Taking a Knee

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:05 pm by Administrator

when NFL players across the country chose to kneel, lock arms, or stay in their locker rooms this past weekend, they were without a doubt expressing protest. i found it very meaningful, and beyond that, i was moved. but a question came to mind, as i witnessed the backlash from the white house against these players, coaches, and owners, and it’s a simple question. since when did kneeling signify disrespect?

when the tv cameras captured images of young white, brown, and black men kneeling at the sound of the national anthem, i couldn’t help but be reminded of one other situation outside of organized sports in which i’ve seen men taking a knee—sunday church. it’s been many years since i’ve worshiped in a setting in which kneeling is encouraged or required, but i’ve had plenty of history in settings where kneeling was considered the quintessential posture of worship. if taking a knee in that setting was about protest, it was nothing more than a protest against the arrogance of man. by lowering oneself, a worshiper expresses penitence and awe. to see young men do this on the field of play struck me emotionally because i was seeing them react to something in the way that men and women in the thrall of God respond to worship. and that’s why i must admit that whatever the political and social context might have been on sunday, what i saw was a striking gesture of humility and of honor.

the idea of america is a beautiful one. and that’s why for so many years when i’ve heard the national anthem sung at the sports events i attend, i tear up and my spirit soars with the vision of the stars and stripes illuminated by rockets over the ramparts of Fort McHenry. the flag has changed over the centuries, and to look upon it in context is to recognize that we as a nation have changed and continue to undergo transformation. we have gone from 15 stars on the flag at Fort McHenry to 50 stars on the flag that we drape on the coffins of soldiers returning home from Afghanistan because we have allowed ourselves—even encouraged ourselves—to grow and to become greater than what we were.

when i think of the great battles americans have fought for this idea of america (and how can one not think of the wars and the lives lost at the very words of “The Star Spangled Banner”?) i think to myself that we engage with this idea of ourselves as a nation because it is a great idea. the United States, in other words, represents values and aspirations that essentialize the best in ourselves. perhaps, when we fail those ideals, the flag of the United States represents an ideal that is greater than our reality. to be struck by both penitence and awe is a natural reaction, even a noble reaction, when we recognize the truth of our failings. i think that when our young men take the knee at the sound of the national anthem, they remind us that the stars and stripes represent a vision of a better nation and a better world.


my dad died almost six months ago. one of the great delights of his last year of life was seeing our current president elected to office. when i describe it as a delight, i’m speaking truly to his emotional experience of celebrating donald trump. my dad described donald’s successful campaign as something he lived for, something that enabled him to experience personal hope in his daily struggle with the cancer that would eventually take his life.

to his last day, my dad did not want to talk with me about politics or his reasons for loving donald trump. i chose to typecast him as a certain kind of american, and i felt shame and embarrassment at his political leanings. perhaps in some ways i attributed his political sympathies to his old age, his isolation in his home, and his disconnection from the movements of society.

but recently i’ve begun to recognize the unfairness of this judgment. in fact, it was my father who introduced me to america. he was the first true patriot i ever met. this was a man who left his fatherland behind not simply to pursue economic opportunity in america but more broadly to become an american. he committed himself to the study of the English language. his lifelong passion was to eliminate any hint of a foreign accent. his bookcases were filled with textbooks and articles about the proper use of the article, the subjunctive, and idioms of all kinds. the very idea of being offered a bilingual context at work or in society would have deeply disturbed him.

i often describe my father’s feelings for america as the consequence of his feelings for the korea of his childhood. my father hated korea—a disdain that he inculcated into me, his only child. but i think that his feelings of shame for the war-torn, corrupt, and poverty-stricken nation that he left at the age of twenty-five are only partial context for understanding the depth of his feelings for america. when i look back at everything he told me about his experience of being american, i understand that he viewed citizenship here as a true privilege on account of the unique merits of this country and its culture. specifically, he viewed our civic participation, our respect for the law, our aspirations for meritocracy, and our capacity to offer economic opportunity to virtually anyone as an outgrowth of the american spirit—an honest, practical, and bold spirit. my dad loved america the nation because he loved american people.

i’ll never know this for sure, but i believe that my dad yearned for a trump presidency because he heard in trump’s rhetoric a straightforward and unabashed passion for what is american. for whatever reason, he never heard that in president obama’s message. perhaps obama was too intellectual, too nuanced, and too indirect in his manner of speaking. but i believe he saw it and heard it in the way that trump presented himself, and when i endeavor to see donald trump through the eyes of my father, i begin to catch a glimpse of what made america so precious to my father. this was not an america he could experience through the lens of a hilary clinton presidency. it was an america that he experienced once with ronald reagan, and it was an idea he wanted to remember one last time before he died.


yesterday at my company’s annual all-staff event, we had a program highlighted by speakers who addressed diversity, racism, and the divisive political climate of our times. one speaker in fact began his presentation with a lengthy introduction delivered in Spanish (for which no English interpretation was offered). before transitioning to English, he apologized to the audience and in jest indicated that he needed to be mindful of those with “language disabilities”.

as ninety percent of my company’s employees are Latino, the joke went over well, as did the many jabs at trump and the republican congress. i certainly enjoyed the political humor myself. but this morning i walked into a room where i heard two other employees discussing the joke, and one of them was very passionately unhappy with what he had heard. “i work for this company because i believe we do good work,” he said adamantly. “but yesterday i was made to feel that i might not belong, because i can’t speak Spanish and because of the way i may have voted.” it was a jarring moment for me, and i found myself drawn into the conversation. in the end, i apologized to him. i apologized to him for the way he was made to feel, and i told him that he was valuable to the organization because of his deep commitment to his work, regardless of his political leanings.

i am a 4. i react against power. i am sensitive to the experience of the one who is marginalized. so it was a striking and memorable experience to sympathize with a white man who was experiencing a “counter-micro-aggression” in an environment dominated by Latinos, many of whom have been deeply and personally impacted by Trump’s vicious words about Mexicans and by his staunch opposition to DACA. for all the passion and fury that trump has inspired in my heart on this account, i was nevertheless brought to a halt by the reaction of this man, whom i don’t know well but whose words resonated deeply all the same. i realized in that moment that i fear the abuse of power in all its forms: not only the power of government officials but also the tyranny of the majority in any community great or small. when we resist the power in Washington by creating a safe space for ourselves, could our safe space become a place of oppression for those that do not look or speak as we do?

for months, i have felt myself displaced, wandering into a place of deep unease. i fear being sucked into a movement of some kind; i fear discovering that my place of worship has become a place of political agitation. perhaps this is arbitrary, a reaction that is illegitimate on account of errant presuppositions about can and cannot be separated. my wife is always reminding me that for every counter-movement there is the dominant movement that would happily take its place. perhaps we are all consigned to be swept away, to attach ourselves to a bias or to a belief and to pit ourselves against our foes, until they are conquered or converted. but there is in my mind this idea of community, a place where we go to express our angers, our passions, and our great defeats, where the object in the end is not validation or victory but rather the simple acknowledgement in the end that we are each, in our own right, just survivors. we are just trying to stay alive. and this is dignity enough, regardless of what we have suffered through or inflicted upon others.

the america that my dad would have stood for with his hand to his heart is the same america that i would take a knee for in all reverence. it is an america in which a cause for justice can begin, can grow, and can complete its arc without destroying people in the process. it is a place where that slow, discursive process of discourse and legislation and judicial review leads to the formalization of a belief and the validation of a slow-building, inevitable cultural change. and it is a place where we are allowed—even called upon—to think of the least among us, the one who was not heard, and to act on her behalf for the sake of all who will someday be americans.

i struggle to respect our president, and i struggle to love those whom i disagree with. but i commit myself to these struggles, and i refuse to relinquish them, because these struggles are my filial duty and my legal right as an american. i listen to the anthem of our nation and i think of all lives lost and sacrificed over the centuries of our history, and i think to myself, my dad is one among them, and for his sake and the sake of all who have loved our country, i will keep my ears open, i will never stop changing, and i will not stop believing that this idea of america is worth my love and perhaps even my life


national consciousness

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:49 pm by Administrator

yesterday, i randomly began to watch “world war II” in color on netflix. i was struck by how much the colorization of the films changed my perception of the events. in grainy black and white, the events of the second world war always appeared to me very remote, very defined in time and place. but in color, the footage now strikes me with immediacy and even urgency. there is, in the story of adolf hitler’s rise, a powerful narrative about what drives national consciousness. it is both the power and the tragedy of human existence.

we’ll always search the histories of those times for lessons. i remember reading “night” by elie wiesel when i was in the eleventh grade; it was an experience that changed my life and made me believe that history was the most vitally important area of academic exploration—more important even than the sciences. this of course set the stage for my college studies in the history of science, where my studies of marcuse, mumford, roszak, and ultimately henry adams cemented my perspective in technological skepticism, an orientation that defines (if not plagues) me to this day. i take a pessimistic stance toward the future; i fear technological advances; i naturally orient myself against the crowd.

in any case, i have found post-war german art to be both intriguing and emotionally compelling. the art of gerhard richter, for example, is gripping to me in a manner that forces me to reckon with my unconscious biases about social structure and trajectories. there is a heartfelt reckoning with the tragic errors of their progenitors that echoes across the various media and forms of post-war german art and writing, and it is a reflection on collective and absolute failure. it is the kind of experience that forces the subsequent generations beyond post-trauma and into what i observe to be a post-nationalist objectivity. in this frame, there is no escape in the vagaries of relativistic subjectivities; there is rather the straightforward acknowledgement of catastrophe, meticulously separated from the imbedded experience of shame and brought into concise focus by the excision of all presumptions of a national trajectory or a civilizational destiny. it’s something other than humility, because how can a generation repent of what it carries no responsibility for? more truthfully, it’s social self-awareness, built upon the broken foundations of a nationalistic mythology.

when i look upon this man donald trump and the ardent following he has in america, i recognize that our time of truth has not yet come. we are still in the thrall of our many victories, captivated by the story of our greatness which extends from our past into the futures of our progeny. this is the only reason why we produce men like this, speech like this, and ideas underlying these men and their words that define our manifest destiny. perhaps it’s to be expected, neither right nor wrong, but in the scheme of things and in the context of all history, it can only appear to be a premise fated to be debunked, a myth meant to be exposed. one day, a young man in high school will read the story of my nation in my time, and he might be seized as i was once seized, and perhaps he will think, as i think now, that national consciousness is futile if it does not serve to bring us to our knees



Posted in Uncategorized at 5:25 pm by Administrator

a brief news story this morning about chester bennington’s suicide made me think again about what it takes to get by. living—that task of creating and sustaining a life—might seem instinctive to many, but it has never been straightforward for me. when i was younger, i thought that maybe this was because i was depressed. i’ve realized in the intervening years that i’m not depressed; i just have a hard time making sense of life.

the way i see it, there are two critical connections that one must experience in order to make it in life one day at a time. the first connection is a personal connection with oneself. in philosophical terms, this is about internal integration—an alignment of values, needs, and actions that supports healthy identity. in practical terms, this is about the ability to live with oneself.

the second connection is a felt connection between today and the next day. there has to be something about the experience of the current day that lends meaning to the next. i believe that people who truly live life one day at a time ultimately struggle to weather the storms of life’s inevitable crises and struggles. a trajectory to the personal story that extends beyond the present circumstances is essential for hope, for ambition, and for transcendence. the buddhist may disagree; but my history of struggles has convinced me of this. life is not sensible or good unless i can perceive tomorrow with both confidence and anticipation. the stringing together of consecutive days—this is how life proceeds.

like i said, i have found that these connections are not intuitive or easy. even when there appear to be logical progressions or milestones, i see through them. the hope of a pleasurable weekend or an upcoming trip, the allure of a new experience or challenge—these often strike me as arbitrary distractions from the fact of stasis. the stasis i speak of isn’t a lack of change; rather, it’s the general insufficiency of change. i fear deep down that what i think of as growth, as success, and as goodness will never truly materialize and that what i will be left with in the end is a life that for all of its elaborate narratives failed to amount to something profoundly true.

with all these ideas in mind, i will posit a simple thing: my primary responsibility at all times is to sustain my connection with self and with tomorrow. before all other tasks and obligations, this is my primary responsibility. i’m ineffective and personally handicapped in my work and relationships when i fail in this responsibility.

related to this, i often contemplate the fact that there is more that i can be doing in the world—and there is so much that needs doing. i can get lost in those thoughts, and what begins as a simple benevolent intention invariably leads me down a path to futility and hopelessness. LGBTQ rights. minority rights. food scarcity in all parts of the world. an ongoing senseless malaria epidemic in africa. tyranny in north korea. human suffering in syria. child kidnapping and forced conscription in sub-saharan countries. human trafficking. the scourge of drug cartels in central america. starvation in venezuela. global warming and also the chemical destruction of ecosystems. the proliferation of nuclear weapons. systematic injustice.

i feel obliged to impact all of it. but if i’m real with myself, i know that there are limits to my strength. as it stands, i feel like i barely make it to the end of the week. there are many weeks when i lose connection to myself and to tomorrow, on account of the routine toil i engage in day to day. i often feel pressed to do more; but the fact is that my family and i experience difficult consequences when i try to do more than i feel that i can.

i am aware that this frustrated desire to do good could lead me to a bad place. there are, after all, people who channel their motivations into narcissistic behavior. their service primarily fulfills a personal need while exacerbating their myopia and self-orientation. they engage in charitable service in a manner that doesn’t authentically connect them with others. it may not be the worst of all outcomes for a life, but it isn’t the one i want for myself. i don’t want to do “good” in a manner that is ultimately false to myself; because i believe that such a life would inevitably disconnect me from my inner self and leave me with emptiness. there is a different way of doing good, i believe, that goes beyond transaction or self-satisfaction. there is a way of doing good that drives connection with self and with the future, in a manner that actively creates a vision for a better world. among all my thoughts and speculations, this is the approach to life that i most wish for myself



Posted in Uncategorized at 7:55 pm by Administrator

i finally got around to watching scorcese’s movie “silence” on dvd this past weekend. it was a long, serious, and technically sound film that was not particularly evocative or interesting, in spite of its premise. but i don’t really want to get into the movie’s merits and flaws. i want to talk about that interesting moment when the movie offers us “the voice of God”.

it happens very late in the movie, when the main character Rodrigues—a European missionary to Japan who is captured by Japanese officials and tortured into renouncing his faith—hears the voice of God at his moment of greatest despair. it’s a voice that sounds a bit like an English-accented Morgan Freeman, a weary and wise voice that tells him it is okay for him to deny Christ in order to save his life and the lives of others.

i think that the moment was supposed to be solemn, impactful, and heartfelt, a moment when God breaks his customary silence to offer Rodrigues deep solace. but for me, the experience was jarring, baffling, and even a bit comical. it might have been different had there been a context for that particular voice—if for example those words had been delivered in Rodrigues’s own voice or that of his former mentor Ferreira. but it was a bodiless and bizarre voice, an unexpectedly intrusive new character, and i reacted badly to it.

i realize now that i reacted the way that i did because i did not expect God to be a real character in the movie “Silence”. real or imagined, that voice represented a character whose existence and relevance were the central questions of the entire film up to that point; but once the voice of God was interjected into the narrative, the mystery of God was reduced, simplified, and even broken. it was like a crude cameo; a conclusion that was never supposed to be the conclusion was hence drawn, and the audience had no choice but to realize that it was that kind of movie.

for four-fifths of the movie, “Silence” was a vaguely realized narrative about the mystery of God and the true costs of faith. but in the end, it felt like a movie about heroism; and this felt as prescriptive and out of touch as the voice of God itself. the story of Rodrigues could have been as fascinating as it was sad, but this ended up not being the story of Rodrigues, a man at the limits of human strength and understanding. this was the story of Rodrigues the heroic priest, whose enduring faith even after his act of apostasy qualified him as a martyr. that’s not much of a story to me; it’s the stuff of propaganda. and isn’t that what so much of religion seems to be these days?


the mirage

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:47 pm by Administrator

light may bend where air moves.
it is perhaps nature’s way of saying
that the way something is
ought to be affected by the way
everything around it feels.

was it not the same for you?
a light came out of you
or it passed through you,
and everyone could see
but the fear, the rage, and all regret

came up out of the ground
like a surge from the core of the earth
and wrapped you, like a mother’s arms
and you changed, like the shimmer of a mirage,
like a mist that appeared, then vanished.


reflections on leadership

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by Administrator

i’ve read a good number of books on leadership, but i don’t think any have prepared me well for the particular challenge i’m facing right now. i’ve shifted from being a manager of doctors (who more or less operate autonomously) to being a functional leader in organizational effectiveness to now being a manager of managers in a brand-new support department. it’s a role that requires that i manage work through people and through systems, and it’s a role that requires my influence across a wide range of departments. seven years ago my job was all about seeing patients and discussing performance metrics with doctors. now my job is about directing strategy, recruiting talent, managing change, improving operations, and communicating priorities through a variety of forums, meetings, and committees, some of which i’m now chairing.

if there’s one lesson that i’m learning very quickly, it’s that there are two fundamentally different mindsets that i must negotiate from day to day and even from hour to hour. on the one hand, there’s the task-oriented mindset: the approach to a day’s work that revolves around all the deliverables i am responsible for. on the other hand, there’s the relationship-oriented mindset: the approach to influence that emphasizes the critical importance of effective communication, mutuality, and alignment with key stakeholders. because these two mindsets rely on distinctly different parts of my persona, i feel the tension between them throughout my work day. i am learning that my ability to shift between these perspectives quickly, effectively, and even intuitively is going to be a personal differentiator at my level in the organization.

let me emphasize that the difference between task-orientation and relationship-orientation is not simply a matter of what i’m focused on in the moment. it is more broadly a matter of how i choose to present myself. i can be task-oriented in a meeting, or i can be relationship-oriented in the same meeting. i can be task-oriented when i write an email, or i can be relationship-oriented in writing that email. when i am task-oriented, my interest is in execution and follow-through; i convey the information necessary to fulfilling a transaction, and my effectiveness is determined by my ability to obtain the information or the service i am requesting. sometimes task-orientation requires that i be forceful, but other times it requires that i be indirect or even intentionally charismatic. but the goal is invariably something discrete, and my focus is on efficiency and the completion of the task. in my management and doctoring roles, i default to being task-oriented; and indeed for much of my career, i have been predominantly task-oriented.

a relationship orientation, i’m learning, is as important as task orientation when it comes to the effectiveness of a senior or executive leader. that’s because at higher levels of an organization, the long-term effectiveness of a leader is determined by the level and strength of personal influence. one can deliver results in a particular context and be very effective as a manager; but an executive must be able to drive a wide range of results related to people and processes that he or she often cannot manage or control directly. that leader must be comfortable with understanding his or her value relative to broad, diffuse, and sometimes unquantifiable personal impacts and interactions.

i feel the tension most often during meetings focused on items that are important to my work but beyond my immediate scope of control. how do i deal with efforts and initiatives that are unaligned or even working contrary to the interests i’m trying to support? how do i deal with people who want something from me that is tangential to what i’m being evaluated on? how do i work with stakeholders whose values are clearly different from mine? a relationship orientation helps me to remember that my role in some forums is simply to be present and to represent what i believe. it helps me to understand that my value as a leader is not always tied to a specific agenda or a deliverable that i can identify. frequently, my value as a leader hinges on my ability to avail myself to the people who need me, to support my colleagues on a human level, and to deeply understand the interests of those whom i work with. just today i was in a one-on-one meeting with someone outside of my chain of command who wanted to add to my list of responsibilities, and i had to remind myself that i needed to approach this as a relationship-building conversation with another leader—and not as a threat to be managed and deflected.

though i pride myself on my emotional intelligence and my ability to interact with a diversity of personalities, this “switch” between task orientation and relationship orientation is not intuitive, and i often have to reorient myself intentionally at multiple points in my workday. i sometimes have to tell myself “i’m not wasting my time here”. sometimes i have to remind myself that even when nothing appears to be getting done, i am still always building, refining, and deepening critical relationships. this is the art of leadership. it requires that i present myself with intention and care to each specific audience for a purpose broader than i might conceive in the moment. it requires influence beyond transaction. it requires, in many ways, a performance—a performance that demands from me a freer flow of information, a willingness to negotiate, and the ability (whether perceived or real) to be affected, influenced, changed, and even used by others


sexual morality

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:04 pm by Administrator

an entry about an important but very unpopular issue. but i’ve been meaning to write it for a long while, and now it’s time.

for most of my life, i’ve seen the church handle the conversation on sexual morality in an unsystematic, awkward, and stage-specific manner. when i was a child, sexuality was addressed with silence. when i was an adolescent, sexual morality was addressed with stern injunctions against premarital sex. when i was an unmarried adult, it was addressed with encouragements to marry. and when i was a married man, it was addressed through peer encouragements to abstain from pornography and infidelity.

contrast this with the approach of Paul, who made sexual morality an overt theme in his writings to the church. his magnum opus, the book of Romans, gives sexual immorality a central role in the story of man’s fall from grace. his instructions to the church, particularly to the Corinthians, are very specific about gender roles and the meaning and value of marriage. i think it’s fairly clear that Paul believed that the church required absolute clarity on what constituted sexual morality with respect to prevailing social norms.

i say all this to contend that those who would simply define the church’s mission to society as charitable service—social beneficence—are probably not well aligned with Paul, who believed the integrity of the church to be foundational to its identity. Paul believed that the church had to evidence God’s attributes and His covenant through both its principles and its praxis. as such, false teachings, immorality, and division within the church were disgraceful not only in proportion to the social good they restrained but also to the extent that they undermined the elect as moral representatives of a holy God.

i’ve written much to contend that the predominant issue in Evangelical conversations about sexual morality—the forensic classification of homosexual behavior—represents a deviation from the intent of Pauline theology. but this is not to say that the church should consider sexual morality a gray area or one in which permissiveness should be generally applied. if anything, i believe that the church in america needs to double down on the critical importance of sexual morality, in a manner that brings focus to the aspects that matter most. Paul’s approach to sexual morality emphasized the importance of three things: conscience, practical self-control, and mutual respect that preserves dignity; and i think that we would do well to drive a similar emphasis in our present-day discourse.

first, conscience.

in Romans 1, Paul’s argument about the nature of sin and the justifiability of universal condemnation rests upon one critical assumption—that his audience understands that sin in its all its reprehensible forms is readily recognizable. as he further expounds in Romans 2, sin should be readily evident not only to those under the law (the Jews) but also to those who do not have the law (the Gentiles) because of the universal experience of conscience. conscience, as Paul describes it indirectly, has two consequences: it attests to the sinner’s willing “exchange” of what is natural and good for what is unnatural and evil; and it indicts the individual for this perversion of truth.

under closer examination, the presuppositions of this contention should be clear. while Paul later on will define the sinful nature and its deadly repercussions as inevitable, he refuses to define sin as innate and inescapable. for each and every person, there is a turning away from what is natural; it is this “exchange” or “abandonment” of God-given design that justifies condemnation.

when it comes to homosexual behavior, herein is where Paul’s argument in Romans 1 (Romans 1:18-27) cannot help but deliver to us an unfortunate irony. Paul describes homosexual behavior as a case in point of sin as a perversion of what is natural, revealing his assumption that even to those practicing it homosexual behavior is clearly a deviation from what they experience as natural. Paul, in other words, did not perceive homosexuality as innate orientation; and as many scholars have contended over the past few decades, the very idea of homosexuality as intrinsic identity or preference was not accepted or understood in those times. i would go further and contend that if Paul had understood then what is commonly accepted now—that homosexual inclinations are innate, if not congenital—then he would not have used same-sex behavior as his principal example of sin as a deliberate violation of conscience.

to the audience of his day, Paul could have rightly assumed that such an assumption might have been widely accepted, and indeed as it is foundational to his broader argument about the nature of sin, it would have been critical that such a point be incontrovertible, particularly to a community so young and inexperienced in the faith. i cannot imagine that Paul would have written anything of the like to today’s church in America, where many readers would have found this basic point about sexual nature to be an unsurpassable stumbling block. in fact, Paul’s simple analogy has become a stumbling block to many believers, both straight and gay, because they do not share Paul’s fundamental supposition about same-sex preferences—that God does not design people to be gay.

were Paul alive today, i believe that the climate of church-sanctioned homophobia would strike him with immeasurable sadness. here was a letter that was taken out of its cultural context and grossly misrepresented, detracting from his main point to the Romans of the first century while arbitrarily punishing those whose consciences would otherwise not indict them. he would have pointed to 1 Corinthians 11, for certain. “why aren’t your women wearing head coverings?” he’d ask us. “are you too stupid to understand that i was writing to a people who believed, unlike you, that it was embarrassing for a woman to wear her hair short (or to have no hair at all)? how can you not extend to me a similar grace when it comes to the way gays and lesbians were then understood?” and yet, we are that stupid. and on account of this, Paul will shed more tears for the things he once wrote, and God will weep for the things we continue to do against the plain dictates of conscience.

next, self-control.

there is without a doubt a strong emphasis in the Pauline writings on the value of celibacy. Paul esteems celibacy above all other forms of sexual self-expression; it promotes ultimate devotion to God. 1 Corinthians 7 is utterly clear on this point and on the point that marriage is, within this context, a concession to those who cannot exercise sufficient sexual self-control.

in the american evangelical church, we have chosen to distort Paul’s approach to idealized sexuality by instead advocating for heterosexual marriage. in fact, we esteem heterosexual marriage with children, a privilege we confer that is negatively experienced even by married members who either choose to be childless or are unable to have children of their own. if the church were very serious about Pauline norms of sexuality (as we pretend to be within the social discourse around homosexuality), then we would passionately advocate for Paul’s vision of idealized Christian sexuality—lifelong abstinence and covenantal singlehood. here is the ugly truth about the American church; if we were to advocate for such a thing among our youth, then parents would stop bringing their families to church on sundays. the fact is that we have arbitrarily chosen a moral war against homosexuals while refusing to acknowledge the idolatry inherent to our own warped view of heterosexual marriage. we have all chosen the lesser thing, and we’ve done so in a manner that highlights our intricate and pervasive hypocrisy.

marriage and sexual self-expression are not personal entitlements—not anywhere in scripture and certainly not in Pauline theology—and yet we overtly treat them as such among heterosexual believers. it is nonsensical that we urge lesbian sisters and gay brothers to embrace the gift of celibacy when we heterosexuals readily reject it. Paul would take issue with such a repressive double standard. “either get married all of you for the common good and the rejection of promiscuity,” he’d argue, “or get neutered every one of you and put this incredible hypocrisy to death.” if that were the proposition put to us, i’m willing to bet that the heteros would gladly extend the right to marriage to their gay brothers. and it wouldn’t be out of genuine kindness either.

lastly, dignity.

when i consider the sexual offenses that we witness and condone in our society every day, i am struck by the fact that the objectification of women by men remains the most pervasive, ugly, and destructive form of sexual immorality manifested by human beings, both within and outside of the church. we tolerate it and celebrate it in our television programming and advertising. we capitalize it through social media, legalized prostitution, and the pornography industry. and we suffer the consequences of it, through widespread infidelity and divorce, domestic abuse, violence against women, and all the psychological ramifications these have on our youth, who are bullied, ravaged by eating disorders, and taught to objectify themselves and their peers to their mutual spiritual destruction.

the church’s collective silence against this epidemic of sexual immorality is stunning. relative to all the misdirected ranting against gays and other “deviants”, the church’s message to young men and women in the clutch of sex addiction and sexual idolatry is toothless, powerless, and altogether untrue. what the young people in the church need to hear is a clear message about basic dignity: that their sexuality is a gift and one that God demands that they express in a manner that guards the dignity of themselves and those that they are in relationship with. women must respect themselves by resisting the norms that confine and demean them. and men must respect themselves and the women who are their equals by considering their sexuality with humility—if not with humiliation—and submitting themselves to the scrutiny and judgment of their elders. sexual propriety is vital to the health of the church because the dignity of its members depends on it.

in most societies in today’s world, the dignity of a woman is determined by several factors. her social equality with men. her earning potential relative to that of a man. her ability to be judged by those with authority based on what she has done and not based on what she has to offer as a sexual object. when girls grow up in societies like ours where women are brazenly objectified and rewarded based on their sexual offerings, it shatters any foundation for the basic self-respect that is critical to healthy spiritual community. the church, in other words, cannot survive when it accepts a social context that demeans a woman. yet, we use the Bible systematically and destructively to do such a thing. we misappropriate Paul’s teachings on the proper place of women to justify their social disadvantages, their lack of authority or influence in the workplace, and their sexual duties to men. this undermining of human dignity runs counter to the thrust of biblical teaching and corrupts the church all the way to its spiritual core.

there is no sexual morality in the church without the dignification of women, and such an extraordinary thing cannot be realized apart from a systematic separation of the church from society on all mores and practices that objectify and demean the woman. rather than advocate for “traditional marriage”—that savage institution which has served to oppress, abuse, and silence women over the millennia—we should be advocating for mutually respecting and dignifying relationships, within which both men and women have the ability to express their true needs and find importance within their spiritual community. to aspire for anything less than this is to violate conscience and to invite judgment. we should know better than to be counted with the chauvinists, misogynists, and idolatrous fools who rule our day and teach us falsehoods about how men and women should be with each other.

and thank God, by the way, for the gay brothers who do not express their lusts through the systematic and pervasive oppression of women; i would contend that they have something to teach the rest of us in this regard


let him live

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:57 pm by Administrator

I’m in an awful awful mood. I just got back from a 5-day board review course that was thoroughly unpleasant: 11 hours a day of lectures without lunch breaks for 4.5 straight days, in a dark hotel ballroom. as if that wasn’t grueling enough, the hotel bed was lumpy, the neighbor next door had nightly loud phone calls around 1 AM, and my sleep was fitful throughout the stay. I got back here exhausted and pissed off and had to put in an onerous day of work because I was five days behind on stuff that I couldn’t attend to while I was gone. on top of that, the house was a mess and I couldn’t find certain things where I’d left them, and that never ceases to set me off. the stress and the sleep deprivation have given me cankersores—which I absolutely can’t stand. I haven’t had cankersores really for years since I adopted a disciplined lifestyle. and this just makes me angrier at the circumstances I can’t control. I have to take the goddamn boards. I have to do my job. I have to deal with the mess at home. it’s shit I can’t work around; I just have to do it and suffer the consequences.

it’s a moment when I have to look at where I am and just concede that this is the hand I was dealt. it’s useless to get mad about what led me here. there’s no sense in trying to imagine how it could have worked out differently. I’m off my rhythm and I feel physically and mentally stretched and unwell. fuck it. I have to move on. someday, i’ll be dealt a hand that looks a lot worse, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get through. there are no prizes for resilience. there just has to be a reason to persevere. and the only good reasons to persevere have to do with the well-being of others. so here I am in clinic, and I’m going to pull it together because someone who’s sick needs me to be as well as I can be.

while I was at the board review course, one of my old friends from fellowship days told me about her experiences on the wards, mentoring the next generation of medical students. she was complaining that they’re weak in so many ways. they don’t do a physical exam. they don’t talk to the radiologists or the pathologists about their patients. they expect information spoon-fed to them through a computer. they’re not resilient. one medical student broke down in front of her after she gave him some critical feedback about an H&P and told her that he felt med school hadn’t prepared him adequately for the emotional challenge of spending his days with very sick people. her response: “it’s not about you.” she seemed incredulous, even as she was describing the situation to me. “can you imagine?” she said to me over the dinner table. “he was surrounded by all these sick people, and all he could think about was himself!”

and I thought to myself, “that was me”.

I have always admired the stoic people. there is a certain kind of stoic person I have always admired, and he looks something like the way I imagined William osler to be. a white man, tall, thin, and good-looking. witty in the face of adversity. always funny in the moment. decidedly unemotional. persuasive when necessary. relentless, persevering, and generally laconic. he’s the Marlboro man, in other words, but intellectual and sophisticated. Hopkins was full of those Marlboro men of medicine, austere and self-deprecating to the last. and I was never one of them.

it’s a curious thing, that when you’re an impressionable young medical student, you shape your idea of what you want to become not around a vague idea or a textbook principle but around the first doctor that truly impresses you on rounds. my paragon was a guy named luke, a tall good-looking white man who delivered assessments and plans with impeccable precision and effortless elegance, even after 26 straight hours awake and a night filled with GI bleeds, cardiac arrests, unsuccessful resuscitations, and emergencies on the floor. I wanted to be just like him, and I spent three years of my life trying to hammer that shape out of my own protean form. I did not succeed, and what I became instead was wounded, resentful, and arrogant. to others, I was a confident, articulate man; but to those who knew me, I was filled with repressed anger and deep sorrow about the lot of man.

when my colleague described this befuddled young man who had broken down in tears before her, I could visualize the situation quite vividly. she was the stoic, experienced doctor with two children, a successful career, and a full life. and he was the nervous wreck of a young man with his whole frightening life ahead of him, trying to figure out his place in the world. she had no understanding of him; and he felt imminently threatened by her. and my heart went out to him, this young man filled with feelings and despair, because he’s of my tribe. we are the people who can’t be stoic, because the tragedy of the world and the terror of our lives breaks us within and forces us to emotion. and this emotion is both what distances us from others and what connects us to the people that we serve. the members of our tribe gain nothing from the criticism of our stoic elders. what we require is validation of our truth. this is not because our worldview is righteous. rather, it’s because we speak a different language—the language of frustrated belonging.

I told my old friend that whether she likes it or not, it is this man’s duty to tend first to his feelings and to know them; only then can he have something to share with others around him. and indeed, this thing that he has to share is a special and unique thing. to quash it is to kill his spirit and to undermine his journey. let him live, I told her. as you have lived, let him live and find his way through this world