Influence and Change

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:41 pm by Administrator

yesterday, my mom mentioned to me that she’d read my entry—and she wanted me to know that she and my dad were intending to vote for Donald Trump regardless. it was at once a moment of chagrin and amazement for me. but it was also a conversation that ended up triggering some deeper reflections on my part. while my mother may not have been overtly offended by what i wrote about Donald, neither was she impressed by what i had to say. at the least, i was unconvincing; but at worst, i may have confirmed what she has come to expect of left-leaning advocates and protesters in this day and age. we’re loud, we’re proud, and we’re naive. we have big ideals and egalitarian values, but we fail to understand the true nature of evil in our world.

it’s not like i set out to be persuasive or influential when i offered my incendiary critique of Donald. it was cathartic, as most of my entries are. but the fact is that in most everything i express, whether in writing, in deed, or in spoken words, i assert myself first and then assume my influence afterwards. compared to most other people i know, i spend less time thinking about my audience and how i am affecting them through my actions and words. i often assume that by brute force of intellect or passion i can bully weaker-minded people into abandoning their differing views. there’s a delightful sense of power that i experience when i attack ideas and beliefs that make no sense to me; but i know that i’m not necessarily making the world a better place when i do so.

i’ll acknowledge that this is how i frequently approach conversations about LGBTQ issues in my social circle. it’s a difficult moral and ethical issue for many people i know in the church, and i gain nothing by being dismissive of that. but LGBTQ inclusion in the church is not a difficult issue for me, and it absolutely pains me to pretend to have any understanding of or sympathy for any countervailing viewpoints on this subject. put simply, i believe that Christians who are unwilling to support the legalization of gay marriage or the active inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church are unworthy of my respect or friendship. i express that opinion openly and aggressively; and i find it difficult not to take an indignant or exceedingly self-righteous tone when i speak on the subject with people who disagree with me.

the trouble with being this way does not reside in the force of my beliefs. the trouble is how the manner in which i express myself actually undermines the influence i want to have on others around these issues. i convince no one to rethink their views when i’m openly incensed, condescending, and intolerant of their views. i do no credit to others who agree with me when i represent them in such an obnoxious way.

when i think about the ways in which i have succeeded in pressing for change or influencing people toward growth, i think about how i am as a physician. in the exam room, i’m never an agenda-driven, opinionated person. i’m a listener, and i’m open to new ideas. i influence others mostly by demonstrating my active interest in their lives, my willlingness to walk with them through all troubles without judging them, and my consistent emphasis on their best interests. my patients have given up prescription painkillers, recreational drug addictions, unhealthy eating habits, smoking, and bad relationships simply because they’ve trusted me. i have patients who have sworn to me that they will follow me out of state if i leave my company; i have patients who refuse to see any other doctor because they’re unwilling to trade what they have with me for anything else.

these reflections remind me that influence is not about exposing the flaws in someone else’s way of thinking. influence comes from sharing a deep and mutual interest in something that is both important and good. i frequently lose sight of that fact. this is not to say that being influential is always important in every interaction; but given the choice between undermining my influence or being influential, i would obviously choose to be a positive influence whenever possible.

so i write this to say that i recognize that my rants are self-righteous and unpersuasive—and certainly they do not reflect how i lead or want to lead.

and i write this to preface what i’m about to say about Donald Trump. permit me to express my thoughts about him one more time, for the sake of both clarity and truth.

i do understand why people like Donald Trump and are willing to vote for him. for one thing, he’s a political outsider, which is refreshing. he doesn’t speak the complicated and deceptive language of professional politicians; he speaks the plain language of american citizens who are fed up with the washington bureaucracy. in this way, Donald speaks for most all of us. for another thing, Donald speaks consistently and candidly to the issues that trouble us most. we are afraid of muslim extremism and terrorist threats at home; we are unwilling to accept rationalizations offered by our elected leaders about escalating violence that is ultimately irrational. Donald addresses our fears and anxieties directly and without apology, and in this way he validates the experience of everyday Americans. we are accustomed to being handled, manipulated, and even patronized by our politicians; but by validating what we feel, Donald actually makes people feel connected to the political process. he has a powerful gift.

i do have many concerns about Donald: his spotty history as a businessman, his lack of experience as a political leader, and his tendency to simplify issues that most experts would reasonably consider to be complex. but my main concern with him that i want to share with anyone who will listen is that i believe that Donald’s message is hurtful and disrespectful to people of color. i have written previously that i do not believe that Donald would be able to directly undermine the interests of ethnic minorities in america through executive or legislative action. nevertheless, i do believe that Donald’s strongly critical assessments of Mexican and Muslim immigrants demonstrate his tendency to respond to tension and conflict with intolerance and disrespect. to elect such a man to the presidency is to license his particular view of humanity; and it is my deep, sincere, and heartfelt belief that his viewpoint is both unreasonable and dangerous.

i am a man of color. i am a child of immigrants. i love this country. i love america. my mother and father taught me to love this country because of the tolerance, freedom, and hope that it represents not only for its own people but for the entire world. to elect a man to the presidency when his thoughts and words express a harsh intolerance of people of color is unthinkable to me, not simply because it rankles my sensibilities but because it threatens the future and safety of the ones i love—my children, most notably. a Donald Trump presidency will empower and justify those in our country who believe that the solution to our nation’s great struggles is to deport, exclude, and marginalize people of color; and it is not surprising therefore that he receives the unqualified support of White supremacist groups in america. if Donald had said anything compelling to dispute these concerns about his attitude toward race, then i would have been happy to take note and relinquish my anxieties. but i have studied the man and his beliefs, and i believe i have fair reason to fear the impact that a Donald Trump presidency would have on the future opportunities and well-being of my two children.

i am intentionally avoiding hyperbole. i have tried to represent myself here in as straightforward and honest a manner as i can. i am not saying that Donald Trump is a racist or an evil man. i am contending that his rhetoric and his stances can only be construed as comprising a racial agenda for america, and i am arguing that his leadership of this country will harm the long-term interests of people like me and my family—tax-paying americans who obey the law and would be willing to fight and die for this country.

that’s all i have to say. i have done my best to reframe my opinions because i want anyone who reads this to consider how important it is to judge Donald Trump not only in terms of how he sounds on the campaign trail but also in terms of how his message will shape our future as a people. in these troubling times, i think of my children and their futures. i ask you to reflect on whose interests you are considering, as you evaluate this man and what his ideas mean for our country


How She Wins

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:12 am by Administrator

Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy strikes me as a pretty straightforward issue, but before i get to that, i’m going to catharse here by ripping off a few rants about the political situation in the united states of america.

let’s start with barack obama. i’ve written at least several times about my profound disappointment with President Obama, but i’ll say it all again just for kicks. this was a president who had the red carpet rolled out for him from the moment he stepped into the White House. he was handed an economy in the tank that had nowhere to go but up; he had a solidly Democratic congress backing him; and he had the excitement of an anti-Bush nation pushing wind into his sails. what he proceeded to do was nothing less than foolhardy and politically amateurish; he bulldozed and bullied his way to a healthcare reform bill that didn’t quite do enough on the things that matter—but did more than enough damage to antagonize the public and undermine his partners in congress. he overwhelmingly succeeded in creating a hostile legislature, a deeply divided country, and a political stalemate that rendered him ineffective for the remainder of his career as POTUS.

and if that weren’t bad enough, he chose to arm Syrian rebels early in the civil war—a decision i was staunchly opposed to from the beginning. it could have been worse; he very nearly committed the U.S. to an air warfare campaign against assad. but arming the rebels proved to be bad enough. the plentiful arms we gave them ended up in the hands of ISIS, who effectively leveraged our technologies of war to gain ground against both assad and the iraqis—a situation the entire world has paid for mightily over the last several years.

bafflingly, obama chose to assert himself against the one country that very well could have been our ally on plenty of key international issues. on the basis of political and economic interests, russia did not have to be our enemy—but now after years of ineffectual diplomacy, obama can take credit for resurrecting all the old and painfully familiar cold war hostilities. i can’t see how or why we had to take issue with russia’s defense of assad’s regime in syria or its support of the crimean secession; regarding the latter issue, aren’t americans supposed to support political self-determination? what american actually gives a crap about the territorial integrity of the Ukraine? it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the political will of the people who live there. i guarantee you this: if the state of chihuahua in our own backyard asked us to support its secession because the mexican government was no longer able to control the flow of drugs and violence across its border with the U.S., i’m pretty sure we’d come up with a plausible reason to impose some good ol’ fashioned american law and order there. but i digress!

was obama’s presidency an unqualified failure? certainly not. he got two liberal justices appointed to the supreme court, and he didn’t stand in the way of legalized gay marriage. most importantly, he proved to this country and to the world that americans can elect (and re-elect) a black president. i’ll always be grateful for what obama represents about the trajectory of race and social justice issues in america; but i’ll never think of him as a great president.

so that’s my context. i’m a liberal who is too disappointed with obama to consider himself a democrat, and i’m a sanders supporter who feels betrayed by the DNC. i offer the olive branch to Hillary Clinton because i’m vexed with Donald Trump, who is a fucking embarrassment even to his own tribe of fatuous white people. i say “vexed” and not “afraid”—because even if Donald were elected there’s basically nothing he could do in his single term except to antagonize his congress (deja vu) and complain to the public about how he can’t get anything done (double deja vu). people are frightened of how Donald could impact the discourse on race relations in america, but i’m of the opinion that his presidency would only accelerate the ongoing shift toward the inclusion and representation of ethnic minorities in america. Donald is and always will be the secret weapon of everyone who despises him.

that being said, four wasted years in the White House are still four wasted years. there’s important work to be done—like getting another liberal judge onto the Supreme Court, reforming law enforcement and public schools, reducing massive disparities in income and wealth, addressing the spiraling costs of entitlement programs, and putting together a coherent foreign policy. i’m not saying that Clinton’s got the best answers to all these issues; but i am saying that Donald has not a fuck’s worth to contribute on any of it. so Clinton better win this one.

now, regarding her campaign strategy… i’m already distracted by how diffuse her platform is. it’s obvious that she’s spending a lot of energy on courting us Bernie supporters, and we’re raising a fuss as if we’re ready to jump ship and vote for Trump. fuck that. we’re just mad is all. Hillary Clinton needs to stop wasting time and energy shoring up her credentials as a liberal (we can see straight through that bullshit) because there’s no damn way we’re going to vote for Trump anyways. what she needs to be doing is going after those dumbass, redneck cretins who poll for Trump because he speaks for the white man. she’s just as white as he is, and she needs to go out there, roll up them sleeves, and show off that pale pale caucasian complexion that would get sunburnt to a damn crisp if she didn’t lay on SPF 60 every goddam day. she needs to let em know YEEEEEE HAW I’M WHITE AND I GOT GUNS TOO, BITCHES!!!

in all seriousness, there’s only one campaign message coming out of the Clinton camp that’s made any sense to me at all, and that’s the “Where the hell were you after 9/11, Donald Trump?” challenge that Joe Crowley threw down at the convention. angry, scared, mainstream White America wants to know if Hillary Clinton can stand up to the terror, the rage, and all the noise and actually assert herself as the voice of power (and not simply as the voice of reason, a la barack “i’m totally out of touch” obama). she needs to straight up just take it to Donald and ask him which one of them exactly went to bed every night for 9 and a half years fantasizing about killing Osama bin Laden after standing on the rubble of downtown Manhattan. she needs to ask him if he knows what it was like to sit in the situation room and see it all the way through to bloody vengeance on behalf of all of America. Hillary Clinton needs to channel her inner “Lyanna Mormont” and remind America that she heeded the call; she never forgot that there was someone to kill and something to be avenged. if Hillary Clinton can turn that ice-cold veneer we all despise into a face of power we can all respect, then Donald Trump will just have to hang it up and limp off. there’s only one pussy on the stage, and if Hillary does it right, America will see how dickless he really is


the magicians, inside-out, the logic of things

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:55 am by Administrator

i just finished lev grossman’s The Magicians trilogy a few minutes ago. i don’t know how to describe the experience. it was, without a doubt, a very poignant experience for me, particularly in light of what was going on in my life as i read the books. i found the first book plain and derivative, the second long-winded and officious and the third circuitous and almost fatally discursive. but taken together, these imperfect chapters comprised a coming of age story that i’ve never quite read before. it’s the story of Quentin Coldwater, a self-absorbed and ingenuous boy of extraordinary powers who ends up losing just about everything—and learns to be okay with that. it’s so fantastical that it’s no one’s story. and it’s so profoundly off-kilter, uneven, and painfully sad all at the same time that it cannot help but be everyone’s story.

i’ve just been through two of the most intense experiences of my professional life, which have forced me through one wringer after another. over the past four months, i have had stretches where i worked twenty days in a row and eighty hours a week without a breather. over this latest stretch, i single-handedly planned and facilitated a two-day program for my executive leadership (burning out famously in the process and careening into a full-blown panic at the eleventh hour). and the level of feedback i received throughout, from my peers, my bosses, and their bosses, has been unprecedented for me. i’ve heard everything from “i have never met someone of your unique talent” to “you are not genuine”. my team members have lauded me for my intuition and insight while at other points raising serious concerns about my ability to plan appropriately, delegate tasks, and work effectively within a team. through it all, i listened and digested, all the while pushing and pushing to get the next thing done, because there was no time to stop and really reflect on it all.

and now, all of a sudden, there’s time to think about it. and i realize that i’ve been turned inside-out. some loved me for a quality that others resented me for. i spoke words that one person took as inspiration and another balked at as cheap truism. amidst the strangeness and cruelty of all politics that invariably permeate the lives of corporate executives, i learned that one can gain such influence and yet lose all faith in himself in the process. after i tended to my wounds, i recognized that nothing had really changed; i’d lost an idea of myself—likable, idealistic, and innocent—in order to understand a truth about what i am. and the truth is that real power resides in perspective; and perspective hinges on the ability to examine oneself with dispassionate and ruthless curiosity, without regard for dignity, sensitivity, or decorum. i dressed myself down; i found myself wanting. i hated the people who criticized me. but i learned to love them for what they revealed about who i am. this is the terror of leadership. you are invariably exposed. the point isn’t to hide behind a tree but to join in with the rest of the streakers, who have learned to turn their nakedness into something shameless and very bold.

sometimes i feel that everything dreamlike, wispy, and effervescent in my mind truly hangs in the balance, and cynicism could crush it for good. in moments like this, i remember an old friend from college days, who expressed her fond feelings for me by condescending to me at every opportunity. she called me delicate, unreliable, and deceitful, as if by feminizing me she could effectively undermine her infatuation. it was a horribly abusive and unpredictable friendship as i recall—and perhaps it wasn’t really much of a friendship at all—but i hung in there with her, because deep down i felt responsible for her severity toward herself and toward me. the fact is that how she perceived me really didn’t matter after a point; i knew that her feelings for me were unreasonable, and once forgotten there would be nothing left to define me as special in her eyes. the logic of things is that we see in one another what we project of ourselves. the responsibility we bear in this life is to see ourselves truly, but we do this so poorly. those who are surrounded by people who dote on them are lucky souls in a way. but i think i’ve done better. my whole life i’ve been surrounded by wolves and predators, and yet here i am still blogging as if my aimless ruminations mean something. i am what i am because there is ugliness in my world, and yet still i expect to create something beautiful. this is vanity, i say to myself.

no, the other says. this is how we survive


How not to react

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:41 am by Administrator

and then there’s part 2 to the last entry, which i have to write, because every time i take a position i look down and it’s already crumbling apart beneath me. my whole life is the damned tower of babel, it feels like, because whenever i build something, i feel it was solely for the purpose of being torn down.

to my point about justice, the Spirit reminds me we have had this conversation before. and then i want to say “Fuck you” to God, because i’ll tell you that nothing makes me madder than being set up—and i’m getting set up all the fucking time. i care about something, i say it has to be a certain way, and then i get exposed. and God’s sitting over there on the tree trunk not saying shit, just nodding His head, which reminds me of how those Goddamned Reformed Presbyterian pricks always nod their heads at my words and then ask me why i feel that way about gay rights, the fate of the non-elect, and everything else i make a fuss about. smug, self-righteous, intellectual assholes, with God sitting right at the head of them, another logically sound, dispassionate, moralistic piece of shit smiling wearily at me like He’s seen it all.

except that God’s not like that. and i know that. it still hurts anyways. because i can’t say a damn thing that He hasn’t anticipated already, and i know that i can’t say a damn thing that’s true. so i voice my opinions—as stupid and full of shit as everything else said by everyone else in this world—and then i wait for that gentle voice of suggestion that (as much as i hate to admit it) i live to hear because i love it so much. and He never starts by telling me i’m wrong. He just tells me i wish you could understand.

it’s not that God doesn’t care about police shootings or #Black Lives Matter. it’s not that God wouldn’t fall on a sword for a gay man ostracized by the church. it’s just that God made a world of individuals, and the way He sees it, all of these individuals belong to one of two tribes. there’s His tribe and then there’s the other tribe. all the other groups, races, and allegiances that we see at work in the world—Westerners, Jews, black Americans, Hmong, Armenians, Turks, Neo-Nazis, Seventh Day Adventists—are not of His design. those were identities contrived by people. yes, the abuses foisted upon one group by another are invariably unjust and cruel, and every injustice calls for a corresponding justice. but in the end, while we see justice as a series of reparations meted out according to tribes and groups of our own making, God sees justice quite differently. His people are of all races and kinds, unrecognizable for their true nature even to one another, ignorant of their heavenly names by His design. if we could readily separate ourselves from the others like wheat from chaff, we certainly would—but then this world we shared with the others would be finished for all time. and because His work across the generations is not finished, we walk among the lost as if we were of them, as if we too were blacks, Muslims, middle-class, female, British, mixed-race, or transgender—when we are, in essence, none of these things at all.

but it matters! i cry out. it matters when a black man is killed for no reason by a white cop. it matters when a gay man is brutalized and murdered by sons of Evangelicals. it matters when Western nations send machines into the air to shoot missiles at homes where children sleep in their mothers’ arms. it matters, and it will never stop mattering. and to this, God says i wish you could see what it was like in the times of Noah.

“you are all sons and daughters of one of the greatest men that have ever lived,” He says, “and still you create a world in which you terrorize one another unrelentingly. i could not condemn one of you without wiping out all of you. is this the justice you ask for?”

i am like Jonah, i realize. i am like this man who passed judgment upon the judgment of God, but God let me witness His terrible mercy nonetheless, because come Hell and high water, He was going to have me understand this about Him. i will never understand the ways of God—why He saves some and not others, why He suffers some tyrants but lets good people die tragic deaths before their time. but it is a good thing that i will not witness the justice of God in my time—because i would die for it, and painfully so. no, i am like Jonah, and i am like all of my tribe in this simple thing: i was called not to be a witness of justice but rather a witness of grace and mercy. and it is something i can bear witness to all my days, because i have personally received the awesome mercy of God, in the form of total and overpowering forgiveness afforded to me through the death of Jesus Christ.

i tell you that i want to come down from Sinai with blazing white hair and a flame in my mouth, and i want to order my Aaron and his Levites to put a third of the living on this earth to the sword. the wickedness of my kind is so revolting as to merit punishment, and i’d be the instrument of it if i could. there wouldn’t be a Muslim extremist, white supremacist, or mexican drug lord alive if i had my way; i’d kill them all. but to that passion for justice, God says let me take that from you. and it is such a sad, sad voice that says those words, and when i hear that i realize that i have not lived long enough or seen enough of the same tragic patterns of humanity repeated over the millenia to know what justice really means. it’s not futility; and the Lord would not have me believe it is in vain. but neither is it life. justice is death. justice is black death that touches every living person and wipes every trace of us off the planets. anything short of this is mercy.

live, and be filled with mercy and grace, the Lord says. and that is when i know, that is when i know beyond all raging and doubting and misery, that the Lord means to save my life, not to lose it, and amidst this tide of human sorrow and fear, He wishes me to stay afloat just a little while longer, until the rage has dissipated, until we are revealed to one another for whom we really are, until the storm that was our lives passes over and is no more


How to react

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:13 pm by Administrator

understandably, leaders are trying to navigate these troubled times by telling us how to react. activists are telling us to protest. political leaders are telling us to remain calm. police chiefs are telling us to support their officers. spiritual leaders are telling us to dialogue, to pray, and to lament. so many people want this conversation to go a certain way, because they want the tension to go away. and of course the tension is going to dissipate. it always does. and that’s the problem.

i have no answer to this problem of race, and i can’t even begin to define where i am positioned in the discourse. like most of us who follow the media narratives, i sympathize with the victim. when the news tells me a young black man is the victim, i am sympathetic to the black man and i am angry at the police. when the news tells me a rioting crowd injured an innocent police officer, i am angry at the crowd and i feel protective of our police. when a friend of mine tells me he was framed, deported, or stopped by police without cause, i am angry on his behalf. and when my friend who is L.A. police talks to me about the griefs and travails of his every day work, i feel sorry for him, because he is a soldier that has been sent to war by our lawmakers, and because the work on the streets is killing his soul.

i am a pawn, i am a media consumer, and i am as ignorant of the real facts as anyone else. but just like every armchair quarterback, i believe that i have a better command of the facts than most. when it comes to race and society, every person in america has an opinion, and every person believes he is the wiser for it. but in the end, we are all sheep being herded by the loudest voice in the room. that voice varies depending on which rooms we sit in most of the time, which radio channels we tune into most, which families happened to raise us. it frustrates me that there’s no truth in it—just opinions. it frustrates me that our opinions are mass-produced and manufactured. and above all else, it angers me that all the tension we produce from this rhetoric is only good enough for more rhetoric.

perhaps i am stuck because of my particular version of world history, which reads a bit like this. white colonists enslaved people of color; then they experienced enlightenment and decided to “emancipate” the people of color without fundamentally altering their socioeconomic situation; over subsequent centuries, institutional and social barriers were maintained to protect white privilege; and now there is vigorous debate as to why these inequalities are not suddenly being erased after a mere generation of social reforms. the whites move to communities where they feel safe. people of color try to move into those white communities to enjoy the safety, access to education, and amenities enjoyed by white people. the police step in to enforce the de facto boundaries that are no longer explicitly defined by the law. there’s some transit across the boundary in both directions—enough to diffuse the tensions that might otherwise fuel a race war, but not enough to fundamentally alter the racial composition of america’s socioeconomic classes.

there is a notable exception to this divide between whites and people of color, and that’s the asians. my take on the asians is that they were too foreign and far-removed to be simply co-opted into the dominant paradigm of race relations; their phenotypes, languages, and customs were too different to allow for mutual recognition or understanding. as a result, they were treated with the courtesy one would give to guests rather than the condescension one would show to servants. and more importantly, there weren’t centuries of suspicion and enmity inherent to the relationship between asian immigrants and america’s institutions of social advancement; asians could assume equitable access to education and to capital.

in any case, i digress. i am a product of my own education, and so my reaction to these events proceeds along predictable lines. i wonder to myself why this furious debate about our present realities never goes sufficiently deep into the traumas of our past. hasn’t the history of the world more than proven that the only thing that guarantees self-preservation and justice on one’s own terms is the exercise of power? in this society, power consists in the law, political representation, and (above all else) money. kindly intentions and benevolent leaders accomplish little in and of themselves; respect in a society like ours is wedded to capital. that’s why the message of bernie sanders, while grating for some and inconvenient for most, hits home to what i consider the truth. the crisis evolving between black people and white police points to the deeper problem of economic inequality in america. black people need to be as wealthy per capita as white people if they are to secure the political representation, the corporate sponsorship, and the loyalty of law enforcement that they require to secure their interests. and until the capital shifts, people of color in america will live on the white man’s dime—and don’t think the white man won’t know that.

now, i’m discussing white colonists, white patriarchs, and dsadvantaged people of color as ideas. they’re not real people. but as far as ideas go, they’re as important as ideas get, because individuals in america (regardless of the color of their skin) really do experience white colonists, white patriarchs, and disadvantaged people of color. those concepts are influential, powerful, and formative in the national consciousness. and because i believe that, i can go further and say this: there won’t be justice when it comes to race relations until ideas like “black lives matter” and “black is beautiful” become as powerful and compelling as all the ideas of white power and privilege embedded in the foundation of our society.

i am for the redistribution of wealth and a socialist agenda because i am for equality and justice in race relations. it’s that simple. #Black Lives Matter is a strong beginning, and we need to go even further. #Income equality for people of color is where this needs to go. no one needs a white man’s handout anymore, whether it comes in the form of welfare checks or police officers on the prowl


Is it real?

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:44 pm by Administrator

i know that the police shootings of philando castile and alton sterling are real. and i know that the ambush killings of the dallas police officers are also real. and i believe that these incidents are somehow connected. but what seems more fabricated than real is the nature of that connection. if the men who killed those dallas police officers were expressing a calculated reaction to police brutality, then there was a fabrication of connections that allowed them to kill those Dallas officers for crimes they did not commit. it was probably the same for those officers who killed a man pinned down on the ground and another man seated in his car reaching for his identification. those officers didn’t see innocent men. they were thinking of other men from stories told by peers and acquaintances; they shot and killed people for the crimes of other unrelated men.

what’s real? is race real? are police corruption and brutality real? is racial tension in our country real? on the one hand, i can say that these ideas resonate with me and trigger an emotional reaction. on most days, that’s real enough. but on other days like today, i look at it and i think to myself that none of it is real at all; it’s just a pattern that has been devised to fit incidents within broader themes—themes that are familiar, themes that fuel fear, themes that profit some and villainize others.

a year ago, i got to listen to an incredible evidence-based exploration of unconscious bias and its impact on a variety of professions including the legal and law enforcement fields. the lesson from the presentation was clear; unconscious bias is universal, impactful, and inevitable. what varies between individuals is the degree of self-awareness about that bias and the level of compensation that occurs to reframe perception. where does this unconscious bias come from? it comes from information received in the way of images and sounds very early in life; and it is affirmed, deepened, and solidified by what children experience as they interact with the visual and relational world around them. there is no doubt as to the powerful role that media in its various forms plays in the formation and furthering of unconscious bias. and media is not as simple to define as it was when i was a child. our world is overcrowded with insinuations and suggestions via innumerable devices, like the billboards advertising “gentleman’s clubs” along every mile of the 5 highway, or the advertisements littering every highly frequented web page, or the casting choices and plot constructions of television programs, or the “news”. they are all defining, depicting, and inculcating the ideas and themes that inform unconscious bias. some of these biases are self-preserving and useful; but some lead to outright and irrational prejudice, the kind that allow us to fabricate connections, color our judgments, and channel anger into violence of certain forms and against certain individuals.

when i think about what makes our society work, i recognize that it is the shaping and sustenance of bias in its various forms that allows us to proceed predictably and to maintain privilege through the strategic and cross-generational construction of communities and economies. even beyond the infrastructures and dynamics that inform race relations and policing, there is the global economy, built upon this intricate web of biases and perceptions. as variable as the markets do seem, the overriding factor that drives them is a simple thing: the consumer appetites of the american middle class. these appetites hinge upon the american consumer’s willingness to leverage debt for short-term consumption, which in turn hinges upon his or her perception of bellwether signals and patterns, which in turn are inferred from the sensibilities of persons of influence, who in turn derive their influence from their ability to access and represent the collectively identified sources of truth for our time. as in traditional societies, we have our unique and mystical sources of truth, bequeathed to us at an early age, rooted in our unconscious biases, and manifest in our emblems, allegiances, and faiths. our science, our laws, the story of our history, and the patterns of prior generations all compose this story that is best described as our unique religion; and men of influence that can tap into this religion are the great diviners of our time. the power of the diviner lies in his ability to sense the opportunities inherent to this milieu of superstitions and beliefs. his power lies in the felt experience of resonance—transcendent, unconscious, and inescapably compelling resonance. hence, the great power of demagogues like donald trump and adolf hitler.

while it is sad in a way that so many of our visible and egregious struggles in society stem from unconscious bias, distorted self-perception, and antisocial behavior, i continue to believe that it’s possible to compensate for one’s intrinsic limitations. it is possible for police officers to be trained in deescalation and even to shift their biases toward people of color. it is possible for the developers of childrens’ programming to recognize how they craft and confirm destructive ideas of beauty. it is possible for people to exercise some level of objectivity with regard to their subjectivities. but it takes time, effort, and the pressure of a community. and i believe that this work only begins when a person chooses to involve him or herself in a community that is diverse enough and mature enough to challenge him to change.

i’ve been blessed to work with diverse clients and colleagues, many of whom differ from me in race, religion, background, and sexual orientation. i want my children to enjoy that blessing; i want my children to be continually challenged and shaped by that diversity. and among all the other communities i choose to involve myself in, i want my church to reflect that kind of diversity as well. after all, if my single best source of truth does not drive me to challenge my unconscious biases and to intentionally connect with people across all of society’s unwritten but powerfully implied boundaries, then what is my faith good for? perhaps there’s a reason for ethnically and culturally homogeneous spiritual communities, whether those reasons are rooted in social barriers, unique social needs, or a pervasive lack of diversity in surrounding society. but those reasons do not apply to me and my family.

the violence, prejudice, cruelty, and sin of my society are real. but these realities are derived from fabrications. i want to stop myself from being angry at a thing that is not really a thing. i want to take issue with the thing that is truly there, beneath the surface and yet unnamed. there’s a place where that thing can be brought into the light and exposed. at this point in my life, i have to find that place. i believe that all of us do