the little thing in me

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:02 pm by Administrator

today, at a random moment in my morning, i heard the small voice in my mind that is always there but often lost among all other voices. it is the voice that tells me i will fail; that i will fall down; that i will repeat the mistakes of my past; that i will find myself alone.

it is rare that i hear this voice with such clarity. but hearing it this morning reminded me of times in my life when it was not a small voice but rather a powerful and incriminating one. i remember four distinct seasons in my life when this voice that preached futility was all that i heard. i learned in those times that i cannot fight this voice by discounting it; i must maneuver around it to move forward in life. the thing i have learned over the years is that however irrational and unfair this voice might sometimes seem, it nevertheless tells a truth about who i am.

the truth of what i am is not that i am an irredeemable failure. it is that i am a broken man who has repeatedly rebounded from profound failures. each time i rebounded, i made a determination about who i would become—and i changed accordingly. the last time i fell upon such a desperate time, i decided that i would become a different kind of husband. the time before that, i determined that i would become a man grateful for his daily work. and the time before that, i determined that i would stop defending myself; i would accept who i am in the eyes of others. each defeat heralded a shift in my character. i’m not the man i was because of all the times when i fell down and had to confront the futility of my thinking.

i heard the voice this morning and left my cubicle. i took a walk outside, into the sunshine and heat. to this voice—small, plaintive, but insistent all the same—i said “yes”. yes, i will fail. yes, i will fall down. i am so fragile that a wind could come and snap me. i am so weak that a hard time could make me lose the will to live. i cannot pretend to be strong. i won’t defend my honor, my dignity, or my righteousness. life has taught me that i’m small, petty, and worthy of little. i can accept that. life and all blessings i have received within it are a gift to me, because i have received all of these things despite what i am.

like a father sitting with his sad child, i stood in the shadow of a tree and spoke gently to this voice in me. we’ll survive, i said. if we lose this thing or that thing, it doesn’t matter. if we fall prey to this pain or that one, we’ll change. it’s what we do. we don’t define ourselves by what we suffer; we define ourselves by how we rebound and how we change. God has willed it this way, and it is my privilege to endure.

to which the voice in me said don’t forget where you came from.

i won’t, i responded. it’s why i write


riverdale: a millennial inclusivity

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:07 pm by Administrator

i just got through season 1 of riverdale, which i began watching three weeks ago for no clear reason, and i thoroughly enjoyed it. it was dark enough to be edgy without turning heavy-handed (like “13 reasons why”); it was self-aware enough to be funny without being flip. there are enough real moments among our favorite four characters (betty, archie, veronica, and jughead) to balance the intentionally absurd moments that keep us on our toes (i.e. a sudden heroin epidemic in this small town triggering references to “The Wire”). it’s not incisive, insightful, or important, but it’s good TV.

now, in the context of this cheery appraisal, i’ll get down to business. the funny fact of riverdale is that it really does capture the white millennial concept of racial inclusion. there’s a place for everyone in quaint, middle-america riverdale: the gay son of the police chief, a trio of black female musicians, an asian guy on the football team, and a latina outsider from the big city. all of them fit in neatly and with minimal tension. but when you zoom out, you see what’s really at work at the core of the riverdale story. at the center of it all is the romance yet to unfold between two pretty and picture-perfect white people: Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper. unlike dawson’s creek, which consummates this archetypal romance between dawson and joey at the end of season 1 and has to create a series of uncompelling side stories to sustain the show for five more miserable seasons, riverdale appears set to draw out this central story in the slow, circuitous, and melodramatic tradition of canonical Western love stories (i.e. Pride and Prejudice).

outside this inner circle of blonde/red-headed lovers are the brunette misfits (the barely Latina Veronica Hodges and her emo counterpart Jughead Jones). and on the outskirts of this society are the happily empowered minorities doing their mainstream-but-not-intrusive activities (the black principal, the black mayor, and of course the black entertainment of the evening courtesy of the Pussycats). to make the racial landscape somewhat more equitable, the villains in the backdrop are defined as red-headed, incestuous White people, who have all the power and none of the virtue. it’s a post-racial landscape in which White people are taking the blame but still very much setting the tone; it’s window-dressed privilege masquerading as de facto reconciliation.

if society takes its cue from the CW, this is sort of the road map we’re looking at when it comes to racial tensions in america. instead of taking the usual charged conversations about race too seriously, let’s just have more interracial friendships and lovers and move on with history in the making. yeah, white people have done some pretty bad things, and they’re probably more responsible than anyone else for drugs on the street and systematic injustice in society, but let’s focus on the positive and find a way to bring our best to the table. asians can bring their smarts; latinos can bring their sexuality and machismo; blacks can bring their athleticism and musical ability; and the whites can bring their civilization, history, culture, beauty, language, civic-mindedness, virtue, and general superiority. it’ll be a great potluck!

it’s not simply a naive idea of inclusion. it’s privilege repackaged for young people who look at racial reconciliation as academic work. it’s systematic injustice casually condoned by young white consumers who are taught to forgive their own ignorance by parents with unconscious bias and conscious guilt. the real world don’t work like riverdale. in the 21st century, the Latina new girl doesn’t make the cheerleading squad not because she’s brown-skinned (oh no of course not!) but because her body type doesn’t quite fit in; the black guy makes the football team as a running back because the coach doesn’t think he’s smart enough to run the plays; and the Pussycats have to edit the substance out of their songs because they’re not really allowed to talk about what they go through at an all-white upper-crust school. the real riverdale in the 21st century is a place where people of color are expected to be thankful but really are just suffering oppression in silence.

but hey, it’s a familiar and compelling story, and why shouldn’t it be? at the end of season 1, each pretty fair-skinned white person is paired with a complicated brunette—but we all know that’s just a set-up for the real payoff down the line. earnest, handsome, six-packed archie andrews will discover a repressed, long-standing love for his childhood sweetheart, the mind-blowingly beautiful but somehow overlooked betty cooper. it’s the white upper middle-class fantasy, and it’s a story the rest of us will buy into because we were taught to, and the CW will feed it to us because it’s oh so sweet and surely a slam-dunk for the ratings


note to self, on healthcare reform

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:54 pm by Administrator

elisabeth rosenthal’s op-ed today opened old wounds and reminded me of what has most upset me about obamacare for the last eight years. it’s the prices, stupid.

there’s little sympathy at my company and in my social circle for the work that the GOP is doing right now in order to “repeal and replace” obamacare. the fear and anxiety are well-justified; the Republicans are making moves that should terrify any poor, chronically ill, or elderly person in america. but we shouldn’t pretend that the ACA is a long-term solution for american healthcare. in fact, it took less than five years to expose its utter dysfunctionality. access to healthcare and affordable insurance were two priorities of the ACA, and yet the program has failed miserably on both accounts due to declining health plan participation and rising healthcare costs. the democrats didn’t lose their foothold in both houses of congress because they were misunderstood. they were booted from power because obamacare was impractical at best and woefully ill-conceived at its worst.

from the beginning, health care pundits and doctors including myself saw the intrinsic flaw of obamacare. it’s like william kissick taught us in our first year of med school at Penn; there’s an iron triangle of access, cost containment, and quality. if you expand at one vertex, you necessarily narrow what you can achieve at the other two points. there’s no way around that. kissick used the UK’s national health service as his main point of reference in explaining the idiosyncrasies of the american healthcare system. his point: because we want everything, we end up sacrificing on all things important. kissick was the first one to convince me that we don’t have to structure, control, and even ration healthcare—unless we actually have a vision of what we want our system to achieve.

obama’s administration took its compass and doubled the angle at the vertex of access. he assumed that costs would be controlled by an influx of healthy, young, paying customers (the expanded risk pool) and that quality would come out neutral. this notion was naive. multiple journalists and experts have since exposed the fundamental flaws in obama’s approach to cost containment, specifically with regard to the single biggest driver of escalating healthcare costs: pharmaceutical prices. the PhRMA deal represented something worse than capitulation by the obama administration; it was downright political expediency. and what it created was a healthcare delivery system in which everyone was forced to play ball except for big pharma, who made a one-time financial concession in order to escape any meaningful structural reform. they got everything they wanted—a ban on Medicare formularies, prohibition of reimportation, and no price renegotiations at the federal level.

big pharma has a strong lobby. perhaps obama was right to calculate that their resistance to his legislation could compromise his legacy. but the costs of his shortsightedness are now pervasively evident. it’s an untenable program that might have functioned as a temporary stop-gap en route to a public option and the nationalization of a single payer system. but for lack of real vision, what it is is broken.

while the essence of obamacare is unsalvageable, the outer integument wasn’t all for naught. it was the right thing to stop the financial bleeding from ER-based primary care and to compel some transparency of pricing and accountability from insurers. by focusing their attention on these particular aspects of obamacare, the GOP put themselves in a very bad position and threaten to alienate their constituents. it isn’t universal healthcare that’s the problem. it’s inordinately expensive, special interest-serving healthcare that’s the problem. it’s a moment when Trump should rightly exercise his inner bully to go after the shadiest and most culpable player in our healthcare crisis. for a moment he was saying the right words about big pharma; but then he backed off when he counted the personal costs. the Republicans thus appear doomed to make the same mistake of the Obama Democrats: pushing open the triangle in the hope of a mathematical impossibility. it’s beyond stupid. it’s tragic, in a post-traumatic and all too vivid kind of way

where am i?

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:40 pm by Administrator

on april 7, my wife got a difficult rejection after a final round job interview. on april 12, my dad died. and since returning to life as usual on april 20, i’ve received plenty of difficult news. two friends at work are about to lose their mothers to painful chronic illnesses. one of my best friends at work just suffered a relapse of his leukemia two weeks ago after fighting his way through agonizing induction chemo and a bone marrow transplant. a friend from childhood that i consider a family member just discovered a week ago that her husband has gambled away everything that they own, leaving her and her child in ruins. and three days ago, i spent an hour and a half on the phone trying to talk one of my longest-standing patients through a crisis precipitated by the one-year anniversary of his partner’s death.

i came home on friday night with a mind stung by countless barbs, crying in my car just to let off the incredible pressure of my many feelings. a few minutes later, i was sitting at the dinner table as if nothing had happened to me, as if i had not just lived through the worst hour and a half of my patient’s life, as if i had not just gotten off the phone with a woman who had just lost her husband, her savings, and the life she had imagined for her child.

i was sitting in quiet reflection at a church service yesterday morning when it struck me that perhaps my emotions are unclear because i am disconnected from my inner self. i have lapsed into that mode so familiar to me from the early days of my medical training—that practical, moment-to-moment crisis management in which the object is not the resolution of a problem but rather the triage of innumerable assaults on my well-being. here i am now, sitting at my desk, and i still am unclear of what i fear most. i fear so many things now, for so many people in my life. and underneath all of those anxieties are the ceaseless, lurking, foundational fears—the fear of losing my children, my wife, and my independence.

as i sat there in that precious moment of solitude among people, i found myself ruminating on a strange fact: the body is such a strange deception. we instinctively feel the seat of our being in the physical center of our bodies; but the fact is that consciousness is exclusively the function of the brain (and of a very small part of that brain). and the head is nowhere near the physical center of the body; it’s veritably an appendage of the body, held in place by a slim column of bone and tissue, unprotected and intrinsically removed from the viscera within. and when one considers the substance of the body itself, one must recognize that the body is more space than substance. at the center of the chest is a pocket of empty space we call the mediastinum; within the abdomen is a cavity layered by the tubing of digestion and a few thin layers of muscle; even within the head, as packed as it is with the dense neurological tissue of synapses and nerve fibers, there are the large empty spaces of the sinuses, without which the skull would have no form or stability.

in fact, we are a network of empty spaces; organs and bones are what define this air within us as the corporeal self. and amidst this deception of substance emerges the conscious mind, distanced from self and far removed from everything beating, motioning, and contracting beneath it. it strikes me that we were meant to be light and even buoyant, people of innumerable and disconnected parts, gliding amidst an idea of integration and solidity, however fragile and transient. we will divest the water within us and expunge the air which was at work in our inner parts; but until that time, we will hold ourselves together.

where am i, i wonder. i am wandering within a cave of bone. i am air surging down a nostril, a throat finding its way into all the countless and miniscule chambers where i will be separated into component gases and pressed like bubbles into blood. where am i? i am tossed to and fro among the sliding bowels and the pulsing arteries, mindless and attuned only to warmth, to rhythm, to a function. where am i? i am a signal conducted across glia and particulate neurotransmitters, an idea that ran its circuit and landed upon a solitary impulse somewhere deep in the brain, where a choice that is not mine determines whether it shall end in a memory or a forgetting. life is not disconnection from self; life is not an unearthing of identity. it is a space within sequestered from the space without, and the meaning for this is the body itself.

to understand a feeling, i once wrote, is not necessarily to understand where it has come from. this numbness and the submission to the tide, this too is a feeling that can be understood. it tells me that i am empty spaces, sinuses and cavities, and they must never be filled, because the truth of what i am is that i am empty, and all things i experience must go through me, neither settled nor secured, just held like a breath til it is time for the next breath to begin


Bringing it all together

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:28 pm by Administrator

i feel like my life is an ever-stretching, ever-breaking balloon undergoing the inflation of life’s lessons, mysteries, and pains. year to year, i find myself spilling over with uncontainable thoughts and reactions, constantly changing in response to the uncountable movements at work all around me. but every now and then, i find that necessary moment when i can let some of that pressure off my brain; i make a conscious reaction, a purposeful shift, in relation to the forces that are blowing me down a path that is not of my own making.

how desperately i want to bring it all together. and yet how vain the effort does so often appear. my intuition tells me that everyone is as confused as i, but the structure of expectations and beliefs is nonetheless vital. and so i press on to define the things that would seem to matter, all the while understanding that the meaning in things is something i will have to negotiate again, in six or twelve months or years, if i happen to live that long.

i tell my story like this. in my heart of hearts, i am defined by two things: my fatigue and my relentless, restless mind. they are interrelated. from the time i was six, i struggled with insomnia and with overwhelming anxieties; the moral universe and its repercussions plagued me with uncertainties and also despair. try as i might, i have found it impossible to rest in a fundamental satisfaction with my circumstances. and my mind, burning through the fuel of my worries and fears, has drawn upon the reserves of my body, inflaming its synapses and exhausting its stores of excitatory hormones and neurotransmitters. i have been hypertensive since the age of twenty.

over time, i have learned to manage my mind by manipulating the body. hard exercise increases my parasympathetic tone, depriving my brain of the fight-or-flight stimuli that set its ruminations and perseverations into motion. carbohydrate restriction levels out the hormonal highs and lows that tilt my mind alternatingly toward aggression and toward despair. meditation and disconnection before sleep slow the mechanisms by which i react and synthesize thought; days of strictly enforced regularity and rest dullen my senses, diminishing my perceived connections with people and with the future, thereby limiting me to the visceral experience of the present. i’m not the angst-filled, thrill-seeking person i was ten years ago, a young man constantly teetering between pleasure and pain and consumed with the desire to conquer and to learn. i am now a hardened veteran of the wars against my own body and mind; i regard myself not with the grandiosity or bitter loathing of my youth but rather with the stern and inflexible approach of one who has assumed responsibility for that petulant child within. i have forgiven myself, and i have chosen to persevere; that is the evidence that i love what i am. all other affection and affectation—i have lost any inclination for these.

because i have grown to be skeptical of human motivations and society’s potential for enlightenment, i have found myself not infrequently surprised by communities that strive for excellence. i’ve discovered churches led by selfless leaders; companies driven by idealistic executives; volunteer organizations built upon the mutual inspiration of its members. the past five years of my life have been veritably defined by my exploration of these people and their beliefs, in an effort to understand how their ruminations have led to conclusions fundamentally different from my own. i have come to the conclusion that corporate identity is the consequence of sublimated fear; and at the core of the monotheistic faiths is the conviction that the sacrifice of self is the answer to the fear of death—and the necessary step by which the inherently fractured self accretes itself into a timeless whole.

beyond this, i have discovered some curious idiosyncrasies that strike me as specific to a Western philosophy of excellence. baldrige, good to great, five dysfunctions, 4DX—all manuals of contemporary business leadership say the same thing. the scientific approach to organizational excellence works best. as scientists experiment, measure, and experiment again, so must the leaders of organizations define their hypotheses, measure their outcomes, and test their beliefs, in a manner that creates organizational knowledge for all. effective influence, in other words, is effected through clear and repeatable processes that integrate the efforts and motivations of the corporate body.

these are simple and straightforward observations, but to me they are profound because they illuminate the mechanism by which many people in our society prepare for death. all across this country of enterprising and self-aware citizens, human beings dedicate themselves to the processes of self-submission, conformation, and standardization so that they might experience something transcendent—a corporate achievement, a communal identity. whether they are parents losing themselves in their children, or whether they are workers defining themselves in their jobs, or whether they are political leaders submitting themselves to a party platform or an ideal, they are all seeking influence, as a means of incorporating themselves into the lives of others. they are all driven by the fear of dying irrelevant and alone; they are all acting out a desperate and subconscious wish to find themselves immortalized in the essence of a hive mind, a social organism, a legacy of spirits and ghosts.

i stand both on the inside and on the outside of the transparent membrane that encircles this field tent of our social experiment. on the inside, there is such a compelling hubbub of constant activity; it is engrossing to observe and even to participate. but on the outside, there is the forbidding wildness of the natural and unknown, no less compelling in its inherent enchantment. i want to hedge my bets and be a part of both worlds. i want to enact the experiments by which the pyramids and cathedrals were conceived and constructed; i want to participate in the worship by which we imagine ourselves eternal rulers in an immaterial realm. on the other hand, i want to abandon myself to an absence of speculation about such things. true rest—an abandonment of all rumination on the limitless possibility—has always been my impossible dream, one that i have endeavored to achieve before death and as a conscious framework for what is meaningful.

perhaps at this juncture of my life, the way i must bring it together is in these terms. i am undecided and intrigued. i am an observer whose sight is undermining him, one who must choose whether to go blind and live or to see all and be immolated by its inescapable fire. it is too much to consider, all of it, and i understand why we are religious, because we have no time to truly sift through it all. i am undecided about how it all fits, but for the time being i am trying to survive, by hemming in my consciousness and warding it away from all the places where it wishes to go, knowing that this is half of a life but imagining that it could become a half-life well-lived


sixers, conference, politics, wonder woman, and reflexivity

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:38 pm by Administrator

not enough time or energy to write, so this will be a blitz through some of the things i’ve been obsessing over and need to purge from my brain.

first, the sixers. they pulled the big trade and will be adding fultz to their core group of simmons and embiid. it was a strong move by a front office that is gradually getting its act together. fultz brings ultra smooth handles, above-average vision, and a potential outside shot to a sixer half-court set that features simmons in the high post. it’s a team that looks fun; they’ll run, shoot, and get to the foul line. where they’ll struggle of course is on defense, where none of the players outside of embiid are even average. in a weak eastern conference, that may not stop this team from competing for a playoff berth in 2018.

the single biggest obstacle to long-term success for this squad is of course embiid’s health. over the years, i’ve railed incessantly against philadelphia’s commitment to “the process”. now more than ever before, i really want to believe that embiid can be part of a dream team in philadelphia, but i can’t overcome basic realism in my assessment of his prospects. it remains inconceivable to me that embiid could play 15-20 post-season games during an extended playoff run, much less fifty games in a regular season. in other words, i can’t see embiid ever taking us to the NBA finals. the smart but very hard thing for us to do would be to let him put in twenty great games for us this season and then lightly dangle him for the perfect deal. the perfect deal would land us a veteran two-way player on the wing who could give us leadership and lock-down defense. kawhi leonard may be untouchable, but jimmy butler on an inflated contract may not be. even otto porter would give this sixer team something joel embiid never could—an outside shot, wing defense, and a healthy presence in the post-season.

i just attended a conference that i enjoyed (i always like conferences). there were some exceptional talks about leadership and company culture. but i’ve been at this long enough now to see that the core ideas are never really new. change management, measurement, mindfulness, and leadership focus—i’m hearing it constantly now, which means that everyone knows these things are important but no one knows exactly how to nail them down. the open dialogues about staff engagement and resilience are always fascinating to me, but i do wonder at it sometimes. how many books will we write before we realize that the key to driving org success is the right leadership report card? grade your leaders month to month on the competencies and soft skills that matter, and fire them if they don’t deliver. when i put it all together, that’s what i come up with. organizations fail when they have to work around bad executives; they succeed when leadership is deeply in touch with its employees and customers.

on politics, i just have to say that in my good moments i really believe that this is not as bad or as traumatic a period for america as we’re making it out to be—but it’s really really good that we’re overreacting. in truth, there are so many fascinating and meaningful cultural movements at work in this nation, and we’ve never been more attentive to systematic injustices in our nation’s history. there are White lawmakers in the South who are taking down the Confederate flag; there are prominent people putting money and time into fighting the exclusion of marginalized peoples, including transgender persons; and the epic resistance of Donald Trump represents a strong and emerging belief that the government of the people should represent what is morally best of the people. do i really think that Trump should be impugned and impeached? i dislike the man, but no i do not believe it’s in the best interest of our nation to remove him from power. better Trump than the republican establishment (i.e. Pence). i say let’s keep this man in office for four years, expose all of his weaknesses, develop a pervasive countermovement, and thoroughly discredit his political party for the next decade. then, when we’re done hanging him out to dry, we can bring in not just a new president but an entirely new societal framework for the political establishment.

i will not openly admit it very often, but i believe that the political milieu that trump is creating is powerfully necessary for america. beyond being a wake-up call, it’s the stuff that ignites the motivations that drive enduring cultural change. that is very good for the progressive agenda in the United States. that is ultimately what will be needed to set the stage for all difficult discussions that must happen in the next decade, including how to provide free college education and health care for all citizens regardless of color, creed, or means.

this may sound blasphemous, but i found “wonder woman” to be very ordinary. i for one am tired of chris pine and his good-boy all-american roles. i’m also tired of CGI action scenes and acrobatic fight choreography. there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned storytelling, and i didn’t think Wonder Woman had anything to offer in this regard. the best scene of the movie was near the beginning, when a band of woman warriors on horseback takes on an invading army of male soldiers. it is such a striking and emotive depiction of militant feminism. but the rest of the movie doesn’t match the power of that moment; the character development of the heroine falls along familiar lines, as our noble protagonist experiences the real world, overcomes her naivete, and taps into her reserves of superhuman strength by (gasp) falling in love. how’s that for an original story line? yes, after such a strong start, i was profoundly disappointed. Gal Gadot is a terrific on-screen presence. maybe they’ll write a better story for her the next time.

reflexivity is the skill i have been learning by increments over the last several years. it’s allowed me to transform my diet, my lifestyle, and (to a lesser degree) my personality. i have learned to forgive myself and by virtue of self-understanding i have also learned how to push myself to new levels. in many respects, i’ve never been healthier. i haven’t been on facebook since 2008, and i haven’t played a computer game in over five years. aside from netflix, i don’t watch tv, and while i sometimes miss watching sports, i find that i can still enjoy my teams by reading about them and thinking about them in new ways.

i just achieved my year-end goal of 20 consecutive pull-ups this past week, which means i’ll have to set new goals for myself. i’m at 85 push-ups and probably will hit 100 by next month. i’ve added planking to my regimen last week and can do about 3 minutes. i’m running with purpose now; every run is a little different and has its own built-in milestones. i plan my exercise meticulously. it’s not enough now to break a sweat and raise my heart rate. everything is designed to make me incrementally stronger and more durable. and thus the pains that i experience are always different and new. every day my body is changing. every day i’m fighting the weakness that comes with age. i do it, i realize, not because i want to be a better version of myself. i do it to remind myself that my body, like my time, my energy, and my talents, are my responsibility. i have to manage them constantly; i have to take control of these things, even as i learn to submit myself to what i cannot control. life demands from each of us a code for daily living, an art of war. for decades i was a victim of my fate. now i bring the pain. i have realized that i am my own nemesis; so when i fight the battles of my life, i know my enemy well, and sometimes i win


The GOP response

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:24 pm by Administrator

Count on the GOP to turn the actions of a single shooter into a rallying cry for their corrupt political movement.

The “hate in politics” will go away when what is hateful in politics is removed. Don’t ever invalidate the anger of the people. The violence in DC this morning was tragic; but the words of donald trump and his complicit family members and party allies are similarly inexcusable and merit no defense.

If you stand with a bad man, you will be remembered for his mistakes. If Republicans in this country want reconciliation, then they must first apologize for and reject the man that discredits their cause. Until then, i consider them morally bankrupt to a man, and i will meet their words with unqualified resistance.

Shameful shameful shit. Down with the fucking president and the racist republican party.


the resurrection

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:11 pm by Administrator

one of my best friends at work underwent a bone marrow transplant for leukemia two months ago, and all was looking well until last tuesday, when he abruptly received word that his cancer had relapsed. it was a crushing moment for him, after all the pain and darkness he had suffered through since his diagnosis in november. i went to pay him a visit yesterday at the city of hope village, and when i went through the doorway and saw him sitting there, hairless and fragile, i burst out in tears. i collapsed into a chair sobbing, and it was he that comforted me in that moment.

we ended up talking for two hours about the whole range of things he has contemplated since receiving the difficult news. he’s set milestones for himself: seeing his son graduate from high school next year, among others. we talked about religion and faith as well. six months before his diagnosis, he was reintroduced to the Catholicism he had once embraced as a child, and he’s found it profoundly important to him during this darkest chapter of his life. we talked about that faith, about how it has become something different and new, a melding of philosophies. he believes in reincarnation and in Christ. i talked to him about how some Orthodox Jews also believe ardently in reincarnation and in a purgatory of sorts. we talked a bit about my father as well, who, until his last day, woke up beneath a map of the stars every morning, comforting himself with the idea that among the cosmos his life was only a small, even trivial part of it all.

for me, there is this fixed idea that emerges from my many contemplations of death, and i shared it with my friend. the idea of eternity is simply unbearable. how can it not be? to imagine living into perpetuity as myself, as this contained and confined parcel of consciousness is to engage with the idea of hell itself. it’s not that i find myself particularly unpleasant and evil. it’s that i would bore of myself in a thousand years; i would veritably wish for my death in a matter of millennia. if there is something more for me beyond this life, i would hope that it would be in a form of consciousness that exceeds what i currently experience. and if it cannot be so, then let me be what i was before i was born. i was not dead before i was born. neither will i simply cease to exist after i stop breathing this air. whatever it was, i can be again. but don’t let me be as i am for all time. this would be a mockery of my design; it would be both impossible and immeasurably tragic.

there are moments when i think of my dad’s body as it is now. the bacteria have taken him; the eyes have collapsed in their sockets, and the bones of his body are breaking through the whittled flesh. the clothes that they dressed him in will settle upon the gravel of what he is becoming. i imagine him hollowed out like a zombie; the idea is initially full of horror and unease for me. but when i think about it, really think about it, i see that he is not simply decomposing, there where he lies in the earth underneath the magnolia tree. the world is laying hold of him. the world is claiming its need of him. the germs and the microscopic life that are separating his cells from one another are taking the infinite pieces of him into the cycle of life that is ongoing and at work in the land around him. a strand of his hair is passing into the leaf of a tree; a stand of his nitrogenous genetic matter is being reconstituted into the shell of a snail. the thing that was his fingernail is becoming a sand that will pass into a stream and be taken up into the egg of a fish, that will be eaten by a bear, that will be passed into the soil and formed into a small part of a seed, where it will become fruit to be eaten by a woman, whose unborn child finds this small piece of my father becoming the marrow that will produce its lifeblood for eighty nine years. as my father was formed from the countless generations of those whom the earth needed, so has he become part of all life yet again.

to resurrect us, i realize, is no straightforward affair. if indeed we are to rise again from the oceans and the earth, as suggested by the biblical authors, then we would have to claim a piece of our heart from the body of another, or a cell of the brain from the eye of a whale, and an eyelash from the rose petal that is adorning someone’s window sill. we would have to give and take from one another, and this materiality would be inseparable in the end. how can my forefathers be, if i am? how can i be reconstituted, without removing from others the matter of what i am? perhaps i was never meant to be resurrected as myself; perhaps it is the generations of the future that demonstrate my resurrection, one life form after the next, each building upon not only the helical forms of what determined my nature and my mind but also the imprints that i left upon the memories and the ways of those who were my contemporaries. we are ripples, ripples across the time and space we traverse—and amidst this rippling and resonance of the bosons across the webbed and interwoven fabric of the universe, we are each known, each loved, and each rediscovered in the lives of others.

to my last day, i will be like my father, unwilling to die, unprepared for what is next. there is no surrender; there is no philosophy; there is no quiet submission to death. i have seen death a thousand times, and it is inescapably horrifying, ugly, and sad every time. but i would hope that when it is my turn, i might remember a quiet moment i spent with my friend, looking back at his life, and imagining the future that remains. whatever holds the truth of our lives together, i trust that. before i was born, i was not dead. after i am gone, i will not cease to exist. and i hope that what this means is that, in the end, i will really change


house of cards season 5

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:33 pm by Administrator

there are a few seasons of televisions shows that i’ve recently watched and have wanted to think about some more. 13 Reasons Why, for example, was for me a mostly fascinating experience, though my reaction to it will in the end most likely be equal parts critique and admiration. i’ve recently finished one season of Narcos, and while it’s a sensational story featuring a first-class actor in Wagner Moura (Elite Squad was the best), somehow the show has felt altogether familiar, like a more procedural version of Breaking Bad.

but there’s a show that i always have an immediate and visceral reaction to, and it’s House of Cards. i’m not even finished with the fifth season yet and already there’s enough to be said. so i’ll start the commentary now and continue it later. the underwoods simply demand a response.

i’ve written previously about how “24″ was an important show on its first run because of what it represented about post-9/11 america. for the first time in my recollection, we had a prime-time hero who made it a point to shoot first and ask questions later. jack bauer was intensely machiavellian; he was a character designed to view the law and common morality as obstructions to true justice. and because we understood him and his importance, we allowed him to change us. jack bauer is the one who paved the way for obama’s drone war campaign. yes, there have been bystander casualties. yes, we have violated the sovereignty of our partner nations. but yes, killing america’s enemies quickly, efficiently, and unhindered by red tape is always an exigency. jack taught us this. jack allowed barack obama to get away with murder, time and time again, unrestrained by the collective conscience of the american people.

if jack bauer was the most important american television figure of the last fifteen years, frank underwood may be the second most important. like jack bauer, he is a powerful and rational white man willing to bend all rules. unlike jack, frank doesn’t ever pretend at altruism or the greater good. he is self-assuredly narcissistic and hell-bent on manipulating those around him for his personal gain. the impact of his behavior ranges from the disillusionment of his peers to the betrayal of his friends and to some loss of life here and there as well. but the end result is always personal victory of some kind, whatever the human costs. i’ll say it on behalf of all of us that view the show and may or may not be honest enough to admit our reaction: we admire frank underwood because he’s a winner.

frank underwood didn’t pave the way for donald trump. but frank and claire are both reflecting and magnifying a general orientation that is sure to shift our culture in fundamental ways. that orientation is self-regard; and it is a casual rebuttal of american exceptionalism. when frank underwood speaks with brutal honesty to us, his television audience, he does more than dismiss the fourth wall; he dismisses the rules of political correction in his endeavor to validate what he finds to be the most essential human virtue—the instinct for self-preservation. by asserting that politics is a game of self-preservation, underwood takes an idea we might consider a marginal or cynical presumption and appropriates it as an ideal. he compels us to believe that nothing is really credible or true unless it can be linked to an underlying personal ambition. the hunger for power, in other words, may not seem lofty or virtuous, but it is both worthy and inescapably true.

up to this point, america’s identity as a winner on the global stage has not been the core aspect of its self-image. we describe our victories as the natural consequence of our core values—freedom, equality under the law, endless opportunity. but as those values come into question in light of social critiques, policy changes, police brutality, growing disparities in wealth, and the reality of ongoing systematic persecution in this country, the question of our exceptionalism comes into focus. can america continue to be great if it actually believes in nothing? frank underwood is the beacon for a new and thoroughly disillusioned generation. he and claire answer the question with a resounding yes. if nothing else, america is great because america wins. america has won every major war it has been involved in (save for one or two or actually maybe four) and we need not explain ourselves or defend ourselves as long as we keep winning. it’s an unapologetic self-revelation that feels refreshing and pervasively liberating, particularly for those who might otherwise entertain some guilt about whom they have deported, undermined, framed, or cheated in order to get ahead. and in these uncertain days and times, there’s plenty of that deporting, undermining, framing, and cheating going on. one might argue that it’s simply what’s required for survival in a post-modern, post-industrial america where no one plays fair anymore.

when i watch frank and claire negotiate, manipulate, and rule, i don’t see caricatures of washington elites anymore. i see the new normal. i marvel at their wisdom and i admire their art of war. they’re no better or worse than their enemies who fight them ineffectively, and i fear the revelation of their misdeeds because it would only diminish their grander mission. they’re cutting america down to size; they’re reminding us that we’re not so great and we’re not so good either. it’s plain truth for a Gen X/Y audience that’s already seen the writing on the wall. we don’t want heroes anymore. we want to know that the ship is going down, so that we can stop with the oars and just take that last swim with a smile

Why Christ?

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:21 pm by Administrator

we’ve been in a strange season of our lives, looking half-heartedly for a new church and more often than not finding ourselves “taking a break”. it’s been nine months since we left our church of eight years because of its inability to take an inclusive stance toward LGBTQ persons. we thought we’d found a new home at a different church, until a frank conversation with an assistant pastor there revealed their carefully guarded secret: that they believe “people are born with a gender, not a sexuality” and therefore “we have to draw a line based on what’s written in the scripture”.

i’ll be frank about it. it’s been nice not going to church on sundays. it’s amazing having all kinds of time on sundays to run, to eat out, to watch movies, and to visit museums. we’ve gotten used to it so quickly that when my wife suggested a couple more churches that we ought to visit, my instinctive reaction was to resist and defer. in fact, when i was talking to someone the other day about what i do with my time outside of work, i actually hesitated to say anything about my faith in God. in the moment, that fact seemed to have so little to do with who i really am. i am a liberal progressive. i am an LGBTQ advocate. i am a doctor working with underserved Latinos. i am a writer and a reader. i like Game of Thrones and fantasy football, and sometimes i watch Starcraft replays on youtube.

but Christ? i’m not a guy who believes what i’m told to believe. i’m not a bigot or a fundamentalist. i don’t preach salvation, and i don’t really believe in absolute morality. church is where i see a lot of racial segregation, political bias, provincialism, and a history of systemic injustice. so religion doesn’t fit. Christ doesn’t fit me.

the realization, as bluntly as i just put it, was surprising to me. after all, i still consider my religion the single most important aspect of my identity and the foundation of my personal narrative. moreover, i can say with conviction that i’ve experienced God not simply as a savior figure but also as my mentor, my parent, my counselor, and my friend. to my rational mind, i sound like a mystic with a wild imagination or a schizotypal personality disorder; but when i put all the pieces of me together, Christ is the glue, the manual, the hinge between all movable parts, and the label that defines the finished product. Christ may not fit the social guise i have assumed; but the faithless version of me is nothing at all.

just this morning, my wife’s sister texted me a link to fred harrell’s podcast. fred is the pastor of City Church in San Francisco, and i’ve had the privilege to meet him on a visit and actually talk with him about his church’s journey toward a welcoming and affirming stance on LGBTQ believers. i’ll never forget the conversation. fred put it out there unapologetically and in the most straightforward terms: to follow Christ and to exclude gay believers in any manner is to demonstrate an untenable paradox. listening to his podcast this morning—a sermon about Paul’s reprimand of the Galatian believers who were resorting to legalism and judaification—i remembered why it is that i so love both the idea and the person of Christ. before there was ever a progressive, a civil rights champion, a Nobel peace prize winner, or a martyr for a cause, there was Christ—the man who proved that forgiveness and self-sacrificial love define the very best and most godly things about a human being.

my friend’s fiancee from chengdu china once told me that as a young woman growing up in a corrupt and confining society, she experienced little hope of social transformation. she always marveled at americans, at their optimistic energy and their seeming conviction that every wrong can be corrected through the politico-legal system. she told me that her sense of fatalism was shared by most every chinese of her generation. the history of the cultural revolution had ingrained in her parents a trauma and cynicism that simply couldn’t be outdone; the children of the cultural revolution were consigned to view themselves as the victims of a cruel and uncaring society. the stereotypical stories of chinese cutting in lines, spitting on sidewalks, disobeying common rules of etiquette, and looking out only for themselves—she validated these with both sadness and embarrassment.

and then she told me something fascinating, something i will always remember. “i came to believe in Christianity because it is the only hope for change in my country,” she said. “i mean, how else can you convince these people that there is meaning in loving someone other than your own family?”

in progressive, liberal america, or in reactionary, conservative america, we believe in the fundamentally good intentions of man and in the ability of free trade and the free exchange of ideas to promote peace and understanding. it is a noble dream; and our constitution is a noble ideal. but these are not ideas that are compelling in most parts of the world, and the belief in a structure that can guarantee justice under the law is little more than a fable to the poor and oppressed in other nations. moreover, i think that there is fair reason to believe that the “success” (if you can call it such) of neoliberal Western democracies is attributable to their prosperity (and not vice-versa) and specifically to the widespread perception among the middle class that both education and debt can be reasonably leveraged into future wealth. remove the basic ingredients that allow capitalists to frame economic opportunism as a civil liberty, and what you’re left with is a suffering humanity that has no basis for banding together and envisioning a better world.

why Christ? because He represents the safest space for a human being seeking basic community. Christ demands justice where there is oppression. He insists on forgiveness where there is unmanageable debt. He scorns the powerful and topples the wicked; He dignifies the poor and esteems the humble. where wealth, race, and sexuality create castes and social divisions, Christ declares the fundamental equality of all human beings and the responsibility of one person to another. “there is no jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Galatians 3:28 isn’t just a verse from a chapter written two thousand years ago. it’s a statement about who God is; it is a fact of identity, regarding a God who stands against racism, sexism, and human cruelty of all kinds.

i am not amidst a crisis of faith. but i have to call myself out for being “ashamed of the Gospel”, the Gospel by which i found a worthy vision for my society and a rationale for my own daily living. i will never be an Evangelical of the kind that i have so come to despise in these days and times. but i am nevertheless a slave to this Gospel, a devotee of the only belief system i have ever known that compellingly defines the totality of me—conscience, weakness, longing, and all.

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