06.29.15

Integrity

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:28 pm by Administrator

every now and then, there’s a high-profile news story about a rich person or celebrity who commits a hit-and-run accident and tries to get away with it. invariably, the costs of that evasion of justice are considerable for the perpetrator. we think to ourselves, “why didn’t they just come clean?” we wonder to ourselves, “how corrupt or stupid did this person have to be to simply walk away from the injury or damage he or she caused?”

last night i was attempting a fast parallel park against the flow of traffic and rubbed bumpers with a parked car. i jumped out to look at the damage, which consisted of a 3-4 inch scratch along the side of the bumper. as i parked my car, i thought to myself that the damage wasn’t considerable. the next thing that went through my mind is that no one seemed to be hanging around to see what i’d do next. though it was crowded on the sidewalk, everyone was moving on. no big deal. i thought to myself, maybe i can just do nothing now and move on.

but in the moment, there was a moment of panic. what if the driver of that car was across the street looking to see what i’d do? what if someone was watching me? after a minute of contemplation, i rummaged in my car and found a marker, and i wrote out a note of apology with my name and phone number, which i put on the windshield of the car. i walked to the restaurant where my family was waiting with a very unsettled feeling, wondering how much this totally unnecessary accident would cost me. i started thinking in dollars and cents. i started rethinking why i had left my name and number, and i wondered if i was putting myself at the mercy of someone who would mercilessly take advantage of me now.

but later, during dinner, my thoughts settled down, and i thought to myself, if i hadn’t left that note, then right now i’d probably be excusing myself from dinner and running back to that car to leave a note right now. i’d be hoping and praying that the guy hadn’t just gotten in his car and left. because there are some things i can live with; but this sort of thing, i decided a long time ago, is not something i can live with. it’s not about pride or about righteousness. it’s about a memory i have with God, a point of connection that i can’t afford to lose.

back when i was in the 11th grade, i was excused from my computer science class for something extracurricular. later on in the day, i learned that a pop quiz had been administered during the class i missed. the guy i talked to even told me what questions had shown up on the quiz. without a second thought, i began looking through my notes to search for the answers to those questions. thank God, i thought at the time, because i don’t think i would’ve known the answers otherwise. the next day when i showed up for class, the teacher gave me the “pop quiz” to make up, and of course i recognized all the questions on it. i handed in the quiz and sat down, but i didn’t feel relief. i felt that unsettled feeling.

later that day during lunch, i went back to the computer science classroom and found my teacher, Mr. Yee. i told him how i’d come to learn about the pop quiz outside of class and how i’d prepared for it. i told him how i’d thought about the advantage i’d gained and the dishonesty of what i’d done. i told him that i’d had a choice whether to ask details about the quiz; i’d had a choice about whether to go hunting for the answers. i’d made the wrong choices, and i wanted to be held responsible for what i’d done.

Mr. Yee shook his head and seemed befuddled. i can’t remember his words exactly; i just remember him saying that he was impressed with my honesty and had no intention to zero me on the quiz. we never talked about it again. but i remember that i walked out of there with a feeling i’d never had before, like i’d passed a test. except that this test was the real test—a test of life. and i’d proven that as important as my grades were (they were almost everything to me at the time), there was still something that mattered more. i wanted to be right with God. i couldn’t look myself in the mirror or live with what i was without that knowing that my walk with God was for real.

i could have walked away from that bumper scratch, and i would have been free of one kind of anxiety. but i would have had to live with a different kind of anxiety—the kind that erodes identity. and i was that close to walking away. and that frightened me, because i don’t want to be that man who walks away from responsibility. i want to be that boy that God put to the test at the age of 16, the boy who said that the expectations of his parents and of the world in general were meaningless next to the expectations of the Lord Himself.

trust me when i say that i’m no legalist. my relationship with God is not defined by what i do right or wrong in any given day; and i do not seek to justify myself by any arbitrary list of good things i can assemble. but there are these moments when i perceive that i’m being tested so that i might be challenged to my core, challenged in such a way that i might remember with great acuity how the Lord searches my soul to know whom i serve. and in these moments, i do pass the test. i pass that test, because the Lord compels me to pass it. and the Law and the promises and all of my memories with God and all of my hopes for our relationship do come together in those moments, and they become one and the same. it is a covenant reaffirmed; it is a covenant that defines what i am, underneath the titles i bear and the clothes that i wear. it is a covenant that burns within me to be revealed, and it is a covenant by which all important things become unimportant. integrity, i am reminded, is nothing to be gained. it is simply the thing we show when we are given a chance to define what it is that we love most in the universe. to take responsibility in those moments, to submit oneself to judgment and discipline, to be counted or put to shame—these are the moments when we get to tell ourselves and the world that we genuinely love the Lord, and no other

06.27.15

Advice to Sam Hinkie

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:29 pm by Administrator

it’s been a challenging few years for the general manager of the 76ers, whose relentless approach to tanking for draft picks has earned him the ire of his peers and the tenuous loyalty of the philly faithful. while his trade of jrue holiday for nerlens noel and 2014’s tenth pick still seems impressive, several of his other moves have been bewildering, if not frankly unfortunate. his choice of joel embiid was controversial at the time and may very well prove to be a crucial opportunity cost for the franchise. even worse, his inability to leverage a highly productive Michael Carter-Williams into anything of real value (a Laker 1st rounder that is sure to be a mid-teen selection in a very weak 2016 draft next year) suggests a severe lapse in judgment. we could grade Hinkie as a mixed bag; but really, it’s been more bad than good.

by far, Embiid’s setback in the healing of his foot is the worst blow Hinkie has thus far suffered in his brief tenure, but the worst may not be behind him. because he was ultimately unable to land the player he wanted in the 2015 draft (D’Angelo Russell) or move down in the draft for strategic assets, he found himself in a position identical to the one he was in one year ago: drafting a potential asset at 3rd. okafor, like embiid last year, represents a unique talent and a potential standout; but he is not a player that fulfills the vision of the fans or the imminent needs of the team. Hinkie’s logic is now beginning to constrain him, as the players and fans begin to agitate against the culture of losing that he is deliberately perpetuating. it is time for Hinkie to turn the corner in his way of thinking and recognize that the NBA is not an industry that tolerates 5-10 year rebuilding plans. most GM’s aren’t given that window to work with. 5-10 years is more than enough time to destroy a team’s reputation, black-list it in the minds of top-tier free agents, and lose a generation of season ticket holders. Hinkie’s window for fantasy play firmly closed on Thursday night, when he made a decision with the 3rd pick that consigned the Sixers to another year of gnawing roster gaps, ambiguity, and (worst of all) lost games. he’s got to focus on the near term; he’s got to give Brett Brown a team that can win; he’s got to finish his rebuild now.

part of the reason i believe that Hinkie needs to get aggressive outside the draft is that our outlook for the 2016 NBA draft is simply not encouraging. it’s sizing up to be a relatively weak draft, with only one standout point guard prospect in Jamal Murray. given the manner in which Hinkie has stacked us at forward/center, it would appear that our hopes in the 2016 draft entirely hinge on Jamal Murray’s star potential—and our ability to secure him with our pick. the miami and laker picks will not get us anything better than role player prospects on the wing, and we will certainly have to pass on the plethora of talented bigs projected to fall within the top 20. basically, we’re not poised to take advantage of 2016’s best offerings. and that’s why we need Hinkie to get on the phone and trade assets for players this year. we need to trade for at least one star guard before the trade deadline, and once we get our man, we’ve got to pay him next summer.

i have to believe that the rights to Saric, our three 1st round picks in 2016, and any of our coveted bargain-basement role players (covington or mcrae, for instance) have to be worth something to a GM like Danny Ainge, Daryl Morey, or Ryan McDonough. i will consider it a loss if by this time next year we haven’t landed a scorer that can work in Brett Brown’s offense. we should be willing to pull the trigger on a max contract for goran dragic right now, if we haven’t sufficiently alienated him with our losing ways. we should be aggressively targeting eric bledsoe, bradley beal, mike conley, and jimmy butler. we just need one of these guys. the goal has to be clear: a winning season in 2016, a playoff run in the 2017 season, and long-term contracts that will keep both Noel and Okafor happy and winning in philadelphia well into the 2020’s. and it all starts not by tanking for yet another season but by taking our “assets” and moving them for real players—right now.

06.25.15

Last Entry before the NBA Draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:34 pm by Administrator

i rate the top 10 of this year’s class as follows:

1. Jahlil Okafor: i’ve never seen a better low-post scorer at the college level, and his deficiencies as a shot-blocker and free-throw shooter are a minor price to pay for a foundational big man.

2. Karl Anthony Towns: this year’s consensus #1 pick will probably be an All Star at some point in his career.

3. Emmanuel Mudiay: i’ve written about him already. i do think he will reach his potential in the NBA—and given his athleticism and work ethic, his potential is exceedingly high.

4. D’Angelo Russell: i’ve written about Russell already as well. i think there’s a considerable drop-off between Mudiay and Russell here.

5. Mario Hezonja: from what i’ve read about Super Mario, i think he could be a scorer at the NBA level and with a ceiling higher than that of Russell.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein: he’s built for success at the center position, but he’ll drop lower than this because of premature concerns about his foot.

7. Justise Winslow: there’s another big drop here between 6 and 7, as Winslow is unlikely to distinguish himself as a star in the pros. there’s still plenty to like, as he could be a situational scorer and a solid wing defender.

8. Cameron Payne: he might be better than Winslow, and i’m fairly certain he’ll outperform many of the guys ranked ahead of him in the draft. he’s a baller, and i like his skills. he’ll hit the ground running as a scorer if he’s given the chance.

9. Devin Booker: i think Devin has a high likelihood of carving out a role for himself no matter where he lands because his shooting prowess is rare. a shot at JJ Redick success seems reasonable.

10. Kelly Oubre: this is a bit of a random reach, i’ll admit, but i think that Oubre’s perceived lack of polish is working more against him than for him. he’s projected to go in the mid-teens, but his athleticism and skill-set merit a higher ceiling. i like him.

a quick note on Kristaps Porzingis: 7 feet of height is wasted on a guy who is not strong enough to dominate under the basket. if you’re 7 feet tall, you have two roles: to dominate the glass and to dunk on lesser men. bless his heart, i’m sure Kristaps moves like a gazelle and has range out to the cheap seats. to me, those things just don’t matter.

and here is my dream scenario for the Sixers tonight:

we trade pick 3 to the Celtics for Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, and pick 16; and we take Kelly Oubre at pick 16. GO SIXERS!

06.24.15

The NBA Draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:34 pm by Administrator

i went back to read my entries from one year ago. they were filled with intense reflections on the 76ers’ draft, in which we took Joel Embiid and Dario Saric in the 1st round. Sam Hinkie’s choice of Embiid at pick 3 was particularly galling to me at the time, and i had this to say about the big man:

we’ve known for a long time that Hinkie will deal anything and anyone. we just didn’t know that Hinkie would try to do one over God. a 7 footer with a vertebral stress fracture and a navicular crack is simply not built for thirty games of pounding, much less an 82-game NBA season. the draft pick of Joel Embiid is not simply “gutsy” or “risky”; it’s a stupid risk, by a newbie general manager.

a year later, i’m still wondering why the NBA’s extensive track record for navicular fractures in 7-footers failed to make Sam Hinkie’s list of “must-reads” prior to last year’s draft.

i went on the record last year declaring Marcus Smart to be my favorite player in that draft class and our best option at pick 3. had we drafted my way, we would’ve taken Smart at 3rd and Gary Harris at 10th. and had the ensuing season gone my way, we would’ve held onto Thaddeus Young as well, to give us a core group of Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel. in other words, the rebuild would have been complete as of last year, and we’d be focused on development right now—not on making another wild stab at a superstar prospect in this year’s draft.

now, i recognize that Smart and Harris didn’t have rookie seasons to write home about, but they both proved that they can defend the perimeter at the NBA level. to me, that counts for a heck of a lot. i still like both players a great deal. Thaddeus Young had a very solid stint in Brooklyn, and while he’s not an All-Star level power forward, he’s proving himself to be an able outsider shooter, a very good defender, and a guy you can count on for hustle on every single play. that’s the kind of player i like: tenacious, committed to defense, and versatile. and it’s the kind of role player that Sam Hinkie appears to despise.

Hinkie is obviously trying to swing for the fences on every draft pick at his disposal, and in the process he’s eroding what little credibility he has as a GM. his mercenary style is undermining the 76ers’ recruiting ability; and we all know from observing the success of recent league champions like the Lakers, Celts, and Heat that winning teams get over the hump by recruiting big-time free agents. the great franchises use smaller franchises like a farm system, and their GMs effectively exercise personal leverage to swoop in and assemble championship troikas. building teams exclusively through the draft seems logical and straightforward, but the recent history of the NBA proves that the highest-level talent won’t simply be wooed by max contract extensions. they want to go where they can find committed leadership and a winning culture. the 76ers, thanks to Hinkie, have neither. three seasons of tanking have assembled us a wealth of lottery picks, but they’ve also created a cultural void which will make it hard for us not only to recruit quality free agents but also to retain the lottery picks that we land through the draft.

in any case, i think i’ve made it abundantly clear how disappointed i am with Sam Hinkie. last year’s pick of Embiid is not simply regrettable in retrospect; it was inexcusable at the time. and now, instead of having a solid young core group in place, the Sixers are extending their rebuild into 2017, with no hope of a winning season in sight.

tomorrow night’s NBA draft is a good class. with the 3rd pick in the draft tomorrow, i’m fairly certain that Hinkie will choose D’Angelo Russell, and while he’s not my preference, i can live with that choice. the hype around Kristaps Porzingis is utterly laughable to me, as i continue to be deeply skeptical of any 7-footer whose primary competency does not consist of a power game around the basket. i want to believe that Hinkie is not silly enough to believe that he has a 5-year window to develop the league’s next Dirk Nowitzki. in any case, i’ve lost my patience with Hinkie, and a dynamite pick tomorrow night simply won’t be enough to undo the damage of last year’s horribly misguided draft. if there is one pipe dream i can summon for tomorrow, it would be this: that the Lakers take Russell at pick 2, while we trade all 3 of our probable 1st round picks for next year to take New York’s 4th pick. we go home with both Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay—my two favorite players in this year’s draft. the rebuild would officially be over. this team and its fans could finally make its peace and start winning again

06.23.15

touch my heart

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:18 pm by Administrator

for whatever reason, i decided not to go to my usual church last sunday. i wanted to go somewhere else. for seven years in fact, i hadn’t spent a Sunday with any other congregation in Los Angeles, but now i was going to see what was going on out there. i wanted to visit a church that was attracting young people and growing in size and influence. and for that reason, i ended up visiting not one church but two: Reality LA and Hillsong.

though i couldn’t help but compare these churches to mine, even from the moment i entered their spaces of worship, i really just wanted to enjoy worship with the people there. and i did. and it was deeply moving to me to see young, attractive, vital people coming to church early and with a collective air of anticipation. they were excited to worship God. i don’t know why that struck me as so unusual; but it almost broke my heart. for years, i think i’d been under the impression that the church in southern california (and in all of america for that matter) was dying for lack of interest. but Reality, now in its tenth year, appeared to be more vibrant than ever, and Hillsong, still in its first year in L.A., was genuinely thriving.

i think that a lot of well-churched, conservative Christians might look at a place like Hillsong and raise the concern that the substance of scripture is being sacrificed for the sake of sensational experience. in fact, i even read some reviews and articles prior to my visit that directly articulated this prejudice. but as i sat among those in attendance at Hillsong, i heard their pastor speak something honest and true about the Gospel, and it touched me. it touched me not simply to hear the Word but to experience that alongside of others who believed in its relevance and power.

it reminded me of one of my favorite poems, “Falling Water” by John Koethe. it’s a long poem, full of philosophy and reflection on a marriage that has run its course and finally ended. one of the really striking things Koethe describes so well is the way that an intimate relationship becomes the “logic” for everything disparate in the world around; it becomes like a structure that endows richness and meaning to the spaces that flow within it. the loss of a relationship doesn’t simply leave its bereaved with hurt feelings of loss and separation. its loss collapses the framework that holds life together. to discover that one lives not in a world but rather in a mere state of mind is to experience a unique kind of desolation. it is to realize that we live not in rooms but in spaces, and though we endeavor to make sense of those spaces, they are empty all the same.

to share a space in a church with a cloud of witnesses is to enter a world brimming with consuming belief and sublime hope. and to experience Sunday service with a people absolutely convinced of the beatific purpose of worship is to encounter that living space “suffusing yellow light connoting earnestness and hope… a space pervaded by a soft and supple ache too deep to contemplate”. the purpose of church, i remembered, is to keep creating and recreating the place at the center of our lives where there is structure, memory, and life sufficient to bring both order and harmony to everything troubled and turbulent without.

i will write more about my experience at Reality, which was powerful and striking for entirely different reasons, but for now it suffices to say that i found comfort among the people of the Hillsong family. it reminded me that the church is alive and well in this age, and though its achings and ambitions do change with time, its cause and its content remain very much the same. amidst the tumult of the times and the struggles of my life, i take comfort in this, and with a renewed hope, i pray a simple prayer, that the Lord will not stop touching my heart and guiding me home

06.16.15

what primary docs want to say but don’t

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:07 pm by Administrator

there’s a physician leader i interface with every now and then who mostly does administrative work. i think he does about 4 hours of primary care every other week. sometimes when we catch up, he tells me how much he misses clinical care. “i just love seeing patients!” he exclaims, and his whole face lights up. “God, if only clinicians knew how good they had it!” and i sit there and think to myself, try to walk in their shoes 40 hours a week, and see how long you last.

i’m going to say it like this, because i think it’s true. primary care medicine is the worst great job in the world. it is a great job because the responsibility and the payoffs are undeniable. but among great jobs, it is the absolute worst, because it is profoundly taxing and ultimately unsustainable.

what primary docs want to say but don’t is that the worst thing about their job is the patients. at best, the patients are relatively well but for one specific problem that can be totally fixed. at worst, the patients are sick, getting sicker, and trying to drag their doctor with them into that abyss of disease, destruction, and depression. there are some doctors and mid-levels who have the personality to handle that progressive journey into darkness; but even those “born healers” need a terrific amount of emotional support in order to navigate that journey over and over again. they don’t get that support. and that’s why more than 90% of doctors are frankly unhappy with their work, most all of them would not do it again if they could start over, and a lot of them commit suicide, drink themselves into alcoholism, or die young. it’s the nature of the beast; we were not meant to spend so much time with the absolute pit of humanity. no one was.

now, primary docs can’t speak too badly about their suffering patients (even though they want to and need to), so they complain excessively about everything else. how much they are paid. “work/life balance”. electronic medical record systems. their commute. but really, when it comes to pay, hours, and logistics, doctors are in pretty good shape compared to their peers in other professions. the real difference isn’t in how much paperwork, phone calls, or tasks outside the exam room are demanded of them; the problem is that the work inside the exam room is so profoundly and spiritually difficult for them. the average primary doc in America is probably seeing 20 patients per 8 hour day. i talked with fred luskin about this, and fred thought this was insane. “how is a doctor supposed to survive that?” he asked me. i told him that they do just fine, outside of high blood pressure, emotional problems, and the occasional acts of self-destruction.

what Fred understands that so few lay people do is that those 20 patients aren’t normal people. normal people don’t go to doctors. those 20 patients are the anxious, hypochondriacal, depressed, drug-using, drug-seeking, and manipulative element of humanity, and they will preen themselves, perform, and ultimately pressure by any means the doctor that is standing between them and the objects of their obsessions. more than half of any primary doc’s schedule is populated by people with a histrionic personality trait or disorder, and you can just imagine the job that these people are doing on the doctor who is taking those licks hour after hour after hour.

it is possible (and even natural) for the primary doc to have compassion for his or her patients, particularly those who have chronic pain. but for most personality types, this compassion ends up pushing the provider into a deep and unremitting personal conflict between sympathy for the patient and self-preservation. in the worst of times (and for a lot of docs, every day is the worst of times), the primary doc hates the patients who are killing him—and he hates himself for hating them. it is the worst of the great careers; it kills those who heal.

it may sound awfully strange, but i think that primary docs ought to be able to choose what personalities they handle and to what extent. for example, over 8 hours i can see 20 stoic middle-aged men and women with chronic illnesses and probably come out of that feeling like i can come back tomorrow. but on the same day, if i see just 3 young men or women with chronic pain, drug addiction, or uncontrolled bipolar disorder, you’re going to have to give me 2 shots of Macallan whiskey with a 2 mg klonopin to make me see just one more patient that day. i am a human being with a finite emotional reserve; and i can only take the manipulation and madness of humanity in limited doses. for primary care docs to sustain themselves in practice, they have to be able to choose not only their hours and their patient populations but also their patients themselves. it has to be okay for them to say even after the first encounter “hey, this is not going to work out” or “yeah, i’m never going to see you again”. maybe that sucks for the patient; but does that patient really want to entrust his life to a doctor who hates his guts?

i know this is going to sound unsympathetic or unreasonable to some people, but i’ll tell you that it’s not going to sound unreasonable to most primary care docs in the trenches. a lot of us are trying to find a way out through early retirement or a change in scenery, because we lack any control over the one thing that most affects us from day to day. we deserve the right to choose whom we work with, because the doctor-patient relationship is, above all other things, a therapeutic relationship. a lot of times we wish that it weren’t; we wish that it were transactional. but patients line up at our doors looking for a lot more than a diagnosis. sometimes we can give that thing they’re looking for, but a lot of times we can’t or don’t want to. that should be okay. and if it’s not okay, good luck finding someone to shovel that shit in our stead. there’s a national shortage of primary care docs for a reason

06.09.15

gifts, fruit, glory

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:27 pm by Administrator

looking back at my almost forty years of life, it boggles my mind that despite all my time in school and in higher education, it has taken me fully four decades to understand what my gifts are. it just proves that our society isn’t really focused on recognizing and grooming personal competencies. in truth, our educational system selects for traits that are valued by society at large and by the marketplace in particular; and it doesn’t even do that very well.

in any case, i’ve learned more about my abilities in five years of management work than i did in twenty-six years of school, and many of those learnings pertain to what i am not good at. i’m not good at routine, predictable labor. i’m not good at attending to protean and variegated details. and i’m not good at handling high interpersonal stress for more than a few days at a time. what i am good at is synthesis. i can wade into chaos and emerge with a plan. i can take dots and arrange them into a line. i can convince people to take a journey with me. when i’m at my best, that’s the thing i’m doing. for twenty-six years i thought that my most valuable traits were my above-average writing skills and my inconsistent but occasionally sharp memory. i had no idea who i really was until i failed at what i thought i was supposed to be doing—because that’s when i gained the ability to connect with others at the level of shared failure.

could i have accelerated my education? could i have gotten to a point of meaningful self-awareness faster? i think so… in many respects, those years in the classroom were very frustrating years for me. i was able to tolerate all those years of school because academic pursuits did tap into my penchant for intellectual exploration. but i might have been happier had i started serving, speaking, and leading at a younger age. it makes me think a bit about my son, who may similarly go down a path of nearly non-existent practical life experience in his pursuit of a highly differentiated intellectual niche. in this society, the career trajectory for able youngsters is toward specialization, but i wonder if that specialization necessarily implies a profound repression of the self. surely it is important for one to be educated in what is required of him by society; but to know his giftings is more essential to his fulfillment. in gaining the latter i have gained a truer perspective on the former. after all, i’m no slave to the world; it is my life to live.

i’ve begun to reap some fruit from my giftings, and i imagine that this is a joy for most everyone in his or her prime. it’s the “generative” phase of my life, so to speak. i think that it is part of God’s design for people to enjoy the fruits of their labors and the results of their talents. and perhaps for some people, that’s an end in and of itself—to be defined by one’s work, whatever that work may be. but to me, the process by which one becomes self-aware and able to shape his world is a means to an end. it’s a path that isn’t meant to culminate merely in productivity; it’s a path that’s meant to point to glory.

glory is categorically different from generativity. glory connotes the revelation of a quality or identity that is inescapably transcendent, if not divine. it is necessarily unusual and even disruptive; it transfixes its beholders. glory doesn’t simply result from work or human effort; it is that which is recognized within the context of a work. in fact, it becomes the defining context for work and for those who participate in it. if a flower in bloom is the product of the planter’s work, then it’s the sublime fragrance of that flower—and the effect of that scent on him that smells it—that represents a glory. glory is a discontinuity; and glory effects transformation.

not all people experience glory in the expression of their giftings. few, in fact, ever realize the real difference between success and the glory of God. but they are so different. and in the difference, i believe, is the real essence of a life redeemed

06.04.15

the spirit as inheritance; and friendship

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:28 pm by Administrator

one thing i find interesting about the biblical story is this: spirit passes from person to person, as an inheritance. in the biblical narrative, identity is bestowed by one person upon another, through direct relationship, and through the transmission of a spirit.

it could have been different. for the purpose of divine revelation, God could have presented Himself individually to each believer in a direct and mystical encounter outside of any ordinary human interaction. and perhaps in our evangelical culture, we like to think that this is the essence of our conversion. but practically and truly speaking, that’s not how it happens for most of us. for most of us, it happens just the same way that it happened for our forefathers of the Jewish covenant. one person transmits his spirit to another. it isn’t merely the verbal communication of a belief or an interpersonal process of persuasion; it is a mystical bond by which a divine identity is shared between two individuals. it happened this way between Elijah and Elisha, at the time of Elijah’s rapture; it happened between Isaac and Jacob, when the birthright was passed between them; it happened when Ananias laid his hands upon the blinded Saul; and it happened again when the apostle Paul laid his hands upon new believers who had not yet been “baptized by the Spirit”. in these cases, the modes of transmission and their repercussions were somewhat distinct. but what these moments had in common was the transmission of a spiritual identity between two people but outside of ordinary human communication.

i’m struck by this because i feel compelled more and more to recognize my spiritual origins. after all, i wasn’t simply shaped as a believer by the self-proclaiming text of an English language Bible. i am a spiritual man, and i received my spiritual identity through relationships with other people. in general terms, i am the spiritual offspring of my parents, who conveyed to me not only the material basis of my existence but also their outlook on the world. in more specific terms, i am the spiritual offspring of certain people who influenced me at very significant moments in my life. these were people who altered my life trajectory with their actions and words but also in ways that clearly transcended actions and words. i think of my childhood pastor, who convinced me of the imminent reality of a sentient God. i think of a Sunday school teacher i had when i was ten, who saw me a certain way and encouraged me to stand alone against the tide. and i think of my mother, the first lion that i ever knew. when i think of my spiritual origins, i realize that i am not simply a Christian in any generic or cultural sense. i am one who carries the spirit of my forefathers; i am one who has inherited a specific portion of my tribal heritage. i am intended not just for ideological alignment or theoretical belief; i am intended to express the unique spirit given to me, a spirit which represents one of the innumerable facets of the infinite identity of God.

to reflect on such things is to recognize the very delicate and central role of personal relationships within the kingdom design of the Almighty God. creating and sustaining relationships is not what facilitates the work of the Gospel; it is the work of the Gospel. and the salvific work of the Spirit is not simply initiated by human brokers; it is absolutely realized through the relationships within the church. i think it is so critical to recognize this, that there is no “macro” universe or mystical reality that has any meaning outside of human relationships. if you cannot relate to people in this life, you have no basis for life in the next. this is why the work of forgiveness, reconciliation, discipleship, and encouragement is so emphasized in the scriptures. that work is the structure of God’s temple; and even when we, the brittle frames, fade away, it is the relationships we establish that constitute the pillars and stones which endure.

and that leads me naturally to the next matter: the matter of friendship.

as much as i’m learning to invest myself intentionally in relationships, particularly within the church, i still find that i have few friends. as recently as a few years ago, this observation might have troubled me. but nowadays, i don’t see it as a problem, really. i’m not lonely. i don’t hunger for companionship. i maintain my intimate social circle in the way that i do because of the person that i am.

i’ve certainly tried to develop deeper friendships with various people in my community. but i’ve lost interest in many of the men that i’ve tried to grow closer to. i feel some guilt about that, and it drives me to try to understand where the barrier to intimacy lies. is the problem that i don’t trust these people? with time, i’ve come to recognize that it’s not about trust. it’s about admiration—or a lack thereof. i become friends with people that i admire. i receive much (and give much back) to people whom i admire, and i think that the reason for this can be explained by my enneagram type. 7’s seek stimulation and inspiration in their various relationships and activities. they don’t establish friendships for the sake of friendships. they’re picky about whom they spend their time with, and they avoid intimacy with people who might trap them. and that describes me very well. i can smell a dependent personality from miles away. nothing gets me running faster than someone who’s trying to lock me into a co-dependency.

my closest friends have all drifted to places that are far away from me, and that used to make me a little sad. but i’m finding that i still enjoy those friendships very much, and distance has not made me less fond of these guys. i don’t feel the need to replace what i used to enjoy with them in our younger days, and that’s probably in large part because i have a life companion in my spouse who essentially satisfies all of my emotional needs.

i can have meaningful relationships outside of deep friendships, and i’d like to think that this is reason enough for me to remain engaged in my various communities. for example, i wouldn’t count anyone at my company as a close friend, but i like virtually everyone i work with, and i enjoy our collaborations and conversations. at my church, i have a couple people that i would count as my close friends, but they aren’t really the reason for my continuing engagement with that community. i’m not serving in that community for the purpose of deepening my friendships with people there; that will happen (or not happen) of its own accord. i’m engaging with that community because i want to share in its spirit. i want to participate in that giving and receiving of spirit—a process which transcends affection, shows no prejudice, and heals lives.

so all of this is to say that i think that there is not necessarily a discrepancy between the value i ascribe to personal relationships and my relative dearth of close friendships. but there is a tension between those two aspects; and the tension between them informs what i am becoming