my message

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:05 pm by Administrator

usually when I’m asked to speak to students, colleagues, or other audiences, I’m asked to speak to something very specific: a key learning, an insight from medical practice, a topic of interest to the audience. but lately I’ve been asked here and there to tell an audience about something that I want to share—anything that i think is worth discussing. which has brought an interesting question to mind… what is my message?

i have not yet begun crafting my message. it’s something that i feel i will get around to eventually. the challenge for me is that i know the recurring themes of importance in my life, but these themes don’t clearly demonstrate to me a set of core beliefs or values. I’ve previously described myself as an unprincipled man, and that’s not because i find myself to be profoundly unethical or immoral. rather, it’s because rules, regulations, and principles are not as important to me as the emotional meaning that i experience in my relationships and interactions. in many ways, i appear to be a very disciplined, consistent, and idealistic person to others, when in fact these qualities reflect habits that i have cultivated over time in order to manage my feelings, which change from moment to moment and strongly dictate my attitudes toward relationships, responsibilities, religion, and reality.

in any case, there are recurring themes, like i mentioned. some of them, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. refined and processed starches are really unhealthy. i would liken them to cigarettes and to heroin. i really believe that shelled rice, bread products, pastas, chips, and crackers are killing people, and they are particularly killing low-income people of color who don’t have easy and affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables. the epidemic of high blood pressure and diabetes in the developed world is the direct result of self-destructive eating habits encouraged by a commercialized food industry. I’ve virtually eliminated them from my diet, and I’ve never felt better. if i had to give a sermon in the church about what is lovely, good, and life-giving, I’d talk about eating well. what goes in your body may not be evil, but it sure as hell can kill you.

2. vulnerability and gratitude are key leadership skills. i don’t care how results-focused or data-driven you are; if you can’t express your feelings and you can’t appreciate others, you will fail to create a culture of excellence. this goes beyond “emotional intelligence”. this is, pure and simple, about basic values. I’ve worked with many people in positions of authority who lack the ability to demonstrate vulnerability and gratitude in meaningful ways, and i can write books about the ways in which their teams have suffered for their lack of these skills.

3. exercise, mindfulness, and love of self are all important, but love of self is the most important of these. people use physical and psychological manipulations to off-load stress, and for sure intense exercise and meditation are impactful on health and outcomes. but the real problem in America is that people don’t know how to love themselves. they don’t know how to identify themselves apart from their jobs and their hobbies; they don’t know how to attend to themselves properly; they don’t know how to focus on themselves, listen to their unconscious signals, and restore themselves. people are dying prematurely because they are unable to love themselves sufficiently, and this is a tragedy that i see my patients and friends struggle through on a daily basis.

4. acting against racism, systematized privilege, and inequality in general is the natural impulse of human conscience, and those who suppress this urge demonstrate something unnatural and ultimately self-harming. if one’s spirituality or religion doesn’t motivate him or her to express this conscionable instinct, then that religion is futile.

5. Christianity at its core is a religion that validates and redeems conscience. after all, how else can God command us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? we must first be able to discern what is good for ourselves before we can properly love others. the law was not necessary to establish what is conscionable; the law was required to demonstrate that holy and consecrated community requires something above and beyond conscionable behavior.

6. Christianity demands holy and consecrated community for a distinct reason: worship. Christianity can be a philosophy that supports beneficence, but if that is all that it is in the end, then it thwarts the greater joy. the greatest joy of a life well-lived is not the pleasure of helping others; it is the joy of fulfilling God’s design for collective humanity, made complete in total devotion to God. the purpose of Christ was not to reject a life of devotion, as dictated by law; rather, it was to demonstrate that devotion to God must go beyond law and unto total self-sacrifice, even to the point of death. we can debate the nature of heaven and hell, because they are inherently ambiguous; but there is no question that the Christian God demands worship that is devoted entirely and singularly to God’s self.


WH Visit

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:54 pm by Administrator

I got a good laugh today reading fan hate mail to Brandon Graham regarding his decision not to visit the White House. I also had a flash of anger reading the NFL’s new policy on player behavior during the national anthem. it reminded me instantly of Bob McNair’s instant classic statement “we can’t have inmates running the prison”. isn’t that comment so perfectly a reflection of how poorly the NFL is handling its systematic problem with race?

I’m not going to disparage any Eagle who chooses to go to the White House on June 5. but I’m going to celebrate the Eagle players who choose not to go, because I know why they’re refusing to go, and I respect what they stand for. I will acknowledge (as I wrote recently) that it’s very possible that our president will accomplish some important things during his presidency. But that will not change the fact that I do not respect him as a person on account of shameful things that he has said and done as an official. I would never enter the house of someone who has so maliciously impugned the dignity of immigrants, women, and people of color. why would I make an exception for the president of the United States? the office of the president is only as noble as the person who fills that role, and so the office is in a state of woeful disrepair.

the systematic injustice toward people of color in this nation remains the single most important social reality that is threatening the future of this country, and it is terribly sad to see the NFL fumble the issue for lack of courage and integrity. it compounds the ethical issues raised by CTE, and it raises further questions about the integrity of the sport and the league which profits from it.

when the Eagles host the Falcons on Thursday September 6th, I doubt that any players will take a knee; but if they do, I will honor that gesture, because it is honorable


Posted in Uncategorized at 7:26 pm by Administrator

for many years, I wondered when my son and I would find a game that would be our game—a game we both enjoyed and could play on equal footing. I think we discovered that game yesterday, when we squared off for the first time over a board of Ra.

I haven’t played Ra in many years, but the thought of playing the game with my family during Memorial Day Weekend randomly came to mind last week, so I bought it. after dinner, I thought we’d give it a dry run, so we spent fifteen minutes poring over the instructions (I’d forgotten how to play, I quickly realized), and then we gave it a go. within the first few turns, my son had the hang of it, and we were matching wits. it was fun, fun enough that I would have been tempted to have another go at it if it hadn’t been past his bedtime.

I’ve looked forward to this moment for so long because games were a centerpiece of my childhood. games were how I connected best with other kids; they were how I tested my intellect against others, and they gave me an opportunity to access a creative, strategic side that I otherwise had no outlet for. I wasn’t equally good at all games. I’d say that I was a little above average at chess (a 1200 rating or so), a novice at Go (for lack of rigor), and pretty much unmatched in Stratego, Axis & Allies, and a few other modern board games I dedicated myself to. for a while I was highly competitive on the European server in Cities and Knights, and for those who haven’t played in that league, i’ll tell you that it remains one of the most nasty, trolling gaming experiences I’ve ever had in my life—worse than Broodwar. but I liked the competitive energy, and I fed off of it. beating other kids at games of skill is how I came to know myself, the man who appreciates the kind of success that comes at the expense of others.

this is not to say that I look forward to dominating my son in the game of Ra. not at all. but I do look forward to knowing him through the play of the game. already I learned some interesting things about him last night as we played. I’ve always known his competitive side; but I saw how his competitive energy drives him to be aggressive, as opposed to being more risk-averse and thoughtful. when he’s competing to win, he becomes vocal, directive, and assertive. I’ve seen him be shy and deferential in public; but playing a board game with him last night reminded me of moments when I’ve seen him in almost martial postures, commanding his peers to achieve a group outcome. there is, in his heart, a quiet but powerfully determined streak that comes alive when he plays to win. I saw it when he was three years old and racing me down the stairs. I witnessed it when he cried private tears after a school dance performance that he wasn’t happy about. and i see it when he goes to his cousin’s house and posts high score after high score on Just Dance. it’s not simply that he hates to lose; it’s that he can’t stand doing something poorly. he is relentless in his efforts to get it right.

my son is a very interesting person. he reads voraciously. he asks questions constantly. he likes to lie in bed and think. he organizes his life, his belongings, and his time with precision and structure. and he is highly responsible. he follows through with his commitments, he washes his own dishes, he does his own laundry, and he looks out for his little sister. he is a child that we have never had to worry about because he’s always taken it naturally upon himself to understand his world and to fulfill his responsibilities. there are moments when I see myself in him; but there are more moments when I recognize how unique he is. he will be his own man, and I cannot discern or assume his future. this is the part of parenting that I love: discovering what is special, realizing the privilege of relationship, and anticipating something wonderful every day


the people’s hero

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:29 pm by Administrator

with today’s announcement about a shift in policy toward big pharma, Donald Trump started the fight most critical to the future of healthcare reform. he’s taking on the single biggest root cause of spiraling healthcare costs in America, and he’s taking on a powerful lobby, a massive industry, and his own party in the process.

I have to admit it: this is where the reckless bombast of Donald Trump could pay off huge dividends for the people of this country. it takes cajones to take on big pharma, and Barack Obama lacked the basic courage to do it. if Donald takes this fight where it needs to go, then real healthcare reform—resulting in a cost-controlled, evidence-based, sustainable system for all American citizens—might actually be possible.

I’ve called trump my enemy, and I continue to dislike his style, which I find to be egregiously authoritarian and snidely arrogant. his history with women and people of color is appalling; his rhetoric on immigration is beyond reprehensible. in so many ways, he has defaced this country with his irresponsible comments and unprofessional attitude.

but I have to concede that there is a place in world politics for the big stick, and thus far I think that Donald is wielding it well. there is no doubt in my mind that the Korean war will soon end, and America’s aggressive and uncompromising stance will be viewed in retrospect as the catalyst of peace talks. China absolutely had to be brought to the table to be held accountable for its protectionism and systematic theft of American intellectual property, and trump’s threat of a trade war was what was required to get Xi Jinping’s proper attention. even if tariffs go up on both sides, there’s no question that trump’s posture will create a more favorable future balance of power for American industries. and while it continues to be unclear if and how America will contribute to the resolution of the Syrian civil war, engaging Russia as a partner and not as an adversary will be critical to ensuring long-term peace there. Trump has tried to build a working relationship with the Russians; but the duplicity they exhibited in supporting his campaign may ironically undermine their chances to work constructively together, in the end.

by no means do I think that this all represents the concerted, well-conceived, and integrated approach of an intelligent, capable statesman. But Donald made promises to the American people, and some of these promises are addressing real concerns that were deferred or ignored by previous administrations. I respect him for making a sincere effort to follow through with these promises, and I am beginning to believe that it is possible that the country will be stronger for it.


to dad

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:36 pm by Administrator

about a month ago, I sat in the freezing cold by your headstone, and I thanked you for your life. today, I want to tell you why.

you always said that money isn’t the most important thing. you said that prestige and fame were not worth chasing. you trained me to do the basic things well—to think about my world, to express my feelings, and to speak and write in a manner that was clear. you wanted me to be able to speak my truth fully and without constraint. most of all, you wanted me to marry a good woman and to find satisfaction in my daily work.

I often told you about my struggles. I even told you eight years ago that I had made a serious mistake by going into medicine. I was terribly depressed, and I made you feel responsible for my unhappiness. you were saddened in a way you could not express. you felt responsible for my broken life. in fact, you’d taught me everything that I really needed to know, and my life was not broken but just beginning to take shape.

I’ve landed in this place, you see, where all around me there are profoundly wonderful things. every day, I succeed; and every day, when I struggle, I learn something new. I am very good at what I do, and I experience deep satisfaction with the things I accomplish. but even more importantly, I am connected to people, many of whom are better people than I, and their lives make my life richer. I am so proud of the people in my life. I’ve made it, Dad.

I just wanted you to know it. I am thankful for your life and for the grand truth that you planted in my life. you always said you were a sick man and a small one, but I think now that you were wrong. I stand here with some joy in my heart, and I am feeling it deeply for the both of us. I’m standing here now, in this precious place, for both of us

the team

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:09 pm by Administrator

following from my post from yesterday, i woke up and hit the road for my morning run. i usually don’t pray aloud while I’m running, but today was a bit different, and so between breaths i asked God to help me. i told God that i realize that I’ve been trained my whole life to be an individual performer, to stand alone and to be excellent in my own way. but now the world is pressing me to change, and the people i work with need me to be different. the hills and valleys of my feelings are linked to my up and downswings in my sense of integration with others. i do so want to learn how to see myself, in all contexts, as a small part of a big team.

it took nearly a mile to get the prayer out. i usually take the first lap slow before moving to a tempo pace in my second and third miles. it was in that transition to anaerobic threshold that i felt my muscles start to burn and an idea begin to take shape in my mind. i thought of it as the voice of God.

“two things,” He said. “first, i gave these people to you, not only for their benefit but very much for yours. delight in them; they are your team.”

“second, for the role you have been given, you are sufficient. you are more than sufficient. so delight in what you give to them. it is a wonderful thing.”

with these things in mind, i prepared myself for my workday, which was an unusual day because i was required to do something called “senior leader rounding”—a visit to a site that i don’t normally work at, intended to foster connection between front-line staff and our corporate leadership. i was a little anxious about the site visit because I’d never done senior leader rounding before, and I’d never visited this particular site. i hoped that i would be up to the task.

the two teams that i met with support clients from opposite ends of the age spectrum. one team devotes itself to in-home case management of elderly, poor residents in the community who struggle to take care of themselves. the team helps to coordinate care and manage the needs of these individuals with monthly phone calls and quarterly home visits. with a panel of 60-80 individuals per case manager, the work is constant, intense, and sometimes very saddening. but they hang in there and get the work done because it’s vitally important, and there’s no one else to do it. more than half of the case managers have been with the company for 10+ years; their department leaders have been with the company for over 30 years. it’s a dedicated group.

the second team i met with supports teen mothers in the community with parenting education, in-home case management services, and wrap-around services (including mental health counseling and even on-site charter schooling). these services are intended to support these kids through difficult times of transition and to help them get back to school; but in truth, these young women come to our team with a lifetime of baggage in tow, and we simply help them to survive. it’s not uncommon for us to be serving twelve and thirteen year-old moms; sometimes we have to provide child care services so that these kids can take mandatory state testing. the manager of the team admitted that a big part of his job is to support his young case managers through seasons of burn-out and demoralization. “remember, you’re planting seeds… not all of these kids will make it, but a few will remember what you gave them, and they’ll turn it around.”

i met the staff. i saw some of the young moms sitting in the courtyard, tired and looking off into space. i met a couple of the charter school teachers, and i saw these kids, far older than their years, sitting at their desks and trying to face life with all its tests, calculations, and word problems. i tell you, you can’t look at that and not be moved. twenty minutes later, i sat in my car and i took a deep breath, and i thought to myself, “what an amazing thing, and I’d known nothing about it at all.”

i wrote a thank you note to them when i got back to my desk. i thought about their words and their daily lives, and i wrote to them from the heart. in truth, i was so thankful to them because they’d made me proud of the work i do. I’m a part of their teams, and when they go into tough neighborhoods and have tough conversations with kids and frail seniors facing life with all its unfair and devastating challenges, they’re adding something to my life as well. i realized this morning that being part of a team isn’t simply about managing personal feelings and expectations; it’s about tapping into a greater joy. it’s about being filled to the brim with pride and thanksgiving for the people who are doing heroic work, the organization that enables them to do that work, and the person who founded the organization forty years ago with this vision in mind. that’s my team. and because of them, i am alive, by association


common review

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:28 pm by Administrator

I go through these spells where I feel like I’m washed up on shore. the tide isn’t carrying me; I’m suddenly stranded and oddly unable to experience forward momentum in my life. I find myself having to work at getting routine things done. there are moments when I have to remind myself that all the little and big things I’m responsible for actually matter. I call these periods in my life my “funks”. I’m not depressed as much as disengaged; and the suddenness of the disengagement is what makes these funks so unique and difficult to explain. I can be totally in the thick of things one week, and the next Monday morning I can walk into my usual routine utterly a stranger to my daily life. it is thoroughly unpleasant, and I’d call it an unnecessary unpleasantness as well, if it weren’t for the fact that I always believe that these funks, like little earthquakes, are the tremblings of something uneasy and misunderstood down deep in the pit of my being.

it is common review season at work, and in the midst of this current and ongoing funk, I did a very cursory self-evaluation. to be honest, I rated myself as I thought my supervisor would expect me to rate myself. I think there are people I work with that believe I’m doing a stellar job; there are probably some people I connect with that think I could be doing more. in any case, when I’m in a funk, I can’t bring it all together, I can’t arrive at a single gut feeling synthesis of where in fact I stand; so the middle of the road self-assessment is what I offer, a straightforward picture of the blasé and conflicted man that I experience myself to be.

if I really think about it, I know that I’m selling myself short. I deserve to be recognized in proportion to the genuinely good things I’ve accomplished; I also deserve to be understood more specifically in the manners of my struggle. and perhaps if I had an interested mentor driving me to this level of self-critique, I could offer something different—a truly thoughtful, incisive, and fair picture of how I have grown over this past twelve months of my life. there is truly a part of me that wants to draw that picture, if I can. I think that’s why I’m writing this entry right now.

in truth, I’ve tapped into a part of myself over this past year that was previously a latent gifting. I’ve been an inspirational colleague and friend, in a manner that has enabled people at my organization to feel connected to me and also to the mission of our work. as a manager and leader, I’ve modeled approachability and empathy, in a manner that’s helped to create a more authentic and safe culture. I’ve communicated purpose, established expectations, and managed vision in a way that’s enabled new members of my team to deliver value and to feel integrated in the organization.

these are great achievements and qualities. but I take them for granted, so it is hard for me to read this and take the time to absorb these comments as I should. the fact of the matter is that there are not many leaders like me in this organization, and I ought to enjoy how this distinguishes me among my peers.

I continue to struggle with maintaining a consistent perspective on life and on my work, which affects my ability to follow through with tasks, push critical conversations over the hump, and advocate persistently for what is most important. I would be a more effective leader if my message were simple, predictable, consistent, and defined by a few commonly understood priorities. but I prefer to be spontaneous and to react with my full emotional spectrum to the audience in front of me. as such, I default to being reactive, when my role demands that I be proactive, predictable, and extremely disciplined in my communication. I’ve worked on all of these things; but there is much more work to be done. until I can effectively advocate for the organization in all the difficult, complex, and unanticipated conversations I engage in, I will continue to struggle to represent our best interests, even as I naturally and authentically represent my own.

this is a hard lesson for me, here in my early forties, and it is the challenge that sometimes makes me wonder if and when I should not break off to do my own thing. It has never been a natural thing for me to be “the company’s man”. I’ve always been my own man. for much of my life, I’ve taken great pride in asserting myself as I please, caring about what I choose to care about, and evaluating for myself what I will take and discard of the communities I commit myself to. I cannot deny now that more is required of me if I am to be the leader that my team members need me to become, for their benefit. I must learn to submit myself to a higher cause, to speak on behalf of better people, and to learn the discipline of interpreting my truth in the context of many other truths. courage, transparency, and emotional intelligence will always come naturally to me; but learning to live, breathe, and view myself as the member of a team is my growth trajectory. my future success as a leader, regardless of the context, hinges upon this learning



Posted in Uncategorized at 7:46 pm by Administrator

you know what hope is?
it’s a curved line, an arc of two dimensions
angled just a bit to the side, so that one’s eye
must follow it forward,

like the shape of an eyebrow. i bide my time
tracing it across its long contour, not imagining its meaning
from the long, dispassionate moments i take
across its path,

but then, right at the end, a sudden quiver:
an arching, from the tensing of muscle,
the eyes beneath alighting, the expression complex
in the recognition of being seen.

i do not look at the face, but i sense it turn.
this is hope, the study of a fixed and delicate thing
that unexpectedly comes alive, an observation
that provokes feeling, changing everything.

the weakness in me

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:17 am by Administrator

for many years, i’ve studied my wife’s family. i’ve defined a set of characteristics that describes them as a family, and i refer to these classic traits by their surname. i think of these traits as a genetic inheritance, because i see how they pervade the clan. they are a stoic lot. they are enterprising, optimistic, forward-looking, easygoing, resourceful, and well-liked. they do not dwell on pain. they drink to enjoy life, not to distract themselves from misery. they find vulnerability awkward and mostly unnecessary.

i’ve found it difficult to understand their temperament, and at times i have even disdained them for it. while my family has always drunk deeply of its tragedy and sufferings, my wife’s family blithely ignores the reality of their pains. everywhere in their lives, emotionality runs shallow, and they are seemingly committed to a mindless, senseless rejection of all rumination. i once thought of them as simpletons. but after fifteen years of living among them, i recognize now that evolution has served them well. they are happier and more successful for their hardiness. they don’t experience an agony of their own making. that agony is my genetic inheritance.

a tragic fixation runs deep in my family, and it has destroyed many of us. it destroyed my mother’s brother, who became a drug addict and died in an asylum. it almost destroyed her oldest nephew, who nearly killed himself during a manic episode, and it consumed her sister, who threw herself from a fifteen story balcony. my father’s people were wrecked by slower poisons—religious obsessions, petty quarrels, and insatiable jealousies. divorced, bankrupt, and left to bewail their fates, they depended on the hundreds of thousands in cash that my father sent home over the years, until he cut them off when he had had his fill of utter disdain. the melodrama of a crucified people runs in my family; it is our han, and it cuts deep riverbeds in our souls for the currents of memory and feeling that flow through us, never ending.

so it’s no wonder that the sense of life i sought to escape has returned. that ennui, that dissatisfaction with my days, that longing for something i cannot place or define—it is there, as it has always been there. on a sunday in the calm of a sweltering midday, i feel it rise from my depths like a hot steam off the just watered earth, and it is dense and sticky and close upon my skin. monday will come, and this monday will be exactly like the one that past and the one before. i will have a wild and spontaneous need for something new—something strange, something sexual. and like a snake at my doorstep, it will uncoil lazily and look for the space between my feet, and i will pounce on him and grab him at his neck and pound his reptilian head upon the tile, over and over and over again, until he is pulp in my fingers. this is how i manage this thing in me; i kill it without hesitation. i kill it, because this is the thing i live with every day and i know it so well. it is death within me.

my old friend from childhood died a few months ago, i just heard. he was like a brother to me. i remember our conversations, down to the specific words he used and the ways in which he said them. his parents were cruel people, and his world was a cruel world, but i believed in him. even when he showed up at my door ten years ago asking me for cash, strung out and dying of his own neglect, i thought he’d survive. he had that relentless curiosity about all things, an intuition about where men were weak and where women had an unmet need. he could turn anyone. he was bound to succeed. until he ceased to be alive. that’s when i understood that his story was not only over; it was an unmitigated failure in all ways.

i know what killed him. at one level, it was probably prescription opioids. but on a deeper level, it was the curiosity. it was the need to take the shortcut; it was the need to get richer faster; it was the need to work through a thing rather than around it. he was practiced at conning people, and he had the keys to all doors. this was how he was raised to navigate the world. in many ways, we were the same, except that i was taught to fear the rules of the world, while he was taught to defy them. it was desire that killed him—desire and its slow, unrequited, and self-emptying demise. it is not the absence of desire that kills the soul. no, it is desire almost fulfilled, over and over again, until it becomes clear that it can never be satisfied. then desire becomes the enemy, and the absence of satisfaction becomes one’s way of life, and the endless managing of self and of that perpetual craving for the transcendence of self becomes steadily intolerable. to take one’s own life is not a dramatic decision. in such a context, it is the natural result of fatigue.

the snake uncoiled at his door, and he picked up that snake and wrapped it around his body, abandoning himself to that suffocating, corrupting, unceasing embrace. but i take the snake by its neck and i kill it, because i am a killer, and because as much as i scorn what i am, i despise the thought of how i might fail, replicating the pattern of my ancestors. no, for me, there is pain and more pain, and my weakness has become a maelstrom threatening to overcome me, and when i feel it pressing at my back, i run hard and feel the pleasure of running. i am almost always out of breath. it is the sound of breathing, i realize, that keeps me alive


goodness and relationship

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:28 pm by Administrator

I was trying yesterday to explain to my friend what the people at my church believe about depravity and hell, and he asked me “is that biblical?” I’ve been asked that question so many times throughout my life, and I recognize now that the meaning of the question can vary considerably from person to person. for this man, the question did not represent a judgment; it represented genuine curiosity. I thought about it very seriously for a few moments, and I told him something that surprised me a bit—that I don’t think my church’s theology is biblical.

in retrospect, I didn’t mean to imply that the theology of my church can’t be reconciled with one or another biblical interpretation. but I would assert that the theology of my leaders isn’t driven by biblical interpretation; it’s driven by life experience and intuition, and it’s couched in biblical terms in order to frame a hermeneutical approach.

in any case, my discussion with this friend brought me again to this basic question of whether or not people are intrinsically, largely, and fundamentally good. this question is very important to the millennials in my church, in a way that it has not been for me throughout my spiritual journey. I’ve blogged a lot about my journey with this idea. here’s when I’m landing: if by good we mean dignified and hence valued, then God views us as good, and God desires for us to view one another in that way. but if by good we mean sufficient—sufficient for our own salvation, for example—then I don’t think anyone is good. goodness, in my mind, is not simply a moral calculation. it connotes wholeness and holiness, and both terms point not only to what God is able to accept but also (and perhaps more prominently) to what we are able to tolerate and live with about ourselves. I believe that I am fundamentally insufficient, even if I assert my dignity as a human being; and that is because I know that I cannot live with what I am into eternity. I, like all humans, was designed to rely on others and to experience life more fully through communal identity. I believe I cannot have this experience apart from redemption, inclusion, and integration—the very things promised by covenant through the life and death of Christ.

it strikes me that many evangelicals and ex-evangelicals alike would like to believe that the ideal state of human existence is a constant, immediate, and even intimate experience of God. they view heaven in these terms. but I don’t see it that way. in the garden of eden, after all, the episodic experience of God seems to be implied; how else did Adam and Eve find a place in the garden where they could commune and even conspire outside of God’s immediate presence? we see in the example of Israelite community a rhythm of communion with God, revolving around designated days of sacrifice and remembrance; here too there is the implication that for all tribes apart from the Levites, the daily business of work, service to others, and care of self would be the substance of daily living. when I look at the trajectories of scripture, I don’t see God’s interest in constant intimate interaction with His people. I see the people of God primarily working and enjoying creation, doing what is good and being empowered to do so through inspiration and mutual affirmation.

all of this is to say that I wonder if “goodness” as we often think of it is largely irrelevant to God. perhaps God only wishes that we could live at peace with one another and thoroughly enjoy the world created for us, without limitation and reservation. but on account of what we are, we are fundamentally unable to do this to the fullest extent, because we do not even have personal peace. the purpose of reconciliation then is to reinstate relationship through which we can experience the cascade of God’s pleasure into our lives. yes, the purpose of reconciliation can also be understood as the preserving of ourselves from the wrath of God; but isn’t the wrath of God also the absence of God, a state of alienation in which He is restrained from fulfilling what we are unable to satisfy?

again, I do so believe in the importance of both faith and election. salvation for me is both specific and real, and as such I can’t view it as simply a prelude to bliss and universal in its application. regarding the world in general, I believe in the importance of God’s chosen priesthood, through which His holy intentions for all mankind will be made manifest. but as for myself, I only know that I was saved from something that was entirely death, and I cannot dismiss this experience as an artifact of my own making. I was saved from what I was, so that I could live with what I am. the hope I carry is not the hope of being good; it is the hope of being sufficient, for eternity, for my people, and for God in whom I find purpose and the fulfillment of my design

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