visiting dad

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by Administrator

this morning, i drove out to visit my dad at the cemetery.

i’ve been thinking about this day for a long time. in fact, i’d planned my work-related trip to virginia so that i could have a full day to myself, to do things that needed to be done. things like visiting the cemetery, walking through my old neighborhood, thinking about these past five months and everything that has happened so fast and almost seamlessly, as if it had all been foreseen and planned for. but in truth it has gone by so quickly because it wasn’t foreseen. when you are not prepared for life after a particular milestone, life loses its cadence and its rhythm; like a song you are hearing for the very first time, there is no sense of its beginning and end, nor is there any savoring of its movements or inevitabilities. there is only the measure in the moment, unfamiliar, perplexing, and yet somehow conforming to an idea of music.

though it has been months, i found my way to the spot and gazed upon his headstone, freshly laid upon the soil. “husband of kay kim,” it said. “i loved my son.” i sat down on the cool grass and felt something in me give out. i sobbed through the remembrance of sudden and acute memories—the very last time we sat together at the dinner table, the last time my children stood before him to give their solemn goodbyes. i remembered the experience of sitting there just four months ago, on a cloudy day like this, wrapped in a black suit and a dense fog of despair.

in my mind, i heard my father sing “Oh, Danny Boy” just as he had at the table, eleven nights before he complained of abdominal pain, fell into a coma, and died. i heard him sing the entire song, from the first verse all the way through to the final word. my dad always held the sound of the “L” and not the “A” when he came to the word “valley”. he always took a quick breath between “be” and “here”. and he would often chuckle right after he finished the song, with either glee or embarrassment. all through the morning, his voice echoed in my thoughts.

after i’d been sitting with my dad for about twenty minutes, a procession of cars drove up to the hill where i was, and a funeral party migrated over to a freshly dug plot about two hundred yards away. about a hundred people in black and white circled around a blue tent and fell silent. i walked away to be alone for a while, and when i returned every single one of them had gone. the cemetery staff were pushing the dirt into the grave; a cart was rolling down the hill with the tent in tow. i must have been out walking for half an hour.

during the walk, i felt something. i can’t say for sure if it was God. i had wandered into the Jewish section of the cemetery, perhaps a quarter mile away, and i began reading the inscriptions on some of the tombstones there. in the midst of my grief, i felt keenly connected to the place—to the wrens in the trees, to the grass on the ground, to the people lying in the earth and the words that they had left for us. and a voice came to me, as it so often does in these moments, filled with questions. “who am i, without these people?” i heard the voice say. “and who would you be, had they not lived and died?” i mulled these questions, as i looked upon the headstone of anita selman, who died at around 48 years of age. her headstone read “I’ve had a very interesting life, rich and full of experiences… Let me tell you, I had a lot of fun.”

“why the resurrection?” the voice asked me. “why must the dead live again?” i walked past a row of graves and found myself at the edge of a meadow. the clouds covered the sun, and a darkness crept over the grass, but it was the darkness of peace and stillness, not a shadow of foreboding. it was like the wind had the answer for me, and all i had to do was give it my breath.

“all will return, because without them you are not who you are and who you wish to be,” i heard myself whisper. and then i thought of the thing i’d written a few months ago, about how my father’s body is returning to the earth, how the cells of his matter are integrating themselves into other life and rising from the soil in new shapes and forms. indeed, it is as if God submitted Herself to our world like a man to his tomb, subjecting creation to frustration by compelling it to emerge from the dissembling of Himself. once, he was One; now she is far-flung and rended into uncountable pieces. and the only way to bring Her together again is to bring every one of us up from the grave, across time and all of its generations, so that in the living of all forms, Her form might be known. it is like the parable of the weeds; it is as if all of creation is one towering jenga puzzle, and only God knows how the piece that is death can be removed from the rest without dashing the whole of it to pieces.

when i returned to my father’s headstone, i realized that he wasn’t there. the previous funeral procession had already departed; and another motorcade was just entering the grounds. i took another look across the field upon the thousands who lay there, and i paid my respects to all of them. because of them, i am; and because we are, God is what She is—both timeless and changed. there will be resurrection, i realized, because we are His body and His form


take a stand

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:01 pm by Administrator

the past nine months or so since the election have been a particular kind of journey for me, and if i am honest with myself, it has been a regressive journey for me. i’ve allowed myself to get sucked into political disputes and left-leaning fervor. i’m not ashamed of the stances i’ve taken; but i think i have to admit now that i’ve expressed myself in public and within relationships in a manner that has been uncompromising and forceful—to a fault.

over the past few weeks i’ve begun to recognize how cnn presents its top headlines. their messaging isn’t subtle or subliminal. it’s positively transparent and designed to be provocative. as cnn continues to be one of my main sources of news, i’m very affected by the way they portray world events. and when they are being deliberately provocative (which is daily, in my opinion), i am provoked. when they direct attention to a trump tweet or a baffling interview with a trump supporter, they influence my view of the world, and they trigger my feelings. as much as one can be manipulated or shaped by an influencer, i have been repeatedly and profoundly influenced by news outlets like cnn.

the internet news is necessarily biased in its focus, even when its individual stories may capture factual truth. everything from the font size to the positioning of photographs and to the selection of quotes by public officials is designed to tell a particular story about the world. cnn has made a decision to tell a story about chaos, racism, and incompetence in the White House—and i believe that story. but it’s time for me to be honest with myself and recognize that i have given up my responsibility for validating that story, examining the roots of that story, and critiquing my own reaction to that story. i have allowed myself to be cohorted and moved in a specific direction that is not explicitly of my own choosing.

as cnn would have it, we are in the midst of a culture war and fighting our own president to reclaim common sense and basic decency. it’s sensational. it’s important. it’s visceral. but it’s also one point of view. i have to believe that most people in america aren’t lining up on streets to protest. most people in america don’t dress up in antifa blacks on weekends, and most people in america aren’t parading with neo-nazis. most people in america are bystanders, and they’re watching public figures play an intricate game with news reporters in order to leverage ideas and gain influence. for sure, there are casualties; but broadly speaking, the casualties continues to be the individual conscience, the capacity for independent thought, and wisdom manifesting itself in equanimity.

i have heard enough of donald trump to know that i don’t respect or like him. i don’t need to read more negative press about him in order to make up my mind about that. but i’ve also read more than enough creative reporting about his administration to know that i can’t trust cnn or foxnews to be anything other than inflammatory. perhaps it’s their job; perhaps they view confrontation as their responsibility. i view their deliberate provocations as irresponsible to the american public. i view myself as manipulated, hoodwinked, and incapable of justifiable critique as a result of the “culture war” campaign initiated by both Washington politicians and their detractors/business partners in the media.

it’s time for me to take a stand against this whirlwind of influences and this hegemonic force that controls information in our society. my stand is this: i have no permanent enemies; i have only permanent interests. i am willing to hear all sides not because i am pretending to be unbiased but because i have no other way to learn. i don’t like the president, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for him to earn my respect. i don’t like white supremacists, but that doesn’t mean that i really understand what they believe. i like bernie sanders, i support LGTBQ equality, and i advocate for a single payer healthcare system, but that doesn’t mean that i could never vote for someone who disagrees with me on any one of these issues. i am a product of my times. i am a product of cnn, liberal ivy league institutions, and a medical training that exposed me to the sufferings of poor black and brown people living in american inner cities. yes, these experiences shaped my sensibilities; but my feelings and convictions will in fact continue to evolve as i make new relationships and do new things. i refuse to be misrepresented and constrained; and moreover i refuse to relinquish my independent right to pursue the truth. and i won’t let the church, cnn, or the democratic party take that right away from me.

i’ve got trump and everything he stands for packed so deep in my fist that i think i could just crush his ideas by force of will. it’s time for me to open my hand and let go. just let go. everyone’s looking for a battle, because a lot of people stand to profit from the carnage. but i won’t profit from it; i’ll just get swept away. it’s time for me to let go. it’s not my fight. my fight is for the things i value—gay inclusion, the mercy of God, and justice in my society. no one understands what those things mean to me; only i do. that’s my fight, and i’m going to try my best to fight it my way, in the way that is most fair, most responsible, and most glorifying to the God that i know



Posted in Uncategorized at 6:07 pm by Administrator

every now and then, i have to write something down about perspective, because it remains a constant and daily struggle for me. how do i maintain a consistent and sensible perspective? how do i manage disagreements and conflict? how do i engage people to work toward worthy ends?

this past sunday, my pastor happened to preach on the subject of spiral dynamics when my mom and best friend were in town and visiting my church. spiral dynamics, in brief, is about the interrelationship between individual and societal consciousness. it is an approach which offers ideas about how society evolves and specifically how people in society can evolve to embrace differences in the pursuit of an integrated and even holistic consciousness.

it was a strange coincidence for me, because my mom and my friend won ho, as important as they are to me, have differences with me in ways that have triggered strong reflection and emotion. with my mom, political differences over trump have been a subject that we’ve had to work through in recent times; with won ho, our hermaneutics and values have been recurring topics of debate for more than a decade. while my love for them has never come into question for me, my ability to respect their viewpoints has been tested on occasion. at the heart of the idea of spiral dynamics is a simple but important question for me: how do i position myself so that my differences with these people lead to growth—my growth and the growth of my community?

i’ll admit that for most of the past decade, i have capitalized on my differences with others to express my viewpoint, justify my ideas, and undermine the beliefs of others. when it comes to politics and religion, i engage in confrontation in order to win. the irony of this is that underneath this combative and self-confident persona is an acutely sensitive persona—a person who has changed with the times and as a result of the influences of others. who would i be if not for the many people that have changed my mind about various things, simply by sharing with me their personal stories? i know myself well enough to know that my principles have been learned or adapted from the principles and life experiences of others.

i come from a church context which frowns upon ideological influences that are not explicitly rooted in a specific reading of scripture, but i’ve matured enough to admit that i have no shame about the fact that i have been shaped by my cultural context. in fact, i read scripture through the lens of my cultural context, and i find it disingenuous to believe that anyone can do otherwise. this is why i have a unique problem with conservative Evangelicals who believe that the scripture speaks an internally consistent and unchanging truth about all theological aspects of life. we seem to learn in different ways. in fact, i find that many conservative Evangelicals refuse to learn at all. when i am at my weakest, i hate them for this. when i am a healthier version of myself, i am able to not only forgive them but also relate to their experience of the world.

the area where i struggle the most nowadays in my dialogue with others in my religious community is the area of sociopolitical engagement. i hear so many of my peers in the church define for me the church’s proper boundaries on social engagement. for example, while many of them might be personally sympathetic to LGBTQ persons, they will assert that the political and legal protections of LGBTQ persons are “not the mission of the church”. “our mission,” they’ll insist, “is a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.” similarly, they will cluck their tongues at the president’s rhetoric on immigrants, on left-leaning activists, and on alt-right supporters or even neo-nazis, but they will maintain that this is a discourse within which the church should not express its voice. “there are many sides to these debates,” they’ll say. “it’s not our place to take a side.” in this vein, many pastors i know of refuse to address police shootings, acts of terror, and major political developments on sundays. and in this vein, my friend Won Ho hesitates to express an opinion about what is going on in american politics.

i have my opinion about what is in and out of bounds for the church. it is just an opinion. and to know that is to wrestle with it, because i am one to assume the general truth of a personal conviction. the real struggle for me, i imagine, is to understand that validating the lack of urgency or conviction in another is not equivalent to compromising my own conviction. so often i feel that the house is burning down and that we have to evacuate, but others in the house with me don’t see the flames or smell the smoke. how can i convince them to save themselves without pushing them out the door? but it’s a defective analogy, and it’s one that is inherent to my unique perspective on the world. the fact is that there is rarely a house burning down around me. yes, there are people in the world suffering on account of the prejudice, systematic injustice, and cruelty that i perceive; but no, all of it will not come to an end simply because i refuse to listen to someone who disagrees with me.

there is a place, in other words, for me to regard myself as one among a community and to take my own feelings and convictions not as my responsibility with respect to others but rather as an experience assigned to me as one individual among many. this is a nonintuitive idea to me and one which i will struggle to integrate into my life; but it does suggest to me the essence of a “yellow” or “turquoise” consciousness, in the paradigm of spiral dynamics. self-critique requires the ability to externalize self—to regard oneself, even one’s own deepest convictions, as something that can be de-identified, de-personalized to some extent, and deconstructed for the benefit of critiquing basic assumptions. more fundamental than recognizing that i may be wrong is the exercise of sensing and refining how i position myself with respect to others. i can open my hand and let go of what is in its grip; i can do that if i know that it is important for me to use this hand to grasp something else. there is always an opportunity cost to holding onto something. if i want to bond to others, i must be willing to recognize the proper time to release what i’m gripping and to take hold of a thing that matters more


the God i want Him to be

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:34 pm by Administrator

my old friend won ho is in town, and we’ve had a few chances over the past days to catch up. amidst the usual banter and games, we’ve had serious conversations about ideas. he’s been out of the country for most of the past five years, and so much has happened in this country in his absence, so the dialogue has been jarring, challenging, and gratifying all at the same time.

at one point yesterday afternoon, we were talking about white privilege in the back of a movie theater while waiting for the show to start. i don’t think the conversation was particularly heated, but a man sitting next to me asked us to quiet down because he wanted to listen to a pre-movie advertisement that was playing on the screen. i acknowledged him and then proceeded to ignore him; in fact, perhaps because he was a white man, i decided to continue the conversation with added passion. i’d like to think that he was thoroughly inconvenienced by my behavior, just as his kind has inconvenienced my tribe over the centuries.

in the end, won ho admitted some ambivalence about the idea of white privilege. his counterarguments aimed to bring attention to whites and asians who have possibly been subjected to backlash as a result of efforts to reverse the effects of systematic racism. “what about Whites who feel underprivileged as a result of movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’?” he asked. “what about Asians who experience discrimination as a result of the affirmative action policies that are actually meant to benefit minority populations?” those questions got me a bit riled up, perhaps contributing to the tension perceived by my neighboring pale-skinned descendant of European colonizers, but i recognized that these were honest questions being raised by someone who is essentially an outside to our society. so i endeavored to be as thorough in my answers as i could be.

i’ll admit that i look at won ho as a priest of a tradition that once meant something very important to me. tim keller, john piper, and the rest of those white men of the Reformed tradition—they have a truth about God to share with the rest of us. but the context of white privilege in those academic and seminarian circles truly begs the question: where are the voices of women and of people of color, and where is their truth about God? those who accede to white privilege in the church assume that the ideas and perspectives of anglo-saxon protestant men are sufficient to demonstrate the breadth of God’s mystery; but those who doubt their capacity assert that we can only understand the range of God’s concerns in proportion to the diversity of lenses that we apply to Her manifold attributes.

as our conversations progressed to matters of LGBTQ inclusion, we began to debate the scriptures. Romans 1. 1 Corinthians 7. Paul, Jesus, King David, and Solomon. over a meal of umami burgers, i expounded upon my scriptural worldview—one embracing the affirmation of LGBTQ persons and their intimate relationships—while won ho asserted his own view of orthodoxy. i maintained that there was an unjust and counter-scriptural privilege of married heterosexuals with children within the Evangelical church, an idea that he at first resisted and then accepted with some qualifications. i accused him of adhering to an arbitrary moral hierarchy of sexuality that esteems married heterosexuals over single heterosexuals and over same-sex preferring persons. the terminology of a “moral hierarchy” rankled him, and he responded by questioning me as to what then constitutes “virtue” in my universe of moral equivalencies. i asserted that virtue is culturally-derived, which prompted him to argue for the continuing relevance of moral law (i.e. the ten commandments) even in the absence of ceremonial law. this of course led to our longstanding point of contention—the matter of scriptural trajectories across the Old and New Testaments. for won ho, the scripture is internally consistent and continues to advocate for a single pattern of convenantal thinking and living. for me, the scripture tells no truth but what truth we find in it. and thus we arrived where we always arrive. “i think you have made God out to be whom you want Him to be, and not who He is,” won ho said. he said it amicably enough.

it frustrates me to experience this sort of a conversation, but at the same time, i recognize its profound value to me. once upon a time, the point of such conversations was to arrive at agreement or consensus. God is One; so there must be a narrative about Him that is correct. but i have come to the idea that God is multiple and intrinsically complex; so our endeavor is not to arrive at a single idea of Her but rather a more complete understanding of who She is. after all, how is it that God’s people can be Jews to the Jews, Gentiles to the Gentiles, straight to the straight, and gay to the gay? i would think that it is because in fact God is all of these people to all of their people.

i will assert that to every man and woman on this planet, God is who we want God to be. this is the inescapable consequence of our human perception. but this is not a flaw; this is a necessity. while there might be abuses of this inclination, i find it inevitable that we will anthropomorphize God and even engage God as extensions of ourselves. wouldn’t it be presumptuous for us not to assume such? the miracle of God and Her revelation is not that we magically exit ourselves in the experience of God; rather, the miracle is that God’s truth is revealed even in the partiality of our subjective experiences. however little we can actually understand of God in the context of our lives, that experience can be sufficient. God as Lord, God as savior, God as the one who takes the death out of our lives—these are by no means all the names we can give God, based on all that She is. but they are sufficient for the relationship i have discovered with God, and moreover they are consistent with the names accorded to God by others who have experienced Her across time.

thus, to Won Ho’s assertion that i have made out God to be what i wish Her to be, i say yes and without apology. i project my needs, my hopes, and my sufferings upon the Lord; and upon me, the Lord projects a vision of His son, the Christ. we see in each other what we need to see, in order to be reconciled. it is not perfect. but regardless, it is love


in the shadow of my father, in the eyes of my mother

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:18 pm by Administrator

my mom arrived at my home two days ago, and over the past couple of days, i have experienced a latent side of myself. it’s like i could feel the years that have transpired; i could feel them and their effect on me. not only have i aged. i have become a stranger to the child i once was. to feel the estrangement between the person i was and the man i have become was at once jarring to me. i have slept for nine to ten hours a night, and the slumber has been heavy with rumination.

i can sense that in my mother’s eyes, i am a man now. she doesn’t tell me how to behave. she doesn’t harrass me about how i eat or drink. she’s in my house now, and i can sense that she is navigating around our expectations. it is not like the way we were when i visited her in her home. she is the guest in mine, and she is careful about how she communicates with me. that is unusual and somewhat saddening.

i will always be her boy, her only child, but i have also become something that cannot be shaped or instructed any longer. there is surely a part of me that wishes she would nag me again about how much beer i am drinking, how well i am raising my children, how little i am eating at the dinner table. but i realize now that those days are behind us. my mom has plans for her life, and she has decided to spend most of her time in other cities doing other things. she’ll drop in on our lives but as a visitor, not as the matron, and it is i that will host her, and it is she who will adapt to our ways.

in the shadow of my father, i am similarly stern and filled with vague anxieties about the people i love. in my own way, i ask for advice, but there is no one to give it to me. my prerogatives precipitate decisions, just as my father’s will, manifest and unbending, was inevitably imposed on us all. our garage is filled with his photographs and mementos, freshly unloaded from my mother’s car, and in the reflection of those familiar picture frames, i see myself—grayed at the temples, with a face of permanent furrows, thinned out and unreadable. i am not sure that i am comfortable with what i have become. but i realize it doesn’t matter. i’m taking the journey that many men take. i’m losing myself, i’m finding myself, and i’m losing myself again. it is so profoundly serious. i want to have humor about what i am, but increasingly i am finding that there are fewer who will laugh with me, and even fewer who will laugh at what i am


charlottesville, the civil war, statues, and donald trump

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:28 pm by Administrator

there was collective furor over trump’s press conference yesterday. i have my opinions about the man and about his response to charlottesville, and they are complex reactions that i want to explain for clarity.

first of all, i think i’ve made it pretty clear that i despise neo-Nazism, white supremacy, and the “Alt-Right”. i would go even farther and state that i am sensitive to white privilege and all the microaggressions that stem from it, and moreover i am committed to addressing social disparities that have resulted from generations of systematic injustice in this country. i consider our history as a nation to be utterly shameful and fundamentally unresolved when it comes to slavery and race relations. i don’t have to tell you which side i would have taken in Charlottesville; had i been there, i would have been out for blood.

it’s because i feel this way that i can assert that it was both convenient and broadly important to America that the casualty in Charlottesville was a counterprotester. the scenario we’re facing now could easily have been different—and vastly more uncomfortable. protesters and counterprotesters alike were angry enough to commit violence; and the casualties could have been on either side. what we would be talking about right now if the fatalities had all been white supremacist protesters? to me, it is neither logical nor fair to pin the violence on the white supremacists, because both sides were looking for a fight last weekend. and in the coming times, both the right and the left in america will continue to be victims of violence as the battle within our country continues to rage.

so was donald trump wrong in contending that both sides were at fault when it came to the tragedy in Charlottesville? no, he wasn’t wrong in this statement. his true error lay elsewhere.

for context, i’m going to state my opinion about the Civil War, one that is likely controversial and won’t resonate with many americans. based on my studies, i do not believe that america’s civil war was fought to free black american slaves. the plight of slaves in the south was no doubt a driver of abolitionist sentiments that in turn encouraged the South to secede. but the war itself resulted not from a conscientious obligation to black Southerners but rather from the overpowering political and economic interest of the North in maintaining the union. the South was wealthy. the pre-industrial North wasn’t as wealthy. the North stood to lose much from a divided nation. Lincoln wouldn’t have fought a war to free Southern slaves; but he had no choice but to fight a war to maintain the union. the Emancipation Proclamation was a political necessity at a critical moment when the North’s commitment to the war was waning. we consider it a moral achievement, but at the time it was politically expedient. it was a reflection of Lincoln’s greatness as a statesman.

generations removed from america’s most perilous conflict, many of us would like to believe the Civil War was a war between good and evil causes. but it is difficult to reduce it to such. it was a war fought mainly between white people, and it did little to establish true equality between blacks and whites. the real war for equality wasn’t fought for another hundred years, and it was championed not by Abraham Lincoln but by Martin Luther King, Jr.

so when i look at the monuments to the Confederacy that were erected in the early 1900s to commemorate men of the Civil War South, i think to myself that these monuments don’t represent slavery so much as the spirit of secession—the pride of the states asserted against the idea of a nation. without a doubt, this spirit and the qualities ascribed to genteel Southern aristocrats like Robert E. Lee are rooted in a society of white supremacists and their racist ideals. but i wonder if the monuments symbolize something other than the institution of slavery to the Southern men and women who grew up with them. i personally see little value in maintaining those statues and monuments, but i hesitate to impose on Southerners my idea of what those statues ought to mean.

so here too, i might understand Trump’s perspective on the statue of Robert E. Lee. there are many white racists in america’s history, including the Founding Fathers. some of them did not even share Lee’s basic compunctions about the moral dimensions of slavery. should we hack all of their monuments to pieces? where would we draw the line?

where trump failed was not in his inclination toward a balance of perspective. it was not in his refusal to assign blame for the general catastrophe that occurred in Charlottesville. and it was not in the substance of the words that he directed toward the murderer and toward the family of the victim, all of which i found to be appropriate. it was in his unwillingness to issue the message critical to preserving the union. america of the 21st century is a nation built upon its story of progress in race relations and social justice; while there are the counternarratives elaborated by its detractors, that ideal is not difficult to identify as a fundamental american value. as our national leader, it is trump’s duty and obligation to affirm this ideal and to uphold the union based in this ideal. trump’s refusal to define the alt-right as a marginal and even destructive force in our country of these times isn’t merely tone-deaf; it is unstatesmanlike. and one can only assume that he restrained himself from this necessity because he personally aligns himself with this movement.

it is not unusual for this country to have a racist at the helm. but it is shocking to realize that we have a president who is utterly unconcerned with preserving the union. on this basis, i would argue that donald trump is not only unfit to be our president because he lacks personal integrity; he is unfit because he does not care about the integrity of our nation


the meta

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:33 pm by Administrator

on one level, i’m feeling pretty challenged—and maybe a bit stressed.

at work, i’ve hired one of two directors that i’ll be overseeing, and she started today. she’s a very smart, experienced, and enterprising leader in her own right, and in many ways she’s a more seasoned administrator and manager than i am. it’s my first time managing a manager; and i’m feeling the pressure to do a good job of it, both for her sake and for the sake of the company. on top of this, she’s entering a brand-new position and taking on a brand-new endeavor, in a field that i’m generally unfamiliar with. she’ll need me to learn her job as well as she learns it. and that is going to require a lot of me.

at home, my son is entering the sixth grade, and i feel the pressure of preparing him to embark on a path that will make him successful and independent. he’s quite obviously an exceptional boy, which only magnifies for me the weight of responsibility i carry for his development. i am torn between letting him grow up on his own terms and pushing him down a prescribed path. there is always that basic question that i don’t have an exact answer for: what does he really need from me?

and my mother is permanently relocating here after having buried her husband and sold her home. i feel responsible for her as well: responsible for helping her feel at home, for helping her feel valued, for making sure that she adapts well to this massive and very strange city that is difficult to understand. and it’s not just the city that she’ll need to adapt to. she and i haven’t lived in the same area for more than a decade. we’ll need to adapt to each other again as two human beings in a mutually important relationship. as much as basic trust can be assumed, it’s the trust of interdependence that we will have to learn now, at this phase in our lives.

so yes, on one level, i’m feeling pretty challenged. these are all experiences that are new to me, and there is high risk and high reward in each of these situations. i cannot honestly say that i have the answers or the know-how to master what lies ahead of me; in fact, i am not sure i will succeed. perhaps a part of me does wish i could turn back the clock to two years ago, back when my job was more predictable (at risk of being boring), when my son was in his mid-elementary years, and when my dad was still alive and very much the preoccupation of my mother.

but another level, i’m recognizing that this is what i was meant for. these are the challenges that i’m supposed to be taking on at this stage of my life and career, and whether or not i feel prepared for them, they are right for me. i’m forty-one and in my prime; i’ve been called to lead. so it is time for me to lead a leader, and this is one of the experiences that will shape the rest of my career. moreover, i’ve spent my whole life reflecting on what it was like to come of age in this society, with its structures, cultures, and values. i can be the mentor to my son that he requires; and even if i start many things that end poorly, i can and must continue to push him forward through life. with my mother too, i’ve spent the last decade envisioning the time when at last she could be free to live life on her own terms. i’m ready to be the son to her that she needs, even as i learn through her eyes what it means to face the challenges that are unique to her stage in life.

i am aware that this is a new stage in my life. it did not magically transpire on the morning that i turned forty years old, but it did not take long thereafter to be revealed. between a generation that is retiring and a generation trying to find itself, my generation has suddenly and unassumingly found itself in a position of great and even daunting responsibility. no one tests our opinions now; they just assume that what we think is justified. no one endeavors to teach us their ways; they are expecting us to write the manuals. it is jarring, befuddling, and frightening all at the same time, but nevertheless we open our hands and the keys are in our palms, and a voice says in our ear whatever you bind here will be bound everywhere, and whatever you loose here will be loosed indeed


live for the day

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:23 pm by Administrator

randomly, i remarked to my wife a couple of nights ago that the idea of “living every day like it’s your last” is preposterous. if i knew that today was my last day on earth, i’d go huddle in a corner and cry for a few hours. then i’d drink myself into a stupor, cry some more, and vomit my way into my final minutes before death.

personally, i think one should live each day as if he were immortal. in fact, i think that’s how most of us live. the idea of being finite doesn’t make sense to us, because a conscious being cannot imagine permanent unconsciousness. it’s horrific. really, there’s nothing to be gained from trying to anticipate death.

loosely related to this topic, a colleague of mine is a devout Buddhist and endeavored to explain to me last week what this means to her. she describes the aim of the Buddhist as “neutrality” of subjectivity; beyond simply experiencing emotional equanimity, the Buddhist aims to unearth the roots of passion and thereby undermine passion itself. even pleasure is reflective of such passion—and in fact she described pleasure as one form of pain. to experience suffering and to endure it to the point of transcendence is to discover the spirit through its nexus with the material form. this is enlightenment. it exists on many levels.

what buddhism and christianity appear to share in this regard is a common sense of the value of suffering. in both paradigms, one’s response to suffering demonstrates his spiritual identity. but while the point of suffering to the Buddhist is transcendence of passion, the point for the Christian is transformation through pain. while the Buddhist seeks to relativize pain and ultimately to master it, the Christian gives himself over to it unto a form of death, for the sake of unity with Christ and for the hope of the bodily resurrection that follows.

at the core of the Buddhist’s meditative practice is a focused mindfulness that diffuses passion; it is not necessarily an exercise designed to engender communion with Gautama. the Christian, by contrast, prays in order to experience an intersection of consciousness with God Himself. one could argue that the point of prayer is to redirect or even magnify passion—a passion that drives connection between an individual and his people.

here is something i have come to believe about law. according to the apostle Paul, law was given to us to be our steward and our guide until the coming of Christ. the way i understand this is that law shaped a cultural context within which the truth of Christ could be received and appreciated. it is the history and the prophecies of the Jews that defined the importance of Christ to that people. when i think upon the life and principles of Buddha, i see a law that is no less compelling than that of the Jews. my Buddhist colleague and i grieve over the very same things at work in our world: violence, injustice, racism, and corrupt powers. in this shared grieving is a common desire for justice, for the betterment of our world. she calls it enlightenment. i call it the redemption of what has been corrupted by sin. both of us clamor for that justice to be established by a divine power greater than ourselves. both of us seek to emulate that divinity and to change.

the world would almost certainly be a better place if we were all devout Buddhists. i think God knows that, and that’s why He’s preserved that tradition over the millennia. the irony here is that i’d be a bad Buddhist (and so would Christ for that matter). Christ was self-referential (which gets him to the third heaven at best), while i am steadfastly a passionate and often angry man. there’s no neutrality for me on any subject and there never will be


god of war

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:29 pm by Administrator

the pastor at my new church is a pretty hip guy. he’s thirty-two, good-looking, and comfortable with a crowd. he’s also smart and very well-read. his reading of the Gospel is congruent with mine on many levels. he sees a strong case for an inclusive church. moreover, he sees in the scripture a trajectory toward the redemption of the world, made complete in the healing of all beings. some might call it a “universalist” ideal.

what he explicitly argues against is the idea of God as a wrathful God who has sentenced the majority of humanity to eternal punishment, as a dispensationalist deity that sees the Earth as a temporary world intended primarily for the harvest of elected souls. my pastor, well-versed in the history of the church, argues that for most of its history prior to the emergence of dispensationalist theology, the church was committed to an incarnational redemption.

then why did the God of the Old Testament appear to be so wrathful and violent? the narrative of the O.T. was very much derived from the religious context of the times, he argues. the Genesis story, which so closely resembles the creation story of Canaanite peoples who pre-dated the Israelites, was written in the context of those mythologies and for the purpose of distinguishing the Israelite God from the gods of those times. interweaved in the biblical narrative are markedly counter-cultural features: a merciful God, a humanistic God.

having been immersed in this theology for the past three months, i am at once impressed and ill at ease. i am impressed because the theology in so many ways mirrors my own, which has evolved over the past decade in my own counter-cultural and private space absent of any formal influences. but i am ill at ease because i still struggle to reconcile it with the reality of my world and the literal sense of God that i encounter in the scriptures. my pastor argues that theology is always necessarily embedded in the dominant ideas of every generation, and within this context, the church must always search out the scripture’s intrinsic stance against the powers of the day. i agree with this—and it is for this reason that i assume that there is a gap in this humanistic concept of God.

He is a violent God, is He not? no matter how one reads the story of Genesis, how can one not see Him this way? this is the God who spared only Noah when He wiped out the peoples of the world in a massive flood. this is the God who commanded the Israelites to put their Canaanite enemies to death—even the children and the newborns. this is the God who gave Moses the Law—a Law which stipulated exile or death for what we would now consider non-capital offenses. He is a God who demanded blood sacrifices, who condoned the enslavement of other peoples, and who punished the Israelites repeatedly with foreign invasions and ruination for their sins. yes, it can be argued that this is how the biblical writers interpreted their history. yes, it can be argued that this is how God was anthropomorphized by His apologists. but this is all we know of how God’s own people experienced Him. they experienced Him as a wrathful God, restrained by His mercy and ultimately reframed by His capacity for grace. in the face of this God, His people experienced themselves as lost people who were found, depraved beings whose sins were miraculously forgiven by an uncompromising and perfect God.

i think that when we live in peace and in prosperity, there is the possibility of a certain kind of conversation about God—a conversation about His divine attributes as understood in a vacuum. unconstrained by human history and left to His own devices, God might be a being consumed with both generativity and self-sacrificial love. but the world that we live in is no such vacuum; it is a place filled with injustice, violence, and the basic tragedy of our mortality. within such a world, the God of scripture is an exacting God who demands justice and exerts judgment; and within the context of this prerogative, He is one who is capable of transcendent grace. to understand His grace apart from His exercise of violent judgment is to reduce His identity, which is complex enough to invite struggle. this is a God who is willing to be known for the graciousness of His love only insofar as His particular justice and His inescapable hostility toward sin are thoroughly understood.

i am open to exploring Heaven and Hell and in fact have arrived at my own unusual sense of these concepts, as i’ve previously written. but i struggle with the idea of a convergent and common salvific identity shared by all. is not the fate of the elect categorically different from the fate of the unelected? God’s passion for His tribe and the covenant resulting from this passion are for me the core elements of the biblical story; and His willingness to preserve His people at the expense of their enemies is the subtext of the narrative running through the Old Testament and into the core of the New. in the context of a world governed by the wicked and destined for destruction, there is a promise to God’s people that there will come a new world in which the righteous will rule. it is a promise that defies the egalitarian convictions of the humanist; but to me, it is the undeniable promise of God nonetheless


psalm 23

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:27 pm by Administrator

this morning, i saw a headline from today’s news on a tv in the break room. it was about the administration’s “merit-based” approach to immigration, which will privilege those who can speak English and have a higher level of income. it was a stunner to me. i went back to my desk feeling a little off. in fact, i felt shaken. it took me a couple of hours to understand what i was experiencing. all those reflections led me to think again about my favorite character in the biblical story.

i think that when many of us think of King David, we think of him in his glorious moments, like when he felled the giant Goliath or when he danced in the train of the ark’s procession. we might think of him in his most shameful moments, like when he committed adultery with a married woman and sent her husband to die at the front. but there was that other time in David’s life when he was neither famous nor infamous. there was that time when he was a nobody. during his forced exile from israel, he was no anointed man, no future king. he had no friends and no army at his back. he was a forgotten man who lived in caves, who found refuge among the enemy, and who had no family or home. David was as marginal as a man could be. no one writes stories about such men. but David did.

David wrote many of his psalms during those times of loneliness and anguish. his verses are filled with the pains of being dismissed and despised. had he never become king, those verses would have been discarded and forgotten. but they survived, and so the image of what he was in those times of despair has endured. David was not simply a great ruler and the human ancestor of the coming Christ. he was a criminal according to the dictates of the king, and he lived years of his life in hiding.

when i consider psalm 23 (”you prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows”), i think of what these words meant to a man who was well-acquainted with the bitter loneliness of being surrounded by enemies. and the more i ponder these words, the more i recognize that what set David apart as a man of God and as a king was the status he experienced as an illegal in his society. whatever dignity he had once had as a hero of the people was taken from him; and during those years that he feigned madness and haunted caves, he sought out God the savior, God the redeemer, God the defender of the helpless. those were the moments—agonizing and terrible—that shaped the man that David would become, the one held up in regard by God Himself as His favored man, His chosen king.

the administration’s stance toward undocumented immigrants grieves me and makes me remember their plight. no one speaks in their defense. they are perceived as criminals, as undignified, as uncivilized. but God looks into their lives and does not judge them by the color of their skin, their language ability, or their station in life. when they call out to Him, to God the savior, i believe that God hears them the way He heard David in those spare years. the psalms are not just the voice of a single man. they are the cry of a whole people, a whole tribe of people marginalized by society and seeking out a God who will stand in their defense. and in the face of their enemies, God prepares a table for them where they are not just permitted to eat but welcome to share in His great wealth. when others would throw them into prison, God fills their cup to overflowing. today, i remember this God, the God of my forefather David, and i grieve what we are becoming, and i worship the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, because this is the God who dignifies all life

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