dark, history, and gratitude for the president

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:30 pm by Administrator

my son and i binged on dark season 3 on netflix this past weekend, and wow was it intense. we thoroughly enjoyed it. i personally think that dark—in all its uber german seriousness—deserves to be thoroughly spoofed. it’s so introspective and humorless that it almost begs for an alternate universe in which it is rendered as a romantic comedy.

now that i can look back on the entirety of the show, dark reminds me most of philip pullman’s “his dark materials”, and i’m sure that golden compass was a strong influence on dark’s story. you have two central characters that are adolescents from two parallel universes who save their worlds from the grip of destiny and who make the ultimate sacrifice—their own emerging love relationship—in order to preserve a world in which non-religious free will can reign. even the golden dust idea is a remarkable parallel between the two stories.

in retrospect, there were some aspects of dark that were perhaps unnecessarily involved and even confusing. i’m not sure that all the elaborate lineages were all that important to reveal over the course of the story, since in the end it didn’t really matter one way or the other who was who’s mother, father, lover, or child. the one interesting implication of the time-warped familial connections was that there were characters who were not part of this “knot”—but that didn’t prove to be a particularly important part of the story’s resolution. i think dark would have worked just as well if the impact of time travel was simply a butterfly effect of something non-procreative done by martha and jonas in the past, an effect that could not be easily undone. if lineage had to be such an important element of dark’s story, then i think there was greater potential for intricacy and revelation than what dark eventually offered. i found myself spending an exorbitant amount of energy maintaining my mental picture of these elaborate genealogies, only to realize in the end that the whole effort was largely unnecessary. the point in the end was simple enough: it’s not so easy to undo the past.

speaking of the past, it’s history that people are trying to rewrite as they tear down statues and monuments and change state flags. so much is happening over such a short period of time that it strikes me that this is not all being driven by rage over the death of george floyd; it’s veritably the accumulated trauma of generations now spilling over into social action on an unprecedented level. it excites me.

now, i can understand the consternation of those who grew up revering these monuments and attaching deep sentiments and memories to them. at what point do we lose ourselves, after we begin our merciless critique of our predecessors? is it even fair to judge our ancestors according to our values and beliefs of the present times? perhaps it is unfair to judge those who came before us; but then again, the world doesn’t belong to them anymore. we owe nothing to the past. indeed, history exists to serve us. if history becomes nothing more than our closet of nightmares, a ceaseless reminder of our depravity, then what good does it do except to frighten us into fleeing from it? we have a right to call out an oppressor for what he was, and we can do so without losing what we are. in fact, perhaps the exercise of history demands this from us. even if a historical person wasn’t an oppressor, if by labeling him as such we become better as a people, then was it not worthwhile?

this time was bound to come. there are too many ghosts and crimes in the history of this country to discount in the interests of a glorified national story. someday, our descendants will awaken fully and recognize that even we at our best were suffering fools, and hopefully they will have the courage in their time to cut ties with us and to brave new worlds. there is no one of my era that deserves a statue, and none who follow us should seek to emulate what we are. each generation, in its own time, is the best that humanity has to offer the world.

and thus, with that peace in my heart, i want to again reiterate the thanks that i once gave to the president of this country. it is ironic perhaps, but i’d like to think of it as a miracle as well, that president trump has galvanized those who have a passion for social justice in a manner unlike any national leader that has preceded him. i give him credit for pushing society forward, because he is more responsible than most for expanding our awareness of the need for progressive change in our time. yes, he played the fool, and his rhetoric was challenging; but were his words not the spark needed to set our hearts ablaze?

i thank him as well for what many of his core constituents would consider the crowning achievement of his administration: the appointment of two supreme court justices. thanks to his first appointee, the supreme court has upheld the rights of LGBTQ people in the workplace and supported the continuation of immigration rights for DACA recipients. when we consider the role that neil gorsuch played in tilting the court in this critical direction at this very critical time, how can we not be thankful to the president who put him in that pivotal position?

perhaps the political is personal and vice-versa. if it is, then i will concede that my heart leans left in most every way, and with that in mind i will add to my thanks to our president. because of the way that he has represented himself, he has quite possibly cost his party the majority in the senate. when he exits the white house next january, he will leave behind two houses of congress and an executive branch that are fully aligned in the interest of the people. for this unity, and for all that will follow from that for years to come, i give thanks


the characters

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:54 pm by Administrator

yesterday in clinic i ended my day with back to back appointments with two young men. the first patient was a black man who ended up telling me the story of his life as a college-educated engineer who spent most of his time in the military sailing around the world with white boys who had never before met a black person. he got angry as he told his story; he got angry as he talked about the times when he sensed the racism around him even before it became actualized in words. he got angry as he described an ambient racism that he has felt everywhere around him. it cannot be escaped. it cannot be overcome. though it’s cruel and unreasonable, it doesn’t change or go away.

the last patient of my day was a jewish man of the same age. he told me about how he was been recently and deeply troubled by the protests going on in our society. he told me about how he too has experienced police brutality. “they put a foot on my neck too, and i know what that feels like,” he said. “you think that they didn’t twist my arm extra hard when they saw my jewish name on my ID? you think they didn’t put a little extra into it when they stepped on my neck just to teach me a lesson?” i saw tears in his eyes.

neither of them asked me for much. they just needed to say these things to me. a black man and a jewish man just needed to say something about a society that was bearing down on them, and even though they had never met me before, they needed me to understand. i’m writing this down because in my own way, i did understand, and i want to remember them both.

the reason that i suffer is that i have within me an ego that i would best describe as an emo teenage girl. she gets envious at random moments and for no good reason. she randomly decides whom she will befriend and whom she will dismiss. she is constantly judgmental and not because she cares about what’s right or wrong but because judgment gives her a sense of power that she so rarely experiences otherwise. she’s always on the outside. she’s always insecure. sometimes she plays cyndi lauper and dances incredibly badly to “girls just wanna have fun” because that’s how she wears joy. when she’s in her element, she’s a total riot; she does life her own damn way. she drives me crazy, and she is the cause of all of my suffering. but for forty-four years of my life, she has connected me to my world, and through her eyes i have come to appreciate what injustice really means. because no one that i’ve met has experienced marginalization, alienation, and loneliness more than she has.

when i extend myself to others through my feelings, so much comes along with those feelings. the more i feel, the more i expect of others. the more i feel, the more i want to control others. the feelings begin to define me; and then in a week or two, suddenly i’m all about something that never mattered to me before. i start caring about everything; but i can’t really care about everything. so when my ego seizes upon something important, i try to hold not only the thing but also the ego itself. and that’s when i realize that more often than not, the ego does not render the thing with fairness, and perhaps the ego uses the thing to empower itself. this is why the thing, whether it is an idea, belief, or identity, needs time to be understood properly. and the stronger the intuition or feelings are, the more time and equanimity are required to observe and to understand the importance of an idea.


holding identity

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:17 pm by Administrator

a few months ago, my mother referred me to jack kornfield, and in kornfield i have found great comfort in these times.

lately, i’ve particularly enjoyed kornfield’s thoughts on identity. he tells many stories about his mentor Ram Dass, but an anecdote i particularly like is when Ram Dass addresses his Jewish heritage by saying that was “just on my parents’ side”. dass’s point of course is that one’s ethnic or religious heritage is just like any other feature of man-made identity; it is an idea that is only as defining as one chooses to make it. the healthiest person is perhaps the one who can see the totality of self as something beyond the grip of an idea or a belief. and so kornfield urges us to “hold identity lightly”, as no idea of identity can possibly render the utter potential or profundity of the human consciousness. eckhart tolle goes even further in his own teachings, drawing from his own memory of post-war germany as he explores the dangers of deep identification and belief and their potential to destroy life.

i reflected this morning that language offers us interesting insights into the nature of identity as we often experience it. while the english language gives us the all-consuming “am”—as in “i am white”, or “i am thirsty”, or “i am happy”—the spanish language differentiates between the states of being. being white implies some permanence, hence the use of the more essential “ser” (yo soy blanco). being thirsty is a transient sensation that is held in the body, hence the use of the possessive “tener” (yo tengo sed). and as happiness is a momentary feeling that is experienced more than held, we will commonly use the state of being verb “estar” (estoy feliz), though “yo soy feliz” can also be used to describe a general state of well-being that transcends a feeling rooted in circumstance.

i like the specificity of meaning offered by Spanish in this particular situation because it forces the non-native speaker to evaluate his or her nature of being. in the context of my own journey with identity, i have begun to wonder if most of what i experience as identity is not both transient and experiential, as opposed to essential and enduring. even the things i once considered to be most permanent (my gender, for instance) have begun to feel to me like mortal trappings, ideas that i will soon shed when i pass out of this body. perhaps i am experiencing maleness as a sensation, or perhaps i am even holding manhood almost the way one would hold a trivial object. does it define what i am? i, in my barest consciousness, must determine this from one moment to the next.

it is hard in these times to have ideas and not be them. but i ask this question: what becomes of us when we become agents of ideas, even the best ideas? do we become more fully human, or do we possibly reduce ourselves to something less than human? perhaps an idea is only as capable of rendering humanity as it is owned and controlled by the human that holds it; and if an idea overtakes a human being and controls her, then the idea cannot help but reduce that life. i think that no matter how noble the belief or the cause may be, the human subsumed within it cannot be rendered sufficiently nor realized completely.

in these furious times, i cannot advise others on what identities should be of importance to them. but i can say that as i view my own ethnicity, color, gender, beliefs, and state of being through the lens of much debate and rhetoric, i hold these things more than i am these things. and even if i treasure the thing i hold, i am not defined by it. and so i have a hope for change, but i am not within that hope of a change. i feel the importance of learning from a tragedy, but i am not a believer in what that tragedy must mean. i hold my color even as i hold the color of another’s skin, and while it touches upon consciousness, it does not penetrate all the way through. it is an idea, and though i take the suffering of people seriously, i hold all of its component ideas lightly. i hold identity lightly, because it is not what i am


8:46, jk rowling, and deflation

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:22 pm by Administrator

what i love about dave chappelle is his originality, his out of the box wackiness, his depth as a human being which comes out in the delicious irony of his comedy. “8:46″ was vintage dave chappelle. it was less humorous than cathartic, but it was no less the raw and authentic dave than anything else he has ever presented us. i appreciated it, and i was horrified by it, because dave is in a bad place right now, and that is because our world is in a bad place right now.

there is a mysterious and disturbing logic to dave’s comparison of black america’s response to george floyd’s killing with LAPD’s response to christopher dorner, the renegade ex-police who hunted down and killed police officers before himself being cornered and killed by the police. in the context of dave’s other references to the black panthers and also to micah johnson, the ex-military man who sniper shot and killed five policemen in houston, it is a comparison that more than insinuates a justification for interracial violence. this is not dave identifying irony or teasing out the ugly underbelly of the american psyche; this is dave in his darkest place, hungry for retribution. at the very start of the set, dave called out don lemon for calling out hollywood celebs, and it’s not hard to see why, in retrospect: dave didn’t want to tap into this deep-seated rage, but now it’s the only thing he has to offer as evidence of the fact that he cares.

layer on top of this dave’s bitingly misogynistic comments about white women and you’ve got a raging manifesto for the ages. four years ago, dave encouraged america to give donald trump a chance. he was probing, profound, and open to the possibilities, as much as he was shaken and even saddened by what he was seeing. now, we see a different dave chappelle. he’s ceded responsibility for the cause to the next generation. he can’t make sense of it all and doesn’t want to anymore. he’s beaten up, broken, and angry, and he’s given up on white people. it was one of the saddest and hardest things i’ve ever sat through, to see dave work through his anger and despair for 27 minutes on stage.

as terrible as it was to see the nature of dave’s suffering, it has been just as difficult to see jk rowling fumble through a self-revelation of the ugliest variety in her defense of anti-trans loathing. i’ll quote her directly, because it is impossible to paraphrase with justice:

So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.

it’s a paragraph embedded in a longer essay ostensibly offering the viewpoint of a vulnerable feminist and survivor, but all the carefully worded and sentimentally infused context cannot disguise the vicious cruelty of these choice words she shares here. in one sentence, jk rowling accomplishes the one irrevocable insult that no trans woman can ever dismiss, the most vile and dehumanizing accusation that a person can level against her: that a trans woman is not and never will be a real woman in the eyes of another.

i am disappointed with jk rowling and can only wish for her a journey into mindfulness that will enable her to arrive at a transformative awareness of the humanity of others around her. as janaya future khan so eloquently states, those who use their own history of pain or suffering as a justification for excluding or stigmatizing others create for themselves “an island of their pain”. as hard as it was to see dave chappelle glorify a mass murderer and denigrate women, it was even harder to see jk rowling leverage her fame to oppress a people who have already been so repeatedly ostracized and oppressed by our society. i extend compassion to her, because i know that her ignorance is her suffering. we all share this ignorance in some way; it is the curse of our species. there is nothing to forgive. there is only a sadness to share, a sadness that bears the seed of our awakening.

i’ve been thinking a lot about the reopening of the american economy and how this whole journey with COVID will play out. the smart money men say that we’re headed for inflation, if not hyperinflation, and the future lies in gold and digital currencies. but the retail investors say that the “v-shaped recovery” is as real as we want it to be; they’re counting on consumer demand to bounce back quickly, and they’re counting on modern medicine to quash this pandemic within 12 months. still others say that there is a middle road scenario, in which we experience transient deflation before the economy accelerates and moderate inflation sets in, curbing the impact of spiraling debt.

of all viewpoints i’ve read, i think i’m most inclined to agree with trevor jackson, an assistant professor at GW, who contends that “terminal deflation” is our base case scenario. he emphasizes that the fiscal stimulus up to this point that has disproportionately aided banks and big businesses has not changed economic realities for non-wealthy consumers, whose spending and borrowing habits are ultimately what will determine the future of this economy.

working for a small business myself, i can say that the PPP loan is a stopgap measure but not a bridge to sustainability. it incentivizes us to underemploy our staff without outright layoffs; and it doesn’t sufficiently change our outlook, which was poor to begin with and now looks positively bleak. with the state approaching insolvency, we know that we have a limited window of time to either declare “peace with honor” (sell or close up) or significantly downsize in order to address the severe downside risks of 2021. the PPP loan gives us time to think over our options and avoid a PR disaster, but it doesn’t change the end-game calculus. i believe it’s the same for every small-medium sized business that understands as clearly as we do that there is no V-shaped bounce back for a main street that can’t reasonably expect underemployed customers to line up in force for months to years.

it’s not the fear of getting sick or dying that’s going to paralyze this economy; it’s the fear that the best job you can count on is your old job, minus the job security. for this economy to bounce back hard and fast, americans need to believe that their job prospects are expanding, and companies need to believe that the opportunity for innovation and expansion is imminent. outside of a few niche industries, that sense of opportunity just doesn’t exist. the american service sector relies heavily on discretionary spending, and the “90 percent” economy that people are talking about means that a constant sense of precarity will plague the average joe for the foreseeable future. that’s the kind of anxiety that prevents capex investments, mergers and acquisitions, new home purchases, and that extra night or two per week eating out on the town. in a milieu like this, all the deficit spending in the world won’t change the velocity of money at the ground level. deflation is the base case scenario now, not inflation.

this may not turn out to be a depression like the 1930s, but this won’t be a bail-out bounce-back like 2008 either. we’re in for austerity and everything it implies: a deep and prolonged economic slow-down, with persistently high unemployment (or underemployment) and the expansion of a welfare state. that in turn will weaken the dollar relative to other international reserve currencies, even in the absence of inflation, thus building a case for political (or military) intervention to realign the markets.


all the way through

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:58 pm by Administrator

and the reason that i’ve been writing so much in this season is that what i’m observing in the nation as well as in myself is an aborted process. we are challenged at the level of belief. we react with shock. we protest. we connect with others of a like mind. and then, we fail to follow through on what really matters. and this just means that we require another challenge at the level of belief—a challenge sufficiently challenging to arrest our otherwise distracted attention.

my wife challenged me the other day to consider whether i am becoming part of the problem by not actively engaging in the discourse surrounding police brutality and systematic racism in this society. anyone reading my blog can readily recognize how much these issues have meant to me over the years, but it is true that what i project in my social circle is disengagement. i don’t like to talk about these things with others; and in general, i have been limiting my social contact with people outside of work, for a variety of reasons.

if it is disengagement that i’m experiencing, then the reasons for this are multiple. for one, actively debating with others and engaging in protest causes me suffering. this may sound self-serving, but i view it as critical to both self and to my social circle. when i move from ideation into suffering, i cause others suffering. very little good has come out of my history of arguing over ideas with others, and in fact i have seen how my approach to attacking the beliefs of others has only deepened their convictions, to my distress and to their added suffering.

but the more important reason perhaps for my disengagement is that i view the cycle of reaction, protest, and apathy as deeply unfortunate and self-defeating. every time, there seems to be the potential for deeper collective awareness; but every time this pathway becomes aborted. i believe that this is because deep awareness about anything difficult and meaningful ultimately moves away from protest and debate. it demands stillness if not inaction; it silences the ego; and it forces deep personal change. deep awareness about the things that are difficult prevents the ego from converting tragedy into the kind of collective frenzy that quickly dissipates. deep awareness forces painful personal transformation. what i want to understand is what this personal transformation can look like for me, if not for others as well.

the fact is that when we saw george floyd die, we each saw much different things. some of us saw a cycle of history repeating itself, in the racist murder of a black victim. others of us saw an incident that was sure to be overblown by the media or used by left-wing proponents to execute a political agenda. others of us saw it as an opportunity to launch revolution; and still others saw it as an opportunity for self-expression, personal growth, or even self-aggrandizement. but there is another way to look at what happened, and it demands that we return to the unmitigated and unprocessed shock of our initial reactions. before my mind processed what i saw and labeled it in its customary ways, what i saw was a death so excruciating and preventable as to force me to face the brevity and fragility of my own life. and the fact that this death could have been prevented if another man had known the imminent consequences of his actions only compounded my appreciation of our exquisite mortality. we just do not understand our capacity to harm one another.

meditating on george floyd’s death has forced me to meditate on other shocking evidence of our casual capacity for devastation. i have meditated on the holocaust. i have thought about patients of mine who were beaten in the streets. i have reflected on the brief and violent lives of the young men i met in east baltimore. i’ve thought about my father, who had his own way of making sense of the wars he witnessed and lived through. these thoughts have led me to believe that while protestation in the moment of crisis is often important and even necessary to arrest further injury, attestation about what it means to be human is the deep and ongoing work that must occur in order to save our species from a cycle of suffering. this kind of attestation cannot simply culminate in opposition to an idea; it must culminate in active, daily, and personal affirmation of what is best. it must culminate in lifestyle changes in day to day living which elevate the human condition, reverse suffering, and curtail harmful relationships and interactions. yes, at points that can look like disengagement from ordinary living. but if each of us do that work, then what this can lead to is a kinder world without boundaries or borders.

my meditations on george floyd are leading me to consider that my life of eating meat, accumulating capital, following internet news, driving a gas-guzzling automobile, and planning for my retirement is futile. what must i do today to touch upon the deeper suffering that i share with the rest of humanity? what can i do to stop contributing to the destruction of my environment, to the perpetuation of an aggressive and violent culture, and to the entrapment of human beings in systems of interaction that ultimately dehumanize them? how can i give of what i am and receive more deeply, so that my temporary and emotional reactions in the moment do not simply end in protest but culminate in daily rhythms that add to the lives of others that i am present with? the death of george floyd makes me want to live, and real life has to go beyond momentary passions and fierce political conversations. real life requires awareness of what we are, a process of examination that goes all the way through


axes of integration

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:32 pm by Administrator

as i struggle to understand what i am supposed to think, believe, and do in these times of upheaval and grief, i recognize that my mental processes continue to exist along two axes of integration.

there is the horizontal axis of thinking, in which i am continually processing my life as a trajectory from the past into my future. from one day to the next, i am aligning my attitudes and aspirations to be in keeping with what i understand of myself through a specific narrative of my personal history; and i am directing my efforts toward what i project to be my future based on my idea of a past. the horizontal axis affords me a sense of identity, purpose, and structure. but thinking of myself strictly through this lens causes me much suffering because it begs for identity, and identity, as i have discovered, empowers the ego.

the other axis is my vertical axis of mental activity—a frame of perception which excludes time and evaluates my instantaneous sense of integration with the mind, body, society, and material world. the vertical approach does not look for a journey, a progression, or a path forward; and as such, it does not open the mind to questions of purpose. the vertical approach illuminates alienation—the incongruity of beliefs and realities—and the subjective experiences of internal mind-body disconnections and of interpersonal disconnections with others. the vertical perception closes the mind to philosophical questions of purpose, utility, or value.

for much of my life, i was a christian believer who approached theology as a “horizontal” exercise, and certainly the biblical narrative lends itself well to this exercise. believing in Christianity required that i adopt a biblical view not only of human history but also of my own personal history as an extension of this human history. thus, the historical fall of man was essential for me to understand as an integral part of my personal trajectory; and the present and future redemption of mankind described in the scriptures was a simultaneous reflection of my own own destiny as a spiritual being. i grew up experiencing the tension of being pulled at both ends of the string: the constant reminder on the one hand of my identity as a sinner and on the other hand of my responsibility to become a reborn, redeemed, and more integrated version of myself.

having such a strong horizontal paradigm for my spiritual life only reinforced my horizontal outlook on life in general. i lived out the phases of my life each in succession and for a discrete purpose. i devoted myself at various points to the aspirations that seemed necessary for the completion of my trajectory: achievement of an education, growth as a believer, training as a professional, evangelism to the unreached, and ultimately the successful conversion of others to my system of belief. life had a concerted purpose consummated in the perpetuation of an idea—a religious idea whose main purpose was the propagation of that idea in the minds of others. at various points, i called this purpose my “mission”, my “burden”, my “responsibility”, and my “calling”.

the vertical axis was underdeveloped in my life through most of my adult years, though intermittently i would experience this mode of perception in moments of deep prayer, contemplation, or personal crisis. crisis has a remarkable way of shattering a seemingly fixed and deeply rooted horizontal paradigm. crisis is what precipitated my journey into exploring consciousness on the vertical axis; and it is what has enabled me to even begin existing in three dimensions, a space that one can only enter through awareness.

processing along the vertical axis requires present-focused sensitivity that suspends forward or backward movements of the mind. it requires the rejection of a personal past and the dismissal of a theoretical sense of a future. i have heard many people contend that suspending belief itself requires belief, but i disagree with this. it is possible to experience the present moment without conceptuality simply by accessing basic perceptions and heeding them thoroughly without assigning categories or descriptions. infants and small children experience life in this manner, as perceptions without beliefs or constructs.

does verticality of perception confound moral processing? my wife presents this question to me almost daily. does a present-focused mentality that rejects history and trajectory prevent one from understanding the kind of positionality that obligates social responsibility? on the one hand, absolutely. on the other hand, i believe that this question begs another question in return. is belief truly necessary to moral responsibility? or does the capacity for compassion reside in a human being apart from beliefs about the nature of relationships and the identities of others? i know that this may sound like a belief, but i do not think that belief is a prerequisite for loving kindness. i say this because when i enter that space of emptiness, what i feel toward other people is a connectedness that comes from our common experience of impermanence and fleeting existence. in this state of mind, i do not require others to share my point of view, conform to my beliefs about things, or embrace an agenda that i have for their lives. i feel our commonality and connection intuitively and without conceptuality.

so with this in mind, i reenter the discussion about social justice in this community we call a nation. the discourse is filled with ideas, histories, ideals, and judgments of all kinds, and it is nearly impossible for me to come to grips with it all. in the midst of these many complex and charged ideas and beliefs, i have found some elements that resonate with me as simple and compelling truths. it is a tragedy to see a non-violent man put to death by an officer of the law. it is an absolute and unmitigated sadness to see this. and it is a terrible thing to see and hear so many reminders of a time when black people were owned and abused as property. statues, narratives, words, and violent actions—the reminders of this time are everywhere, ubiquitous and undeniable. one does not have to be seeking out these reminders to find them. and moreover, when one is honest with what one is observing, one cannot deny that the poverty and pain experienced by people of color in this country are grievous not simply because they are the poverty and pain of individuals but more profoundly because they are the legacy of prior generations. once again, we do not require conceptuality to see this; we can feel this, as the karma of injuries past. one can hold this and be aware of this without assigning blame. one can hold this and be aware of this and recognize the deep, stirring, and painful humanity of this truth.

when i say that my beliefs about what is happening in this country are unimportant, i mean that not as a rejection of personal and moral responsibility for what is happening but rather as an assertion of my basic humanity. i do not need to have a belief about what i am witnessing in order to grasp its sadness and its truth. i do not need to have a belief about who is right or wrong in order to see the mutual pain our actions inflict upon us. i do not need to be an activist or an ideologue to recognize, here and now, that we are failing to be kind to one another and to ourselves. in fact, now more than ever before, i feel that belief is unhelpful. belief and all the conceptuality and identity that it summons will never make us better or more enlightened human beings. at best, belief can only formalize the basic goodness we already understand.

and so i hold myself, the suffering body that i am. there is in my suffering body a conviction about this racist nation, its pattern of abusing people of color, and its vested interest in protecting the wealth of privileged people. and there is in my suffering body a shame about how i have benefited from this system in a manner that has afforded me prosperity. i hold myself, this man of suffering, and he is an idea as complex, contradictory, and conflicted as the idea of the nation that he see himself a part of. i hold that idea, and it is neither right nor wrong. i will not restrain him from speaking his mind or doing what he believes to be right; but at the end of each day, i hold him, as he rests his head on my chest and cries silent tears about the pain within him that he cannot explain. the rest of you will tell him that he has done well or not done enough; but i tell him that i see his pain, and his pain is not my pain, and his suffering will never be my suffering. and in this manner, he becomes one with his cause and dies for it, while i become human and live


ideas, my ideas, the futility of ideas

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:43 pm by Administrator

it has been a week of protests, vigorous conversations, spiteful disagreements, and physical violence. even more fundamentally, it was a week when we as a nation submitted to the dominion of ideas. these are not the ideas of simple concepts and constructs. these are the deeply egoic ideas, the ideas that we are willing to fight and die for, the ideas that determine identities and divide nations. none of us are immune to the impact of these ideas. they resonate with us deeply, and thus they rule us completely.

i am white, and i am being attacked.

i am black, and i am a target.

i am asian, and i am not seen.

i am a woman, and i am oppressed by men.

the ideas have power because they have truth. and they have truth because they are rooted in the experiences of people who have lived at some point in our world. these ideas do not need to be proven, validated, or accepted by the many. they have power because they are intuitively, deeply, and already true. in fact, they cannot be disproven; and this is the reason that clashing ideas will continue to clash, and the people who are subject to these ideas will continue to battle one another, and the collective ego agitating beneath and within it all will prevail, spreading its tentacles across worlds and branching out into new ideologies and religions of all kinds. the ego outlives us; it establishes itself in histories; it immortalizes itself in mythologies; and it delights in the enslavement of the generations, one consciousness at a time.

i have my ideas, which draw upon memories. black people have hurt me. white people have hurt me. korean people have hurt me. latino people have hurt me. i have ideas about every tribe in the world. but in these days and times, i have reinvented myself as a progressive liberal man who cares about systematic justice. i care deeply about police violence against black people, and i am intolerant of white supremacy and the military-industrial complex that serves its cause in this country and throughout the world.

the i who is rooted in ideas is defined by this belief at this very moment in history. he would crush anyone and everyone who does not agree with him, because he lives in a universe in which the value of a person is defined by the quality of his beliefs.

but the i that i have ignored for most of my life, the i who is empty, holds the person in me that is defined by belief. what a strange thing it is to regard myself, the person defined by ideas. because when i truly regard this person, i see layers upon layers of ideas and beliefs that contradict one another to an impossible degree. this man that i regard is at once a racist and an anti-racist; he is committed to progress and also to self-aggrandizement and the destruction of others. the person of ideas believes in a single right cause, and yet his life has been marked by a series of causes that he has progressively abandoned. at any given point in time, he emerges into a concept of himself not by integrating all that he believes that rather by choosing, almost arbitrarily, the one among many conflicting beliefs that he will now wrap himself in, as if he has been this thing all along. i hold this man of many beliefs, and i see him wandering through a wardrobe of rags, wondering for hours which of these he will adorn himself in as if these cheap clothes were veritable finery.

do these protests matter? does the cause of justice in this society matter? do the conversations on reparations have to continue? must structural and budgetary change be enacted at a legislative level? do black lives matter? both persons in me say yes, but for different reasons. the man of ideas, the egoic man, asserts that these ideas matter because we cannot live with ourselves otherwise. the other man in me, the one who must bear with this ego, says that these ideas matter because there is truth in them; but perhaps the truth does not entirely reside in these ideas, and thus the ideas cannot capture all truth. this man might contend, for example, that the general suffering of all mankind is so considerable that it outweighs all variances of suffering among individuals; and the destruction we have wreaked upon non-human life upon this world has been so devastating as to dwarf the pain and injury that we have inflicted upon one another. i arrive, time and time again, at this one truth: that if i can stop my own suffering, then perhaps i can avoid imposing my suffering upon all others; and if i can avoid imposing my suffering upon all others, then possibly one day i can do something to lessen the suffering of another.

every day i enter the world of ideas, and every night i return from it, to total unconsciousness and the emptying of all identity. indeed, though the egoic man in me believes that the value of a person is determined by the quality of that person’s beliefs, the mindful being in me that is connected to all life knows the fundamental truth deeply enough—that all life is equally valuable regardless of whatever beliefs we may hold in these vanishingly thin moments of form. and thus i hold myself, and i know that my own beliefs about all things are utterly unimportant. it is unimportant whether i believe that black lives matter. it is unimportant whether i believe that a white cop killed a black man out of malice. it is unimportant whether i believe that some people in this country are racist and deserve retribution while others are victims and deserve reparations. my beliefs about these things are unimportant, because belief itself is unimportant. what is important is that when i am present with life, whether the flower, the spider, or the child, i say and do what is utterly and completely true.

and so i say, to all who have agreed or disagreed with me, that i consider our ideas to be as interesting as they are fleeting. but your life, in this moment that we share, is what i shall consider precious


trusting the process

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:48 pm by Administrator

I was listening this morning to a podcast that featured two journalists from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum debating each other over the protests about George Floyd. the conservative participant was a man, and the left-leaning participant was a woman, and for me this only sharpened the differences in their sensibilities. while the conservative man ostensibly acknowledged that an injustice had to be addressed, he pointed out the protests as an example of unproductive social reaction to the injustice. and when the other journalist expressed some sympathy for the protestors and their long-standing frustrations with the criminal justice system, he in turn objected to her unwillingness to advocate for the legal process. “how can you object to letting the process play out?” he asked and continued to ask. like a winning debater, he held adamantly to this challenge, as if any reservation about the legal process was a non-starter, an untenable foundation for any reasonable argument about a matter of justice.

it reminded me immediately of my lifelong history of theological debates with an old friend. his trump card—challenging me to quote the biblical text that justified any and all religious views that I offered—was rooted in a deep and personal sense of positionality. he was the defender of an established tradition, and as such he could demand that my questions of the tradition be based on terms and definitions commonly held within the tradition. I could certainly advance an argument based on differing terms and traditions, but then he could refuse to accept the very relevance of the argument (much less its validity) by simply asserting that we were not talking about the same religion. it struck me as smug, stubborn, narrow, and very inconvenient for me. but it also struck me as a watertight, justifiable approach for the guy playing defense. it was my responsibility, as the outsider, to engage him on commonly understood terms and to expose the contradictions within the tradition built upon these assumptions. I largely failed to do this, and perhaps this is why I not only ended the debates but also exited the tradition. i believe that there continues to be very little space within the American evangelical community for someone who believes in social justice, LGBTQ equality, and universal salvation.

in any case, having the luxury of playing defense on matters of identity and social justice is what I call experiencing privilege. people who have this privilege often don’t experience their positionality as an advantage; rather, they view themselves as being rational. adopting this self-perception allows them to judge their opposition as being irrational, opinionated, overreactive, impulsively destructive, or driven by an overly subjective or personal agenda. I find that this is very much the case in the current discourse on police brutality and systematic injustice in general. those who discount the possibility of systematic racism in the criminal justice system borrow from a deep vein of American mythology that affords them a power and position in the discourse as the defenders of a tradition. instead of having to justify their beliefs in the face of many countervailing facts about racial disparities in arrests, convictions, sentencing, paroles, and injuries at the hands of the police, they demand that their ideological opponents accept the ultimate dignity of the legal process as the foundation for any meaningful dialogue; and of course when their opponents refuse to embrace a wholesale “trust in the process”, they brand their opponents as radicals.

the irony of this is that a viewpoint based in this oversimplified trust in the legal process undermines a proper understanding of the deeper processes of reconciliation and repair that must occur for justice to be accomplished. in the evangelical churches that I was a part of, the matter of LGBTQ equality was often reduced by the empowered and the privileged to a simple political flashpoint: the legal right to marry, for instance. the fundamental issue faced by people of LGBTQ backgrounds in the church—their sense of marginalization, exclusion, and dehumanization, institutionalized through church procedure and reinforced through biased and psychologically destructive teachings—was completely misunderstood or ignored by others, who did not want to take the time or energy to engage in the deeper processes of understanding and reconciliation. in these days and times, it takes work and personal sacrifice to share spiritual life with someone of a different sexual identity, and I respect those in the church who have intentionally made these sacrifices in order to journey with a persecuted member of the spiritual family. it happens too rarely. those who are privileged more often call for faith in a simple and forensic process of separating right actions and beliefs from the wrong, utterly abandoning the scriptural prerogative of deep empathy culminating in self-death as exemplified by their martyred leader.

in broader society as well, when it comes to understanding the experiences of black people in the united states, those who are privileged point to the capacity of the legal system for objectivity and the fairness of judgment by one’s peers, not recognizing that the fundamental issue—generations upon generations of history in which the process of justice has been repeatedly subverted because of an ongoing and more insidious process of social subjugation—requires deep relationship and shared experience rather than a magical belief in simple political or legal solutions. people of color in this country don’t need white people to acknowledge injustices when they occur; they need white people to commit to a process of engagement, self-reflection, and dialogue which transforms culture. that’s a process a lot of privileged people don’t want to commit to, because it’s inconvenient; it puts them on the outside looking in, it forces them to wrestle on a daily basis with the difficult human questions for which there are no easy answers, and it compels them to make personal and material sacrifices that hurt.

let’s face it. trusting the legal process to play out properly for people of color in this country is naïve. trusting in the deeper process of reconciliation and mutual understanding is sensible but requires connection on a dramatically more human level. those who are unwilling to commit to this kind of process are less human; and indeed, some who reject this process eventually prove to themselves to be inhuman