12.31.15

2015 in review

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:10 am by Administrator

in retrospect, i can certainly affirm what i’ve sensed all along as the year was transpiring: that 2015 was an exceptionally good year for me.

maybe it wasn’t an exceptional year according to criteria i might have applied ten years ago. after all, i didn’t publish a best-selling book. i didn’t “break out” in my career. i didn’t make a million dollars (or anything close to that). and i didn’t accomplish a milestone achievement. but despite all these facts, 2015 was an uncommonly good year for me because so many of my past and present experiences came together and culminated in a manner that enabled me to break through. and i’m thankful to God with genuine gladness, because this is what i wanted for my 40th year; i finally became the man that i have always hoped to become.

the man i have become is not necessarily very moral or disciplined. these are two qualities i idealized in my younger days but perhaps without sufficient context. i have in fact become self-controlled, a quality that for me transcends both morality and discipline because of how it builds upon authentic self-understanding. beyond that, i’ve also become self-accepting in a way that i’ve not been before. i don’t simply forgive myself for my weaknesses and limitations; i recognize how they intimately relate to my strengths, and thus i devote myself not to outer perfection but rather to internal balance. in this way, i’ve learned to stop loathing myself on the one hand and idealizing my potential on the other. i’ve come to see myself as normal, as undistinguished, and as simple. and for a man who has lived most of his life believing himself to be abnormal, special, and inescapably complex, “normalcy” has been nothing short of liberating.

i’d point to experiences that triggered important realizations along the way—my Baldrige site visit, my experiences as a physician coach, my friend’s salon meetings, my process of eliminating refined starches from my diet, and my experience of officiating a close friend’s wedding—but it is hard for me to separate these experiences from the underlying paradigm shifts that preceded and underlay them. in the story of my life, these experiences were not plot twists or climactic shifts; they were plot developing moments. the truly transformative experiences that set my life on new trajectories were those hard and even traumatic times of years past that i’ve written about repeatedly and at length: the moments when i lost face, lost a job, and nearly lost my marriage. at the time, i thought that those experiences were killing me. indeed, they did kill something in me. it’s for this reason that He became God who takes the death out of my life; God who calls me to be a lion for His people; God who favors me; God who is my savior. there are many names that people have called my God; but these are the four names that i give Him because of how i have come to know Him during my lifetime.

you have been good to me, oh Lord my God. i could look ahead to this next year and imagine any number of plans and wishes to lay before you, but you write my story far better than i ever could. place on my heart your own plans and wishes, so that they can be mine. bless my people, though we are small and insignificant, and demonstrate your power through us so that your name might be known and glorified. wherever truth is revealed, let that truth point to you and to the glory of your people, so that you may receive your due—true worship. and so, with these words and all the praise that they imply, i worship You, my friend, my creator, my beloved who has favored me

12.30.15

Thanks Jeff!

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:14 pm by Administrator

it was a stunner for a lot of Eagles fans yesterday, as Jeff Lurie didn’t even wait for the end of the season to bid his head coach goodbye. my friends found it not only shocking but also uncharacteristic of our typically deliberate team owner. but, as i wrote two days ago, i thought it was Jeff’s best move, and it conveys two very important things. first, to the fans, it conveys urgency and a commitment to winning. second, to the players, it conveys to them a reassurance that the owner knows who was primarily responsible for their underachievement this past season.

i know Lurie is going to have a busy, controversial, and stressful off-season, as he attempts to fill not one but two absolutely critical management positions. the players will want to talk to him directly, and he’ll want their input as well. the media will hound him as they’ve never hounded him before, and he’ll be more directly involved in team operations than he ever wanted to be. for our steadfast and utterly devoted team owner, i have a few pieces of heartfelt advice:

1. before the season’s out, get some honest two-way communication going with the players. separate them by position; ask them to define their group’s strengths and weaknesses; and ask them what they need in order to get better. it’s straight out of Baldrige criteria, but it’s what you need to know if you’re going to pick the right guys to effect a turnaround.

2. commit to Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. this doesn’t mean that Sam should get anything other than a team-friendly incentive-laden contract. but those two guys are the best we can get at their respective positions, and there’s no reason to give up on them now. they need to know before the dust settles that we’re going to build an offense—the right kind of offense—around both of them in 2016.

3. keep an eye on Hue Jackson. he’s generally committed to a conservative run-oriented offense, but he showed a remarkable ability to open up the playbook as his QB’s skill-set developed. the guy knows his players and what they’re capable of, and his players respect him. he could be the best guy for Philadelphia. we need a coach who will build a game plan around the personnel that he’s got—and not vice-versa.

4. Billy Davis has to go… but let the new HC make that decision. you need to be focused on one thing at a time; and summarily cleaning out the house is not your style.

5. take a planning retreat with the guys you trust—and come back with one discrete goal in mind. every Eagles’ fan wants to not only make playoffs but also win a Super Bowl this coming year. that may not be realistic for a team that’s in crisis. define a goal that every player feels he can impact directly. define a goal that the incoming coach can feel very confident about achieving in his first year.

you made the right move yesterday, no matter what the doubters and detractors might say. it’s a hard road ahead—but we’ve got this

12.28.15

the philadelphia eagles: a plea to Jeff Lurie

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:31 pm by Administrator

most people that are critical of chip kelly right now are particularly disappointed in retrospect with how he used his “expanded powers” to shake up the organization. none of his moves—and they were undoubtedly his moves—appear to have worked out very well. despite a relatively easy schedule, Byron Maxwell graded out as a below-average cornerback; DeMarco Murray failed to produce in Chip Kelly’s system; Sam Bradford struggled to execute Chip Kelly’s offense and pretty much flopped as a starting quarterback; and Kiko Alonso (acquired in the McCoy trade) failed to be a difference maker for the Eagles’ defense. these four players represented Chip’s big moves prior to the 2015 season, and not one of them translated to any real improvement of the team.

but i think it would be a mistake to say that Chip failed because of his failures in general management. i was a fan of these moves six months ago, and i’m still hesitant to believe that these acquisitions were intrinsically flawed. and in fact, i believe that this squad we have now is more talented than the one we had a year ago, particularly on the defensive side. Chip did not fail because he is no good at evaluating talent. he failed for the same reason that he has failed the last two seasons: because he does not know how to coach at the NFL level.

a lot of people think that our two 10-6 seasons were fairly promising and suggested Chip’s potential with the team. i’m on record saying that the way this team played during those two 10-6 seasons exposed Chip Kelly’s deficiencies in red-zone efficiency, defensive adjustments, and offensive play-calling. for the last two years, the Eagles have struck me as a one-trick pony attempting to giddy up a no-huddle shotgun spread offense one week after another with steadily diminishing returns; and this season simply confirmed to me that this system is inevitably predictable to opposing defensive coordinators. the losses to Atlanta, Arizona, and Washington exposed all the usual gaps in Billy Davis’s 4-3 under scheme, and in so doing they exposed Chip Kelly’s ongoing lack of interest (or acumen) regarding the defensive side of the ball.

in short, Chip might actually be a better GM than a coach—mostly because of how bad he is as a coach.

i’m reading a lot of philly sports reporters that are arguing that Jeff Lurie has invested far too much in terms of personnel and energy to dismiss Chip Kelly at this point. but those reporters are overestimating Chip’s abilities as a coach; and in fact this past season should be considered the ultimate litmus test of Chip’s potential in the NFL. he really did have the personnel that he required to do his thing, and he failed. that’s on him. the fast-paced offense he brought to the Eagles has been consistently more effective at exposing our sloppiness than it has been at capitalizing on backpedaling defenses, and that in a nutshell is the truest indictment of Chip Kelly and his system.

the NFL requires accountability. the fans of Philadelphia require accountability. the good, young, and very talented players on this Eagles team require accountability. Chip has to go. the sooner that Jeff Lurie cuts him loose, the more quickly we can heal, focus, and start building toward a championship again. that will require, first and foremost, a true football mind in the front office. but it will also require a coach that 1) values his players above and beyond his system and that 2) knows how to bring out their best on the field on any given Sunday (or Thursday or Monday for that matter).

Jeff, you have a reputation for being patient, impressionable, and even soft. you’ve been nothing but a great owner over the years, and Philadelphia is proud that you give the Eagles everything you’ve got. do the right thing now, even if it hurts. give the young men on this team a coach who can lead them. give the fans a team that they can be proud of again

12.24.15

thinking about other religions

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:31 pm by Administrator

i got together for dinner with one of my mentors yesterday, and it was a terrific time for us to reconnect. we talked for three hours about everything—job, family, pedagogy, and LGBTQ issues in the church, among other things. one thing that we are both thinking a lot about these days is inter-faith tolerance and dialogue. as an Evangelical academic in a Jesuit university, he’s basically practicing inter-faith dialogue already. in a broader sense though, he and i are both being challenged to engage with believers of other faiths, not simply for evangelical purposes but also for the purpose of mutual understanding. he said something interesting: that he’s come to the point in his life and ministry where he can acknowledge the truth illuminated by other religions—even if he cannot necessarily believe that truth to be complete or sufficient.

it strikes me that i often find the Bible to be a restraint when i would like to extend grace. and this is particularly true when i think about inter-faith dialogue and tolerance. this might be because i have misinterpreted the biblical authors. it might also be because the biblical authors—and the apostle Paul in particular—were unclear about God’s intentions for other tribes of people. and lastly, it is also possible that the biblical letters and records were not meant to comprise a comprehensive guide on all matters of soteriology. i’ll admit that salvation, despite the neat and precise logic of Paul’s treatise on atonement and election, remains a mystery to me.

this is at least partly because the result of salvation—and the very nature of afterlife—is nebulous. we don’t know what we are becoming, not precisely, nor do we understand what heavenly existence will be like. working backwards from this point of ambiguity, it becomes difficult for us to understand exactly what the confession of Christ’s lordship effects in our identity and to what end. and working even further backwards, it seems unclear as to what constitutes authentic rebirth as described by Christ. what is salvation? i do not have a precise answer to this question.

all of these unresolved matters make it very difficult for me to address a seemingly simple question: does the world need Jesus Christ? when i go to a very personal place, i can answer that question in the affirmative; i can understand that i have needed the divine touch of Christ at specific moments in my life, and in those moments His unique influence transformed my life for the better. but when i go to a philosophical place and i think of Christ according to systems, ideas, and the indiscernible future, i lose confidence in my ability to answer that question. yes, there are individuals who need the forgiveness, renewal, and hope that Christ brings into their lives. but as to whether the people of the world require Christ in order to experience anything of meaning in their lives—and to evade a fate of eternal punishment—i am unclear and in fact skeptical.

i’ll say that i do not believe that this makes me a universalist. but i think that salvation means something very specific to me, and it means something that probably many mainstream Evangelicals would disagree with. salvation is unity with Christ; to me, it is the surrendering of personal identity to the point of self-loss, for the purpose of incorporation into the consciousness and being of God. to be unsaved is not to face an eternity of torture as much as it is to be determined as an eternal version of oneself. in my mind, it is the elect who die; and it is the non-elect who persist forever. the former become extensions of God, much like His appointed priesthood. the latter become those who are witness to God as the Other; they are “separated from God” insofar as they are not of His body. the existences of the two camps are not morally different as much as they are qualitatively different.

i find this paradigm to be consistent with the experience of salvation that Paul describes: as a death and self-replacement. and i struggle with the idea that the eternal alienation of souls is consistent with the nature of God, who is all-knowing and infinite in His mercy. but i do believe in a distinction between those who are appointed to represent Him and those who are chosen to experience Him as the Other. that distinction has existed since the beginning of creation and was not intended to be for the vindication of the one at the expense of the other. in fact, the revelation made complete through Christ was that the very purpose of God’s original covenant with the Jews was the edification and inclusion of the Gentiles. one was created for the other; and in the experiences of both, God is glorified.

i will admit that i feel no unease or grief when i observe the religious experiences of people that belong to other faiths. in fact, i experience delight when a Muslim’s faith drives him to acts of goodness and self-sacrifice. i feel gratified when a Buddhist acts out of his faith to help the orphan or widow in distress. i do not look upon their lives and feel the tragedy of what they are and what they believe. i see instead a truth not unlike the truth i have received from my Lord. it is not the same truth, as i was intended for a different purpose—but it is not a lesser truth for what it accomplishes. there is a purpose for those who do not express fealty to the historical person of Christ, even as there is a purpose for those who do. i believe in not only the righteousness of those purposes but also the consummate grace and mercy in them. that makes me not a universalist but rather a believer in His promise—a believer in God’s intention to reconcile all persons to one another and ultimately to Himself.

nowadays, i often think of the story of Ishmael. Abraham did a terrible thing to abandon Hagar and her young son to the wilderness; but He was commanded to do so. and the Lord preserved Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, even though Abraham would not favor them. indeed, out of Ishmael a great people were born, and God had purpose for Ishmael and for his descendants. that purpose is not spoken of in the Bible, and those of the Book were not made privy to these purposes. but it does not mean that God did not have a plan for them. it strikes me that God loved Ishmael. God loved Ishmael, and it was out of this love that He saved Ishmael and blessed his people. i look at the vast nation of those who call Ishmael their forefather, and i look at the traditions they have embraced, and i think of how they have endured through all the centuries, and what comes to mind in the midst of these thoughts is a singular thought that transcends them: that God loved Ishmael as His own

12.23.15

thinking about history

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:15 am by Administrator

i found myself musing over a very random question the other day: if i were immortal and were sent back in time to the first century A.D., where would i have chosen to spend the next two thousand years of my life?

the question didn’t arise in a vacuum. i was thinking about how nations rise and fall and how transient their fortunes are. the idea that came to my mind is that a successful family or tribe (if judged across centuries) is probably one that is able and willing to be mobile—one that can anticipate the rise and fall of empires and transplant themselves as needed to weather the times. most every region of the world has experienced times of devastation, so it probably makes sense that every clan is sure to be affected by famine, war, or natural disasters unless it is willing to periodically uproot itself and move. perhaps the biblical forefathers sensed the very same truth; the peoples of the Book were distinguished for their nomadism, and even now they and their beliefs continue to spread everywhere throughout the world.

in any case, i did my own hasty research, looking at regional GDPs and how they’ve shifted over time, scanning the history of world calamities to see where devastation occurred and to what extent. my conclusion was a bit different from what i expected. for the first eighteen centuries since Christ, it probably would have made sense to stay in just one place, because there’s been one region consistently more prosperous and stable than most all the rest during that time period. that’s Western India.

Western India (i.e. Gujarat) had these things going for it:

1. Consistent wealth over time due to East-West trade going back to the B.C. era.
2. Non-involvement in sectarian wars that involved other South and Central Asian regions.
3. Bystander status during the Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan and his descendants, which massacred large segments of the population in all surrounding areas.
4. A series of longstanding and stable dynastic rulers who tolerated religious freedoms and encouraged cultural exchange with foreigners.
5. Fertile land and plenty of rainfall.

by comparison, Europe for most of the last two thousand years was governed by religious despots, wracked by religious wars, and mired in oppressive feudalism throughout the Middle Ages. China and the Far East were devastated by the Mongols. the Middle East was a constant battleground for centuries as a result of the Crusades, the Western spread of the Mongols, the Ottoman Wars against the Safavids, and various other sectarian upheavals. Africa was pillaged by warlords and slavers, and South America was a tribal battleground until the Portuguese and Spaniards wiped everyone out with warfare and disease. amidst the constant and predictable conflicts of ambitious men, India stands out as the one region that was able to not only persevere but also capitalize upon the global ambitions of surrounding civilizations.

things changed fairly abruptly in the 18th century thanks to Western colonialism and the ensuing movements toward industrialization. if i’d been an enterprising man, i would have migrated from Gujarat to Britain in the early 1700s and then moved from there to the United States in the late 1800s, thus missing the Civil War but also avoiding the great wars of Europe that ravaged the continent in the early 20th century. and if i were still enterprising now, i’d be contemplating yet another move within the next fifty years, from the United States to Eastern China—the emerging economic and social frontier of the world. who knows? from there, i might return to Gujarat in the late 21st century, thus completing a world tour which conveniently bypassed all of the Middle East and Europe.

all of these ruminations did lead me to some interesting conclusions about our world and how it works.

1. people always want to conquer others, whether through military force or through the spread of ideas. i don’t understand it. it’s not just a Christian missiological mandate. Genghis Khan, a Tengrist, wanted to take over the world. Muslims have had territorial ambitions beyond the holy hands. Secular men have been the worst perhaps: take Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.

2. it’s good to live in a country surrounded by ocean and mountains. it just makes the inevitable conquerors think twice about invading your country, enslaving you, raping your women, kidnapping your children, and forcing everyone to believe their religion.

3. religious tolerance and diversity support stable and long-lived regimes; and over the course of history, Muslims have consistently been better at this than their Christian counterparts. for their part, Jesus believers have only recently (within the past two hundred years) been able to overcome their propensity for denominational warfare.

4. a policy of intentional intermarriage/miscegenation was often effective at maintaining order and prosperity. the Mongols did this to subdue Goryeo, the Mughals employed this policy effectively to pacify the Indian subcontinent, and the Safavid Persians were able to develop a middle class comprised almost exclusively of Georgian and Armenian expatriates.

as the United States is surrounded by oceans, embraces religious freedom, and fosters miscegenation through both immigration and social tolerance, it has enjoyed all the historically validated factors that promote order and prosperity. it could be the “new Gujarat” in this sense. it has also however failed to learn some important lessons from history, as evidenced by its failed war in Vietnam and its futile involvement in Syria and the Middle East (both critical failures of the Mongol Khans). Americans like to think that their national phenomenon is unprecedented and thus exists outside the bounds of world history. this also would appear to link them to the Mongols, whose exceptionalism and grand ambitions for the world were ultimately their undoing—though they did survive in some form for an awe-inspiring five hundred years. the United States could only hope to be so lucky…

12.20.15

I react to “The Force Awakens”

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 pm by Administrator

spoilers are about to follow, so just stop right here and don’t go on if you haven’t seen it. and even if you think you’re not going to see it because you just don’t care, don’t read this because you are definitely going to watch the movie within the next month even if you think you are not. i’m not saying all this because i believe that everyone should watch the movie or be a Star Wars fan. i just think that “The Force Awakens” is a bit like the presidential candidates; you’re going to learn all the dirty details about who they are and where they came from—and then one of these maligned, posterized, and utterly humiliated people is going to become your president, and that’s when you’re going to wish that you’d never known any of those intimate details about him (or her).

so… it begins.

“The Force Awakens” is the very first experience i’ve had with my son that i would describe as a mutually anticipated activity. and it was mutual in an utter sense. my son has been telling me for two years about a sequel that would be released in December 2015 which would be directed by JJ Abrams and would reinvolve the cast of the original trilogy. eighteen months ago, this all seemed very premature and even tenuous to me, but my son never wavered in his certainty about when the film would be released or about how satisfying the experience would be. and thus we found ourselves sitting next to each other at an 11:30 AM show on Saturday December 19, and when the last preview was over and the curtains were drawn just a bit wider, we looked at each other through our 3-D glasses and i let out a restrained cry that must have sounded like the scream of a sick cat.

2 hours and 16 minutes later, i looked over at my son with a big smile on my face and asked him excitedly “So, what did you think???” he looked at me and said almost breathlessly, “that was my favorite movie ever“.

so there you have it. it was good. ordinarily, i would describe it as “solid”, given the weight of expectation that the production shouldered throughout its conception. but i have to call it “good”, because a movie of this degree of importance can only be good or bad, and it deserves to be judged, in the most unqualified and straightforward sense, as good.

and so first i want to say thank you to JJ Abrams. he had to deal with the pressure of a fanatical fan base, a larger than life back story, a hallowed group of vintage celebrity actors, and a franchise creator who, in a universe of artistic creativity, has unfailingly functioned as the Death Star itself. despite this superhuman burden he had to carry, JJ succeeded in maintaining his integrity as a writer and his acumen as a director. “The Force Awakens” triumphed against all odds, righting the ship and redeeming a precious story that was unforgivingly butchered and sullied by the debacle of the prequels. i rarely feel gratitude toward a film director/writer, but i feel immense gratitude to him for what he did with episode VII. i actually believe that JJ made my life better, and he made America a better place, simply by doing what he does best.

that’s not to say that “The Force Awakens” was a perfect movie. there were moments in the film that were supposed to be powerful but transpired instead with alarmingly little gravitas. the reunion of Leia and Han, for instance, struck me as a bit awkward and long-winded, mainly because Carrie Fisher seemed so consistently effete in all of her scenes. the death of Han Solo (yes, i told you there were spoilers here) also failed to be as evocative as it could have been, but again this was not on Harrison Ford so much as it was on Kylo Ren, who failed to carry the scene with his bafflingly emo, noticeably stiff, and barely believable screen presence as the big bad face of the First Order. Kylo was also a problem at the film’s climax, but the failure during the “final fight” lay mostly with the writing of the scene. Kylo’s struggle to handle an utter novice in the Force (Rey) made him look very weak, which sets him up poorly as a respectable villain for the sequels. perhaps JJ had no intention of making Kylo Ren a trilogy nemesis; I’ll address this shortly.

despite these shortcomings, “The Force Awakens” was lean and clean of superfluities, and beyond that it was funny and full of character. as many reviewers have already emphasized, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are very, very good. after Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness, Ridley has already established herself as the third best actor/actress in the franchise, and she looks strong enough to carry the sequels on her shoulders even after Ford, Hamill, and Fisher depart the set.

of course the most interesting question on everyone’s minds after watching episode VII is where Rey has come from. the movie gives us momentary glimpses of her origins: a flashback to when she was a child on Jakku, being led away by a man while she looks up at the sky at a departing airship. quite clearly the force is strong with her, as demonstrated by her fairly effortless repulsion of Kylo Ren’s torture fingers—which would imply she is of “Force-ful” ancestry. and there’s definitely no hint of familial bonding or connection between her and either Han or Leia, which undermines the idea that she is their long-lost daughter. i’ll wager four theories, one of which is certainly my favorite.

1. Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. certainly Luke was entitled to sow his oats after going AWOL, but this one seems dubious and unnecessary. it is however consistent with the fact that Rey had a natural connection with Luke’s lightsaber.

2. Rey is of immaculate origins. this would be a rehash of the Anakin birth story, one of many hokey ideas Lucas devised for the character that would become Darth Vader. i’m going to come out and say that this would be pretty damn stupid, and i think JJ is smarter than that.

3. Rey is the descendant of a heretofore unmentioned Jedi or Sith character (or possibly even Emperor Palpatine). it would be a birth story that’s neither here nor there; it’s simply too blase of a story to qualify for these sequels.

4. Rey is the female clone of Anakin Skywalker. this is my favorite idea—and uniquely my own theory, as far as i can tell. correlating with this theory is the first exchange of dialogue between Rey and Kylo Ren in the torture chamber, when Rey reads his mind and tells him “You’re afraid… that you’re not as powerful as Darth Vader”. and then a few scenes later, Rey kicks his ass—cuz she’s Darth Vader. i’m not implying that Rey inherently belongs to the Dark Side; but she could be “complicated”. i like the idea that Boba Fett might have deposited her on Jakku after picking her up from the clone factory, at the bidding of the Sith (who are still lurking and waiting to reappear in episode VIII!). they’re hoping to build a new Empire around the reincarnation of Darth.

put it on Rey, just once… you’ll look good in a black mask

12.17.15

the runaway train

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:10 pm by Administrator

history is like a runaway train… someone laid out tracks, another person built the engine, and still another person threw the coal upon the fire. and when the train started to move, it seemed like it was going where it needed to go, where it had to go. but when it disappeared from view, and we asked ourselves “where is it going?” and “where will that train end up?” we had no answers. and that is when we realized that the great purpose of the train was a lie we told ourselves, simply because we saw ourselves in the train.

what troubles me the most about our political debates and campaigns is that they reveal to me how imprecise and even distorted are our origins. and there at the center of all the rhetoric and legislative battles is the idea that this country—our country—is a being of great importance. it is a life form with a distinct identity, a consistent purpose, and a destiny to be fulfilled. where did this assumption come from? the politicos will say that this destiny was manifest from the moment that the architects of our constitution came together with their brilliant if not frankly divine vision of humanity’s potential. to me, it is a religious story, if for no other reason than that it requires faith in the morality and rectitude of our founding fathers. but i wonder if in fact our origins are inscrutable, because we are not the country that we were more than two hundred years ago, and neither is our world the same one that the founders perceived. the train that departed at full steam from the station centuries ago has simply taken on a momentum of its own, and we would like to call that path progress, when in fact it is just the inevitable inertia of the Dynamo—a demonstration of power, no less. we want to call ourselves exceptional. but i wonder if we are, in fact, just a phase in the journey of a machine that is destined, like every empire before, to derail where the tracks end.

so insistent is our self-serving logic that we fail to call our collective spirit what all of our forefathers would have labeled it: nationalism. we are heatedly nationalistic, in all the arbitrary, belligerent, and mechanistic ways that nationalism has historically manifested itself among the tribes of man. we draw borders; we construct our language and laws; we include some and exclude others; and we justify our warfare against other nations. by such conflicts and seeming victories, we develop our national narrative, which is nothing short of a mythology. we come to believe, despite our professed empiricism, that we are a people of God, an enlightened nation, and great lovers of everything best about civilizations past. we call ourselves the heirs of the Greeks and the Romans, the perfection of everything gleaned from Western Christendom, and the refinement of the decadent European monarchies that birthed us. we are a people. to declare such a thing is propositional; to embrace such a thing is mystical. it is compelling enough that we will send our sons and daughters to fight and to war for such a thing, even though it cannot be proven, and even though it is a fabrication of the most creative and divisive kind.

and thus there is a part of me that listens without comprehension to these senators and governors and ex-businessmen as they offer their thoughts about citizenship, war, and the future of this country. it is not that i disagree with their views; it is that i cannot understand the very foundation of the ideas that they expound upon as if they were common wisdom. what language are they speaking? what is this thing Fiorina alludes to as “the warrior class”? what is this thing Donald Trump refers to as American “greatness”? what is this war of ideology that i am apparently involved in against the peoples of Russia, China, and the Muslim world? the candidates are like mystical storytellers, come down from the mountains with mysterious and chilling words about where i came from and what i was meant to become. their eyes flicker in the fire, and they are filled with cunning and rage. before they ever spoke, i thought of myself as a man among men, sharing this wilderness. but then they reach across the bonfire and place a stick in my hands and say “Go! Strike the man next to you!” alas, i do not move, and the stick i hold burns in the fire and becomes smoke—just smoke.

12.14.15

Losing is Winning

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:19 pm by Administrator

for a couple of years, my son’s favorite slogan was something i taught him: “Losing is winning”. when he was between four and six years of age, he was a very competitive boy, and losing at anything (like for example getting down the stairs slower than i did) was very hard for him. it got to the point where he and i would be walking somewhere side by side, and then he would start running, and then i would start running after him, and then i’d have to think to myself, “if i win, he’s going to get very upset”. i’d go ahead and outrun him anyways, and while he was still flustered, i’d remind him that there is no shame in losing. “losing is winning!” i’d tell him every time. pretty soon, he was rehearsing the phrase routinely.

little did i understand at the time that the slogan would come to represent something very personal and meaningful to me as well. if i’m proud of anything i’ve learned in my work life over these past five years, it’s that i’ve learned to win even when i lose. and because i’ve learned to experience a win in most every situation of conflict, i’ve come to appreciate conflict. being able to experience conflict in an intense but healthy way has been my key, i believe, to personal growth and satisfaction at work and at home.

i’ll say that i do not enjoy conflict, and i don’t go around looking for it. but conflict is often necessary in my line of work. i’ve had conflict with my patients; i’ve had to “fire” several of them for breaking our rules and abusing my staff. i’ve had conflict with my boss, and i’ve had to push him on at least a couple of his positions that disadvantaged the people that i represented. i’ve had conflict with people at my church, much more than i ever would have imagined, and those conflicts have affected my relationships with them. but in all of these situations, whether the conflict led to a broken relationship or a changed one, i learned something important to me. and in the situations where i had to change my mind or even admit that i was wrong, my learnings were even deeper and more satisfying. i’ve come to recognize that the sting of being humbled or proven wrong is a sensation that i can work through relatively quickly; and the payoff on the other side—the knowing that i swallowed something of wisdom in the process—is something that i can cherish for a lifetime.

even with my wife, whom i’ve been intent on dominating since the very first day of our marriage, i’ve come to recognize the victory in my losses. we have a way of scolding each other at times which can instantly trigger high emotion and defiant defensiveness. generally speaking, push comes to shove quite quickly between us, and we can escalate within minutes to personal invectives and even profuse profanity. remarkably to me, even in the heat of those moments, i’ve been able to anticipate a resolution of the conflict and the satisfaction of working through our feelings. and even when i’m wrong (which seems inconceivable up until the moment i realize i am not in the right), i feel confident in my ability to own my wrongness, to know it deeply in a manner that causes both regret and shame, and to change in an authentic and sometimes even transformative way.

knowing that i can get in the ring with an opponent and come out whole has changed my approach to conflict fairly dramatically. i used to be someone who imagined, re-imagined, and meticulously planned out conflict scenarios. before engaging someone i disagreed with, i had my fighting words written out in my mind, my debate strategy planned out, and my victory scenario predetermined. there was a clear outcome in every argument that i was working toward—and i could satisfy myself with nothing less. nowadays, i’ve come to recognize the importance of entering an argumentative conversation with open hands and an open mind. the point of such a conversation is not necessarily persuasion; and it’s not my responsibility to bring unilateral closure to the situation. the point of these conversations is to be understood; and mutual understanding is even better than being understood. when mutual understanding is achieved, something greater than personal victory is accomplished; a truth is revealed, and through that, truth in a meta sense can prevail. i’ve learned to trust the process of candid conversation and negotiation in the interests of truth. and if the price of learning that truth is just my ego, then that’s a worthwhile price to pay!

it was not easy to arrive at this perspective. i had to get accustomed to losing. i credit my wife for laying that groundwork. after the first couple years of our marriage, she really rose to the challenge of questioning me on a couple of things: my general sense of entitlement and my particular emotional sense of entitlement. coming home from a bad day in the hospital, i felt entitled to be spared the onerous chores related to the cleaning and care of my son, whom i viewed as an annoyance for his first two years of life. that was my general sense of entitlement, and my wife spared no vitriol in disrupting the intricately crafted bubble i had devised for myself. more wounding even was the manner in which she exposed my emotional entitlement—the expectations i had for her interest in my thoughts and her sympathy with my sufferings. as my mother has battled my father’s emotional entitlements throughout their relationship, so did my wife fight back against mine. i lost that battle; i was humiliated in the process; and i came to view myself as she saw me—as a spoiled only child, as a deeply selfish individual, and as an emotionally damaged creature. i came to own that; and very interestingly, my self-esteem grew by leaps and bounds after that realization. i stopped trying to preserve and defend my fragile inner self, and i learned that by sacrificing that ego i could become the sum of my experiences and learnings. losing to my wife made me powerful in a manner that i’d never been powerful before; it made me whole.

when one can own the fact that he is troubled, broken, and in need of repair, one can anticipate the experiences of personal building with some enthusiasm. that’s been my road. and in the past five years with my company, i’ve come to relish that journey and the miracle of losing. the man i once was could barely control himself; he had absolutely no interest in leading others. the man i’ve become leads by being led and by changing. the manners in which i teach, learn, struggle, and grow are all intimately interconnected, to the degree that when i’m being stretched i can already feel myself growing stronger.

Losing is winning. seems like the appropriate life lesson for a philadelphia sports fan

12.09.15

Donald is forcing us to contend with him… and that’s a good thing

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:40 pm by Administrator

i’ll start this entry by establishing that i’m aligned with Bernie Sanders on more than 90% of his positions and would be elated to see him become the president of this country. if he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, i may not vote in this election. it’s nothing personal against Hilary; she just doesn’t inspire me to go to the polls.

there’s one exception i’ll make though. if Donald wins the Republic nomination, then i’ll vote for Hilary. and that’s not because i hate Donald; it’s because Donald inspires me to vote—even if it’s against him.

here’s the irony about Donald, as far as i see it. Donald is not the worst of us; he’s not the exception to our rule. Donald is us. whether we like it or not, we have to accept that even when he is at his most controversial, he speaks to the heart of America, and he speaks on behalf of many Americans. i can say that because i understand his message. i may not agree with it, but i get it. he’s not crazy, unreasonable, or particularly bad. he has just chosen to be the incarnation of everything that educated, progressive America has been trying to move away from for the last twenty-five years.

i’m seeing the panic and distress with which the GOP is reacting toward Donald’s recent proclamation that Muslims should be banned from entering the country, and it actually amuses me. seeing the GOP attempt to assert itself as the voice of reason is comical enough; but studying the real visceral hatred that they’re expressing toward him is positively intriguing. i think that the GOP is so intent on distancing themselves from Donald not because they disagree with him on principle; it’s because they realize that they cannot control the man or his message. Donald’s destabilizing impact on the Republican constituency has GOP leaders genuinely afraid of their future as a party. they should be afraid… Donald’s rhetoric does in fact represent a logical extension of the party’s trajectory over the past decade, and if they’re unwilling to let him shape their identity, then they stand to lose at least part of their voter base. whether they like it or not, Donald represents the future of the GOP—toward harder boundaries, more global policing, and the preservation of the White majority’s interests at home and abroad.

what the rest of us have to learn from Donald is fairly simple. you can’t beat Donald’s logic or appeal by calling him crazy. he’s not crazy. you have to beat Donald by beating him at his own game—by connecting more thoroughly with the basic fears and anxieties of middle America. middle America is afraid of radical Islam, and Donald speaks honestly and directly to that fear. his political opponents do not speak directly to that fear; they speak indirectly to it by way of abstract policy considerations and limited war scenarios overseas.

bernie sanders, for example, doesn’t even want to talk about ISIS and how he would deal with them. if i were bernie sanders, i would stop beating around the bush. i’d tell it like this: “am i ready to talk about ISIS? hell yes, i’m ready to talk about ISIS. ISIS started in an Iraqi prison camp after a war that was started by President George W. Bush—a war that i opposed! ISIS was armed with American weapons supplied to Syrian rebels by the administration of President Barack Obama—a foolhardy measure that I opposed! at every critical juncture, i was the one who was worried about something like ISIS, and i was the one who tried to prevent it from happening. and right now i feel the pain and the rage of america at the violence we are experiencing because of our policy mistakes, and i have to ask you all out there: who are you going to trust to fix this problem now? the guys who went along with the policies that created ISIS? or the one guy in the field who said no to all this madness—the only one brave enough to say that america needs to get out of the business of creating international terrorists!”

it’s visceral, it’s emotional, and it’s undoubtedly provocative. and it takes the wind straight out of Donald’s sails. and what’s more, it is exactly what America needs to hear right now. because the problem isn’t just ISIS’s existence. the problem is what created ISIS; and it’s the thing that will continue to recreate ISIS, even if it is temporarily dismantled. americans know that this problem is not going away. that’s why they look to Donald, an outsider, who speaks directly to their fear. to counter Donald, one must connect even more directly with their fear. and if it happens to be anti-war logic couched in flaming, incendiary rhetoric, then so much the better for us all.

i don’t hate Donald. i find him strangely interesting, and his popularity is worth understanding for what it really means. his popularity does not mean we are a country of prejudiced fools. but it does mean that the key to political success in our time is power and decisiveness in the face of global uncertainties. America is calling for a charismatic, defiant, and powerful personality to buoy them in a dark and fearful time, and if no one else can be that personality, then Donald—bad hair, unrefined logic, and primitive judgments all—will suffice

12.07.15

because it changes you

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:40 pm by Administrator

in my line of work, loss is something i experience fairly commonly. it takes many forms. my patients die of their diseases—an ultimate loss. my staff leave for other jobs. doctors that i work with move on to new opportunities. death and turnover aren’t the same, but they’re both losses.

in the past two weeks, i experienced the loss of a patient and the departure of a close colleague. both situations were very special to me, the former because of the circumstances of his death and the latter because of the nature of our friendship. the feeling of loss can be very destabilizing, and for me, i cannot help but feel shaken.

today, we held a lunch to commemorate the departure of my colleague, who has been my closest friend at the clinic for several years, and i was supposed to say some words in his honor. when it came to my turn, i was entirely preoccupied with restraining my tears and thus had no idea what i was going to say. what i ended up talking about, off the cuff, was the beauty of the journey. i talked about how his four years with us were really the picture of excellence. i talked about how our feelings of sadness were evidence of that excellence. i talked about how his excellence—the extent of his compassion, the depth of his devotion to us and to his patients, and the perseverance he showed when he was most tested—changed us all.

after i said what i did, i reflected a bit on my own words and realized that they came from something i have picked up along the way. anything that is excellent is derived, at least in part, from a deep personal connection with something or someone; and anything that is excellent proves its excellence by transforming the people who come in contact with it. the doctor we sent off today derived his excellence from a unique and very keen interest in knowing people—knowing them in their frailty, knowing them in their essence. he proved his excellence by changing us, the people who worked with him.

my company has invested itself in adopting tactics of “evidence-based leadership”, and interestingly what we have learned from the various improvements we’ve made is that a critical driver of employee engagement, quite simply, is authentic personal connection. our rounding is meaningful when we spend time learning the basic and personal things: how our people are really doing, not only at work but in life in general. our leadership is effective when we are genuinely acting on behalf of people that we care about. our work is meaningful to us when we labor with specific customers in mind. however complex our strategies and management techniques may seem, they are effective only insofar as they drive a deeper and more authentic connection between people. that connection is transformative in and of itself; but when that connection serves to drive us deeper into our community, it cannot help but transform that community.

today, i think of the patient who died last month not far from where i am sitting now, and i can say that his life and his death have transformed me. he taught me about dignity in the face of suffering; he reminded me as well of how fleeting life is and how sudden and terrifying our endings can be. i think also of the doctor that has been my friend and ally through the years and about how i have come to rely on him in all the little things. he taught me the value of trust; he taught me that working with a believer can be different in all the good ways. both men, the patient who died and the doctor that is moving on, have changed me, and that is how i know that the thing that brought us all together, this work that i do, is an excellent thing, an excellent thing indeed

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