frankly in the home, and perhaps my silence on the matter is by design. in any case, a couple of months ago, shortly after Martin Luther King Day, my 8 year-old son came home from school and asked my wife if he was white or black. she asked him what he thought he was, and he guessed that perhaps he was “black”. the moment made her proud; but when i heard about it, i was not pleased. i wasn’t displeased either. i felt upset and lost, because already my son was getting sucked into the terribly divisive narrative of whites and blacks in America, and i didn’t know how to re-frame that construct in a way that was both fair and meaningful for us. what i wanted to yell out was “no one in America is either white or black”. but i could just as easily have said that everyone in America is both white and black.

the fact is that i don’t want to maintain a veneer of “race neutrality”, but i don’t know how to talk honestly about race. if i have learned anything in all my years of institutionalized education in this country, i might summarize as follows:

1. If you’re not Black American, don’t ever use the N word. If you are a Black American, there are only a select few situations in which you can freely use the N word—for example, on stage when doing stand-up comedy.

2. When faced by data suggesting racial disparities in crime, health, and educational achievement, one should suggest either socioeconomic factors or systematic racism as the logical reasons for these disparities.

3. Increasingly, it is bad form to use the term “illegal immigrant”. “Undocumented” is preferred.

4. “White” and “Black” are the only color words appropriate for describing race or ethnicity. Latinos/Hispanics may call themselves “brown” in certain counter-cultural contexts (i.e. spoken word), but no one else should use that modifier. “Yellow” and “red” are always unacceptable.

5. After decades of term rivalry, “African-American” and “Black” are now nearly equivalent descriptors, though there are Black Americans who refuse to identify themselves as “African American”. “African American” is probably the safer term to use in public address, but “black” is the fairer and more straightforward term in most every other context.

6. “Asian American” (or a hyphenated nation-specific modifier) is the only way to describe an American of East Asian descent, even if that person feels little meaningful linkage to the continent of Asia. “Oriental” describes articles or antiques, and as an ethnic descriptor it is now considered as offensive as “Chink”.

7. If someone calls it racism, then you must defer to that explanation.

8. A racially homogeneous group lacks diversity only if it is white. Homogeneous non-white groups are diverse by definition, unless they themselves claim not to be.

9. The term “Latino” is preferable to “Hispanic” in California but not elsewhere. Don’t ever assume that a Latino/Hispanic person is of Mexican origin.

10. “Of color” is acceptable but esoteric. “Colored” is universally unacceptable.

03.07.15

what we talk about

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:21 am by Administrator

i wonder if the big quake—the one i believe i have to experience, because of what i am—hasn’t yet happened because there have been so many small ones along the way. i wonder if i haven’t just totally fallen apart because all the parts of me have been cracking and chipping all along and through all the years, slowly enough that i’ve been able to reach out and cram those pieces back into the places where i’ve gone hollow.

today, i looked up pictures of a woman that i once loved. i found three photos of her on-line. one photo revealed to my surprise that she’s a mother now. the other two photos were from years ago, back when she was a stage performer. i don’t know why i looked her up; perhaps it was to reconnect with something that i once was. in any case, i looked at those photographs for a long while, and i found myself shaking my head as i studied them. try as i might, i could not remember what had drawn me to her. perhaps i had assumed that i would still feel some attraction to that face, to the person or to her memory. but i couldn’t summon the feeling i once had for her. she was a picture that i was now seeing from an unfamiliar angle, and it seemed the wrong angle, but it was her nonetheless—strange, unsettling, and not quite beautiful.

it was then that i wondered if this is how i feel about everyone i once loved. and i think it is true. there’s a shock that settles into a deep and troubling quiver through my being when i encounter someone that i was once very close with. it is an instantaneous recognition that a bridge i have once crossed can never be crossed back over. love, once it has run its course, cannot be rediscovered. not for me. what’s beautiful to me is only beautiful to me as long as i stay connected to it. once we part ways, the feeling in me that lent beauty to that person and to that time is destined to evaporate entirely. i think that this is why i am only consistently attracted to what is novel and unfamiliar. if i really want to love something for the long haul, then i suspect that what i must do is to chain myself to that thing—close enough that i can’t look at it too closely or for too long.

it is so very rare that i encounter myself in any real way, in the manner of real contending, real exploration. i am like the secret that i keep from myself, so that i will not tire of what i am. because i, more than anyone else, understand how little i can really hold my own interest, if i am sufficiently exposed. i can be alone with myself as much as anyone else can be; there are so many ways for me to avoid seeing what i am, as he and i pick a maze of thought to lose ourselves in. but here and there, i see myself from that strange angle, as if by reflection through three different mirrors aligned to afford me that impossible view of myself. he’s vastly differently from what i thought he was; and what i see shakes me to the core.

this thing about perception—it troubles me so much, and it always has. i remember that in my AP English class, i once stayed after class to talk with my teacher, a genius, about the real terror of Joyce’s “Portrait of an Artist”. she had all the answers; she thought i was agonizing about my decision to commit to Princeton for college. it was such an awkward conversation after that, because i didn’t want to embarrass her, as committed as she was to her idea of my struggle. in fact, what i wanted to tell her was that i felt James Joyce telling me that the world is only as simple as the size of the picture frame that i hang against the backdrop of the universe. and no matter how big of a frame one can imagine, it’s a frame all the same, and once you fix that frame, you’ll see only that snapshot of the stars for the rest of your life. i was 18, and i was scared to put my frame up on the wrong piece of the sky. i was afraid to see the world a certain way, because i was afraid to be one way, and to love one sort of thing, and to miss out on being something else—anything else.

in any case, this man that i am is what i’ve become. perhaps what is so troubling to me is not that this is the thing i’ve become but rather that i will be this thing, more or less, for the rest of my life. and when i talk about love now, i’m talking about the thing that could break that picture frame against the sky. when i talk about love, i’m talking about the thing that will let me see all angles and directions. and most of all, when i talk about love, i’m talking about the thing that will make me compellingly and thoroughly new.

i have always figured that the big quake will rip me apart someday because i am simply not built to be one thing. but in fact, i can’t think of anyone who’s changed as much as i have. i don’t believe in anything i used to; and i don’t love anything that i’ve left behind. the big quake transpired in a thousand little tremors, and all the groping in the dark and all the filling of empty spaces has made me something entirely different. i can live with what i am, i realize, because i have no idea what i’ve become

03.03.15

frank underwood, eating right, bible stories

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:21 pm by Administrator

no spoilers here, but i’m loving the third season of “House of Cards”. as i’ve written before, it is by no means a “political procedural” or a probing depiction of White House politics. rather, it’s a dark and witty exploration into the art of war, framed through character studies that play out like theater. it’s Shakespearean in its poignant depth; but it’s Brechtian theater at its core. Frank Underwood openly wrestles with us, his audience, in a manner that scorns empathy and begs judgment. the great irony is that despite our deeply critical sense of the man, we understand the inexorable necessity of his ways. our understanding of him becomes a forgiveness of his excesses. “House of Cards” is the study of a man who is at his greatest when he conquers not his enemies but rather our ability to simply dismiss him as a force of evil.

in some ways, it summons comparisons to “Breaking Bad”, which similarly wrestles with the complex face of evil. Walter White begins his journey as a consummately sympathetic man in desperate circumstances; but our ability to see him as a victim of his circumstances steadily erodes as he becomes less and less of a real human being. Frank Underwood, on the other hand, never presents himself as an authentic man. from the outset, he is disturbingly inscrutable and even intentionally inhuman; but our ability to write him off as a facile monster or villain distinctly wavers as he demonstrates less and less control over his own narrative. i’d say that while “Breaking Bad” aims to awe us with man’s capacity to be inhuman, “House of Cards” aims to prove that the pursuit of power invariably exposes the human weakness in us all.

it impresses me that my human weakness for white rice and pasta has not dissuaded me from my re-dedication to a low-carb diet. over the past four weeks, i’ve resumed the diet that i once maintained for two years back in my baltimore days, though with a few modifications. back then, i used to rely heavily on diet sodas to satisfy my craving for sweets; now, i simply don’t miss the sweet things. having to work long days and maintain such mental energy, i no longer view a healthy diet as a luxury or an “extra”. it’s absolutely essential to my health and well-being. i feel the effects of carbohydrates and particularly processed starches very acutely now when i deviate from my diet; and the brain fog, muscle tension, and general fatigue that used to be a normal part of my daily life now affect me very rarely. i’ve lost three pounds of fat weight, but more importantly i’m feeling a lot more stamina mentally and physically in everything i do, whether it’s running, seeing patients, or studying. i think that it’s quite possible that i’ll never eat white rice again, which is a stunning thought to consider. but i’m a real believer in the toxic dangers of refined carbohydrates, and i’ve seen too many of my patients die from their effects to not internalize the lessons of their lives for myself. i don’t miss the carbs i used to eat, because i don’t miss the toll that they took on my body and my mind.

for a long time, perhaps for the better part of a year, i meditated a lot on the story of Jonathan and his armor bearer and their assault on the Philistine outpost. that was a couple of years ago. i’ve started thinking about it again. it’s such an interesting story in so many respects. it’s the story about an act of great heroism and faith. it’s also a story about a son who could not help but defy the father that he defended with his life. and to me, it is most essentially a story about how deep sadness and shame make leaps of faith absolutely necessary. jonathan grieved his father’s broken rule and the shameful weakness of his people; and at their moment of greatest humiliation, he chose to risk himself against unwinnable odds in order to secure the favor of God. jonathan was a man who was unwilling to see the mantle of God removed from his people.

he could have been king himself. but he died young and for a futile cause, defending the man who had failed him as a father, as a king, and as the servant of God. i think of jonathan and of his sadness, of the great burden he carried knowing that he would perish on account of another man’s sin. among men who lived tragic lives, jonathan remains in my thoughts a life that was inescapably sad; and to consider his moment of triumph only magnifies the melancholy of his demise

03.02.15

the 4th dimension

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:44 pm by Administrator

for years, i’ve been taught to focus on three things and three things only—career, religion, and family. and for years, i’ve watched people spend lots of their time on other things such as volunteer work, political activism, or environmental causes, and it’s been hard for me to understand why they’d sacrifice personal rest and leisure to invest themselves in this way. but now i’m beginning to get it. because there’s a part of me that i haven’t been able to tap into at home, at work, or at church. for a long time, i think i expected that i would express that side of me in those settings someday; but now i realize that i probably am not because i can’t. the side of me that wants to fight a war, advance a worthy cause, and go deep with my society—that side craves a 4th dimension to my life. and thus i’m beginning to understand that for me to be what i was meant to be, i’m going to have to go out and find that battle worth my life.

perhaps it’s possible that i could have tapped into this inner energy through my career or religious pursuits. but i think that the reason it hasn’t happened for me is the idiosyncratic manner in which i compartmentalize these activities. for me, work is about responsibility. it’s where i earn money, secure health benefits, and manifest my sense of responsibility for my family. yes, i would love for my work to be a vessel for my passion; but i think that the complexity of my passions has prevented me from submitting my career, as vitally necessary as it is to my survival, to the vicissitudes of my soul searchings. my job is where i do what must be done; and it is ironically the way that work goes against my grain that has illuminated the reality of my unfulfilled passion.

in church as well, i have found it difficult to tap into that elusive, cause-oriented, and inherently idealistic internal drive. for certain, every church i’ve attended has employed compassionate ministries, and to varying degrees they have all been involved in providing social services to the community. but here again, i think that it is the strict compartmentalization of function which has inhibited me from expressing my community-oriented passions through the church. on one level, i wonder if i’ve come to view church-driven compassionate ministries as transactional: food in exchange for proselytization, for example. or another level, perhaps when i served in church ministries, i felt myself acting as an agent for the church rather than as one directly invested in the cause. and on still another level, i wonder if my consistent inability to feel alignment with people of the church has discouraged me from seeking real partnership with them in the work of the church. there have been many factors that have prevented me from giving myself over to church-driven social causes. nonetheless, i think i can say now that my interest in deeper engagement with society, though largely unexpressed in the church, is real.

for someone like me with such rigidly defined and compartmentalized life activities, the opening of that fourth dimension probably has to be a very intentional decision. it hasn’t happened “organically” to this point, and i cannot assume that it will. and as i approach that ominous point of reflection—my 40th birthday—i recognize that perhaps the time for that intentional turn in thinking is now upon me. i need to begin investing myself in something that connects me more deeply with my world, in a manner that allows me to influence it for change or even transformation.

in fact, there are so many broad social issues that i care very much about: drug abuse, poverty, gay rights, epidemic obesity, cartel violence in Mexico, racial reconciliation, space exploration, human trafficking, illiteracy, destruction of the natural environment, and healthcare reform, among many other things. i think that i often feel paralyzed by these issues, because as much as i care about them i undertake to learn about their root causes, and the sheer complexity of those root causes stymies me. i genuinely feel helpless about the things in my society that grieve me. the challenge to me at this point in my life is to overcome that helplessness and to believe that even in the absence of meaningful results my participation in those battles will at least be important to me. how do i get the ball rolling in my life? i think that i have to see the opportunity when it arises, most likely as a result of direct personal connection to an issue that i care about, and i have to move on that feeling. i have to learn, i have to connect, and i have to push, until something takes traction, and until i find myself in a situation in which my participation is making a difference.

i was built to fight a war; i was meant to advance a cause. that’s not because Christ’s mission is insufficient for me. no, on the contrary, it’s that i was meant to express my faith through a compassionate cause for justice. the older i grow, the more i recognize that the practice of Christian faith is not fulfilled in a close or intimate relationship with God; it is fulfilled in the laying down of one’s life for one’s people. i pity those who for various reasons can express their faith through little else than prayer and reflection, because i really believe that’s not what we were meant for. for the rest of the years left to me, i want to be relevant, and i want to express my faith in action. it’s important to me that the mark of my faith is a work that makes His name great and indisputably so, particularly in the eyes of those who do not believe. and in this way, i wonder if this is not true: that the three dimensions were given to me so that i might have a foundation for the fourth—the arena in which i can build my altar to the Lord