12.30.16

Looking ahead

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:44 pm by Administrator

a year ago i blogged some goals i had for 2016. not suprisingly, i didn’t hold myself accountable to these and ended up not accomplishing most of them. i did learn how to ride a bike, and the work-related stuff happened. but not much came of the rest of it. my main disappointment at realizing this was that i again failed to write something that i set out to write. i laid out a goal to write a chapter of something—anything. i didn’t do it.

though i’m disappointed, i’m not that disappointed. sometimes i tell my wife that the reason i don’t write anything is that i don’t really want to write anything. it’s analogous to my career ambitions. theoretically, i want to work toward a career that’s better suited to my gifts and interests; but actually i have so little interest in “career” that the building of a new career could never be a real priority for me. when it comes to writing, i do believe i could write something and enjoy the finished product. but the process of writing is so terribly unpleasant that in the end i’m simply not interested in doing the writing. i wish i could have peace with that and move on.

i’m not future-oriented, so when i force myself to look ahead to the future, what i seek from it is everything that is painfully lacking in the present. and there are always so many things that are painfully lacking. the art of these times is lacking. the popular culture of these times is terribly boorish and insipid. facebook and twitter are nauseating. war in the world is unabating. our leaders are failed men. climate change, technological fixations, and economic “progress” combine to describe a picture of limitless futility. i have these pronounced and poignant moments when i wish i could be brandon sanderson’s sazed—a god who could reform all things. for me, the incredible pains of civilization feel like what is described in Romans 8: a creation subjected to immense frustration against its own will, for a hope deferred and known only to a chosen few. i look at it, and beyond being tragic, it strikes me as awkward and ugly. always in the back of my mind, there is the specter of aleppo and the misery of sudan, the plight of children in africa and the poverty of the favelas. i can’t sense where i belong in the world because all of these other jagged pieces of it do not fit together. where do i fit, if none of it fits?

so when i look ahead, the wishes that come to mind appear nonsensical. i wish for peace in syria, for example. but at what price? bashar al-assad is an evil man. is cessation of the civil war a fair thing to desire if this allows him to continue bullying, terrorizing, and murdering his own people? i wish for an independent and stable palestinian nation, but then whom will this political transition empower? vengeful men with blood on their hands? above and beyond these things, i wish for a healthy and prosperous africa, a civilization that can be a beacon to a world corrupted by the neoliberal West. but how many tribes would have to be extinguished for a unified sub-Saharan African nation to emerge? how many customs, cultures, and families would have to be put to death for such “progress” to be attained?

all of our hands are dirty. there are no clear solutions to what we define as our problems. and in fact, our problem is human nature—what we are, at our core. it’s why God exiled us from Eden; it is why He shortened the lives of men in the times before Noah. we cannot live with ourselves. as a people, we are constantly verging toward suicidality.

i would hope then for the one thing that would be an unqualified blessing. first contact with alien life—an enlightened species. it is a dream worth dreaming, simply because our kind is so thoroughly insufficient

12.27.16

2016 in review

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:28 pm by Administrator

i took a look at my final entry from 2015 to give myself a point of reference. and then i ended up skimming through everything i’d blogged in 2016. perhaps if 2015 was the year that validated the meaning of the forty years past, 2016 was the year when i stepped into a new era. it was a year unlike any other year i have lived. it was veritably the beginning of the future, rather than simply an extension of my past.

in 2016, we parted ways with our church of eight years because of fundamental differences in theology and values. it was not a departure on bad terms. but i can say for certain that we will never again attend an asian american church, nor will we join a community that elaborates a theology of LGBTQ exclusion of any kind. this was the year when i could no longer overlook the things about my community that privately caused me unease and even shame. a sense of responsibility for them is what had kept me there for so long; once i looked past that, i realized how much of an alien i had become among my own people. it was not hard to leave. the pains that necessitated this change had been years in the making.

2016 was the year that i was placed front and center among the corporate leaders of my company and compelled to play their game of thrones. my two mentors believed that i would struggle with these new political realities—and indeed i did. but i did not struggle for the reasons that they predicted. they believed that i would feel undermined by the personal agendas of selfish people; they feared that my innately “democratic” sense would be offended by contrarian personalities. but indeed, it was not the inevitable conflicts and negotiations that troubled me most. rather, it was the lack of personal responsibility that i encountered among leaders that i wanted to rely on. what i discovered about myself in 2016 was something that my colleagues could not have anticipated, given the particular way in which i am perceived. when push came to shove, i wanted to be authoritarian, not democratic; i wanted to drive my agenda, rather than to seek consensus. the challenge for me in 2016 was to recognize that there is value in being patient and also assiduous in seeking stakeholder input, particularly when faced with arbitrary or unjustified obstacles to progress. this may mean deferred or diluted returns; but it also creates a firmer foundation for long-term influence.

2016 was the year when my wife’s job search began in earnest. this was a stage that we have both anticipated with eagerness for a long time. and while it is exciting, it is also anxiety-provoking for us both. will her job search ultimately culminate in an opportunity that will require us to move across the country? how will the kids react to being uprooted? how will i feel about leaving a job that has been a blessing and a place of great professional and personal growth for me? meditating on these questions over the closing months of the year has reminded me of why i joined this company to begin with. i took this job so that i could pay the bills. in 2010, it was that simple. every year i stayed with the company was a blessing for me—and had it not been, i would have left a long time ago. my faith in God’s intentions for me has been restored as a result of the things i’ve experienced in this role that was given to me. and thus, i can confidently say that if it’s time for me to leave, i will expect that the next thing i do will be the right thing for me to do. life for me is a day to day, week to week thing. it always has been, and it always will be. i have no great ambitions for my future; i rely on God to place me where i will have value to the people.

2016 was the year when the politics of my country went off the deep end and landed in a terrible, terrible place. it was a reminder to me that progress as i might define it can never be assumed—because progress hinges on sustained cultural change for the better. that is an unrealistic expectation. across the history of civilization, there has been no evidence of sustained cultural betterment. rather, what we have witnessed is the rise and fall of civilizations as well as the ominous development of technologies of mass destruction, which include the automobile, carcinogenic chemicals, firearms, nuclear weapons, and internet social media forums. my thoughts went to a dark place in November of 2016, and my ruminations have changed me. even last night, i had a dream that i got into an altercation with Donald Trump at a public event. i am at odds with the direction of this country, and i am at odds with the direction that the world in general is moving in. i will not prognosticate an apocalypse, but at the same time i cannot believe in the persistence of present forms. in the face of upheaval, one must be willing to move where opportunity presents itself. this was the wisdom of the ancients—our nomadic fathers in the faith. i too, like my parents before me, must be willing to go anywhere and at any time.

2016 was in many ways a dark and foreboding year. the future wrested itself from the past, and i was caught in the tension between them. being what i am, i tried to find a place in the present where i could bring synthesis to it all. i failed. here at the end of 2016, i am neither hopeful nor sad. i just realize that the tide goes in and out for no human reason. like gerhard richter, i see the tsunami arise out of nothing to wipe out the things we have created; and i recognize that my horror at the waves is misdirected. to believe in the placidness of the ocean was entirely my own folly

12.19.16

christmas reflections

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:48 pm by Administrator

for the past month or so, i have struggled with a particular feeling i would describe as enervation. ordinarily i’m driven by strong emotions and a daily sense of purpose; but for the past several weeks, i’ve felt the distinct lack of these. usually when i experience lassitude, it’s for lack of stimulation and challenge, but i’m in a season of my life when my plate is full. overfull perhaps.

as usual, there are a lot of bad things going on. an ambassador was shot to death today. people are dying in war. friends are fighting cancer. children are being abused. one of my best friends was physically assaulted this past weekend. one of my patients this morning came in totally beaten up from a mugging over the weekend. it is too much. sanity is that tenuous rationalization i offer for how and why i am able to continue moving forward in life—forward in terms of the plans and decisions i make that appear to conform to the expectations of the social majority. but my sanity is overrun. there is too much that doesn’t make sense. there are too many people losing too many important things for me to assume that there is something to be gained, amidst all of the struggle. entropy is winning. evil is winning in the world.

when this is the condition of the world and everything seems to hang in the balance, when i look at my children and fear not only the world they will inherit but also the people that they will become, i look to the scripture for understanding. after all, there is no greater record of how men and women throughout history have dealt with the collapse of the world. there was Cain, who murdered his brother and realized his life was over. there was Noah, who saw the world and everyone in it utterly destroyed by the wrath of God. there were the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who saw visions of Israel and the world beyond it brought to utter ruin. there were the disciples of Christ, who saw their lord and all of the hopes they placed in Him extinguished in a criminal execution. and there was Paul, who fled chaos and persecution only to find greater dissent and confusion among the struggling communities of Christ’s new movement. time and time again, the people of the Book saw and felt their societies crumbling apart, and they were crushed by the traumas of their generation. if they had hope, it was because they seized hold of something transcendent, in spite of what they were. if they survived the calamity, it is only because they believed themselves—truly believed themselves—to be between worlds, transient in one and taking shape in the next.

in times like these, i think of God’s prophet Daniel. Daniel saw Jerusalem ruined, and he was taken captive by the Babylonians, destined to be mocked, manipulated, and molded into submission by the enemy he so loathed. i imagine that Daniel wished for death. severed from his family and humiliated to his core, Daniel could only have thought of vengeance as the wildest of fantasies. his fate was worse than death; he would be a trophy for his conquerors, a prostitute for kings.

they say that Daniel prayed to Jehovah in secret. what did Daniel pray? did he pray prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God who had countenanced the apocalypse? i say that Daniel prayed the prayers of a young man full of rage and grief. and when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, and when his friends Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were sentenced to be burned alive in the furnace, i believe that they were willing to die; there was no life left to them but the humiliation of beaten men. it was in this spirit that the three young men told their captors that whether they lived or died, they would not bend their knees to the enemy.

in times like these, i remember that faith isn’t about logic. it isn’t about an emotionally healthy, morally correct, and socially constructive way of life. it isn’t about being a better version of oneself, a more effective leader, or a more productive builder of the world. faith is defiance expressed in the face of overwhelming evil; it is a stance of belligerent provocation that openly challenges all evil in the world. it is an indomitable fire, a voice that seizes upon the heart of God and drives the Lord to acts of supreme deliverance. faith is the refusal to live as a willing participant in the machinations of a fallen civilization; it is the obstinate and unyielding declaration that it is better to die than to be absorbed into the prevailing wickedness of our times.

i stood in a time of worship yesterday and felt the Lord calling to me, in the midst of my great confusion about all things. feeling His presence, i longed to give Him the worship that He was due. i realized then that it is not easy to give the Lord an acceptable offering. across the whole history of the world, men and women have given God their very best and been utterly refused; people have died for purposes they considered godly, and yet God was disgusted with their sacrifices. throughout history, the Lord has searched relentlessly and anxiously for a people that might know Him and worship Him in truth and in spirit. generation after generation, He has called them to the altar, knowing well that the price of an unacceptable offering would be death—and that the cost of a pleasing sacrifice is all of one’s life and more.

it would seem nearly impossible to offer God anything remotely acceptable to Him; and yet i am called to this task nonetheless—to give God the perfect worship He deserves despite my own imperfections, and to demonstrate bold faith to the world despite my fear of the world and the people in it.

my malaise is a fear, i realize. my lassitude is a question of faith. in the face of everything in the world that is changing and rolling over like storm clouds into violence and despair, i feel myself stretched, bent, and even folded by the force of the wind and the movements of the earth. yet God commands me, in the midst of these things, to stand up and to consider my life forfeit. the lightning scorches the earth and the mountains fall to pieces all around, and yet God’s voice echoes across the fields, stentorian and mighty, reminding me of the hearts of the ancients and the hopes of the saints. you will be crushed, and you will rise again, He says. show them who i am, that they may fear the name of God, that all who witness may know that i am your deliverer

12.16.16

mistborn, arrival, and bantering with my wife

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:19 am by Administrator

i recently finished sanderson’s mistborn trilogy. it was such an odd reading experience for me. i would describe it as analogous to a prolonged conversation with a socially awkward man that eventually and in a very circuitous way reveals his fascinating profundity. sanderson’s narrative is absolutely littered with meandering internal dialogues and self-reflections, sometimes so long-winded and seemingly futile that i was frequently tempted to flip past entire pages. epiphanies are never simple and frequently belabored. to top it off, sanderson decides to take on a whole new storytelling approach in the third book of the trilogy, employing perspective writing to drum up the suspense. it’s baffling and a little off kilter; stylistically speaking, the mistborn trilogy feels like experimental writing by an author trying to find himself.

and yet, though mistborn shares none of red rising’s relentless energy or the name of the wind’s lyrical prose, it carves out its own place in the genre on account of the sheer and intricate power of its ideas. mistborn is nothing less than masterfully conceived. its ideas about human nature, morality, religion, and personal identity are probingly original and presented within a context that is thoughtfully rendered. i’ll never read these books again, that i can say for certain. but at the same time, i don’t think i’ll ever forget the climactic moments of the Hero of the Ages—the moments that endow meaning and beauty to everything in sanderson’s universe.

the movie arrival, by contrast, was very much the opposite experience for me. it is elegantly crafted and visually striking, while never truly arriving at anything beyond wispy insinuations and haunting reflections. so i can see my future and choose to live it anyways… who cares? it reminded me a bit of “The Fountain”, except not quite as ambitious. i deeply admire denis villeneuve, but he is regressing with every movie that he makes. while incendies was utterly awe-inspiring, sicario was slick and soulless, and arrival, it turns out, was just plain bad.

i saw my wife pull into the garage yesterday, and there was a moment when i looked at her face and thought to myself, “she is the cutest thing ever.” then my daughter’s face popped out from behind the passenger seat headrest, and i realized that perhaps i’d judged too hastily.

my wife is an ardent feminist, which i find both justifiable and endearing. it’s justifiable because it’s a proper stance. but it’s also endearing, because her reactions to japes and jabs about gender roles are consistently priceless. there’s one particular story she likes to tell, about how a married woman mentor at her college church once described her role as the supporter of her husband. “he leads the way up the ladder toward Heaven, while i follow him from behind.” my wife said that years later she thought about this idea of life—the experience of constantly looking up into her husband’s ass—and it revolted her. it was then that she realized that much of what she had learned in the conservative church setting wasn’t simply disagreeable to her; it was untrue.

anyways, i love the look on her face when i tell her that her job is to do everything that i don’t feel like doing. “you’re supposed to support me from behind!” i command. that’s always good for a four letter word response or better yet a cold, hard stare—the glare i have so come to love.

my wife turned thirty-eight last week, and she looks unbelievable for her age. i don’t look unbelievable for my age, on the other hand. my hair is turning white and with my ten percent body fat level, my face actually looks older than it did before. i not only admire my wife for her many great qualities; i also envy her for her youthful looks and her youthful energy. i find it natural to envy my partner and best friend. it tells me that i married the right person. she has so many of the things i wish i could have for myself; so having her in my life is the next best thing.

i have a dear friend who is fighting for his life in the hospital right now. he was just diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago. just weeks before his diagnosis, he got engaged to a wonderful woman and had the most beautiful 60th birthday party. he was so happy that day. i think of him in his hospital bed right now and i get downright angry and sad at the same time—the same way i used to feel when i drove home from the johnny hop, thinking about all the sad, tired, sick people i was leaving behind. i don’t want to watch my wife die. and i don’t want my wife to watch me die either. but chances are, one of us will do the watching while the other one is doing the dying.

dear God, if i have found favor in your eyes… let me go fast, with the fire in my eyes. i want to be able to prove to the ones that love me that there’s no pain and no shame in moving on to the next life

12.01.16

what matters; and the journey toward emptiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:28 pm by Administrator

this morning, i awoke to the sound of my son practicing the piano. he rehearsed a passage about twenty times as i listened on. each time he fumbled it the same way; and yet he didn’t appear to be trying anything differently with each attempt. i realized after a couple minutes of this that i was getting very upset. i went over to him and told him to stop. then i asked him if he was practicing properly. he could sense my sternness and didn’t answer. then i directed him to identify the specific part where he was consistently struggling and to practice that measure slowly with one hand at a time, until he managed to play it perfectly at least ten times in a row. then i stepped away to cool off and make my coffee. my son practiced as i had suggested and proceeded to render the passage perfectly with each hand separately and then with both hands together.

after my frustration had subsided, i felt guilty about having lectured him. so then i told him to stop practicing and to come over and eat his breakfast. i asked him how he felt about the change in his practice habit, and he struggled to answer the question. feeling the need to reassure him and to assuage my own guilt about my momentary anger, i congratulated him on his best practice in weeks and encouraged him to enjoy the result.

an hour or so later, i reflected on this with my wife and expressed my frustration with the way i had handled it. “the effect that i had on his piano playing was totally incidental,” i explained. “the reason i had the conversation with him was that i needed to manage my own feelings. i forced him to change his practice habit because i was mad about what i was hearing. and then i encouraged him at the end because i felt guilty about lecturing him. it was all about me. it’s so disappointing.”

and my wife responded, “what does it matter what you were feeling about it? the result was that he heard what you had to say and he responded. it didn’t sound like you were angry. it sounded like you were interested.”

the contrast between her thoughts and mine raised this simple question: what matters? i thought that it was my motivations that mattered, regardless of how clearly they were expressed. but my wife felt it was my effect on others that mattered; my feelings were the incidental part of the experience.

i go through so many of my hours and my days managing my feelings. in most all of my interactions, i am continually responding to and managing my feelings about people; and a good day for me is one in which i get all the way through without carrying heavy bad feelings to the end. that strikes me as a futile way to live; but perhaps it is the way that i have to live. if, in the course of managing my feelings, i also manage to meet the needs of others around me or even enlighten them, then was i not expressing the best of myself, in the process of being true to what i am?

————————————-

it is World AIDS Day, which means that i am thinking about the suffering of people with HIV—and also about the suffering of people stigmatized for being gay or transgender.

i recently met up with an old friend of mine, and we talked about his journey as a missionary and as a pastor. the great struggle for him nowadays is to understand the shift in generational culture within the church. the older generation values disciplines and codes of personal morality. the younger generation values inclusion and personal authenticity. with regard to the younger generation, how and when can sin be rightly addressed? this is at the core of his struggle as a spiritual leader.

this triggered quite a bit of reflection for me. i have had my own unique spiritual journey over these past two decades, and i will admit that much of what i have learned along the way is not so much true as it is convenient for me. convenience for me is not simply a luxury. convenience for the 4 is about reconciled expectations.

because of my journey with LGBTQ issues, i have come very close to believing that same-sex intimate relations are not sinful. but i am reflecting on that with renewed focus nowadays, mostly because i am recognizing how important it is to God to give Him an offering that is perfect. and one cannot be a perfect offering if one is not deeply and profoundly aware of him or herself as a sinner. to declare a certain attitude or behavior as not sinful goes beyond according respect to that individual; it is conferring justification that runs counter to the essential process demanded by Christ, which culminates in the emptying of self.

are same-sex intimate relations sinful? are they natural? i will say that they are as sinful and as natural as opposite-sex intimate relations. if one is warped, then it is as distorted as the other. and if we are willing to embrace the truth of Romans 1 as it begs to be understood—that all human experience including sexuality is given over to the worship of self, at the expense of proper worship to God—then the result will be not selective judgment or the common forensic conversations about sexual sin but rather a mutual humility that lends itself to authentic and unqualified communal inclusion. this is my belief: that all human experience is sinful and unnatural because none of it resembles the human experience that was originally designed by God: an immortal, truth-preserving, world-preserving, selfless, and limitlessly loving existence.

i believe that every true follower of God must reckon again and again with the total depravity of oneself and his or her consequent and utter need for Christ—Christ the Savior and Christ the everlasting identity. but the journey into this acceptance of sin cannot begin with shame, marginalization, and unjust persecution. experiencing oneself as a deviant relative to a privileged norm is not equivalent to understanding one’s depravity; rather, that is the experience of being cursed—an experience of exclusion from humanity and from Christ. to embark on the journey toward emptiness, one must first be accorded equality with other human beings—dignity of a kind, derived from a sense of common struggle. once this inclusion (or citizenship, as Paul describes it) grounds the individual, he or she can be led by the Spirit down those inevitable steps toward self-loss that ultimately wed the individual to both Christ and to His chosen people.

the shaming, selective persecution, and wholesale indictment of LGBTQ persons run counter to the meaning of Scripture and to the process of Christ, which demands reconciliation between people as much as the redemption of the individual. whether straight or gay, our self-understanding and experience of spiritual community must begin in the same place and on the same footing; and whether straight or gay, our journey toward self-loss and the redemption of self must follow the same path, toward the rejection of what is insufficient and toward the longing for what is complete, enduring, and ultimately loving to God.

when i think today of what is natural, i grieve over this: it is unnatural for us to be birthed in pain and to die alone. but this is our lot, for every one of us, on account of sin. does it really matter what else can be considered unnatural, in light of this great tragedy? we fool ourselves when we fail to recognize the real meaning of sin. thus, if heteros shall pass themselves off as privileged, blessed, and of God’s original design, then so should gays in the church similarly assert themselves and be affirmed accordingly. but i would hope that the end toward which we strive would be ultimately something different: a common experience of yearning, consummated not in pointless judgments but rather in acts of genuine self-sacrifice.

35 million people have died of AIDS. they were victims of a terrible disease, and they did not deserve what they went through. we remember them today by remembering their bravery, our prejudice and cruelty, and the hope to which we are called: the hope of curing this disease, and the hope of surviving it with dignity