01.31.17

To my kids

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:41 pm by Administrator

we’re putting our affairs in order, which means that it’s time for us to write our wills and all that good stuff. it’s made me think a bit about what i want for my kids and what i want them to keep in mind when i’m gone. it’s been interesting for me to recognize that what i want for them in the event of my passing is not necessarily what i want for them now. i don’t think there’s a good reason for that discrepancy.

in any case, here is a draft of my last testament.

To My Son:

I imagine that as you’re reading this, you’re still young, even if you are no longer a child. i know who you are. you’re cautious; you’re conscientious; and you’re hard on yourself. you always aim to do the right thing. because of this, i know that i don’t need to give you too much practical advice, because you’ll avoid the unnecessary risks. but if there’s one thing i want to tell you, it’s this: don’t be afraid to fail. find mentors you trust, and find friends that are your equal in character and in integrity. when they advise you to take a chance or to aim for something difficult, don’t be afraid to fail. go for it and give it your all. i believe in your worth, and i always have. you have something special to give your world.

To My Daughter:

Even when you were our baby girl, i saw in you the woman that you would become. i know who you are. you’re willful, passionate, and sensitive to everything around you. you are going to be hurt by people in this world, because that is how you are designed. i was very much the same way. just remember always that your gift is your ability to take the pain and turn it into something beautiful—forgiveness, creativity, and love. the things that trouble you will change you; let them change you. your calling isn’t to overcome what is difficult but rather to be transformed by it. the cruelty of the world will make you powerful. so forgive; be creative; and love.

01.30.17

swept away

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by Administrator

the news has been so distracting to me that it has been hard for me to live normally. it has been hard to read. it has been difficult to pray. even going out in public seems tense and unsettling. i run through abstract scenarios in my mind. what if someone tells me to go back to my country? what if i see a person of color being abused by the police? what if i run across a protest against the president and his policies? will i step forward and be counted? am i willing to be arrested for what i believe?

i’m a hot-blooded man, and i come from hot-blooded people. my mother knew better than to talk about fatherland politics in front of my father. i was always aware of the anger he felt toward the long line of dictators that has dominated his country of origin. very clearly, i’m made of the same stuff. i am not merely skeptical of those with power and money; i assume their misdeeds and evil intentions. against the faceless, nameless, anonymous principalities and powers, i pit myself and my energies. i’ll donate to a few causes; i’ll write down some angry words; and i’ll pick a few fights on-line with people who are happy to defend themselves. i’m like a sheep led to the slaughter, easily corralled down a path of destructive, aimless discourse. i’m like a little rowboat in the stormy sea, begging to be swept away with the next strong tide.

in times like these, i know that my feelings have the best of me. it’s no contest. nevertheless, i hear that small voice of conscience, reminding me that it is my choice whether or not to throw out the anchor and weather the storm. and though i want the truth to be simple, and though i want to fight a glorious, cathartic battle on my own terms, i sense the truth beneath my feelings which humbles me. and that is when i remember that even when i am at my very best, primed for a battle of wills and armed with every justification, i am no more than a product of my times. i cannot discern what is true; i cannot change what is evil; i cannot even control myself, this errant, biased, and fundamentally misshapen thing that i am.

it is not hard for me to remember the man that i was after 9/11. i was enraged at america’s enemies. i directed my anger at muslims. and i blamed palestinians in particular for fomenting unrest and pitting nations against one another. in my heart of hearts, i called for genocide. i wanted the muslim people of the Middle East to pay for the destruction wreaked by the Saudi Arabian terrorists who commandeered those planes on that fateful morning. i grieved for months, and i was thirsty for blood. and when my grief was spent and i looked at myself, i saw what i was becoming. i began blogging in part because i wanted to expose my own evil—the wickedness of my anger and entitlement—and because i wanted to find God at work somewhere in my life, if He could be found. i found Him. He was the spirit that taught me to forgive others and to forgive myself as well. He was the one who urged me not to be swept away by the tide of the times.

i have learned to recognize that there is no end to the cycles of vengeance that drive our civilization. vengeance—isn’t that what it is, in the end? history is just a record of the insults and injuries we cannot forgive. the tribes that prevail rewrite those histories to justify their wars and machinations. the salvation we gain in Christ is the freedom He gives us from this ruthless, corrupting logic of our world, those narratives of vengeance which consume lives, enslave people, and ultimately turn men and women into agents of persecution. at any given time in any epoch, there is more than enough injustice and rage to drive a man insane and to tear apart any family, however strong its bonds. there is only one force that brings us together when every other force threatens to drive us apart. it is a double-sided force: the fear of death on the one hand, and the raw necessity of survival on the other. love is not an abstract thing; it is the visceral will to live, which asserts itself in the face of all that clamors to kill and to destroy.

in the battle that is emerging in this society, i have chosen a side, but it is not God’s side. maybe it’s a worthy battle, but maybe it’s not. maybe by fighting it i will lose myself; maybe by giving myself over to vengeance, i will lose sight of a greater battle i was called to fight. regardless, i understand that though i have so many enemies in this lifetime, i am not big enough or strong enough to fight them all. i can only fight the battle that is placed before me. for one man, that battle may be for the dignity of a gay man. for another, that battle might be for the rights of a refugee. i would fight all of those battles if i could, but i cannot. in times like these, i must guard my heart and take my orders. and if that means i must throw out the anchor and hold my position against the wind, then this is the silent struggle that i am called to, in spite of my feelings

Evangelicals on the clock

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:41 am by Administrator

the muslim ban. the border wall. hate crimes. the political crusade against planned parenthood and the cause of the poor. this is a watershed moment in american history, and there are protests in the works, and there are the makings of a new cultural movement beneath it all. i sense the spirituality in it, because the dialogue of this counterculture is unmistakably spiritual. those that are protesting against the tyranny of donald trump and the fear mongering of his alt-right supporters are of multiple religions or of no faith at all, but regardless they are aligning around a common language of human dignity, compassion, and social justice. i imagine that this is as spiritual as it gets for people who do not ordinarily consider themselves spiritual people.

and yet, here is the great irony: while the people who do not believe in God are advocating for the persecuted, the church that represents God is content to stand with the oppressor. too many Evangelicals in our society still believe that if Christ were among us today, He would urge them to indict the homosexual, put a pro-life judge on the Supreme Court, agitate against the Muslim, and support the cause of Zionism in Israel. i have heard it said that the church that i speak of here is a paper tiger—that in fact such people do not dominate the american church of which i am a part. but i disagree with that; and the voices i hear in this day and age validate for me the sense that the majority of Christians in America continue to believe that God cares more about the moral purity of His saints than about the relief of human suffering.

among christians, there are all kinds. i met a group of believers two years ago who earnestly believed that obama was the anti-christ, that FEMA was putting Christians in concentration camps, that Muslim refugees in Northern Europe were raping “one of every three Scandinavian women”, and that the “super Shemitah” of the Jewish calendar was sure to strike the world with massive upheavals and even apocalyptic destruction in 2016. most Christians i’ve met are not quite as extreme—but they share that flavor of impressionability. i’ve met Catholics who can’t vote for a Democrat because they feel compelled to support a pro-life candidate, despite countervailing convictions. i’ve met black methodists, white presbyterians, and latino pentecostals who won’t accept a gay church member or a female pastor. i’ve met korean and white church leaders who celebrate donald trump because the war against Muslims and homosexuals is their god’s chosen battleground.

there are too many of these people to ignore. on Sundays, they refuse to preach to the consternations of conscience that their theologies inspire in their congregants. on Mondays through Saturdays, they stand silent as the poor, disenfranchised, and oppressed take up their cause against oppressors throughout the world. yes, there are believers who take issue with the hostile conservatism of their peers. but the face of the church remains impassive to a society that it has been called to win over for the cause of Christ. the people of God appear double-minded, divided, and ineffective in the face of social injustice; they are becoming mere bystanders in the evolving global movements against tyranny.

for years i have spoken against these currents of ideology in the Reformed church of America, and i’ve specifically defined gay rights as an important litmus test of the true quality of our faith—a test that i believed we have failed. that we chose a path which sets us firmly against the tide of our culture is not necessarily unfortunate in and of itself; indeed, the church is sometimes called to define itself against the mores of its age. but in this matter, we did so because we misinterpreted God’s truth and applied those false beliefs to our societal context, to the suffering and exclusion of a marginalized people. now that we have created this inexplicable rift between ourselves and those that should be our allies, we stand at the precipice of losing our relevance in a time that should otherwise be primed for revival. we are a political bloc that rejects the immigrant, despises the refugee, condescends to the disenfranchised, and mocks the truth.

i am not saying that all of us in the faith must take up arms against the pharisaic core of our contingent. i am ever mindful of the experience of the common believer in my cohort, who seeks to do good, wants to trust the preaching from the pulpit, struggles to understand the scripture, and is altogether confounded by the complex ideological maze of our times. his heart tells him one thing, but the letter of scripture appears to thwart his conscience. he grieves at one kind of human suffering, but then he is told that this injustice is the righteous judgment of God. he befriends an outcast and extends grace, but then his peers in the faith command him to leverage relationship for the imposition of a godly ideal. some of my closest friends do the work of God alongside of me, and yet they are unable to articulate the good in what they do because they are afraid to be associated with sinners.

i believe that for the church in america, the message of Christ to the church in Laodicea is truthful. there are those among us that are passionate about one thing or the other; but what we look like as a body is an indifferent community, paralyzed by theoretical quandaries and utterly disconnected from our society. if we cannot stand up for the values of Christ, and if we cannot recognize the evil of our times for what it is, what good are we to the people of this nation? can we fool ourselves into believing we are salt and light to the world, when we have in fact become nothing more than a haven for the fearful and self-righteous? what good is our faith, if what we are known for is exclusion, judgment, white privilege, and western hegemony? this is not a church i can bless; this is not a cause i can root for. i stand against that kind of religion and i loathe those who profess it, because they speak a blasphemy about God’s love for the lost, and it is a blasphemy that is shameful and should not be forgiven

01.27.17

enemy

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:32 pm by Administrator

i do believe that i’ve arrived at something of a destination, when it comes to the journey i’ve taken with donald trump. much of my anger at him and at his supporters has subsided, but at the same time my resistance to his influence has crystallized into conviction. i can say it now with a clear mind and without emotion—that donald trump is my enemy. he is my enemy because he has chosen to attack and undermine the interests that i advocate for, and i have no choice but to declare my stance against him.

what does it mean to have an enemy? the scripture teaches that i should love my enemy. if my enemy is hungry, i should give him food. if my enemy oppresses me, i should bless him and not persecute him. the scripture does not teach me that love of enemy requires affection or agreement; but it implies that love of enemy requires the kind of behavior that dignifies and even serves the needs of the other.

when i was a young man, i was often praised for being kind to all and having no enemies. in retrospect, i recognize that this was because i was highly empathetic and simultaneously resistant to real intimacy. the vulnerability i projected contrasted sharply with my subtle unwillingness to trust anyone around me. i had no enemies because i disarmed others and because i did not allow anyone to hurt me. this was an acquired skill that i learned from growing up in a continually turbulent home. i manage the feelings of the people around me by nature, not to please them but to protect myself.

for a long while, i believed that having no enemies was the point of Christian spirituality. but over the last fifteen years, i have acquired enough enemies and gained enough insight into the biblical narrative (and the life of david in particular) to recognize that the pursuit of God is not equivalent to friendship with all. very much to the contrary, obedience in the sovereign God requires that one take on all of God’s enemies—and they are innumerable. God calls all the unjust, the persecutors, and the obstinate sinners His enemies. this does not mean that He hates them, as we experience hatred. this means that He exists in stark opposition to what they stand for; He opposes them, even as He is unwavering in His love for them.

Christ died while forgiving the men who mocked Him and put Him to death. it is an awesome example of love for one’s enemy. it strikes me as not only non-intuitive but also self-defeating. how exactly does loving one’s enemy make a clear statement about one’s opposition to that enemy? don’t forgiveness and servility merely demonstrate tacit approval and even complicity? if one chooses equanimity over active resistance and even violence, how does this passivity serve the purpose of justice?

when i look at the scripture in general, i am challenged to recognize that Christ’s example of love for enemy is not the only example of how God approached His enemies; it is simply one of many examples. after all, this is God who chose to trample His enemy the serpent and force him to slither on his belly for all generations. this is God who chose to drown every living man and woman and child on earth save for Noah’s family. this is God who commanded the Jews to slay the Canaanite peoples without mercy and to put even their newborn babies to death. this is God who ravaged whole kingdoms because they opposed Him and His people; He showed no mercy, and His justice was both bloody and swift. one could argue, in fact, that Christ’s manner of treating His enemy was the exception, not the rule, in God’s treatment of His enemies.

love can be brutal, in other words. love for the enemy can be merciless, violent, and all-consuming. love can lead to the destruction of life. love for one’s enemy can look like many, many things. but love is, above all, that which most deeply challenges the wrongness in one’s enemy and disables that thing, for the glory of God. Israel’s love of God and of mankind led them to the genocidal slaughter of whole nations; truly their passion led to the eradication of the wickedness in the land that so displeased God. but surely Christ’s decision to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of His people put to death an even greater foe: the hypocrisy of the religious elite and the arrogance of the righteous. they were different means to the same end. love for enemy, in the end, is a very purposeful thing that transforms its object and disables its foe. when it is true love, it is invariably effective.

i know that i gain nothing by being hateful and profane. i have many enemies in this world, and i do wish i could slay them my own way. God commands me not to befriend them but to express my opposition to them in a manner that is both powerful and effective. He challenges me to love them, not with the love that countenances their actions and deeds, but with the love that douses them in burning coals and compels them toward agonizing change and total repentance. this is, after all, the love that i was shown. it is a terrible and awesome love. i need to learn to have it, to wield it, and to inflict it upon my enemies with skill and with wisdom. God did not call me to be a killer of the wicked in this life; He called me to love them, that the death in their deeds might be exposed and put to death indeed

01.26.17

my healthy place

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:33 am by Administrator

at this point in my life, i’ve come to recognize that there are three resources that are vitally important to me in managing my feelings, struggles, and fundamental questions in life. the first is my wife, who knows me best. the second is the enneagram. and the third is the scripture, particularly in what it describes about the life and faith of king david.

these three resources say a lot about the unique nature of what i am and how i receive truth. after all, not every man would define his wife as his primary source of truth. but without a doubt, my wife is my truth-teller. it isn’t just her knowledge of who i am and how i struggle. it’s her remarkable capacity for both insight and intellectual synthesis that enables her to understand the nature of my struggle and to predict the natural trajectory of that struggle. this quality distinguishes her as a researcher and an academic; and in my life, this quality defines her as my prophet.

the enneagram isn’t for everyone. but there’s no doubt that it’s been the most important tool i’ve found in typology, psychology, or philosophy for deciphering what i am. it has helped me break through to a fundamental understanding of the patterns that define and constrain me. while MBTI and the Birkman method have helped me to understand what i require of others and how i appear to them, and while Strengths Finders has helped me to recognize what i am best able to contribute to teams and to my community, it is the Yerkovich’s “love styles” paradigm and the enneagram which have illuminated the basic motivations and fears that drive my life trajectories. of the two, the enneagram has been more specific and more powerful in its ability to prescribe change.

when it comes to the Bible, i really don’t know how other people experience the scripture. it is the most baffling book i’ve ever encountered in my life. i still don’t know how to put it together, and though i’ve studied it my entire life, i remain unconvinced that it works well as a continuous story with consistent themes. i believe that the Bible works best when viewed as a series of discrete human stories—and it works less well when viewed as a definition of the principles that determine godly living. the Bible’s most compelling story is almost certainly the story of King David, which is told from multiple angles including his own perspective and the perspectives of those that followed him centuries later. he is, not coincidentally, the character that i most relate to in all of the scriptures; and it is through reflection on his life and actions that i have arrived at my own unique manner of relationship with God and the cosmos.

all three resources have pressed me to consider that there is a purpose and a design to my psychology, as much as i often fail to see it. i genuinely struggle to maintain a consistent perspective on my life from day to day. the future is invariably threatening to me, and when i attempt to manipulate the shadow of the future in order to influence my subjectivity in the present, i experience an immediate and very painful disconnection from my self. i am at my best when i see possibility—diaphanous and encouraging—in the future, without feeling a need to predict or control it. i am at my happiest when my life is full of spontaneity, creativity, and emotional connection with others. but if this is what i am able to experience two days out of every ten, what i am left with for most days of the remaining eight is a vaguely despondent sense of life’s constricting structure. the enneagram has taught me that this is not called depression; the enneagram has taught me that this is called normal life for a 4.

i have determined that i cannot prevent or limit these mood swings. as frustrating and illogical as it is, i will continue to have at least one day every week when my job makes me feel ill or uncomfortable; i will have at least a day every month when i will want to quit everything i’m doing and escape my life; i will have at least a week every quarter when i will be utterly dissatisfied with everything about the society i live in. the gloom and doom i shoulder are a burden i will not be able to completely relinquish; and to succeed in life, i will have to learn how to manage these feelings from day to day. King David has taught me that writing helps, particularly when it’s angry writing; he’s also taught me that seeking out beauty and other distractions can be soul-killing. King David has taught me that being self-absorbed can hurt my parenting; and he’s also taught me that heartfelt worship is what God requires of me, particularly when I struggle with sadness and dejection. there is a purpose for my deep, dark feelings. King David has taught me that the gift of this kind of struggle is devotion. if i can learn to channel my angers and fears toward heartfelt devotion and unwavering dependence on the Lord, then i have demonstrated a complete faith, in my own way.

as sobering as it is to realize that mood swings and rumination are inherent to my design, it has been redeeming for me to recognize that there is a certain kind of pleasure that i enjoy on account of this emotional trouble. if i can learn to soldier through the difficult days, there is always that uniquely wonderful day that inevitably follows. it may be a day when i experience keen connection or unusual creativity; it may be a day when i am able to think outside the box for my team and generate a breakthrough idea. and on some rare occasion, it might be a day when i decide i’m sick and tired of being bullied by a giant, and i get this harebrained idea to face him with a slingshot. i’ve had days like that ever since i was a child; i just never realized that these were the defining moments that i earned because of the other burdens i’ve had to bear.

to myself, i give this advice:

when you’re falling into a rut, do something big, try something radically new. the stimulation of the new will always be your friend. it will always give you a new direction and a new sense of the possibilities.

when you’re up against a nemesis, fight with everything you’ve got. don’t withdraw and count the costs. take up whatever you have and fight for your life. courage and desperation are what these moments call for. when your soul is being crushed, fighting back is not a risk; it is the only way to survive.

and when things are good, don’t count the moments and fear the inevitable descent into gloom. give yourself fully to the experience, and take everything that you are given. you earned those moments because of the hardships that preceded them. entitle yourself to the moments of victory and relish them. though they will not last long, they are indeed what you live for. so live fully in them, and be unashamed

01.25.17

earthsea and hard truths

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:43 am by Administrator

i don’t know if i’m old-fashioned, but i still take my kids to the public library. it’s an important place for us. it’s one of the few places in the world that still strikes me as magical and full of possibility; and it’s a place that my kids and i can enjoy together. it saddens me a bit that i rarely see other families there nowadays. my children often have the entire kids’ section to themselves on any given Saturday afternoon. i wonder if it’s not because kids have kindle, or childrens’ programming on television, or any number of technological innovations at their disposal. i still read books with bindings and pages, and so do my kids. maybe, we are relics of a faded age.

in any case, i advised my son to borrow a book more challenging than his usual calvin and hobbes or diary of a wimpy kid selections, and he was stumped. so i roamed the shelves and chanced upon a classic: The Wizard of Earthsea. without a hesitation, i pulled it from the shelf and put it in his hands. “this is an amazing book,” i said. “it’s actually one of my top twenty favorite books of all time.” (I’d done something of a momentary rank ordering of all the books i’d ever read and was not sure whether Le Guin’s classic fell within or outside of the top 10—so i placed it in the top-20 just to be fair.) My son had no choice but to take it silently and without objection; i knew i was cornering him, but the sudden impulse to have him experience this book was just too powerful for me to rethink in the moment.

i read the book when i was thirteen (it was required reading in my 7th grade English class), and it was an extraordinary experience for me. so i was a bit disappointed when my son indicated that the first few chapters were difficult for him to understand. “the words are hard, and i don’t always understand what’s going on,” he admitted. i of all people should be able to appreciate that the right book has to be appreciated at just the right time. after all, i’ll never forget the 11th grader i tutored during my 3rd year in college, with whom i shared the inestimable treasure of “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. she was an amazingly diligent student, and she plowed through the book like a machine. i was all ears when i excitedly asked her to summarize what the book had meant to her; and after great hesitation and self-guessing, she told me that it was a book about how a guy realized that killing someone was wrong. if you can’t understand why that response so profoundly disappointed me, there’s nothing i can do to further illuminate. she missed the point. i feared that my son would similarly miss the point of Earthsea.

last night, while my son was having his piano lesson, i took the book and flipped to the last thirty pages. i have always loved the way Ursula Le Guin brings the story to its conclusion. i have never forgotten the images that came to mind, as Ged embarked on his lonely journey out to the edge of the eastern sea to pursue his shadow. but when i read the passages again, it was like experiencing it all again for the very first time; this is how evocative and wonderfully written the prose is. it’s quaint, biblical language but crafted with an elegance and poetry that elevates the diction from something vaguely medieval to something truly transcendental. i read again those moments when Ged stepped out to confront his shadow; when he took hold of it and was swallowed whole; when he sailed back a changed man, to become the stuff of legends. it was so beautiful. i closed the book and thought to myself, if my son cannot grasp this now, then i’ve done him a disservice. we will try again in the years to come, and we will keep trying, until at last he experiences a taste of what i felt. i owe him this, as his father.

Ged was one of the very first tragic heroes I ever encountered in literature. his story is tragic on many levels. he ends the first book scarred for life. he ends the third book of the trilogy totally stripped of his powers and exiled from the world that had been the whole substance of his identity. the sobering darkness of his story became for me an idea of the adult life i was about to experience—and sure enough, i have found manhood to be profoundly humbling in the same vein. i’ve heard it said that Ursula Le Guin brought Ged to ruin to debunk the modern myths about masculinistic heroism; and if this is so, then she certainly disabused me of the notion at a young age. like Ged, i have discovered myself to be my own worst enemy; like Ged, i have come to realize that aging and growth require the surrender of one’s special privileges and powers. the trials of life are all-consuming; and death takes all that remains, in the end.

there is something missing and something wrong, here where i stand at this point in my life. i’m about to be promoted for the second time in a year, and by all outward appearances i seem to be succeeding in my sphere of influence in ways that i could not have anticipated six years ago. but unlike the last one a year ago, this promotion fills me with vague unease and anxiety. i feel inadequate to the task; i feel unsure of my commitment to the role. i tell myself that to be a vice president must mean something whether i succeed or fail; but the words do little to settle my apprehensions. i realize, in my heart of hearts, that i’m venturing further and further down a path that i did not imagine was mine to take. for forty years, i was on the outside looking in, and now i am the insider, the man who takes responsibilities for things i would not otherwise believe in. at least half a dozen times in the past weeks, it has crossed my mind that i could just quit my job and start over somewhere else. i could be the wanderer looking for a home, as my heart dictates. but when it comes right down to it, i put on my tie, i stare at the page in front of me, and i sign my name where my name is supposed to be signed. i imply that this is what i had in mind, all along.

they tell me that i’m a good guy. they say that i’m inspirational, approachable, emotionally intelligent, intuitive, and full of insights. they encourage me to assert myself; they say that i could be more forceful and more decisive. but i see myself where no one else sees me. i am the one languishing in the corner office, driven to madness by my patients; i am the one fuming in my car, wishing i was away, so far away; i am the one who laughs at the jokes of rich doctors and inwardly feels lost among them, because i was never one of them, because i never belonged. i am the boy who read a Wizard of Earthsea and was forever trapped in a childhood story of magical things, a child who wanted to believe that following God meant a life of monastic obedience and straightforward martyrdom. it never happened; and here on the other side of things, i am just trying to survive

01.20.17

the rain, the future, the fragile

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 pm by Administrator

it is raining so hard today that the roof is shuddering from the impact of the water. i believe it is the hardest rain storm i’ve ever experienced out here.

i feel tremendously sad about what is happening right now in DC, and there’s no consolation for me.

i feel the future coming apart in my mind, like a statue of sand blasted into a cloud of dust. there was an idea i had, though i knew all along it was in vain. i want to be gracious. i want to be forgiving. but i am tired of making excuses for the way that i feel.

for a year, we will be living apart for half the week. in a year, we will pack up what we have and move away. i will give up what i was. wherever we land, i will start again. maybe i will take a job. but perhaps, i will not. perhaps i will go somewhere and be a nothing. it will be extraordinarily painful, as it was eight years ago. i will realize that somewhere along the way, though i knew better, a job, a title, and an income turned into an identity for me. and when it is stripped of me, as it should be, i will experience the pain of being nothing. it is a necessary pain. it’s like Moses by the burning bush, in his wandering years; or Abraham being told to leave his country, for no evident destination. it is where the wild, nomadic, and desperate men of God go, when they have nothing left, and when they are ultimately ready to receive what the Lord has had in mind.

my children will grow up and be too lazy, too undirected, and too unafraid of the world. they will make decisions i question and achieve too little. they will marry ordinary people, divorce them, remarry, and struggle to be good parents. i will judge them and disparage them, and amidst my disappointments i will occasionally catch glimpses of who they really are—growing people, spiritual people, precious.

i too will continue to evolve, taking on things that i thought were important and then experiencing ruin. every seven years, the fields of my heart will lie fallow; i will move, reinvent myself, and start over. my dreams of building something will come to nothing, again and again. and amidst these disappointments, i will catch a glimpse of who i really am, a glimpse that i am seeing even now. i am a man who was set apart by God, not for great success and achievement but for the humility that comes from humiliation. and at the end of my days, i’ll be neither rich nor poor; i’ll know that i’m finished with life because i’ll want it no more. someone else will write my tale. they’ll say i was somebody; they’ll say i did something; but few will read the tale, and still fewer will remember who i was. i’ll meet God in the next life, and that’s when i’ll understand that all the dead ends, the changes, the pains, and the hard times were the moments when God took the death out of my life and wrote upon my heart a timeless story, just for us two.

through the rain, i see the future of my nation and the future of my family, all intertwined. it is not a success. it is a wandering, a nomadism, a trek away from what was and toward a promise that will not be realized or enjoyed in this lifetime. i was not taught as a child to view life as a task to be completed; but i realize now that what is required of me is to face it, to really face it, and to do what has to be done, despite the costs

inauguration thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:25 am by Administrator

i always have an emotional initial reaction to disturbing developments, and i’ll admit that my initial reaction to donald’s election was effusive and perhaps impulsive. but i’ve had two months now to move past my instinctive reactions and gain a more balanced perspective on his presidency and what it may mean for us all. in that context, i think i am ready to define my thoughts and feelings about donald trump, as we anticipate his administration.

i’ll say it in these terms. donald trump remains for me an abhorrent man whom i’m committed to rooting against steadfastly, unapologetically, and with all means at my disposal. he is beyond merely illegitimate as a president; he represents everything about america that i despise.

there are many things about donald that i cannot forgive or overlook. first and foremost, i cannot forgive his statements about mexican people. when he said those words, he spoke them against me and against my people. mexican people and mexican-americans as well as Latinos as a whole deserve a thorough apology for those comments, and trump’s inability to recognize the malicious nature of his words is a reflection of his own moral inadequacy. when he said those things to america, he made it personal, and he will forever be my enemy on that account. te callas, puta mierda.

secondly, i have a profound distaste for his history of impudent, insensitive, and sexist comments toward women. i don’t care how many beauty pageants he has sponsored; it is not his personal prerogative to publicly rate women according to their physical “assets”, nor is it his right to sexually harrass or bully women on account of his male privilege. his repeated history of sexist and chauvinistic behaviors is not debatable or subtle; and the fact that americans voted him into office despite this pattern of reprehensible behavior is as much a reflection of america’s depraved sensibilities as it is a reflection of donald’s lack of responsibility. this too i cannot forgive or overlook.

thirdly, i don’t care for the tone with which he advocated for a total ban on muslim immigration. i’ll admit that the general tenor of his stance toward muslims doesn’t trouble me as much as it should. on principle, his stance goes against the grain of american justice; but then again, donald’s moral failings make the finer points almost irrelevant to debate. what’s worse than his outright prejudice against muslims (a prejudice that most of us share with him, unfortunately) is that he is so shameless about demonstrating it. this reflects a tactlessness and stupidity that is sure to compromise us in our dealings with foreign nations. he’s tipping his hand; his propensity for racism is a political and tactical weakness that can be easily exploited on the international stage.

fourthly, i just don’t like his personality. the abrasiveness, thoughtlessness, and general bombast impress some people as evidence of his courage and candor. i’ll disagree with these people, mostly because i meet people like donald every day. donald bears a striking resemblance to many of my patients with narcissistic personality disorder. in fact, i’d characterize donald as having a mix of axis 2 disease with early signs of dementia. his personality was thoroughly grating even before he began his descent into overt mental illness.

fifthly, i don’t like his family. ivanka and jared strike me as a menacing duo. kushner in particular is a disturbing case study of millennial self-absorption. by all accounts, he appears to be a lamb born of lions, the consummately likable son of a ruthless racketeer. but this trust fund silver spooner is no lamb; he plays the game of thrones with the introverted passion of a career politician. to me, he’s the picture of the most frightening kind of american social climber: totally unprincipled, totally given over to the pursuit of power. after all, what Orthodox Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors would sell his soul to a fascistic predator who victimizes the marginalized? if donald is hitler, then jared is his martin bormann. jared says we do not know the real donald trump; but we know enough to understand that donald is unapologetic, jared is his apologist, and together they represent a wickedness greater than the sum of their individual evils.

sixth, donald’s message to both poor people and black Americans in this country is based on the patent falsification of facts and is undignified. it’s reflective of his lifetime of slumlording and unethical business practices in inner cities. donald states that he will be the president of all—but he has rarely if ever advocated for anything except for his own business interests. that’s what middle america is hoping for: that trump will look after the business of this country. but when donald makes a deal, he doesn’t deal to build communities; he deals to reap success at the expense of others. he’s designed to be a strongman and a despot.

some people are hoping that donald will be a good president, despite the many terrible things he has stated and insinuated on the campaign. i am hoping that he will continue to be every bit as incompetent and insulting as we have known him to be up to this point. i want his brief presidency to be spectacularly unsuccessful, while causing the least amount of collateral damage possible. i want the mark of his incompetence to be branded on the conscience of america in a manner that will not be forgotten or forgiven for generations. and i especially hope that white america—racists and post-racists alike—will personally feel the tragedy of donald’s leadership. white people, it’s on you and on your children and on their children. you wanted a racist nationalist in the White House; but what you’re getting instead is a selfish and brutal man who cares no more for you than he does for the people of color that you so despise

01.18.17

experience, aesthetic, discipline

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:36 pm by Administrator

it is true that the basic experience of life changed significantly for me after the age of forty. it has taken me a while to understand this change. i can only describe it in the following ways. the moments are less mysterious. my feelings are less sharp and less directive. my reflections do not run through me, do not pervade, do not sink to the full depth of my being. a breath rarely feels full; in fact, it often feels that i am holding my breath, and i must force myself to exhale fully. my mind roams restlessly into that gray smoke i call the anticipation of the future; but it is neither here nor there. in this exploration, there is no commitment, no desire, no lust. there is only the wary reaching of fingers into the close darkness, the sense that the air is different out there, but the knowing that there is nothing to grab hold of.

the disappointed expectations are more troubling now. when i waste two hours of my life with bad company or watching a vapid movie, it is not merely annoying; it is deeply demoralizing. i’ve begun to feel the same way about food. if we go out to eat (and my wife is relentlessly looking for new restaurants) and i am not delighted by what i am eating, i feel defeated. the new is only interesting to me if it is both innovative and wonderful; and because i cannot predict whether the new will be innovative on the one hand or derivative on the other, i feel the extraordinary risk of the new experience. my wife labels me as one unwilling to take risks; but i can’t imagine that this is entirely true. i was once a compulsive gambler; i am by nature a thrill-seeker; and i have struggled with addictions of various kinds. but it is life and its hardships that have made a skeptic out of me. i can no longer feign enthusiasm for the trivial diversions that pretend at novelty but instead deliver the unspectacular.

i have learned over this past year that the aesthetic preoccupations of the 4 have perhaps little to do with exceptional taste or a singular eye. they have more to do with a pronounced sensitivity to discomfort and disappointment. i will eat the same dishes, frequent the same places, and create a life out of recurring experiences simply because i will always choose a guaranteed pleasure over the possibility of corrosive disappointment. i will go to sleep at the same early hour, drink in measured moderation, and exercise predictably because the quality of my living hinges so much on how i feel; and to avoid the inconvenience of fatigue and the discomfort of stress does require so much self-maintenance—a life of assiduous disciplines.

my father has been a disciplined man his whole life. his daily and weekly rhythms were as predictable as his emotional state was unpredictable. i realize now that he took on the former in order to contain the latter. his actions, responsibilities, and habits were unconsciously structured to protect him from the travails of inevitable disappointments with the external world. the progressive social alienation and isolation he has endured has often struck me as tragic and unnecessary; but i realize now that this was virtually inevitable, given the extreme particularity of his aesthetic. this is a man who loves the pastoral paintings of andrew wyeth and pens poetic verses about tumuli in the korean countryside. there is that untroubled pasture in his heart of hearts, where natural things are delightful, where the twistings and distortions and required performances of brutal people have no power or representation. this is where he lived; this is where he still lives.

i go to bed by 9, and i am asleep by 10. i wake up before 6. i stretch my stiff back. i take my coffee black. i run for fifteen minutes, hard enough that i cannot feel my fingers go numb from the cold. on alternating days, i pump 30-pound dumbbells twenty times with each arm, and i do fifty push-ups in a row. i do not eat refined starch. i come home and take two shots of scotch with a large slice of a hard cheese. i wash the dishes, wipe down the counters, clean the floor, herd the children to bed, and read a stanza from a poem by henri cole, adrienne rich, or john koethe. i am not tired when 8:30 rolls around, but i put myself to bed regardless. i think about things that do not trouble me. i do not think about yesterday or tomorrow. i imagine to myself that i am lucky to be alive, lucky to have survived, lucky to be without pain.

sometimes, i think to myself that the rhythm will break, as all things must eventually unwind or come undone. even still, i know that i, like the spider jorie graham writes of, will inevitably weave a new web. what is the spider if not for the silky strand it walks upon? we would never dare to consider that the spider could take its long and circuitous journey treading upon land like the rest of us. no, my life is that intricate crossing and circling upon itself, a complexity or a trap, depending on how you look at it. but it’s instinctive, visceral, and unavoidable all the same. the spider weaves its life the way that it must because all other paths are inescapably cruel. i too must do life this way, however futile it may seem

01.11.17

to you, obama

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:15 am by Administrator

i am listening to your farewell address right now, and the first thing that is crossing my mind is this: i cannot believe that the next presidential speech i will listen to will be delivered by a toupee’d fucking retard who has nothing to teach me and absolutely nothing intelligent to say. i’m thankful to you barack because you are eloquent, intelligent, and worthy of respect as a person, despite all the mistakes you have made. i can say none of these things about the punk-ass buffoon that is following you into office. but i have resolved in this message to speak to you and not to the bitch ass motherfucker that is not worthy of my consideration or my time.

i’ve been tough on you, barack. i got mad when i saw what your healthcare reform plan looked like. you gave big pharma a pass. i mean, you let them buy you out. granted, it was a nice one-time payoff, but you gave them a pass. i expected more of you. i expected market pricing, cost reduction, and real accountability, on behalf of the american healthcare consumer. i knew why you did it; you needed to pass your bill. but this was a critical matter of principle to me. we continue to boast the most expensive healthcare in the world, and big pharma’s wallets expand in proportion to their largesse and corruption. you bartered with the big boys, and you paid the price. you created obamacare—something that lost the hearts of the american public, sabotaged the Democratic party, and ultimately undid itself.

yes, health reform required a public option too, but i didn’t blame you for that. i looked at it as the next logical step. but it won’t happen, because the foundation for enduring health reform was poorly laid. i have blamed you for that, and i have blamed you rightly. it wasn’t because i disliked you, barack. it’s because i believed in you. i wanted you to be better.

and i was mad at you when you decided to arm the rebels of Syria and campaigned to initiate air strikes against the Syrian regime. you basically cornered yourself by drawing a line in the sand on chemical weapons—a terribly ill-advised ultimatum. i was so incensed by your intention to play with the balance of power in Syria that i said a lot of things at the time that perhaps i didn’t mean. i said that i don’t care whether Assad uses chemical weapons in Syria. i said that i don’t care about the Syrian people. i think, in retrospect, that this wasn’t entirely true. what i really meant is that i believe that democracy is impossible in virtually every nation of the Arabic Middle East—and in this conviction, i absolutely agree with a man i detest, in Bashar Al-Assad. yet, you threatened to embroil us again in another war in the Middle East for unclear ends, and i couldn’t believe it. after all our years of futile and unjustified war, you wanted to involve us in yet another futile tribal dispute between Shias and Sunnis. and because you armed the Syrian rebels, ISIS was able to acquire technologies of war and prosecute their cause that much more effectively, when Assad’s regime would have crushed them otherwise. i pin that on you and on a foreign policy that was ineffective, inconsistent, and at times embarrassing under your watch.

you reengaged Cuba and Iran when they’d demonstrated no recent history of good faith or true intentions for compromise. it was a win for them and a loss for us. i wasn’t so much mad about this as just plain disappointed. we’re nothing if not for our will to dominate and our unilateral demands for accountability. in principle, i respected your penchant for practical dialogue; but in my heart of hearts, i was hoping you would not betray america’s historical commitment to thoroughly punishing its enemies. the regimes of the Ayatollah and Fidel Castro will always be enemies of the United States, and they did not warrant the forgiveness of the American people. you offered a grace that was not yours to give. i’m going to be honest with you, Barack. that was deflating for me.

but you should know that i was mad at you because i expected so much of you. and i expected so much of you because you represented me. you are the only president i’ve ever had that i’ve looked at as a true representative of myself. i share your values. i believe in your beliefs. i even worship the same god that you do. no other president in the history of this nation has reflected my identity the way that you have. this is the reason for the hope i had in you; and i will admit that despite all of my disappointments in the decisions you made that contributed to the rise of Donald Trump and the failures of the Democratic Party, i still like you. you’re a man of integrity, and you demonstrated nobility and grace in a time of incredible cruelty. i will always be proud of the fact that america voted a black man into its highest public office, and i will be proud of the fact that you did not betray that faith with scandal, dishonesty, or vile behavior.

you’re a good man, Barack. you didn’t play the game of politics particularly well, but you persevered, and i admire you for that. to you, Obama, i give my thanks. i wish i could say that my feelings for you were not fonder for the contrast between you and the fucker that’s following you, but it’s true. i’m going to miss you

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