09.28.18

compassion

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:07 pm by Administrator

a reflection on compassion.

if in truth a man does have a history of wrongdoing and he is compelled to explain himself, he has two choices. he can confess his wrongdoing, or he can defend himself by denying the truth of his wrong. men make this sort of decision all the time. the subtle reality that is often overlooked is that whether a man tells the truth or a lie, he most frequently does so in the service of his ego. he who confesses his wrong seeks to mitigate his guilt—the misgiving of an aggravated conscience—so that he can live with the idea of himself. the one who denies his wrong seeks to protect his way of life, the harbor of his identity. either way, the accused acts to preserve himself from an existential threat. truth or lie, the ego prevails. it is simply a matter of which version of oneself the man in peril commits himself to.

I do not know where the truth lies in this strange and sad story surrounding kavanaugh and ford. I tend to believe Ford because I am naturally suspicious of those in power; and I hold that bias with seriousness but also with lightness, because it need not define me. what I can say though is that on this morning, I feel compassion for both people. perhaps one is a victim of the other, but in so many ways, their sufferings are not so different. the trauma we commonly endure is so intricate and profound as to outweigh the sum of our unique troubles. this is the trauma of living in the shadow of an identity so consuming and so heavily imposed upon our lives that we have no hope of escaping its impossible burden. reputation, credibility, power, and legacy—these are the vortex into which we are pulled, into which all the forces of society pull us, so that whatever we are, whether right or wrong, powerful or marginalized, we invariably lose ourselves. I feel compassion for both kavanaugh and ford, because no matter what the outcome of this hearing may be, it is only ego, both individual and collective, that will experience the outcome. and there is never any justice that will satisfy the ego. there is only power, control, and the idea of oneself that is victorious and even immortal, despite the impermanence of all things

09.26.18

the prostitute’s story

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:53 pm by Administrator

this morning I was eating breakfast while my son was playing the piano, and I found myself troubled by an anxiety as I heard him play. I nearly asked him to stop playing, but I restrained myself from doing this, because on principle I don’t believe I should ever be anything but encouraging when it comes to his time at the piano.

it wasn’t until later during a time of meditation that I reflected back on this anxiety. as I observed it, I understood right away that it was my son’s evident skill that had caused my anxiety; he is already a better piano player than I ever was. when I heard him at practice, working through Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and rendering it with both precision and understanding, a sense of urgency took hold of my heart, almost like cold fingers seizing me from within. what fueled this visceral reaction was a simple and strange idea—that my boy is undeniably talented, and I must help him leverage this talent into success. I am responsible now for ensuring that this ability does not go to waste.

it is not unusual nowadays for a thought like this to spring into my consciousness. and it shouldn’t be surprising to me either; after all, my parents took advantage of every opportunity to help me develop my extracurricular interests during my childhood. it is no secret that the key to positioning a child for advancement is to differentiate him from others, to distinguish him from his competition by enabling him to develop an identity around achievements and aptitudes that are unusual if not unique. I look at my son now, a 12 year-old boy who brings a natural intelligence, curiosity, and rigor to all things that he applies him to, and I see his potential to exceed me in all measurable ways. even if I don’t care whether he graduates magna from Harvard, I have a sense of the footing he could have among his peers in this relentlessly competitive society, and I want to give him the precious advantage of a preconceived, compelling, and advantageous identity.

and here of course is where the terrible irony resides. I am at a point in my life where I am trying to empty myself of identity—all ideas, expectations, and ambitions that have created such suffering for me in my adult years. i am seeking to escape the delusion of my significance and to discover the basic pleasure of being no different from anyone else. yet, i am simultaneously presented with the idea of my son, one who requires an identity in order to succeed, and i instinctively seek to confer to him an identity of my own making, an identity that is in fact an echo of my own past sense of identity, scrubbed of my many errors and refined by my learnings. i reveal my own presupposition that such an idea will spare him the suffering of being ordinary, when in fact it is the pursuit of being extraordinary that has inflamed my ego, divested me of wellness and peace of mind, and driven me to all neurotic excesses that nearly put my life itself in jeopardy.

to observe this and to understand this great irony is to feast upon the complexity of this moment that i have before me. it is wonderful to contemplate this and to recognize that now, as with every moment, i have a choice. and i can make this choice with a clear mind and with wisdom. it is not so difficult, if i can be present with what i am and with the person that i call my son, a life that is not mine to own.

this ambition for greatness that drives people to spiritual ruination is a familiar story to me, as it was told to me through church teachings and illustrated in particular through the lives of the two principal patriarchs of the biblical narrative. David of the Old Testament and Paul of the New are truly the main characters of this story, and both demonstrate an approach to their god that i would describe as masculinist, passionate, egoic, and relentlessly ambitious. the prayers of David and the writings of Paul are filled with venom for their enemies, shame at their own inadequacies, yearnings for deliverance and vindication, and fervent praises for a high and mighty god. theirs is a story of how God receives men who are ambitious for His favor and rewards them with holy identity, at the cost of much human sacrifice and struggle.

if this were all that the scripture had to say about humanity’s experience of God, then perhaps we would be left with the idea that the ultimate purpose of faith is the redemption of personal identity—better, grander, holier identity. I do think that many in the American church believe this. we dream of converting the unreached, and we aspire to war against the powers and principalities of the world, and we exercise our roles as apostles and elders and teachers because we want to live into this idea of a redeemed identity. the idea of godly identity bequeathed to us by David and Paul is an identity rooted in covenant, conquest, and the consummation of divine sovereignty. and that is all fine and good—if David and Paul and all the prophets, priests, and kings for that matter are our framework for understanding a proper experience of God.

but then there are other stories that offer a different perspective. and in particular, there is the story of the sex worker, of whom I have written several times in recent months. the prostitute did not come to Jesus with ambition or with an aspiration she could articulate. she was not anointed by God’s prophet, nor was she blinded and then restored by a miracle. as far as we know, she had no identity that should have merited God’s attention, aside from a history that her contemporaries would have considered unclean and shameful. yet she approached him without a request, without a calling, and without anything that one could ascribe to the agenda of the ego, and for a time she shared a space of mutual understanding and acceptance with Jesus. despite having no quest or cause to boast of, and despite having no station in her society to give her importance, she was seen by Jesus, and more notably Jesus was seen by her for the presence that he was. many men ambitious for the favor of God failed to recognize who Jesus was; yet the prostitute who probably did not know ancient Greek, the proper interpretation of the Torah, or Paul’s yet to be revealed doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement was immediately aware of the person of Christ.

the epic and troubled lives of David and Paul are fascinating and of course reveal a dimension of humanity’s experience of God. but the experience of the prostitute is to me the greater miracle—the non-conceptual, deeply intuitive, and utterly experiential awareness of God, that which the divine was pleased to reveal to those who had the eyes to see and to those who had the ears to hear. those who concern themselves with their worthiness and importance before a sovereign God will certainly receive their due—brokenness and rebuilding. but the story of the sex worker tells me that for those to whom identity is of little concern, there can be a much different experience of God, one that can appear quite unconventional and even radical to those who witness it. it is an experience of nonjudgmental and mutually understanding awareness.

had the sex worker been given the opportunity to write her testament about Christ, we would have been gifted with a much different picture of Jesus than the one we commonly think of. but she did not have this opportunity, and we are left with the concepts and ruminations of the men that were crushed by God. thus, I wonder if the stories left to us by these men represent just the beginning of what transcendence looks like, while the unwritten stories of those who knew the emptiness of Christ speak to where transcendence might lead—true awareness of God in the world, an enlightenment

09.24.18

blind spot, communion, and love

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:55 pm by Administrator

this past weekend, I had a chance to see my old friend teju cole present his work on stage. it was unlike anything I’d previously experienced—a visual presentation of photographic images, each supported with improvised live music and with spoken words elaborating on context and ruminations. it was an hour that described years of travel and life experiences; but more broadly, it was an immersion, unimposing but nevertheless provocative, in the perspective of a human being confronted by the spontaneous and sometimes accidental beauty of an incongruous and even inhumane world. it was dark and probing, and yet I found it evoking in me a subtle sense of hope about the universe. the experience was, in a word, complete.

I sometimes forget the profound pleasure of examining the particulars—why we use certain words, utensils, or frames to create our experiences. teju steps in close, to see the etching of the brush on the canvas, to pry a word from its sentence and sound it out and discover its strange implications. this is the beauty of art, I am remembering. it is not for us to examine the finished product and consider ourselves changed—but rather to imagine the process, to get lost in the makings and unmakings, and to observe ourselves, the ones who imagine change.

my wife and a few of her friends spoke to the church yesterday about the art of worship. it was on the surface about awakening the congregation to its foundations in white colonialism, about recognizing the traumatic impact of Western ideas on the cultural identities of the colonized. but on another level, it was about examining why we do what we do, as co-creators of our experience of God. in the midst of this reflection, communion was offered, and it was served as Korean rice cake, and in this simple act of trans-substantiating one cultural form into another, we came to observe ourselves. we fed on a new sense of our common history; we experienced one another intimately, as wounded and imperfect individuals. it was real communion. I will never forget it, the experience I had of realizing that I, as the progeny of my ancestors and the bearer of their histories, was seen.

my wife shared with me a few days ago her fear that my journey into the emptiness of Buddhism will take me into a place of isolation, within which desirous attachment will cease to have meaning. for her, love in its sentiment, mutuality, and passion has great meaning. I considered this and wondered at it, as one who has observed the tumult and chaos of my passions for many years. I want to express love by limiting my suffering and by restraining my ego from imposing suffering on others. I want to love by experiencing genuine presence with others, which enables true empathy. but love as a singular passion, as a craving for intimacy and ownership? this troubles me and causes me anxiety. but then I think of what love could look like—two people sharing a space, intuiting their connection, and together departing from a world of expectation, judgment, and conceptuality—and there is a feeling that I have for this thing. it is a light feeling, and it is filled with possibility. love, I have learned, does not have to be a weighty thing. it can be as light as the wind that carries the fabric over the sea, as we gaze upon the hillside and the world beyond and consider this moment an arrival

09.17.18

the sound of the truth

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:24 am by Administrator

recently, some friends of mine wanted to know how i came to take this path. who did you listen to, and why? what made you change your mind about so many things? how did you wander so far from what is true?

i tried to explain it. it’s normally something i’m good at, this extemporaneous storytelling that conjures an identity of myself as the inexorable consequence of my past and in particular of a subtle or even obscure turn of events buried deep in my childhood. but for this conversation, no particular memory availed itself. i could not trace anything of interest back to something of significance. later, when i was alone, i tried to piece it together, and i came up with many things, but they were largely incidental, save for one thing. it was something i learned more than twenty years ago in a college poetry seminar, and it has remained with me ever since. truth has a sound.

my first poems were processions of declarative sentences, metered and rhymed to imitate art but rendered with steadfast conviction and a clear destination in mind. i was accused by my peers of “superficiality”. my professor claimed that i had no voice. i was crushed, but i was also curious. writing poetry had felt like an exercise in self-manipulation, so it was not really a surprise to me that the product of this painful labor was equally unpleasant to its readers. shortly after this indictment, i learned that my professor was reading poems from his new book, so i traveled into town one night to hear him. that is when i heard it for the first time—the sound of the truth. he spoke tenderly, carefully, and at points even tentatively about having wanted to be different, about having been broken, about having experienced despair while walking among the crumbled ruins of a once majestic empire. it was his plaintive voice that convinced me of the purpose of poetry, a purpose that resides not in cleverness or self-assertion but rather in patient and sometimes painful self-observation. the poet’s voice is her truth; the content of his words simply lends cadence and tone to that truth. and often that voice can offer neither outright joy nor profound sadness, because the self is so rarely captured in a feeling and is even more elusive to a single idea or belief.

so when i say that i have discovered that the sound of truth is not that round, resonating quality of certainty, i mean to say that anything represented without a shred of vulnerability or question is either so straightforward as to be a fact or so oversimplified as to be disappointing. we all know the sound of the truth that pushes upon the heart; it is sometimes inconvenient, frequently haunting, always personal. over my many years of sitting in classrooms and repenting in church pews, i was taught many things about the world, but i didn’t really hear the sound of the truth until i was twenty-one and heard a gay man recite to me his unique, painful story.

i learned to emulate the sound of the truth that i heard, and it changed the way that i approached my poetry. when i graduated from his class, my professor left me a brief written note on the cover page of my portfolio that transcended any evaluation i’ve hence received. you found your voice, he said. i still treasure those words. this voice that i found is now something i express not only in poetry but in everything i write, and it is the voice that i express when i talk with my patients, speak publicly to fellow leaders, and mentor younger doctors. it is the voice i listen for, among all voices clamoring for attention in the din of a national conversation, that plaintive voice expressing uncertainty about all things that rules, regulations, and convictions would define (and diminish) otherwise.

i think that i changed because i began to hear that voice everywhere. never mind the books by esteemed men that i once considered to be irreproachable. white men with professorships, self-proclaimed masters of divinity—as if divinity were such a thing to be mastered. once upon a time i read their books about how progress was being foiled by ethnic culture, by postmodern ideas, by self-victimizing women and people of color. they quoted facts and figures to erudite excess, speaking in a language of crisp certainty as they bewailed the failing experiment of the american melting pot (arthur schlesinger), blamed blacks for their innate inability to succeed (charles murray and richard herrnstein), and erected sophisticated hermaneutical arguments to contain the repercussions of expanding gay rights in society (william webb and others). in retrospect, i was unable to believe these men and their ideas not because they were obviously deceitful but because their voice was untrue. they spoke in paradigms and philosophies, but there was no wrestling, no humility, and no personal truth in their reflections. i didn’t believe them, because they had no voice of their own.

over the years i’ve heard many people tell me their stories—transgender and queer people on the margin, undocumented immigrants from mexico, heroin addicts, ex-convicts, victims of police brutality, women who have suffered from objectification and domestic abuse, and people who have lived with the persisting stigma of HIV. more often than not, they have a way of telling their stories that reflects real wisdom and perspective, and it’s because they’ve fashioned a voice, their own vibrant and authentic voice, from years and years of struggling against the persecutory messaging of privileged, powerful people in their societies. when i hear that voice, i listen, because i hear its truth. it’s taught me that some people don’t write poetry because it’s art; they write poetry because there are no other words for the story that they have to tell.

two thousand years ago, jesus spoke in parables and prayers. when asked to prove what he was according to the law, he offered the poem of a prophet. when challenged to prove his innocence before his accusers, he offered no power or certainty. he listened to the people who spoke his language, a language of doubt and struggle, and he responded with humility, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. he could have lived in the righteous certainty of judgment, condemnation, and retribution, but instead he offered up a life filled with exceptions to the rules, unexpected mercies, and thoughtful reflections. he had a voice; it was a true one, full of the poetry of the human spirit. i’d like to think that it was an echo of that voice that i heard in my professor’s story of suffering and in every voice that has since impacted my life and changed my mind about a great many things.

my sheep listen to my voice; i know them, and they follow me (John 10:27)

09.12.18

identities, calculations, conclusions

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:58 pm by Administrator

a number of my colleagues have recently experienced significant setbacks in their work, which has affected me personally and triggered some concerns about my own situation. the theme of these setbacks revolves around the idea of a just culture (or a lack thereof). it’s caused me some sadness, and I’ve made some attempts to observe that sadness, not to mitigate it but to understand it. I’ve come to recognize that the sadness is my reaction to emptiness. this is the emptiness of being without purpose and meaning. our egoic selves so desire to identify with our work, to the degree that we expect to experience purpose of a kind—self-validating, consuming purpose—when we do this work. recognizing that labor cannot accomplish this for us can be quite difficult. I am reminded today that emptiness, though it is true, is not always pleasurable. and it can be hard to be reminded that my work offers me no compelling identity and that my anxieties about work are largely unnecessary.

of course I am mindful of the fact that my labor is what enables me to buy food and pay rent for myself and for my family, so while I find it senseless to identify with my work, I am connected to it nevertheless by my fear of poverty. I sometimes find my mind working through calculations of what I must save, what I must earn, and how long I must work in order to stave off destitution. the calculations of course are meaningless mental activity and the antics of an unsettled ego, and result of these calculations is invariably the solution of austerity. survival, I tell myself, is not so expensive. a roof over our heads and food sufficient to sustain our lives are bare necessities that I could afford even if I stopped working for a long period of time. no matter what I do about my job, we will survive.

I observe this process of thought and recognize many interesting things. first of all, my egoic mind always resorts to the worst-case scenario. second of all, it assumes that no one and nothing will ever come to my aid. third, it presumes that I will not actually desire to take on gainful employment again, should I choose to leave my current employer. the spiral of thought that takes me from dissatisfaction with my job to a bunker mentality on all of life is a reflection of identity—an identity rooted in a fear of the unknown, a compulsion to control all that can affect me, and a view of others as my competition for limited resources.

when I take all of this in, usually in a split moment, and observe the subtle identity that is hence revealed, I do feel some compassion for myself. this is the suffering that I have endured for most of my life, ever since I was a child. it was unnecessary suffering. it is suffering that I have been unable to endure alone, which is why I have imposed it on others that I love, thus engendering fear and anxiety in the people that I confide in. I see it in my son. he’s only twelve, but already he fears his future, and he dreams of practical ways to defend himself from what is unknown. this is senseless. it reminds me that I can only help others if I can mitigate my own suffering; if my best efforts only result in more suffering for myself, then I am destined to punish the ones that I most desire to elevate.

in moments like this, I recognize what sin means for me. sin is not about the summation of moral and immoral qualities or behaviors that I manifest. like cory says, sin is the disruption of shalom. it is a limited and sometimes horrible experience of life that I consign myself to because of my egoic efforts to contain what I fear, control what can affect me, and perpetuate an idea of myself that is disconnected from the universe. to be free of that sin, I must submit my ego and all craving for importance that is attached to it. this is a very difficult thing; but the farther along I move in life, the more I recognize that the suffering I cause myself by rejecting this enlightenment is significant indeed. when my eyes were opened to the impact of sin on my life, god’s calling did become irrevocable in a certain way. in any case, I observe this identity of sin. and as I observe it, I come into the present moment, and the power of sin over me diminishes. this is the power of Buddhism; and it is the beauty of Christ

09.10.18

the goodness of God

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:51 pm by Administrator

in their recently published “statement on social justice & the gospel”, a group of evangelicals had some interesting things to say about a variety of issues, which they declared “for the sake of christ and his church”. i’ll list some of the most interesting statements here:

we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. the Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for ’social justice’. if the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.

we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.

we deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church…. we deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

we deny that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ…. we reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression.

i chose these four excerpts because they capture for me a certain position on two issues of importance: the knowledge and influence of the church. yes, there were position statements on gay Christianity (doesn’t exist), the roles of women (complementarianism), and scriptural inerrancy, and these positions were straightforward and predictable for a conservative viewpoint. but i found the statement particularly interesting in its unique approach to the proper position of church within the broader discourse of society. i would summarize that approach as follows: that the church can only represent what is explicitly written in scripture, and that what is written in scripture ought to be sufficient to inform a proper understanding and application of God’s truth. it is, in other words, a rejection of the spiritual importance of knowledge derived from sources other than the Bible.

i’ll admit that i had a reaction to the position statement that was intense enough to affect my emotions. i had to spend time in meditation and observe my varying thoughts and feelings. i recognized that the position statement was triggering memories of other conversations I’ve had in the church, conversations in which i felt condescended to and belittled by those who claimed to have an authoritative understanding of the scripture. those memories were painful; and i had to hold that pain and to recognize that this was an opportunity for my ego to reassert itself and to respond with persecutory words of my own. i became aware of my ego; i was present with my desire for retribution and retaliation; i let those feelings pass through me; and i breathed. monday morning came around, and i woke up anew.

in this state of mind, i want to acknowledge that i once held the very same perspective captured by this statement on social justice and the gospel. ten years ago, i myself declared that the church ought to extricate itself from the social discourse on politics, law, and social transformation. i did so because i felt that the church had little to offer in these conversations and because i felt that its involvement in this discourse was fraught with risks—primarily the risks of attaching itself to ultimately harmful policies or practices, of misrepresenting Christ, and of compromising the appeal of the Gospel to the unreached. my perspective was informed by my low opinion of the church and of the people in it. i considered many of them to be ignorant of social realities, ill-equipped to have meaningful conversations with social reformers, and overly limited in their understanding of church history. i figured it would be better for the church to be silent than to embarrass itself.

i am sure that there are some in john macarthur’s camp who continue to feel the same way, and so i offer them my empathy and understanding. we have all had the misfortune of sharing the faith with people who mistakenly demonstrate bias, a lack of perspective, and even frank ignorance in their attempts to engage society on the many nuanced issues impacting the human condition, and these moments should raise for us real concern about the ability of religious leaders to compellingly speak to God’s will on matters beyond their areas of expertise. if this is what is driving people to sign the “statement on social justice & the gospel”, i want to bless that. it is better for Christians to be silent than to present unjustified personal opinions as divinely inspired revelation.

i however do not fall in this camp any longer, and it’s because my opinion of the church has been significantly elevated by the company i now keep. i go to church with vibrant, well-informed, socially engaged, and literate people who actually do have a deep understanding of the issues impacting human suffering and social justice. they do not limit their explorations of truth to biblical scriptures; they actively integrate their experience of God with the knowledge that they gain, test, and validate in their lives outside church walls. for the first time in my life, i find that I’m in church with people who represent God very well. they do so by affirming the love and grace of Christ, applying this love for the benefit of those who are hurting, and demonstrating responsibility for the systematic injustices that continue to undermine the spiritual, physical, and mental interests of those that they are in relationship with. they do these things legally, and they do these things conscientiously. i do not want these brothers and sisters to be ashamed of the knowledge that they have gained, a knowledge that empowers them to do good. i do not want them to be silent about their truth, because their truth is saving lives.

once upon a time, the church was passionate about convincing the world that God is good. they did so by affirming what non-believers perceived to be good and by demonstrating Christ’s fulfillment of that ideal. as Christ won over hearts through unimpeachable mercy and compassion, and as Paul proclaimed the Gospel by being a Jew to Jews, a Gentile to Gentiles, and an oppressed to the oppressed, so too are we called to have great confidence in God’s goodness, a goodness so undeniable that all people can recognize it as good, regardless of their past or persuasion. it is not the purpose of the Gospel to invalidate the conscience of mankind but rather to reveal the evident goodness of Christ to the conscientious. the Christ of our present times is absolutely able to present Himself as good to those who suffer racism, sexism, and other inequalities and injustices related to identities imposed upon them by a systematically sinful society. if we are willing to believe that God is truly good, then we might also receive the boldness and the skill to proclaim Him to all who seek what is right.

so to the authors and signers of the “statement on social justice and the gospel”, i urge them to be both silent and socially disengaged, if they recognize their inability to speak compellingly to the lost about the true goodness of their god. but i ask them not to restrain others of the Christian family who can skillfully and conscientiously proclaim the Christ of incontrovertible goodness, because this Christ is willing and able to hold the burden of all who suffer unjust persecution

09.08.18

remembering

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:19 am by Administrator

on this trip, i’ve reconnected with three friends whom i respect and love a great deal. i grew up in the church with two of them, and the third is a missionary that i continue to support. religion is something that shaped our friendships, and i think it continues to be important to the four of us, though our journeys have evolved greatly since our childhood.

i’m not sure that they wanted to get into conversations about religion and politics, but as fate would have it, my wife was incensed about john macarthur’s well publicized support of a recently published statement on social justice, and i brought it up over dinner with my friends. one of my friends in particular engaged with me in a dialogue about orthodoxy, and i recognized in our exchange the familiar elements of prior conversations i have had with my other friend, the missionary. invariably, the conversations i have with Reformed Presbyterians come down to a simple question: why do we believe what we believe?

having once been an ardent (albeit conflicted) Calvinist myself, i will grant that the Reformed worldview is veritably impenetrable. i believe it to be a remarkably robust systematic theology, uniquely compelling in its ability to synthesize the canonized scriptures into a cohesive narrative about God’s unchanging nature, His uncompromising justice and His insurmountable grace, and above all His zeal for His chosen people. when one is thoroughly trained in the apologetics of this belief system, there is no philosophical or moral challenge he cannot wrestle to at least a draw, if not a split decision in his favor. the Reformed intellectual cannot lose; that is his virtue.

while the Reformed intellectual will not lose a battle of minds, i find that he sometimes struggles to win over the hearts of his audience. in particular, i find that this pattern invariably takes shape: when asked to explain why the Christian God cannot stomach a homosexual, empower a woman, see the unjust burden of a black american, or transcend His eternal condemnation of any living being that rejects Him, the Reformed intellectual will answer this question with a question of his own: why not? why shouldn’t the God of the universe be able to determine what is right and what is wrong? why shouldn’t God have the right to judge? why shouldn’t God be worthy of worship, even when we cannot perceive Him as moral? why shouldn’t God be above what we sinful humans consider to be godly?

and this is a defensible retort, as it is consistent with the idea of divine sovereignty which is so embedded in their system of beliefs. i offer not an objection as much as an admission of unease. what happened to the church that cherished the utter goodness of their god? what happened to the believers who were once so deeply moved by the idea of a limitlessly merciful and loving lord that they defined their faith by their kindness to others? what happened to the idea of simple goodness, one that appeals to the basic conscience of human beings—not the “good” that has to be rationalized, sublimated, or conceptualized because it is in fact not good to any of us?

if the God of the Reformed intellectuals does not always appear good to me, then it could be because my conscience and my mind have been so distorted by my sin and my arrogance that i am unable to perceive what is true. but i think of the sex worker and Jesus, and i think of the mutual and magical awareness that they shared, and i find myself wishing that we could all encounter a god as good as her god, despite what we’ve been led to believe

09.06.18

philly love

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:30 pm by Administrator

i woke up in philadelphia this morning and recognized immediately that my mind was not my own. it had been hijacked by the idea of the city. from my 12th floor unit, i looked down at the traffic crossing the delaware bridge, and i looked south to the foggy outline of the stadium, and i felt the energy of the city all around me, invading me.

i tried to meditate. it was totally in vain. my ego, my past, and twenty years of angst, anger, and hope are now converging upon this moment, and i know that today should be like any day, but it is not just any day for me. i thought about this as i ran with won ho by the schuylkill, the morning already so hot and humid that just breathing felt pressured, even as it was an indescribable pleasure. today, the championship banner will be dropped from the rafters of the Linc, and philadelphia will be there to witness it, with every emotion you can imagine. the game itself will be an afterthought.

the other day someone at my church asked me to explain the url for my blog, and as i attempted to tell the story it seemed so silly. once upon a time, i was just another guy on the ESPN 76er fan forum, posting as “phillylo”. i was phillylo because i had love for philly but “phillylove” was taken. my email address and my blog are derived from an identity that i haven’t been able to shake for twenty years—an idea of myself as the long-suffering fan of the sixers and eagles. it seems almost senseless to me nowadays; but now that i’m back on a day like today, i recognize what it is. it’s like a first love. it’s like a childhood crush. i’m phillylo, because once upon a time life really was as simple as praying and planning for the next sixer win.

inasmuch as i can be aware, i am aware of all the nervous energy crowding out my mind, and it’s holding me as much as i am attempting to hold it. if i were a better man, i’d observe all of this identity like a father regarding the antics of his infant son. but i am not that better man. today i’m the sum of twenty years of craving, sweating, cursing, and relentless hoping, wrapped up in an eagles shirt, a philadelphia championship bomber jacket, and a face full of feeling, and it is without a doubt a suffering of a kind, but it is also a pleasure, and i tell my ego you can have this day, just this day, and for all time