02.20.17

the whites

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:12 am by Administrator

my wife tells me that whiteness, like race in general, is a relatively recent conceptual phenomenon, having been invented by the Spanish colonists who sought to define themselves relative to the native peoples they were encountering in the New World. from the beginning, it connoted something much broader than skin tone or language; race was endowed with all the imperial aspirations of the opportunistic and venal men who claimed land that wasn’t theirs for the glory of their kings and their gods. and thus did modern humanity begin its tortured journey with race—a basis of identification that has been used century after century to distinguish, marginalize, murder, and enslave people of color.

sometimes i try to think back to my childhood memories to understand how race was taught to me, how this concept was inculcated into my being and packed into the foundation of my consciousness. truly, i cannot remember. i just remember the consequences, revealed in vivid and jarring moments that are unshakable for their seeming incongruity. i remember as a 7 or 8 year-old boy telling our neighbors on a car ride to dinner how i knew that Blacks were the cause of violent crime in our neighborhood; and related to that memory, i remember watching Black people get arrested on the Fox television show “Cops”. my conclusion seemed to me the most logical conclusion to draw. i couldn’t understand why the neighbors fell into an awkward silence at my words; i could hear the embarrassment in my father’s voice as he gently reprimanded me for what i’d said. it is his embarrassment, i believe, that pressed that moment deep into my memory. i had said something wrong, though i’d noted something that seemed obvious. this was my first experience of race: as the obvious truth that no one can speak of.

now i can see that what seemed obvious at the time was only evident to me because of how systematic, pervasive, and compelling the media narrative of race was—and how it was supported by the opinions and actions of those whom i placed my faith in. i wasn’t born a racist; but i was thoroughly racist by the time i was in the first grade. and though i have taken a journey away from that point of origin, i know that i continue to be inflicted by unconscious biases, impregnated in all the places in my brain where education and learning and penitence simply don’t go, where prayer and all my best intentions simply fail to make a difference. this is my experience of race as an adult; it is a chronic mental illness. it is the only contagious mental illness that i have observed in my lifetime.

for forty years of my life, i felt myself traversing a trajectory away from a programmed, constraining racism that i attribute to the influence of my faith, my studies in school, the diversification of my social circle, and the steady shift of media culture away from stereotypical character norms. this trajectory appeared to culminate in the election of a Black president, one of the most uplifting moments of my lifetime. this trajectory came to an abrupt halt with the election of Donald Trump. the curtailment of that trajectory is the reason that i call Donald Trump my enemy; and it is the reason that i am rethinking my understanding of “the Whites”.

i was raised to love White people. my immigrant father praised me for my Caucasian features when i was a child: the epicanthic folds of my eyes, the width of my skull in profile, the fairness of my skin. he refused to teach me his native tongue, and he assiduously educated me on proper English grammar from the time i was in the first grade. he openly scorned the corruption and backwardness of his nation of origin, even while extolling the virtues of America and the intrinsic fairness of American White people. i came to view this country as he did: progressive, meritocratic, noble, and, above all, generous. i grew up seeing my parents with both their White friends and friends of their ethnicity—and it struck me from a young age that my parents seemed to have more genuine intimacy with Whites. their closest White friends, an Italian-Irish family in New York, regarded my family as their own kin, and i too regarded them as family. i still do.

my wife recently asked me if i have ever experienced racism, and i can say that i have. i experienced racism in Europe and particularly in the United Kingdom, where i was spat upon and even struck in the face by a group of young Scotsmen who accosted me for money. i experienced racism in junior high school, where my friends and i were teased and even assaulted by Black kids on account of racial differences. i even encountered the discrimination of people from my own ethnic background, who disparaged me for not speaking their language or understanding their customs. but i cannot recall a single moment when i experienced the racism of White people in America. my personal experiences seemed to align perfectly with the vision of America that i was taught as a child. i wonder now if perhaps i have been trained to accept or ignore the racism of American Whites; i wonder if i have failed to perceive it all these years.

there was a certain narrative of race in America that i was content to maintain, a very simple story that effectively weaved together for me what i have learned and experienced. it was a narrative of gratitude. i was thankful to the Jews, who suffered God’s discipline on account of the Gentiles. i was thankful to Martin Luther, a European man who fought against the hegemony of the Catholic church in order to rescue the Gospel from the human tyranny of the Pope. i was thankful to the White men who founded the United States of America and authored its Constitution—the second greatest legal document ever conceived. i was thankful to the White missionaries who brought the story of Christ to the far reaches of the world, including the nation of my forefathers. i was thankful to the Black people of America, whose struggles, stories, and triumphs have pressed this country to achieve its potential and to become a livable place for people like me. i was thankful to Latino immigrants, who have challenged the White, English-speaking norms of this culture and thus allowed this nation to redefine itself at a critical juncture. and i was thankful to Muslim immigrants as well, for proving that the graciousness, fair-mindedness, and generosity of this country are more than ideals; they are the day to day qualities of American life that allow us to transcend the kinds of politics, vendettas, and racial ideologies that have wrecked every civilization that has preceded ours.

but Donald Trump’s ascendancy has challenged this narrative to its core. and the widespread support he received from White people and particularly from White Evangelicals has forced me to reconsider my posture of gratitude and love toward them, particularly in light of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric against Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants in general. for one thing, the election and its discourse have proven to me that the Whites are real; they are a political bloc, and they have aligned themselves against the interests of people of color. for another thing, they have chosen to either ignore or tacitly embrace a certain strain of thinking that i consider repulsive: that immigrants of color are here as guests of the White immigrants to this nation. this is where White privilege is most galling: its insidious take on American history, which systematically undermines the contributions of people of color, while depicting the American way of life as a uniquely White experience.

before now, i never would have thought to consider the Whites my enemy. for one thing, they never struck me as an ethnic group, much less an entity with any discrete agenda. but i credit Donald Trump now with helping me to understand the Black experience in America with greater profundity. as much as Blackness has been strategically and pervasively exploited for commercial ends, so has Whiteness been consciously and assiduously crafted over the decades to assuage the insecurities of America’s most oppressive, belligerent, and openly racist social segment. secondly, beyond labeling them as Whites and calling them out for their collective identity, i never would have thought to place myself in opposition to them. White men fought to preserve my father’s nation of origin; White men died so that my ancestors might survive; White men brought the Gospel to my tribe. but now i recognize that White men and women consider me a guest in their nation; White people look at my children as beneficiaries of their largesse. White people have inflicted upon my kind a fantastical story of their heroism and supremacy, and even now they seek to drive that point home with cruel fanaticism—and with police bullets, border walls, and xenophobic laws when necessary.

i do not hate the Whites. but i realize now that i have loved them for the wrong reasons. i loved them because i believed their mythological tale of their historical greatness. i loved them because my father accorded to them a nobility that in fact they have failed to demonstrate over the centuries. in the past four hundred years, White people have murdered, enslaved, and destroyed more people in the world than all civilizations of color put together. they have proven themselves to be the most imperial and destructive tribe in the history of the world. even now, they hold to fantasies of royalty, aristocracy, and haut couture that are totally inaccessible to the people of color that have come from nations pillaged, raped, and colonized by White people. if racism is a chronic and contagious mental illness, the Whites were the ones who created that illness and spread it throughout the world, much like the smallpox, venereal diseases, and rat infestations that they inflicted upon all tribes that they have set upon over the centuries.

there is a part of me that wants to be post-racial, like so many of the educated Whites and Jews that i considered my peers over the decades of my indoctrination. but the melting pot was a ruse; nothing melts in that pot but foreign languages and counter-cultural ideas. race is real. Whiteness is real. my parents may not see it; my children may not see it yet. but i see it. i see it clearly, for the first time in my life. as Donald Trump is my enemy, the Whites are my enemy. i can love my enemy—but they are a force i must resist, nonetheless.

sometimes i am aware that the Lord is with me, as my thoughts shift and my feelings evolve against the backdrop of the times. i try to demarcate where my thoughts derive from His leading and where my thoughts arise in spite of Him. but in these things, the demarcation is not clear. i believe that the Gospel came to the Gentiles through the Jews, and i believe that the Gospel came to the East through the West. yet, the Jews became enemies of the Gentiles on account of God’s truth, and so too have the Whites of the West become a constraint upon the truth of the Gospel as experienced by the rest of humanity. for many years i resisted the ideas and beliefs of an important mentor of mine—a man who wrote a seminal text nine years ago about White Western imperialism in the American church. i realize now, at last, that he has been right all along. he called out the Whites, because the Whites have sinned against the church. on account of the Gospel and the hope that it holds for humanity, the church will turn its face against the Whites and their unconscious designs for worldwide domination; the church must turn against them, for the Gospel to survive.

one door opens, as another door closes. here in these fascinating and terrifying times, i shake the dust off my feet in this place where God has sent me, and i tell the Lord, my kind was not welcome here. so let them suffer the consequences of your judgment, because they are not your people

02.13.17

the 10k

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:05 pm by Administrator

with a suboptimal training schedule, i was still hoping to outdo myself in the annual 10k race that i run out here. i didn’t do badly in the end. i finished in the top 9 percent of racers overall and within the top 13 percent of male racers, but i was 2 seconds per mile off last year’s pace and once again had no kick at the finish. i also feel crappier today than i did a day after the race last year, which just tells me that i asked my body to do the impossible and it’s making me pay for it.

not that i have aspirations of being anything close to a world-class runner. my fastest mile as a youth was the one i ran in the 8th grade (6:35), and as a 40+ year old i actually beat that by 10 seconds on a training run. but 6.5 minutes is nothing to write home about. i’ve tested several race distances over the years and have learned that i don’t have the constitution for long distance; my best marathon of four finishes was a 4:43. medium distance is my sweet spot, and i’ve gotten progressively better at it over the years—until apparently hitting a ceiling yesterday.

the race course yesterday was pretty brutal for a 10k: 6.52 miles (how is it that they can call themselves a 10k when they make you run an extra 0.31 miles anyways?), 642 feet of total elevation split over a series of extraordinarily steep hills, and hard-winding curves. from the outset, i felt a bit off. at the end of mile 1, i felt like i wasn’t quite as strong as i should be, at the mile 2 marker, i was struggling for wind, and at the heartbreak portion of the course (miles 3 and 4) i actually thought i was close to giving up. the tail end of the course has some steep down-hills, and i actually found myself putting on the brakes because i felt my feet burning and my calves giving out. when i was within 200 meters of the finish line, i actually wanted to slow down—a very bad sign. when i saw my time, i was both happy and disappointed; happy because i’d expected worse given how much i’d struggled, disappointed because despite how hard i’d pushed myself, i hadn’t quite achieved my objective.

in any case, there is a lot to learn from this race, and one of the first insights i’m arriving at today is pretty simple: i trained poorly and without taking sufficient guidance. it seems pretty obvious to me now, though i felt i was doing what i had to at the time.

my training consisted of hard runs of various distances. i did hill runs to train for the up-hills. i did speed runs over short distances (2-3 miles) to maintain my fast-twitch muscles. i did 6 mile runs to build up the endurance, and the course had flats and hills that basically helped me to build in tempo stretches. while i wore a heart rate monitor, i didn’t use it to vary pace; i used it to track my ability to handle the stress.

in retrospect, i was always running hard. on all three of these courses, i was going as fast as i could handle over the respective distances, and i always completed the scheduled runs, and i was totally exhausted after finishing them. that’s probably a great approach if you’re trying to increase your pain threshold; but it’s an unacceptable way to increase the anaerobic threshold. my approach to training, in other words, was to challenge what i could subjectively handle; i probably would have been more effective if i had increased what i could objectively handle.

prior to last year’s run, i’d actually done a fair amount of interval training in the months prior to get ready for a 5k. interval runs are terrific for improving anaerobic threshold. it’s the cycling of hard stress and rest over and over again which pushes the muscles to develop metabolic efficiency. i recall now that the results of interval training were evident even in the first week; i was sore in ways that i’d never been sore before, but i fatigued at a slower rate and handled distances with greater ease. this year, i did zero interval training. and because every run i did had a single trajectory (initial warm-up, high-intensity middle stretch, and cool down) i trained my body to be good at picking up speed and moving rapidly into my anaerobic zone. i didn’t train my muscles to improve their efficiency, which meant that when the real race came around, i was once again (as with my training runs) engaged in an extended exercise of pain tolerance with diminishing returns.

now, i wouldn’t be the person i am if i couldn’t find a way to broaden this lesson into something of grander scope. training of the body and training of the mind are in many ways very similar activities. i think that understanding the value of a programmed cycle of challenge, rest, and re-challenge can produce results for me not only in athletics but also in relationships and spiritual endeavors as well. the key is to understand that facing life’s predictable trials demands more than simply pain tolerance; it requires attitudinal faculties that are not solely instinctual but rather practiced, evaluated, and refined over time. perseverance isn’t just a gift, in other words. perseverance is a function of life that is earned through training. patience too is more than an attribute; it is the product of challenge, reflection, and re-challenge, cycled again and again until the posture of patience becomes habitual.

if you’ve done interval runs, you know how hard they can be. on paper, it doesn’t look like much: five 800m sprints, with 3-4 minutes of rest between legs. but by the third or fourth leg, it feels absolutely unforgiving. the legs are screaming with pain. the mind insists that you are pushing beyond reasonable limits. the heart cries out for a longer rest interval. the whole body is uncooperative. it’s as if the body is more than willing to extend its suffering if only it will be guaranteed extended relief upon conclusion of the testing. the calculated, repeated reinitiation of pain, even for brief intervals, confuses the body and forces it through seemingly unnatural rhythms.

from my experience, the mind as well holds out for relief and reacts poorly to the discipline of frequent, repetitive stresses. i think that it’s for this reason that methods of torture are frequently designed to be iterative deprivations or inflictions with intervening relief, rather than single, sweeping measures intended to produce sudden and maximal pains. the anticipation of suffering adds to the experience of suffering. and by the same token, training the soul to face the anticipation of suffering profoundly enhances one’s ability to handle and overcome that suffering. once again, facing life’s trials with bravery and perseverance is not about pain threshold; it’s about endurance built through repeated testing with intervening rest and reflection. imagine the result if one approaches his whole life in this manner, as a training for life’s tests and trials. this is the rationale for the spiritual disciplines—and perhaps the point of suffering

02.08.17

Goliath

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:10 pm by Administrator

some years ago, i wrote extensively about a sin i have struggled with for most of my life. i have in fact struggled with it for thirty years. it is not an uncommon struggle among men, but this does not excuse the sin or the sins beneath it—the objectification of people, the indulgence of the flesh, the idolatry of self. there have been times when i have struggled with it less. when i wrote about it some seven years ago, i think i was struggling with it less. but i was never relieved of it.

my theology has been so informed by the recurring failures of my life. in this area, my inability to experience redemption has particularly informed my relationship with God. in my 20s, my example in the faith was the prophet Jonah, a man who was continually compelled against his basic nature to obey the Lord. to me, Jonah was the very picture of faith as i experienced it: a constant grind against the grain, the arduous rituals of self-sacrifice. and in my 30s, my point of reference in the scripture was Joseph, the one who lived in the service of a godless pharaoh and suffered injustice upon injustice in the course of his toil. the suffering of Joseph resonated with me, the young man who felt like a victim beneath the harsh hand of God’s discipline and His chosen representatives.

i was, in fact, content to believe as the decades transpired that my struggle with this particular sin was intended by God to plague me for my whole life, that i might be humbled to the fullest extent and thus spared the destruction of spiritual pride. this is what i confessed to my wife, on a rainy night on the eve of my 41st birthday.

the context for this night was that a couple had joined us to celebrate my birthday. they are a young couple relatively early in their marriage, and this very sin was something they were struggling to talk about with each other. the woman confided in my wife that night, and the man confessed his struggle to me during that dinner. the conversations were difficult and awkward; and in the aftermath, my wife confessed to me that her conversation with the spouse had evoked her own long-suppressed anxieties about my struggle with this sin. she asked me if indeed i was still beholden to this temptation, and i answered her truthfully. and that is when i told her of the conclusion i had arrived at over the difficult years—that this would be the thorn in my side for the rest of my life.

it was a rainy night, and because dinner had gone late, the parking attendant had left the lot where we’d valet’d our vehicle. we had to call the company and wait for fifteen minutes for the attendant to return with our keys. it was a difficult, mostly silent fifteen minutes. we talked to each other without looking at each other. there was an unarticulated pain, and there was shame as well. but none of this was new; it has been the same every time we have talked about this. nothing ever changed in my life as a result of my confessions and my penitent feelings.

but there came a point weeks later when i recognized that something indeed had changed this time. a lifelong habit had been broken; i no longer felt the things that i used to. i assumed at the time that perhaps the conversation had triggered a temporary change of heart, though this had never happened before. but as the weeks stretched into months, i recognized that something different had happened to me. i was looking a different way; i was not struggling with this temptation at all. it was as if a silent guest in my home had left unannounced in the middle of the night and not returned. the home was mine, and i found myself alone in it, sharing it with no one. there wasn’t a thought, a weakness, a tendency, a hunger any longer.

in truth, i know without a shred of doubt that i have been delivered from this weakness, and i believe that it is for good. i look back constantly trying to understand what it was that inspired this change. what was the moment that effected this transformation? what was it exactly that broke the pattern that had defined my life for over thirty years? i couldn’t find the answer, no matter how hard i looked. and what’s more is that i had no words or feelings to celebrate the change, as good as it was. i could not rejoice in it. it was almost as if such a thing had transpired totally by accident and unbeknownst to my conscious mind. one day i was one kind of a man; the next day i was changed. there was no climactic shift, no moment of truth, no reckoning with God. one day i woke up, and i was a different being in my own skin.

last week, i accepted a promotion into a new role, against the candid advice of a few people in my company who know me well. the role is new; the department i will be leading must be built from the ground up; and the people that will be supporting me are known to be difficult to work with. i didn’t take the job out of personal ambition. i took it because strangely enough i felt called to it. there is something about the role that is as special as it is dangerous—because it is a role of advocacy. i’m being called to lead a department that has no staff in order to advocate for a people who have no voice. it is stunningly illogical and fraught with challenges, and i am surrounded by people who doubt me and have openly expressed skepticism about my prospects. and though i see why i have every reason to doubt, i am not afraid of the costs and the risks; because in Christ, i know that i have already overcome my enemies.

this morning i ran the best training run i’ve ever run, and as i topped the final hill and stopped to catch my breath, i heard the Lord ask me a question, as clearly as i have ever heard His voice. “why is it,” He asked, “that i delivered Goliath into the hands of David?” i meditated on this and told the Lord my answer: so that David would know that God would be His champion and His defender in all the battles yet to come. and in that moment, i saw my tormentor of thirty years; i saw it. i saw its shape, i felt its presence, and i felt the scourge of its thirty years in my life. it had been an unconquerable foe in my life, a veritable giant, and it had mocked my weakness, exploited my nature, and humiliated me before my friends, my people, and my wife. for thirty years, it had taken the field and called me out, and for thirty years i had lost heart and refused to battle it. then one day, though i did not foresee it or plan for it to happen, God put a stone in a sling and put the sling in my hand, and He took my arm that had no strength of its own and hurled the stone at the enemy. i woke up one day and the enemy was fallen. and just like that, without pomp or ceremony, without any foreshadowing or celebration in its aftermath, the thorn in my side was gone—forever.

there are battles ahead for me. but i know, despite the failings of my courage and the humility i have earned from all the ears of God’s heavy discipline, that God goes ahead of me in battle. because Goliath fell, David knew that whole nations would fall. in the same way, i understand, in my own way, that i need not fear the outcomes of the battles that lie ahead of me over the rest of my days. whether it is for credibility, or for results, or for perseverance through pain, or for steadfastness in the face of terminal illness, i will trust the Lord. David is my example in the faith as i embark on my fifth decade; and God the magnificent conqueror is the one i worship, here on my bended knee, from the depths of my heart

02.07.17

privilege

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:00 pm by Administrator

one thing that i’ve found very interesting is that i’ve recently been involved in conversations about race that are far more probing than anything i’ve experienced in past years. it’s part of the trump effect: his rhetoric is really forcing people to take sides on a variety of race-related matters. from what i’ve seen of my social circle, people are talking about race more candidly and pointedly. in some cases, it’s not simply because they are more passionate about race nowadays; it’s also because the media and the social milieu have challenged them to learn more about the issues and to define themselves more precisely.

two of my closest friends recently engaged in conversations about white privilege that were intense and even traumatizing for each of them. one person is a professional therapist and university academic who stumbled upon the topic while trying to explore a search committee’s evident bias toward a white male candidate during a recent round of interviews. the other is a professor in the humanities who found the topic sprung on her during a faculty retreat, when the facilitators asked the predominantly white faculty group to discuss whether race or gender should be factored into the community’s approach to becoming more diverse and inclusive. for each of my friends, the nature of the conversation and the manner in which it was conducted alerted them immediately to the presence of white privilege; and in both cases, the white persons that they were in conversation with—as educated and progressive as they were in many ways—were unable to comprehend the concept of white privilege and its relevance to the topics at hand.

when i thought about the struggles my friends experienced in addressing privilege, i realized that this is an extraordinarily difficult subject to talk about. “white privilege” and “white fragility” are inherently confrontational and emotional terms. you can’t say them and not trigger some defensive reactions from a group of people, regardless of their races and ethnicities. these concepts are not universally accepted or validated. though there’s good science around unconscious bias and systematic racism, i’m sure it’s difficult to substantiate the uniquely “white” experience of these in Western society. many of my friends whether White or of color endeavor to work around these complexities by asserting the universality of racial bias and the necessity of a “post-racial” paradigm. my conclusion after many years of wrestling with this is that a post-racial approach is inescapably problematic and ultimately naive. as real as systematic racism is in this society, white privilege is its psychological correlate and its underlying driver.

it may take me months to write what i’d like to say about white privilege, but i think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. it is of unique significance to me because i am a product of it: a child of immigrants who was raised to be White, a person of color who both experienced and imposed White privilege. White privilege facilitated my success. but White privilege also blinded me to the strange tragedy of my identity: an orphaned and uprooted cultural identity. on the one hand, my experience of White privilege has allowed me to intimately understand the experiences of both the oppressor and the oppressed. on the other hand, it has put me on the margin in a manner that has impacted me spiritually. to connect with the core experience of a racialized and traumatized humanity, i have had to borrow from the memories and experiences of others.

it is for this reason that these past seven years with a gay, undocumented, transgender, poor, socially marginalized, and oft-abused hiv-infected population have been so important to me. i learned about my privilege and the privilege of Whites by vicariously experiencing the suffering of the unprivileged; and i couldn’t have learned about privilege any other way. walking alongside of those who were determined by their color, their station, and their history awakened me to my own color, station, and history. ultimately, i learned in my own small way how to see people in the way they want to be seen. this has not erased the role of privilege in my relationships with them; but it has enabled me to feel the pain of privilege, the peril of residing in it, and the possibility of transcending it, for the sake of truth, reconciliation, and, above all, closeness to God