good theology, healthy psychology

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:23 pm by Administrator

the shocking news stories of murder, rape, and violent hatred always make me retreat a bit, as if i’ve stumbled upon an unforeseen chasm in the road. there was this fable of a sane life we were supposed to be sharing, and then the seething inner heart of a human being suddenly drives a wedge through that idea, like a rip in the ground revealing a sudden and terrifying view of the molten surging layers well beneath our seemingly stable crust of earth. the dizzying height, the fearsome fire, the collapse of logic everywhere—it is a recurring experience now, and we might become inured to the day-to-day chaos of it all if it were truly the stuff of natural disasters. but this is the stuff of human nature. this—the killing, the hating, the ugliness–is somehow a reflection of what we are inside, no matter how much we try to believe that some human beings can be monsters while others can be genteel.

i reconnect with my core theology in times like these. i call it my core theology because it is not simply the general system of rules and definitions by which i negotiate my spiritual reality. my core theology is something that is written on my heart in scar tissue; it is the truth that lay imprinted on my soul when my wounds had closed over and the bitterness and hatred had rolled over and through me leaving me empty. when young men died beneath my hands during surgeries and resuscitations, it was the hard truth i came home to when i lay on my side in the darkness and thought about whole cities ravaged by evil.

my core theology is this: we cannot live with ourselves. we could not live with ourselves in the eternity of Eden; we could not live with ourselves when we lived for nine hundred years; we can barely live with ourselves for even a century now, and even then we drag ourselves through life and all its terrors unseeing and filled with desperation. it is only when we are utterly aware of our insufficiency that we can recognize the meaning of the rebirth promised by Christ. Christ does not promise us enlightenment and self-fulfillment; He promises a new identity, made of something other than ourselves. He promises new life, through the death of self and a rebirth of the spirit.

for years, i have struggled within and against this theology. at desperate times in my life, i recognize and remember its deep truth. to contend with myself, to despise my tendencies, and even to wish for the passing of my identity in the interests of transformation—these are visceral and real longings that i experience during those rare and punctuating periods of humiliation in my life. and out of those times comes life in the form of substantive change, deep gratitude, and even awe of the Almighty God. but equally as often, i struggle against this idea of self-loathing, because it is also an affliction. it is a psychological burden, and the modern man in me wishes to unburden myself. even as i yearn to see myself truly and sell myself body and soul to the passion of the Gospel, there is at the same time a powerful yearning to be whole. that yearning takes strength from the society around me and builds upon all i have learned about dignity, love, and respect. i want to see others as whole, not as broken, and in the end i do not wish to see myself as destitute, even though that is what i am.

how is it that a true believer of Christ can hold both good theology and healthy psychology? for me, a man with a core theology of self-loathing, there exists a fine line in the intersection of these. on the one hand, i believe that the full embrace of my utter depravity and hopelessness is the precondition for submitting to the lordship of Christ, unto self-loss; but on the other hand i believe that self-preservation, not suicidality, is the essence of healthy psychology. i believe that exposing my sinful tendencies and conquering them are powerfully redemptive activities; and at the same time, i believe that a unified, integrated, and self-accepting identity is critical to taking responsibility for oneself and for others. lastly, i believe that my essential nature is corrupted and beyond repair; it must be replaced, not redeemed. but i also believe that i deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, as do others. our depravity and even baseness cannot justify any mutual mistreatment whatsoever.

i have come to believe that the fine line that exists between true theology and healthy psychology resides in one simple fact: that the worth of a human being is not intrinsic but rather accorded by God. the worth of a human being is not something we can intuitively understand. and in fact, if we were each to become utterly aware of what we are collectively capable of, we would be resigned to mutual loathing to the point of alienation. “dignity”, as we experience it in society, is a falseness and a veneer. but there is the worth of a human being that is accorded by God which is not rooted in a person’s essential characteristics or moral qualities. and that is the worth that can only be understood through faith in God’s purposes. i live with myself, accept myself, and care for myself, in other words, because i have faith in God’s purpose for me—and not because i believe myself to be entitled to life, dignity, respect, and even love.

it is difficult to teach my children such things. how can i teach them that they are loathsome, that time will tell all the ways in which they are intrinsically broken and incapable of pleasing others and even themselves? how can i teach them that they are not inherently dignified or worthy of respect, in the face of all that society preaches to them about the natural goodness of human nature? and yet at the same time, how can i allow them to build up a sense of themselves as whole, beautiful, and essentially good such that they are incapable of recognizing their incredible need for salvation? what Christ offers them is not a better life, after all. what He offers them is life in the face of their ongoing, daily, and inescapable death. what He offers them is a life that will supplant and replace their already withered and broken lives that are not long for this world and unsustainable in the world that follows.

at war with myself and conflicted even when my judgment is most clear, i recognize that God supplies us with the simpler truths we can handle. knowing the lordship of the Lord is not a revelation but the journey of a lifetime. learning to relinquish one’s transient life in the pursuit of an eternal life requires repeated hardships and habits of thought earned through perseverance. overcoming the fear of death and fully investing oneself in the hope of a changed and heavenly identity—that is the transformation of nature that is never quite completed in this life, though we might aspire to such a thing. here where i contend with my limitations, i recognize that all the wisdom in the world simply cannot afford me a peace with what i am and with what i am becoming. i will never discover such a thing in this life. i was meant to struggle with this; i was meant to wrestle with the evil of men and the evil within me; and through it all, i was intended to die even as i live, to have my life taken from me even with my fingers curled tightly around it and my spirit unwilling to be snuffed to darkness and to all of its attendant and plaguing mysteries. i want to live; i want to thrive. but i do not deserve to live, and in fact i do not love life. this is the contradiction, around which my theology, psychology, and all else i understand revolve, intertwine, break apart, and form again


thinking about brock turner

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:26 am by Administrator

a week ago, my wife tried to talk with me about a news story involving her alma mater. it was a news story about a swimmer who had raped someone behind a dumpster. i wasn’t tuned in, so i didn’t really listen. then a few days later, my brother-in-law wanted me to read some stories about it, so i skimmed those. and then i began reading the breaking news items on the story. and so here i am a week later, with many reactions and no single reaction. this is how it always is inside of me, when i’m faced with a decision about justice that has been made to address an injustice. i can neither agree nor disagree. i can only react in a thousand small and sharp ways to the picture of something that has been smashed and simply cannot be put back together again.

so here is my reaction.

it is sordid. i feel awful for the woman. i think of my daughter and i am filled with rage.

people are raped routinely in many countries of the world, whether through forced marriage or simply as an exercise of power, and no one in this country seems aware or even cares. the case of a stanford athlete gets so much attention; but the plight of millions of women in other countries is simply ignored. so the attention this case is getting makes me fume. #only american vaginas matter. fuck that and the media machine.

brock’s right. he is a product of society. elitist, misogynistic, wealthy white male society. brock will be punished in so many ways, if not through a long prison sentence. but that fraternity of self-satisfied white men won’t be punished as a result of this trial. and i do so wish for them—all of them—to suffer for their contributions to this crime and to so many others.

i feel bad for brock. the life he assumed he would have is totally over, and this will follow him for the rest of his life. he’ll bear the mark of Cain. i wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

but brock’s life has to end. it was a twisted and wrong life built on all the arrogance, sin, and presumption that would have made him destroy other lives, if not the life of emily doe. brock’s future has to end this way, if he is to have any hope of redemption.

i feel sympathy for brock because i wouldn’t want my life to be ruined publicly in such a humiliating manner. but my life too has to be broken in order to be saved. my life—and all the ugliness i share with men like brock—has to be put on trial and cut off from a future if i am to discover that total desolation that reflects the truth of what i am.

every person in the world pronouncing judgment on brock turner should recognize that they are wishing for not only his desolation but also their own. and as much as brock will suffer for what he has done, every person who despises him is simply revealing the height from which she will fall.

we all deserve to die. not one of us deserves to live.

this is a bad world. a bad world.

i do not know why i had children. why did i have children? was it not both selfish and stupid of me? my son will be a rapist. my daughter will be a victim. or vice versa. they will be cruel and ugly, because the world around them is cruel and ugly. because the father that gave life to them is cruel and ugly.

when we see brock turner on the stand, we see what we really are: fighting for our lives, always believing there’s someone worse, hoping to be forgiven. but none of us can forgive; and ultimately none of us will even forgive ourselves. that’s hell—when we are compelled to live with ourselves, our real selves, without the filter and deception of a warped mind. we will all hate ourselves, either now or in the afterlife. this is the great equalizer. death and self-loathing will surely unite us all.

and so, i do not feel devastated for brock or for his victim. their lives will be brief, as mine will be brief, and then we will live with ourselves, and we will recognize that we were all both victims and victimizers, every one of us. in this life, one story is selected for us, while the other story is forgotten. but in the next life, we will each be revealed as both predator and prey, and the very idea of judgment will be so futile as to be laughable.

but for now, we will pronounce a judgment and feel served by it. we will hang that judge; we will taunt that young man; we will mourn that young woman. we will celebrate the half of the story that we can understand; the other half of it will tear us to pieces, if we ever reckon with the truth.

this rape case is futile. thousands of people read a young woman’s letter as if it were their own, but it is not their own. they pretend to channel another person’s pain, when in fact they are simply acting out their own, in the most selfish manner imaginable.

there is only one justice for all of this. the undoing of the crime; the mending of the memory; the ability to start again. i wish this for emily doe. i wish this for brock turner. and i wish it for myself. if God is good, then this is what awaits us. but if God is not good, or if He does not exist, then none of this fucking matters anyways


Game of Thrones

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:42 pm by Administrator

it’s being hailed as one of the greatest TV shows ever, and of course i’m a fan of the books written by GRRM. so why (until recently) have I been so reluctant to watch the HBO adaptation? and why, midway through season 5 and almost caught up, do I feel so positively disturbed by what I am watching?

let’s deal with the latter question first. Game of Thrones features a lot of killing, raping, conniving, and unexpected character deaths. that’s the drama of the story and it’s why people are hooked on the show. the consistent promise of shock value keeps people engaged. I get that. and part of that shock value rides on the show’s ability to bend and play with stereotypes, to the point of impropriety. to some degree, I think that’s healthy and interesting. but what makes me mad about Game of Thrones is that the whole look and feel of the HBO show is so deliberately regressive in every social and moral sense that it cannot help but strike me as annoying. it’s like having to sit down with Donald Trump and listen to him crack jokes about Mexicans and other people of color all day. I might forgive the first few jokes because it is just so interesting to be in the presence of such a self-satisfied narcissist. but after a while, it’s not simply offensive; it’s boring, in a see-through, been there and done that, I have to watch this crap all over again kind of way.

GRRM creates a white colonialist’s fantasy dream world, but at least he keeps a fair share of his characters ethnically ambiguous. the HBO show creators obviously had to make some key decisions about what aspects of this fantasy world they would emphasize and in what way. they chose the visuals that would define the tropes; they fit the stereotypes to the suggestions. the world they created in Game of Thrones is a world of English-accented white people having sophisticated interesting conversations about history and power, while the people of color on the margin stagger through stunningly archaic and (I daresay) primitive reflections about slavery, basic dignity, and the inherent difficulties of instructing colored people on the merits of civilization. oh and by the way, the people of color don’t include anyone who looks East Asian, South Asian, or Caribbean. the most prominent character of color on the show is a neutered black man who is childlike in his understanding of the world and all too keen on being led by his silver-haired beautiful white “mother”.

twenty years ago, a show like this might not have rubbed me the way it does now. when I was twenty years old, I wasn’t stupid so much as unaware of context. it was OK for me to be surrounded by a society of people who were more than willing to be carelessly presumptuous or disdainful in the public revelations of their personal fantasies. but i’m forty now, and this shit is honestly pretty tired. maybe disillusioned Gen Xers in America are so starved for a ruthless story about the abuse of power that Game of Thrones provides them a relevant metaphor for virtually everything they’re engaged in. the political arena is a “game of thrones”. work is a “game of thrones”. football is a “game of thrones”. their little insignificant lives are actually full of all the little machinations and subterfuge of a veritable “game of thrones”. what they’re forgetting in the casual overuse of this metaphor is that Game of Thrones, whether they consciously admit to it or not, is very much a story about the dramatic dalliances and dysfunctions of aristocratic white people—and the relative simplicity and irrelevance of all people of color who frame this theatrical production. yes, there is masochism and misogyny as well, but the really ugly thing underneath it all, uglier on account of how much it is assumed and presumed, is the insidious racism of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

back to the first question: why did I take so long to start the HBO show? I think it’s because I was afraid of how the story would be adapted. there were parts of the books—whole chapters in fact (basically every part with Daenerys)—that I could barely tolerate, and the off-Westeros scenes have indeed proven to be appallingly bad. but when I look back, I think that there was from the very beginning a sense I had that this is what GOT could become—a riotous, raunchy celebration of white colonial power, a terrific undercutting of any progress we might have made in redefining what is sophisticated and beautiful beyond color and race. now I can see that GOT could very well reaffirm for a brand-new generation all of our traditional modernist ideas about Western history and all truth and lore implied therein. it’s a white man’s world. if you don’t like it, then turn off the TV. everyone else thinks it’s cool


the sweetness of water

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:32 pm by Administrator

my favorite place in the world is the book store
and the path between towering shelves
occasionally lit by a hanging bulb that either casts
or dispels shadows. it is a path into a darkness
more humbling than foreboding, though the dust
falling through the light attests to decay.

thousands of years ago, there were not even libraries
like this corner book store. a man back then
might know his past through a few dozen volumes.
today, i could spend a lifetime at the very end
of what we call the nineteenth century and have no time left
to move past a decade, much less an era.

in the midst of this, awe-striking and confounding as it is,
there is the noise of jazz music and radio shows, an ambience
of calculated distractions, as if the din of all lives and deaths past
were not deafening enough, as if those disappearing
into the corners of history might suffer a tedium
that calls for dave brubeck, our tether in the vast wilderness.

it is, i realize, an abundance of flavors that threatens
to make us disdain the very taste of water
much like the obscurity cast by our present-day thoughts
upon the penumbral past, bland for all our discerning.
still, the basic thing in us, residua from the ancients,
built from the crumbled fragments of their lives

that have found their way into our transient forms
through the soil and the air that we inspire upon laughing,
can guess at the sweetness of water.
it is like a single story, fashioned into art,
that might be known and loved, even in the absence
of everything else that has been written,

or like water in the desert from the prickled plant,
that turns sour in the gut, from all the deprivation
and rumination, but is sweet all the same,
or like the tribe whose stories curdled into poems and songs
that burned their insides, leaving them wasted
and their orphaned children vengeful and thirsty for conquest.

on the other side of all that conquering and killing and all else
that has since transpired, i close my eyes, and i try to taste it:
the words, and the brilliant years they spent in someone else’s mind.