02.26.18

precarity, maturity, and adaptation

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 pm by Administrator

it struck me today as I sat in an executive meeting that it can be a terribly difficult thing to wrestle constantly with precarity. I didn’t deal with this when I was a full-time clinician; I knew that my work would never fundamentally change and that it would always be valued in my society. but I haven’t carried the same assumptions into my work as a leader. there are always more results I could be delivering; there is always a case to be made that I am not adding sufficient value; and there is always the possibility that my role can be rapidly revised as the needs of the company shift. I have found that the higher up I ascend in the org chart, the more I sense my precarity. and it is an intensely uncomfortable experience.

I recently had a talk with a friend of mine who’s experiencing the same thing. he’s a doctor who has moved into a physician executive role and has already produced significant results for his organization. outwardly, he projects confidence and competence; but in his conversations with me, he’s shown me a much different picture of his life as a leader—constant doubt, nagging anxieties, feelings of worthlessness, and even outright depression. the higher up he’s moved, the more isolating his experience of work has become. when I asked him some probing questions, he eventually admitted to me that a root cause of his dissatisfaction was his sense that his hard work and sacrifices were going unappreciated. he understood that he was accomplishing things; but what he was not experiencing was a satisfaction with these achievements, and this was largely because he was not being recognized for these achievements.

when I think of the person I wish I could be, I find myself meditating on the idea of maturity. the person I want to become is resilient, open-minded, able to receive criticism, and consummately wise. these qualities make me think of the first chapter of James: “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. I imagine the mature version of myself being able to control my feelings and to influence others positively and consistently regardless of my own struggles. a mature version of me can handle the challenges of leadership, including precarity. a mature version of me can find satisfaction regardless of my circumstances, whether in plenty or in want. but that’s not what I am right now.

my experiences and those of others, including my friend in medical leadership, have convinced me that the soul-killing nature of the executive job stems from a lack of frequent and meaningful affirmation of self. tokens of appreciation, kind words, and even compassion are a part of that. but affirmation connotes something broader and deeper than these transactional communications; affirmation implies that which substantially reinforces one’s identity and value within community. it is not soft stuff, here. it’s not trivial and easy. affirmation is as difficult to receive as it is to really give. without it, the ego begins to degrade; and when the ego becomes fragile, one cannot trust others. one must defend himself from perceived threats, at all times. and when one lives in defense of his ego, he becomes entrenched in a manner of thinking about the world. he cannot be open to the feedback of others. he stagnates; he loses the ability to adapt.

for me, growth is about constant adaptation to a healthy context. without adaptation, one is bound to lose his or her relevance to an ever-changing community. the purpose of growth is ongoing relevance, made complete in redeeming influence. one can only adapt though if one is able to change; and one can only change if he or she is able to learn from critique; and one can only learn from critique and failure if one is able to listen deeply to others and to one’s own heart; and this listening is only possible if one is able to extend grace to the person potentially offering truth. in the end, one can only extend grace to others if one is able to truly love oneself; life-giving truth is that which enables one to love himself purely, utterly, and sufficiently.

for many years, I have peered into the scriptural narrative and encountered a God who loves me but appears unconcerned with whether I love myself. this particular experience of a doctrine of “total depravity” has restricted my personal growth and prevented me from extending grace to others in a manner that allowed me to listen and to change. but as I have reexamined this approach, I have come to recognize that there is indeed life-giving truth in the Gospel of Christ. there is so much that reflects God’s intention to deeply affirm Her people. I see in the stories of the faithful forefathers affirmation that wasn’t simply universal and intuitive but also powerfully specific and sufficient for the individual. and as the prophets, priests, and kings were called to greater and greater responsibilities in their lives, the affirmation of God became more and more specific to their needs, to the extent of enriching and expanding their identities. Abraham became to God a father of nations. Jacob took on the name of Israel, a covenant name for all time. Paul became not simply an apostle but the rock of God’s church and a man to whom a special revelation was given. as these men grew in the faith, God’s affirmations of their specific roles and identities deepened; and as their needs multiplied, God’s connection with them intensified. throughout the scripture, this truth is clear; God’s grace to mankind is manifest not only in salvation of the soul but also in the dignification of individual identity. it is through deeply healthy identity that the priests of God are able to minister to others, handle hardship, receive correction, and ultimately adapt to the ever-changing ever-glorifying reality of the covenant people.

and so I take this reflection to heart. I know that I can lose all at any time; I understand that there is nothing in my life that I can take for granted. but in the midst of this uncertainty and even precarity, I hold to a life-giving truth: that I am loved not simply because all mankind is loved but because I—the one foreseen, called, and profoundly understood—am loved for who I am. this or that thing can be taken from me; but it cannot change the fact of how I am beloved. upon this foundation, I forgive myself; and upon this self-love, I extend grace to others, that I may hear their truth and be changed by it. I am loved, that I may change, and I change so that I may adapt, that my growth might be reflected in my influence on the people, for their delight and for the glory of God

02.22.18

why i will cheer on the students–and be privately ambivalent

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:28 pm by Administrator

i am hoping against hope, it seems, that this time it will be different. these young high school students are out there telling their truth, and they’re not going away. senators are talking to them. the president is talking to them. other high schoolers across the country are uniting with them. and the NRA is lying about them. all of it suggests that this time it might be different. someone with both a conscience and a spine might lay down his or her career to do the right thing—and tough regulations on gun ownership might just become our new reality.

i’m all for it. i’m a dad who’s scared for my kids. i’m a pedestrian who watches out for stray bullets. i’m a doctor who sees the long-term effects (both physical and emotional) of random violence. and i’m someone who has never owned a gun and probably never will. the original intent of the founding fathers doesn’t need to be debated now; the imminent risks associated with the unregulated proliferation of guns and gun owners simply have to be addressed now. it’s a menace to public health, and it has to be curtailed. if i had my choice, it would take months to purchase a gun, with extensive background checks and mandatory registration of all purchased firearms. gun owners would be held legally responsible for any crimes committed with their firearms. moreover, most police officers would be required to use non-lethal ammunition, and we’d reopen the debate on violence on television and in video games. i wouldn’t mind banning first-person shooter video games on top of all that. let’s get guns out of our common diction; let’s remove everyday violence from our collective expectations.

while these are stances i’ll continue to stand by, i do believe in the basic principle of protecting gun ownership, and as a result of this i can understand the fear of a snowball effect around regulation. here’s why i am privately ambivalent about guns: there’s a real part of me that believes that if someone out there has a gun, then i should have one too. if government were perfect and society were unfailingly just, then i might be able to entrust my safety and the safety of my family to the authorities. but government is not perfect and society is not just—and the last fifteen months have only deepened my skepticism of the powers that be. if my town falls prey to a natural disaster or major social upheaval, how will i protect my family when push comes to shove? who will have the power, when those in authority are either unable or unwilling to intervene? the police drove away when riots overtook central los angeles twenty-five years ago. the ones who saved their businesses and their homes were the ones with guns. specifically, they were the ones with fully automatic assault rifles.

i continue to support gun ownership because i don’t trust people. i don’t trust the guy that got into a fight with me when we were stopped at an intersection five years ago. i don’t trust some of my patients, who’ve threatened to shoot me for not giving them opioid medications. i don’t trust white supremacists, a lot of whom stock weapons. and i don’t trust the random mentally ill or angry guy walking down the street, regardless of the color of his skin. our country is full of racist, sexist, and ignorant people who might be prone to violence, and i default to a distrust of them. the only reason i haven’t bought a weapon up to this point is that i know that a gun in the house will raise the risk of injury to the people who live there. but at the first sign of social instability or local unrest, you’d better believe that i will reserve for myself the right to get an AR-15.

it’s a tough issue. the libertarian cynic in me stands by the second amendment; the social liberal in me wants to do away with guns completely. in the end, i think it will be an all-or-nothing deal for me. if we can all agree to dispense with guns, then i’m certainly willing to relinquish my right to own one. but if gun regulation in the end just means that guns will be selectively owned by those who are most determined to use them against others, then it’s not straightforward for me anymore. i want to believe in a better world; but for now, i feel the need to be fully prepared for the one i live in

all about the eagles–again

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:03 pm by Administrator

yes, i still wake up in the morning and pinch myself. the eagles won the super bowl. wasn’t supposed to happen. wasn’t predicted to happen. wasn’t just going to happen. so we fucking went out and stole the goddamn championship. praise God!

for the past week, i’ve been all into the news, trying to figure out our next moves. i told people that i’d lay off now because i don’t care anymore. that was a lie. it’s true that i’m going to give up all fantasy sports and move on with my life, for the most part. i’m still not going to watch football on sundays. but april will still be our draft, july will be our training camp, august will be our preseason, and december will be our playoffs. i think the eagles will always be on my mind, even though i will continue to struggle with the safety and ethics of the game.

i don’t have the time or energy to expound on my thought processes, but i have been thinking a great deal about how we need to approach this off-season, free agency, and the draft. my thoughts have led me to reflect on some guys in the business that i used to venerate—ted thompson, bill belichick, and john schneider, among others—and the lessons we have to learn from their successes and failures. schneider in particular stands out in my mind as an important point of reference. here was a guy that i extolled for beating out howie roseman in virtually every draft that they shared. while roseman whiffed on half of his early round picks, schneider picked up guys like earl thomas, bobby wagner, and russell wilson in the early rounds while stealing kam chancellor and richard sherman in the bargain basement late rounds. for a while there, the seahawks were sizing up to be a dynasty; and when they went all-in to grab jimmy graham, i thought he’d be the icing on the cake.

but conventional wisdom is so often tomfoolery in the end. schneider committed too much money to his “legion of boom” after their super bowl win. the seahawks got fat and soft. they never had enough money to maintain a decent o-line, and as a result wilson took his licks and the offense fell apart. jimmy graham face-planted. the seahawks failed to make playoffs. now, they look like they might end up being a one-and-done team, at least for the foreseeable future.

schneider, who once looked like a genius, is now a cautionary tale for roseman, who made all the right moves and is now solidly in his prime. howie now faces this important question: do we run the team like a business and for sustainable success, or do we pull a john schneider and create a happy bunch of underachievers? we can shell out the gratitude contracts now—or we can learn something from Pittsburgh and New England, who never failed to play hard-ball both on the field and in the board room.

with that in mind, i’ve got this to say to jeff and howie.

1. focus on value, not on rewarding your guys. i know that brandon graham won us that game with the strip-sack. he’s a swell guy, and we all love him. but he’s thirty years old and playing a young man’s game. true, he doesn’t have as much mileage on his knees as one might expect; true, he’s a special talent. but the dollars we spend to extend him might be dollars we should be spending on our next generation of linemen. don’t cave. if brandon has to move on, he can let another team reward him for declining returns.

2. i think we can get buffalo’s 21st pick for nick foles, and we should do that deal. i will always always love nick foles. but i will also love trading him to get a franchise defensive tackle at pick #21, and it’s the right move for our future. we won’t have to package #32, and that’s fine because we’ll need that pick to grab either connor williams or kolton miller to be our left tackle of the future.

3. addressing both lines should be our first-round priorities in this draft. there are great corners, running backs, and linebackers that will slide to the end of the 1st round, but none of them will be the difference for us in our bid for a repeat super bowl next year. we can wait on linebacker, and i think that betting on sidney jones and rasul douglas in year two is a fair bet.

i’m gonna be there for the eagles’ home opener, come september 6. it’ll be a perfect day. we’ll start out with brunch in the city, a run along the river, a fat ol cheese steak for lunch, a few beers outside the stadium, and then a thursday night lombardi trophy and win number one in 2018.

GO EAGLES

02.21.18

three billboards, dad, sadness

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:42 pm by Administrator

during my weekend on my own, i saw three movies in the theater (a veritable marathon of movies compared to what i’m used to). i thought “shape of water” was intriguing, and i found “black panther” inspiring. but it turns out that i saved the best for last. “three billboards outside ebbing missouri” was hilarious, powerful, and utterly cathartic all at the same time, and in its broad treatment of racism, sexism, american identity, and death, it really left very few stones left unturned. i loved it. it is the best movie i’ve seen in the past year and perhaps in quite a long time.

oddly enough, all the anger and straight-talking in the movie reminded me very much of my dad. in a good way.

i have been having a lot of recollections of my dad recently. it began with a fairly intense conversation i had with a friend in crisis, two weeks ago. she was talking about her marriage, but then talk drifted to her childhood and her history with an alcoholic father. i was reminded immediately of two moments i had with my dad, both of which happened around the time that i was seven years old. the first moment was when my father was trying to pull out a large knife from the kitchen drawer and my hands were on top of his, trying to prevent him from killing my mother and me. the other moment was when my father went to the basement and came back up with a hatchet. my mother lay down flat on the couch and yelled at him to do it; and he walked over to her and raised the axe high over his head. in both memories, i can vaguely remember that i was crying, screaming. i can vaguely remember the sounds of their fighting. i cannot remember how the moments were resolved—so in my mind, they remain unresolved and suspended in time, violent, curious.

years ago when my son was six years old, i found him sleeping in my mother-in-law’s house when i came to pick him up, and he looked so very innocent as he lay on the floor. i was drunk from a wedding reception and collapsed on the floor next to him, sobbing. my son still remembers the moment quite vividly. a week ago i finally explained it to him. “it wasn’t you i was crying for,” i told him. “i cried for the child i was who never should have seen what he saw. i grieved for him when i saw you, and i still grieve for him now.”

two nights ago, i saw my dad in a dream. he was younger, around the age that i am now, and he was vigorous and full of questions. and i was frantic in my dream. “you’re dead, dad!” i yelled out. “you had leukemia and you died of it!” (i don’t know why i called it leukemia, because he’d actually had a lymphoma). in any case, he looked at me confused, and i felt instantly so bad for him, because i realized that i was disclosing to him the future that he had not yet experienced. there was also some joy, because my dad was alive, and there was so much i wanted to tell him.

in six weeks or so, i’ll be visiting him where he was laid to rest. i will tell him, as i told him six months ago when i was last there, that i forgive him. there was the terrible drama of his life which spilled over into mine, and i cannot understand why he threatened to kill me and my mother so many times. but i also know without a doubt that he loved me. it is because of my father that i can understand a God who could be so full of rage that he could kill almost everyone in the world with a flood but also be so full of love that He could choose to let his people humiliate Him and put Him to death.

my love for my son isn’t like my dad’s love for me. i’m not going to hurt my little boy. it’s a promise i made to myself thirty-something years ago when i sat huddled and alone, crying away those interminable moments in my bedroom. love doesn’t have to be complicated. it doesn’t have to be violent.

in the context of some recent disappointments, the news about the miami school shootings has struck me with a singular sadness. as much as i have not appreciated our president over the months (or years), i have not connected with the rage directed at him by survivors and by his political opponents in the aftermath of the tragedy. i can only imagine that he’s feeling the pain of students and families as much as anyone can feel their pain. the strange, dark, and formidable thing weaving through our lives like the heaviness of fog—this thing we call our culture, our way of life—is now blocking out the light and stifling the air that i breathe. i wish i could change it all. i wish that i could change all of it. there’s nothing in this world that i would leave unchanged, because everywhere there is someone experiencing cruelty or pain. but i cannot change it. i sit in my car with clenched fists and i can almost hear the world outside screaming. it’s not just a bad day; it’s not just another news story that will pass on out of the cycle. it’s sadness.

i went to a writing workshop over the weekend, and with six other people in a small meeting room, i wrote a stream of consciousness about my feelings. i wrote about my son. i wrote about my dad. and i wrote about love. love is awkward. too often it feels unfocused and distracted. love doesn’t cure sadness, i’ve come to realize. love is not the character foil of sadness; in fact, it is fully content to coexist with sadness, and sometimes it even makes a special place where sadness can reside. sometimes i think that i feel sadness only because of love.

i don’t miss you dad. but thinking of you does make me so sad

02.18.18

T.I.A.

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:14 pm by Administrator

i don’t like comic book movies, and aside from a few of the batman movies and the most recent wonder woman, i’ve managed to avoid most of them over the years. i decided to watch black panther yesterday morning mostly because the rest of the family was out of town and i didn’t have anything better to do. yeah, i read reviews saying that this was much more than your usual superhero movie, but when do they not say things like that? so i walked into a mostly deserted 9 AM saturday show expecting to see an above-average action movie with an all-black cast and maybe a little political satire for kicks.

i did not expect to encounter a powerful vision of a thriving and influential international black society. this is the gift that a movie like “black panther” gives us: the idea of a tribe that has not forgotten the racial injustices embedded in our history as a species and that is fully empowered to reverse the oppression of people of color throughout the world.

i won’t say much because i believe that other reviewers—and black americans in particular—have said it much better. for me as a person of color, seeing “wakanda” revealed as we passed through the fog of its force fields was an immediately emotional experience for me. we have grown accustomed to viewing whites as powerful and their ancestral homelands in europe as the birthplace of culture. these cruel myths have driven us to colonialization, the enslavement of peoples, and war—but even the colossal loss of life perhaps cannot compare to the ravage that these ideas have had on our collective conscience as a species. to see the myth turned on its head and to feel the great tragedy at the root of our biases and disappointments was a profoundly transformative experience for me, as it was for many who watched the movie.

there are so many fascinating commentaries and discourses throughout the movie, but i delighted in seeing the black american experience of oppression and persecution handled with care. even when michael b jordan’s black american renegade (killmonger) emerges as the movie’s main villain, he proves to be no ordinary nemesis. in fact, he is given the opportunity to tell his half of the story fully and without apology, building upon his cruel history and taking on the powers of the panther for himself. in a sense, killmonger ultimately prevails. he forever changes the identity of the “black panther”; he ensures that the pain and persecution of black people throughout the world will not be forgotten by those with the power to fight injustice.

02.16.18

coming clean about my theology

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:58 am by Administrator

i’m in the process of redefining my theological perspective. being at the stage in my life that i’m at, i can be more candid about this than i ever was before: i view theology as a creative personal exercise. it’s both interesting and meaningful for me because Christ is my passion and the Bible fascinates me. and i’ll admit that it’s an exercise fraught with difficulty and tension as well because so many people i respect believe that theology ought not to be either creative or personal; for them, theology ought to be both biblical and systematic.

i feel that my pastor says it well: we shouldn’t need to know Greek or have a seminary training in order to know Christ as he wanted to be known. i totally agree with that. i think that Christ’s teachings were simple and straightforward, just as the life he lived on earth was not an academic proof of concept. he encouraged people to do what was right; he preached forgiveness; he argued with religious leaders about their arrogance; and he dignified tax collectors, prostitutes, “demon-possessed” men, and Samaritans. he died a humiliating death as a criminal, but he rose from the dead, bringing hope to people who put their faith in him. we can argue about the nuances of soteriology and eschatology, but i’ll say that twenty years of arguing about that stuff has failed to bear any good fruit in my life. i would go as far as to say that the academic exploration of the Bible has caused me only grief; i sought to justify myself through the scriptures, and instead what i found was obfuscation and even humiliation.

in the end, i’ve found that the life and death of Christ are most compelling to me when i encounter them as history, not as theory. thus, i build my theology based on what i accept as fact about how he lived and died. my theology is based on imperfect premises, because it is based on my imperfect experiences and my incomplete experience of God. nevertheless, it is a theology that has been sufficient to sustain my walk with God up to this point, and it is one that will continue to change as i grow.

in my theology, i attempt to address five things of importance to me:

1. my rejection of hell as a place of eternal punishment for those who do not believe in God.
2. my discomfort with Western Christendom’s proposition of penal substitution.
3. my declining opinion of evangelical missions to the “unreached”.
4. my opposition to a literal hermaneutic, particularly with regard to Paul’s instructions on sexual behavior and gender roles.
5. my persisting belief in the high value of covenant, calling, and election.

hell has been a sticky issue for me for decades. when i was eight years old, i argued with the priest at my catholic school that God’s judgment of those who had never heard the truth about Christ was unfair. he agreed—and then conceded that probably these people over the millennia would be treated with mercy. but even then, his response was unsatisfying to me. because even among those who would appear to be without excuse, any judgment of their actions must rightly take into account all things they were subjected to against their will or knowledge. all sin has context, in other words. as an eight year old, i understood that the sentencing of any individual to an eternity of punishment for any reason is not a conscionable thing. and all the growing and maturing that i have done since the age of eight has not changed my basic perception of this issue; no god is a good god if he punishes people unremittingly for a nature that was not theirs to choose.

the contemporary proposition of penal substitution as well is entirely nonsensical—and truly defies any basic understanding of a righteous god. how exactly does the killing a perfectly innocent man satisfy a just god’s anger against the actions of evil men? such a proposition would contend that God’s obsession is with the catharsis of his own wrath. it’s a strange and unfortunate view of the Gospel, because it suggests a God that does not care enough about justice to hold the proper individuals to a true accounting. it also suggests a God who cannot express justice except through violence of some kind. Paul’s discussion of atonement might have been useful to him as his creative personal theology, in informing his own approach to penitence and repentance; but it complicates our interpretation of Christ’s mission on earth. i have wrestled with this for twenty years, and i have come to the conclusion that penal substitution is a gross misinterpretation of Christ’s purpose in submitting to a sacrificial death.

owing to my own personal observations of how culturally imperialistic and insidiously harmful the efforts of many american missionaries to other countries can be, i’ve migrated far from the belief i once held that missions to the unreached is an important calling for the church. that’s not to say that movement and cross-cultural interaction are not vital to the church and its mission; i would say that this is absolutely true, and the cause of Christ is served wherever men and women of faith leave their societies to create relationships with people in need throughout the world. but the single-minded objective of converting the “unreached” is to me inherently rooted in a transactional view of the grace of God, and it inevitably engenders direspectful and manipulative behavior, as we saw with the crusades, Western colonialization of the americas, and the influence of the american church on the persecution of homosexuals in africa. there is always a case for bringing people to Christ; but my rejection of hell as the destiny of the “heathen” undercuts any belief in the primacy of “belief at any price”, and when given the choice between forcing conversion at pain of death or respecting another’s spiritual journey, i think i will choose the latter.

i’ve already written ad nauseum about my rejection of a literal hermaneutic, specifically when it comes to Paul’s invectives against same-sex sexual behavior. i can’t stomach a theology based on the idea that a letter written to a society two thousand years ago can be reasonably applied in today’s world for the edification of people pursuing Christ. Paul’s mores are absolutely immoral for us in the present time. that does not detract from his status as a moral man in his time. but that does imply that the rules for respectful engagement and interaction have changed a great deal over the past two millennia, and the shift in culture and in moral expectation has to be respected in our efforts to convey the truth of Christ compellingly to all tribes of man. obviously, i don’t believe that homosexuality is or ever was a sin. if Paul believed this, then he was wrong. but Paul wasn’t perfect; and i can absolutely forgive him for this error.

and yet, amidst all of these premises, there is the premise that remains rooted in orthodoxy. i believe in the critical importance of covenant, election, and the calling of God. while the trajectories in scripture dispute the significance of virtually any single moral or behavioral injunction outside the ten commandments, there is without a doubt a consistent emphasis by God on the importance of His covenant people. there is a difference to God between those that He calls and those that He doesn’t. like i implied above, i don’t believe that the difference is one of reward or punishment in the afterlife. the scripture makes it abundantly clear to me that the difference is one of role. those that have been called by Christ to be His elect are chosen to represent Him, as a royal priesthood. they are like the organs of his body; they are like the building blocks of His temple. now what is the use of a body if not to interact with another person? and what is the utility of a temple if there are none to enter it? Christ’s purpose, per Paul, was to “create in himself one humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross”. his purpose, in other words, was reconciliation, for the purpose of mutual belonging, signified through the secure identity of citizenship, to end precarity, marginalization, alienation, and injustice for all time.

ultimately, my theology is simplified in these terms. i believe Christ came to earth to affirm God’s commitment to his covenant and to redefine the covenant people, that they might represent Him both in this life and in the next as His eyes, ears, hands, and form to all humanity past, present, and future. all humanity are God’s people, in that they belong to Him. some will serve as His priesthood; others will be ministered to. but all will bring their offerings to God in His holy place, and their offerings will be accepted. this is to me the picture of reconciliation, made perfect in what we describe as the heavenly reality. we will each give our unique offering to the Lord, and it will be good, and in that act of worship, we will understand why we were made and what we were made for

02.12.18

my own god

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:45 pm by Administrator

and so it comes to this, that i feel the tug from every side, urging me to question this long-held belief of mine in a certain and specific path to salvation. i am feeling it from my pastor, and i am feeling it from my wife. i am feeling it from my society. i am feeling it from my patients, who have suffered in a society governed by strong, self-assured evangelical white men. and i am feeling it not least from my own conscience, which has struggled mightily over the years with a whole range of things that do not work and do not fit: penal substitution, the fate of the “unfaithful”, the unjust history of the world, and the very nature of a wrathful God who loves and also cannot love the humanity that He created. for years, i have struggled under the yoke of a doctrine cast by the apostle Paul, a difficult man with a complex story, and i am emerging from these years of painful reflection feeling uneasy, uncertain, and yet still somehow filled with hope. perhaps God does not have to be what i want Him to be—but then this does not mean that God has to be what i have never wanted Him to be.

to this point, i have considered myself a “TULIP” calvinist. moreover, i have taken many aspects of Paul’s theological worldview to heart, and i have experienced a spiritual journey around these core doctrines. i have recognized and repented of personal sin; i have accepted Jesus Christ not simply as lord and savior in a general sense but also as the singular and sufficient atoning sacrifice for my life; and i have embraced an identity as an ingrafted branch of Christ the vine, an adopted Gentile son, and a member of God’s covenant elect destined to live for an eternity with Him in the afterlife. with regards to the “unsaved” segment of humanity, i have experienced many different perspectives and thoughts, but the common theme through all these reflections has been the idea that those apart from God will not experience Christ as personal identity. to me, this has been the crux of salvation—Christ as regenerative and self-supplanting identity.

at my current church, we have endeavored to deconstruct many things—Paul’s teachings about homosexuality, the Christian Right’s political leanings, and the sola scriptura ideal. among these many distinct things we have addressed is the idea of salvation as being experienced specifically within a covenant relationship defined by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. it is not what many in my community want to believe. there are some who are inclined to advocate for universal salvation, the idea that God’s intent is and always has been to save all. there are others who are more inclined to deconstruct the very idea of salvation as the ticket to a heavenly fate for all time. but what most of them seem to embrace in common is a general resistance to the idea of man’s innate depravity—and specifically to the idea that it is healthy and meaningful for us to emphasize our sin and unworthiness as the basis of a relationship with Christ.

in this regard, i’ve been impacted by the perspective of a marriage and family therapist in our community, who recently shared with me her observations of men and women in 12-step recovery programs. while the men often experienced a path to healing through a profound admission of personal unworthiness and shame, the women on the other hand experienced personal setbacks and even disempowerment when they were led through a similar process. my therapist friend speculated that the context of trauma and social marginalization led the women to experience guilt and shame much differently. while men, who had a firm foundation for their ultimate worth and value, could ultimately work through situational shame to reconstruct ego-affirming identities, the women had no such trajectory to rely on.

i believe i’ve witnessed very much the same among lesbian, gay, and transgender folks in the church as well as among undocumented latino immigrants to this society. the language of humility, servant leadership, and gratitude for mercy is difficult, controversial, and even demeaning language for people who have been accustomed to the condescension of powerful men. i myself have stopped using that language, and more profoundly i have also recognized that appreciation and inclusion, rather than judgment and criticism, are vastly more important for people of faith to express in their efforts to represent Christ to people who have been traumatized and injured by the church. perhaps only recently though have i begun to recognize that for such people the language of depravity and unworthiness may not simply be inconvenient; it may be wholly unjust as well.

all of these reflections have made me remember the stories of the gospel accounts that suggest a Christ different from the one i have seen through the lens of Paul’s letters. there’s Christ who turned water into wine, a strange and wonderful miracle meant simply for the joy of man. there’s Christ who saved an adulteress from a death by stoning and told her that He would not judge her—as if His determination should be sufficient for her for all time. there’s Christ who told the criminal hanging on one side of Him that in fact the man would be with him in paradise that day. and there’s Jesus who rebuked his disciples when they attempted to deter the children, who told them that they must come to him as the children do. the children came to Christ not with fear and shame but with the full confidence that Jesus would accept them and offer them kindness. as with all the other examples, these were not people who came to Christ begging to be forgiven; they did not trade their lives of sin for covenant life in Christ. they were people who came as they were and uncertain of what they wanted from Christ, other than to be seen and heard by God’s own prophet. Christ did this and dignified them. “salvation”, if this is what they received, was truly that simple—a moment of connection with the Lord, sufficient to change a person’s life for all time.

i believe in this God, a God who comes through the front door when it is opened, a God who climbs through the back door or a bathroom window when that’s all that is available to Him. He comes into the house as a loving and respectful guest, but His wish is to reclaim and redeem all that is within. He does not come with demands; He does not prescribe how the carpet is be rolled out for His presence. She simply comes in in whatever way that she can, that the lives within might be healed, that the despairing might know hope and live fully.

i have my own God, one that i met through the path prescribed by Paul, who was like me a powerful man who needed to lose his power in order to be saved from his arrogance and godlessness. but every day i meet people whom God loves no less, and they are the people whom Christ speaks to in a different way. with one, He argues. with another, He heals. to one, He will introduce Himself with rebuke; but to another, He will express utter acceptance and affirmation. Paul, i am realizing, was just one among many unhealthy and questing people, and his language about Christ was one of atonement. but for a people in this society that are downtrodden and beaten by unjust men, it is possible that Christ comes to them as the just king who sees them with unqualified favor. i do believe in this God, and it takes nothing away from my journey to see Her sing Her song in this way. She is my own god; but this does not mean she cannot be every person’s god as well

02.11.18

the river

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:28 pm by Administrator

sometimes i imagine that it is like a tiny circle of light
moving across the cold chasm of my brain,
synapse to synapse, one thought leading to the next,
a perpetual motion that will continue
until i die.

but sometimes it does not move so effortlessly.
sometimes, it is like the river that shoves itself
upon a shallow bed, and there is great danger
among these muddy flats, as the water slows
and those eddies

that i so love, ruminations going round and deep
and to innumerable places within themselves,
dissipate and languish to the lap of a feeble wave
upon a tuft of thick weeds threatening
to be unsurpassable.

don’t i sense that danger? always, as if we are
suddenly in the dry season, and this river
that ought to empty itself in something vast and be no more
might actually end here, stretched bare between
concrete ramps and walls,

a mauseolum we call the los angeles river, where fish
turn sideways and trash driven down the current
by a distant rain rolls upon itself, collecting in a heap.
we will become a mud pond, left only to ourselves
in the last throes of surface tensions

and what i was, in that movement of an idea,
is breaking apart, like drops of green-gray water
that just a moment ago were a stream, and before that
a river, and before that a downpour from the heavens,
powerful and ethereal.

i hold together, and the thought slows but does not halt.
i was something important; i was in the fury of a dream
and longing for the ocean. the arms of my mind stretch
long, the desperate fingers of my consciousness hold fast
to an impression

and in this way i hold together, a wet spot upon the face
of the earth, and i tug against the ebb of a river run aground,
and the impetus of a society and its preoccupations presses
from behind, and i pray it will carry me one last time across
the scratch-hard earth to the sea.

02.10.18

the “darker gayer olympics”

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:11 am by Administrator

hey john moody! fuck you!

FOX by the way stands for Fucking Obnoxious Xenophobes.

if you actually watch Fox News to educate yourself, don’t ever talk to me. you’re a fucking retard by definition.

BUH BYE!

02.07.18

depravity

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:47 pm by Administrator

i know i’ve written about this somewhat recently, so i may be repeating myself on many things. but it is a veritable theme now in my life, this exploration is what it means to be depraved, a sinner in need of God’s grace. is this still a truth that defines me? is it still as critical as it once was for me to understand myself as deeply unworthy, as requiring forgiveness, and as lacking health or wholeness apart from the grace of God?

i have been compelled to ask this because the culture of our time is shifting. particularly at the church that i attend now, the entire idea of depravity is being actively deconstructed. the pastor and the congregants alike are resisting the idea that they are loved by a wrathful God in spite of their intrinsic wretchedness as lost sinners. they are striving toward an idea of a universally accepting God whose intention is to promote the healing and wholeness of all people in the world—not simply His/Her covenant people. and the idea of covenant itself is thus being redefined. election is not of principal importance to this community. more important to them is a fundamental sense of the unity of all human beings, despite their creed or upbringing. in sum, this is a church that is reflecting the spirit of our age; we want to be as self-accepting and outwardly inclusive as the best of the progressives that we respect and admire in the society around us.

does this deconstruction of depravity resonate with me? yes. And no. yes, it resonates with me insofar as the deconstruction of depravity allows dignity and inclusion to those who have been selectively persecuted and marginalized on account of church mores. yes, it resonates with me in that it shifts focus from personal morality to the service of society and to a focus on being good to others. but underneath this resonance is an uneasiness, i’ll admit. it’s an uneasiness of knowing that my bond with God is, at its root, forged from my understanding of personal sin. my depravity, in other words, is foundational to my relationship with God.

i am not saying that i walk around berating or flagellating myself as a means of connecting and reconnecting myself to God. do i believe that God looks at me as a rotten and unworthy person that He has deigned to forgive? no, absolutely not. but i do see myself as utterly insufficient apart from God? do i recognize that there is a death at work in my being, and that apart from God’s merciful and active intervention, i cannot live with what i am? yes, always yes. i do not love what i am apart from what i see of God within me. and not all within me is godly or redeemable, nor do i want to carry all of what i am into eternity. when i accepted Christ’s lordship over my life, i consigned myself to death of a kind; i began a journey of relinquishing an identity in rebellion against God, and i began a process of taking on a new identity utterly alien to my normal way of thinking.

when i read Paul’s intensely psychological explorations into his binary self, i understand it better and better with time. this was not a man obsessed with defining what was proper and improper for the church. rather, this was a man who readily perceived what the calling of God was doing to his life. he recognized that sin is not ugly or destructive simply because God cannot tolerate it; Paul recognized that the sin buried in the natural minds of man actually kills the soul. we destroy ourselves by nature. we bear unbearable thoughts, preoccupations, and identities. when Christ promised us rebirth, what He implied was not self-revelation or the healing of self; He promised transformation—the replacement of what cannot be saved with a life that is capable of eternity. none of us can live as ourselves into eternity apart from grace. that would be torture, an eternally frustrating battle with our own limitations and insufficiencies. Christ saw this and bled compassion for our condition. as death was mercy for the sinners trapped in Eden, Christ’s death and resurrection was hope of eternal life—a life we could enjoy.

the deeper i get into depravity, the better i understand God in His incredible compassion for mankind and for me. i call my lord “God who takes the death out of my life” because this process is very real to me. when i am oppressed or injured, i see the death revealed in me through my pain; and when i overcome an enemy—and i am constantly surrounded by my enemies—i feel a glory at work in my being. i know that the youth may not see it this way, but i have grown up experiencing my life as a constant battle, an unremitting struggle, and a burden to bear for a short while. there is no home for me in this world, nor is there the kind of peace i seek until the consummation of what i was meant to be. all that i experience in this life is not for my well-being but for the work that awaits me in the next life. and until then, i affix myself to the cross; i call out the death in my life; i rejoice in my dying, because in my dying a new life works it way out of my soul and into the universe, a triumph worth believing in.

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