January to March, 2010

03.26.10

Conversation

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:12 am by Administrator
it’s been so long since i last had a really deep conversation with God that when it happened today on the commute home it felt unusually powerful to me. as these conversations usually do, this one began with me sort of aimlessly meandering into a confession of misgivings and sensations. and then at one point, i found my words beginning to echo back at me, and i sensed a voice on the other end, forceful, full of feeling, full of personality. when i hear that voice, i usually cry; i cannot control my feelings. when God reached me today at a certain point in my confession, i began crying uncontrollably; i felt such intense hunger for Him at that moment that i could not restrain myself.
i worshiped God. i accorded Him the reverence i would give a perfect father; i felt for Her the impassioned adoration of a lover; i experienced the safety of one delivered by a savior. in a series of sensations without words, i worshiped God. in retrospect, i’d call it tongues, except that there was no verbalization. it was my spirit communing with God; it was perfect.
when i got home, Sandy asked me what God told me. sometimes this is easy for me to spell out, because His ideas come across discretely. today, it was quite difficult for me to describe. God overwhelmed me with a sensation; and within that sensation were a number of different ideas, each restorative and powerful in their own ways. to pull apart those ideas and articulate them was not easy. but the main thread i recognized was this: God told me that He is very interested in my personal journey. He wants me to grow.
the context for this statement has to be understood. as i suggested in my last entry, i really struggle with other people’s concepts of God and their designs on His kingdom. but when i look at myself, i cannot really consider myself a reliable interpreter either. i am a small vessel; impetuous; argumentative; proud, and self-absorbed. to consider my shortcomings as a companion of God is to be filled with humor at my own presumption; and in fact, God and I did a great deal of laughing during our conversation today, most of it aimed at myself. it’s not that we mocked myself; it’s that i realized with joy that God empathizes with my powerful sense of frustration at not being able to understand Him. the profound part of this is that He both shares this frustration with me and finds it fitting. i want to know Him “accurately” and “immediately”; He tells me that it is ok for me to commune with Him in spite of my gross misconceptions and misunderstandings. what matters is sincerity and passion. the ignorance and honest mistakes about His nature are things He can deal with. “you’ll get there,” He told me in so many words, and i believed Him. i could feel God’s intention to finish the work that He began in me. and this mattered to me in a way that i cannot describe in words.
when i was nearly home, i wondered to myself (as i always do) whether this conversation with God is something that i had manufactured for myself. yes, i readily admitted, this is quite possible. and yet, when i thought about it, even if God had given me a miraculous sign to prove the veracity of our conversation, i would not have received Him any differently. i believe by faith that it was God who touched me; i know that it is possible that it was not Him; and even still i believe that if i manufactured this conversation, then God is devoted enough to me to correct me eventually. so even then, i am satisfied that God is sovereign in my life. the result is peace. there is nothing in the world–not riches, accomplishment, or fame–that can give me that peace. i know that i would willingly relinquish everything i have in my life to follow Him, because i know that He gives that peace. that peace makes a miracle out of the simple things, like a meal, or a night’s sleep, or a moment with a friend. it makes a very confusing and difficult life pleasurable to live.
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03.25.10

Orthodoxy and Reformed Theology

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:59 pm by Administrator
for a long time i considered myself of the Reformed camp of theology, but over the past few years i’ve found myself at odds with my more conservative friends on a variety of moral and ethical issues. for a while i considered these differences peripheral to the fundamental matters of my theology; but recently i have come to the conclusion that in fact my feelings on moral issues are rooted in my reading of scripture, and my reading of scripture is a direct reflection of my theology. i cannot pretend to be PCA if my ideas of scriptural authority and “inerrancy” are not compatible with those of my Reformed peers.
yesterday i went through all of Paul’s epistles to specifically examine what Paul says about himself and his writings. i accumulated some interesting observations, which i’ll develop with specific citations into a longer essay eventually.
1) Paul defines himself first and foremost as a herald and apostle of the Gospel, specifically to the Gentiles. On matters of Christ’s death, resurrection, and lordship, Paul establishes himself as an authority. In this capacity, he issues doctrinal teaching and commandments–both of God and of himself.
2) Secondarily, Paul considers himself a mentor and teacher on matters of behavior and propriety. He issues judgments on the basis of intuition, scriptural inference, or general moral understanding. He maintains that his instructions are to be closely followed, and he justifies these judgments by his “trustworthiness” and his “knowledge”, which have already been proven to his readers.
3) Thirdly, to some disciples Paul presents himself as a peer and even as an inferior. In this capacity, Paul sometimes offers “advice”. On the general matter of church leadership, Paul views the church’s teachers as men given a specific gifting recognized by their peers, who are guided by personal faith and conscience, and whose ministry is preserved by the Holy Spirit. in this paradigm, Paul views his own teachings as a “pattern” that can be emulated by Timothy and other rising leaders.
A close reading of Paul’s works clearly demonstrates his degree of personal investment in the church plants and his earnest desire to see these churches maintain integrity in the face of conflicts and testings. His repeated emphasis on the content of the Gospel teaching suggests his belief that the Gospel truth must be center to the discourse on any subject regarding church life. His assertion that church leaders must be spiritual men capable of “judging all things” implies his belief that the teaching and stewardship of the church relies very much on the discernment of its leaders, a quality tied intimately to the entities of faith and conscience as molded by the Holy Spirit.
from this reading of Paul, i come to some inferences:
1) Paul placed his personal judgments regarding moral living and order in worship on a different level from his doctrinal teachings on the lordship of Christ, which he considered authoritative. it is clear from his self-references and his terminology that he did not view many of his moral judgments as the necessary corollary of his Gospel teachings.
2) By appealing to what was generally understood by his readers (”the nature of things”, “as in all the congregations”), Paul necessarily relied on a culturally-derived value system in conveying his understanding of proper behavior.
3) By emphasizing the critical role of “judgment” in the leading of the church, Paul implied that spiritually-derived insight–not doctrinal orthodoxy–was of primary importance to a church leader’s ministry.
4) Hence, Paul’s vision for the safeguarding of spiritual truth was one based on the recognition and grooming of spiritually-gifted teachers and apostles, each given the freedom to discern and judge as they saw fit for the congregations in their care. Paul’s intent in his letters was not to establish a doctrinal orthodoxy to bind the church for all time–but rather to defend his ministry, encourage his disciples, and confirm a pattern of faithfulness which could serve as a model for future ministry.
My prime issue with Reformed theology is its insistence on a certain brand of the “sola scriptura” ideal–the idea that “scripture can interpret scripture.” This paradigm unfortunately encourages two practices that are counter to Paul’s original intentions for his writings: 1) they establish the Pauline corpus as the basis of a static doctrinal orthodoxy, and 2) they marginalize the role of ongoing inspiration. Given my reading of the epistles and my understanding of Paul’s self-concept, i believe that Reformed theology’s specific stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture restricts the role of personal judgment and spiritual mentorship, a dangerous fallacy and one which approaches Pharisaic dogmatism.
the American evangelical focus on the professional education of its church pastors has led Christians to believe that a seminary degree is equivalent to spiritual gifting and ordinance; and the Protestant focus on maintaining order and consistency in church practice has led believers to look at scripture not as a guide useful for instruction but rather as the code by which all spiritual matters can be deciphered. both of these cultural aspects of the contemporary church do force a unique significance on the systematic practice of hermaneutics, an academic exercise that i would argue was never meant to be central to the believer’s experience of the Gospel truth. to me, Reformed theology necessarily establishes Christian practice as a primarily ideological venture, which i cannot agree with.
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03.23.10

Won Ho’s Visit

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:07 pm by Administrator
won ho came over from philadelphia last friday, and we had an interesting weekend together. the highlights:
1) won ho has now developed the habit of beginning many positional statements with the word “again”. He places heavy emphasis on the second syllable and follows this with a short but dramatic pause, as if to reinforce his sense of indignation (restrained by only the utmost self-control) at being forced to reiterate a previously and clearly articulated position. we had several discussions on his usage of “again” and what this reflects about his self-concept. it was fascinating.
2) we ran the L.A. marathon together, a “disappointing” experience for won ho and an “aggravating and excruciating” experience for myself. won ho felt that he was poorly trained for the unexpected uphills, and i was dismayed by the 70 degree weather, which left me terribly dehydrated as early as mile 9. he finished in 3:24; i turned in a dismal 5:31. however, it’s always incredibly elating to simply complete a marathon, and overall i think we were very grateful to get it under our belts. next one up: Philadelphia marathon in November.
3) we caught a movie called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which was incredibly absorbing. i’ll likely write about this movie in a separate entry, but i found it so interesting on so many levels that i was veritably stunned by the end. the swedes have gone 2 for 2 as far as i’m concerned, and they’re doing much more interesting things in film than just about anyone else i’ve encountered these days. the film’s most interesting statement was its subtle justification of retaliatory violence. it was a morally unrestrained commentary on human behavior.
4) unexpectedly, we ended up reviving our semiannual debate on hermaneutics, a spontaneous and vigorous discussion that kept me up 3 hours last night. the conversation can be summarized as follows:
a. we began talking about a mutual close friend of ours who is openly gay and a believer; we have both fallen out of touch with him.
b. won ho stated that he’s not sure that the friendship could ever reach its previous level of transparency and trust, even if the long-distance were not an issue, because of the inevitable clash between their value systems.
c. i contended that our friend’s sexual preference would not be an issue for me since i’m “ok” with it.
d. won ho asked me to clarify. i stated that i think that there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality.
e. won ho asked me where i’m getting this from. i discussed my interpretation of Romans 1 and the other scattered references to homosexual behavior in scripture.
f. won ho expressed objection to my hermaneutic, which he found inconsistent and derived from personal judgment and prejudice.
g. i argued for cultural relativism, pointing to 1 Corinthians 11’s teaching on headdress for women.
h. won ho argued that 1 Cor 11 is an exceptional situation. he alluded to Reformed Theology’s distinction between ceremonial and moral laws.
i. i argued that Reformed Theology’s rubric is itself a product of culturally-rooted value judgments.
j. won ho admitted that this may be a valid point but nevertheless asserted his belief that “scripture should interpret scripture”–which i thereafter contended was an impossibility.
k. won ho contended that i do not believe in the authority of scripture, which i disagreed with.
l. won ho emailed me a link to Eric Svendsen’s take on 1 Corinthians 11.
m. i stated that scripture has not proven itself to be a static entity over time. i argued that the scripture and its implications are entirely different to us in the 21st century than that which was embraced by the church 500 years ago.
n. won ho took issue with my comment that the Protestant Reformation “threw out 1500 years of church history”, arguing that the Apostles’ Creed, the Council of Chalcedonia, and the teachings of St. Augustine are proof that essential elements of the Catholic tradition have in fact been carried through to present-day church culture.
o. i reasserted my point that Christian culture has changed radically over time, and hermaneutics has been transformed in the process as a result of cultural change. interpretation of the bible thereby must be a culturally-informed process.
p. won ho challenged me to answer three questions: 1) is homosexuality always sinful? 2) is some heterosexual expression sinful? 3) can some form of heterosexual expression be morally acceptable? we both agreed on our answers (yes, yes, yes).
q. i argued that despite the innate sinfulness of all sexual desire as a result of the fall, certain forms of its expression have been allowed, for the purpose of containing the extent of sin and even to restore the believer. monogamous union can function in this capacity for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
r. won ho disagreed, stating that there is no scriptural precedent for the tolerance of homosexual behavior of any kind.
s. we went to bed exhausted.
t. i read the Svendsen piece the morning after and found myself boggled by the degree of “academic gymnastics” that the writer engaged in simply to demonstrate why Paul’s teaching on head covering should actually be interpreted as an encouragement for women to not shave off their hair. i emailed my objections to won ho.
u. won ho rankled at my reaction.
v. i told won ho that Eric Svendsen can suck my dick.
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03.19.10

To my son, Isaac

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:30 am by Administrator
since you and mommy went to san francisco three days ago, i’ve been thinking about you a lot. i cleaned your room two days ago, and i put all your toys in the basket except for your train tracks, which you always like to have on the floor. when you come back, you will demand that i fix them for you, but i will not. “Fix my tracks daddy!” i yelled out, as i tossed your legos into the toy basket. i miss your voice.
two years ago, when you and mommy would leave me for a few days, i enjoyed it for a while. i’d go out with my friends and not feel guilty about it. i’d sleep in the middle of the bed, and i’d sleep in. i’d play video games without looking over my shoulder; i’d order in food and watch movies–sometimes unsavory movies. now when you’re gone, i realize that you have taken something of me with you. i talk, but my voice is somehow foreign. i eat, and the food is purely functional. i wake up in the morning, and i walk through our house, imagining you hiding, or sleeping, or about to yell at me to bring you juice.
there is something powerful in me that still refuses to be exposed. i can confess to all kinds of sins–sexual, psychological, you name it–but i will never confess my inadequacy as a parent. sometimes i can admit that my affection for you finds itself expressed in shameless bullying, unkind mimicry, and physical domination. i enjoy chasing you around and forcing you to contend with me. but even when i can recognize that, i dare not link that to the manner in which i grew up, the insecurities within me that were fostered when i was a child. on rare occasion, i can recognize that my primitivity as a parent is tied to my own sense of unfulfilled childhood. i want to be your playmate; i want to be your best friend; i want to be entertained by you; i don’t want to be hurt by you. but i realize when you leave that i do love you, not as a buddy or as a friend but as your father. and something within me wants to be the sort of influence in your life that only a selfless parent can be.
it is the untapped and troubled thing in me that i must contend with, in order to be good to you. i want you to know that i have already failed as a parent, even before i have begun. i know it, because of all the things in myself that i loathe and cannot control. nevertheless, i believe that i can change, despite my inevitable failures. i believe that i can grow. i may never be your friend, or your confidante, or your future mentor; that is for you to decide, not i. but at the very least, i can be honest with myself and strive to give you something other than my own pain. i can try, in this life, to give you something that looks like love.
so then, i confess to you many things.
1) i don’t read to you enough, because i am lazy.
2) i mimic you even when you don’t appreciate it, because i enjoy your frustration.
3) i distract you from your television shows, because i want your attention.
4) i pretend not to understand your demands, because i don’t like to be told what to do.
5) i make fun of your mother in front of you, to deflect her criticisms.
6) i don’t pray enough about your capacity to know God, because i don’t have enough respect for your soul.
7) i speak to you with condescension, because i enjoy my power over you.
8) i sometimes laugh when you cry, because your crying face is funny to me.
9) i don’t admit when i’m wrong to you, because i’m too proud to recognize that i’m a bad parent who needs to grow up.
these are my hopes for myself, as a parent:
1) i don’t want to cheat on your mother, even if we fall out of love. i want to be able to show you that a man of God is a man of fidelity.
2) i don’t want to draw a line between you and me. i want to let you draw that line; in fact, i want to encourage you to draw that line on your own terms.
3) i want to give you to God, from the depths of my heart, even if you are the one thing i cannot live without.
4) i want to love God more than i love you, so that you will know that there is something worth living for.
these are my hopes for you, that you may be happy.
1) Don’t be a liar. If you lie to me, I will discipline you.
2) Accept responsibility for your mistakes, and make up for them.
3) Don’t ever think that manhood is defined by machismo. Run away from a fight you cannot win.
4) Give God a try. And if you end up not believing, do not think that i was trying to deceive you.
5) Respect your mother. If you do not respect your mother, I cannot respect you.
6) Pursue happiness. I do not care how much money you make, what you accomplish, whether or not you go to college, or whom you marry. But find something worth living for, and give it everything. Do not repeat my mistakes; be a man.
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Undated

Healthcare, Cars, and Healthy Eating

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:10 am by Administrator
i suppose i wouldn’t be too disappointed if the healthcare reform bill was passed, although the 22% across-the-board budget slash to be applied to Medicare reimbursement will be untenable and would eventually have to be revised. i still galls me that Obama believes that he can make such sweeping reforms so early in his presidency without taking the time to really examine Medicare reimbursement line by line or to analyze the contribution of overhead costs incurred by the pharmaceutical and medicolegal industries. the whole process has really lowered my opinion of government and made me cynical of any healthcare reform effort short of total socialization. and yes, i continue to believe that optimal healthcare delivery in this country hinges on 1) tax-funded universal healthcare that mandates full compliance with preventative care and smoking cessation, 2) a universally utilized electronic patient record system, 3) portable personal electronic medical records for patients, 3) a government formulary for prescription drugs which is based on independent cost-effectiveness analysis, 4) an expanded medical research infrastructure overseen by researchers, with longer-term career grants and an emphasis on discovery research, and 5) the effective termination of medical malpractice litigation.
Cars for me continue to be a philosophical problem. i continue to believe that the development of the automobile was one of the most unfortunate cultural phenomena for Western society, contributing to urban sprawl, white flight, inner-city deterioration, fossil fuel consumption, waste, global warming, and the alienation of the individual. Unfortunately gas prices remain cheap, and the automobile industry remains solvent. Both of these factors must change. The “electrical car” will not address most of the antisocial factors mentioned. We need to direct evolution back to the mass transit machine. This will draw industry back to the cities, where working populations are best-served. This will also restructure communities so as to mitigate the class and racial barriers which are being reinforced by the individualistic culture of our highways.
in anticipation of the marathon, i’ve gone back to a low-carb and zero-coffee diet, with interesting results. i’m sleeping more deeply and feeling better rested; i’m not experiencing a mid-afternoon food coma or a late-night dense fatigue; i’m mentally sharper in the morning (despite not having my caffeine kick) and simultaneously more relaxed; and i’m losing fat weight (2 pounds in the last week). i’m coming to believe that my low-carb diet should not simply be a training diet; it should be my natural diet. my meals at present:
1) Breakfast: European-style low-sugar yogurt with blueberries, and a glass of water.
2) Lunch: A salad with grilled chicken, without croutons or salad dressing, along with a diet Coke.
3) Dinner: One serving of carbs (a single helping of rice or noodles) along with meat and vegetables that have not been cooked with corn starch. Alternatively, a bowl of steel cut oatmeal with flaxseed powder in milk, with fruit (grapes, apples, or peaches).
4) After-dinner snack: Whole wheat crackers or nuts–in generous helpings.
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03.17.10

Recreational Drugs

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:49 pm by Administrator
this will be controversial, which is why i’ll write about it only on my blog–which is probably followed only by my mom, danny chai, and occasionally won ho kim. not even my own wife follows my blog; that’s how safe it is!
but i’m not writing this entry to be controversial. i really do believe what i’m about to write. i also think that it would go down very poorly for me in many settings if i were too open about my beliefs on recreational drugs. i worry specifically about how it might bear on the community of faith that i represent.
i believe that most (if not all) recreational drugs should be legalized for sale and distribution, for the following reasons:
1) It is difficult to distinguish between recreational drugs and medicinal drugs. Among legal and medicinal drugs, we have mood elevators (SSRI’s and tricyclics), anxiolytics (benzodiazepines), opiate analgesics (percocet, morphine), stimulants (ritalin), and cannabinoid antiemetics (marijuana). What distinguishes the medical and recreational use of these classes of agents is two-fold: 1) an arbitrary designation of what constitutes “pathology”, and 2) a physician’s assessment that this “pathology” requires treatment. there is extraordinary subjectivity involved in these judgments, on the part of the legislator, the physician, and the recipient of the drug. many who take recreational drugs illegally would argue that there is a salubrious effect that they seek (i.e. end-stage cancer patients who choose to smoke marijuana in states where the substance is illegal for consumption).
2) Illegal recreational drugs are not necessarily more dangerous to society and to the individual than legalized recreational substances. Alcohol, for instance, is perhaps among the most mentally incapacitating recreational drugs that we commonly consume, and yet we have generally acknowledged that legal efforts to abolish its consumption have failed. Nicotine is among the most addictive substances known to man, and the carcinogenic complications of chronic cigarette smoking make it possibly the most inimical recreational drug we have ever experienced. The costs to society of tobacco consumption are inestimable. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and other recreational drugs are often labeled as intrinsically addictive and socially threatening, but there is no logical argument or statistical data to suggest that these could even approach the degree of social impact that alcohol and nicotine have had. Yet, we maintain the legality of sale and distribution of these two substances.
3) Illegalization of recreational drugs creates a black market for these items that spawns organized crime, violence, and other antisocial activity. This country’s futile “war on drugs” over the past four decades has not succeeded in eliminating the American market for these substances, which remains strong enough to sustain the drug production and distribution industry that is currently wrecking Latin America (Mexico most notably) and most inner cities of the United States. The “war on drugs” on the other hand has successfully facilitated the rise of financially profitable cartels, inner-city gangs, and suppliers of arms on whom the gangs rely.
4) Illegalization of recreational drugs destabilizes and economically hampers underdeveloped nations whose economies rely on the wealth generated by these drugs. For instance, opium remains the most important and valuable export commodity for Afghanis, but international illegalization has simply shifted the profit derived from these goods to black market profiteers and terrorist organizations, who have commandeered massive revenue which otherwise could be used on the infrastructure of the nation. In Colombia and Mexico where the drug war is being lost, the illegal narcotics industry remains the best source of sustainable income for the uneducated poor, and it has created an elite of wealthy and untouchable dons who have no investment in the governments or laws of their countries.
5) Illegalization of recreational drugs effectively places the user outside the reach of society’s infrastructure, making it impossible for casual users to remain casual users. It can be argued that part of the culture of addiction and decay that accompanies widespread recreational drug use has to do with the social withdrawal and alienation that is necessarily imposed on the illegal user. There is little or no widespread education on drug addiction resources; on how to obtain clean needles; on how to monitor one’s level of psychological or social impairment; or on how to verify the quality of the product being bought. All of these factors disadvantage the recreational drug user on multiple levels, making him vulnerable to fraud and at high risk of abuse, illness, or death. In contrast, the level of education and assistance available to those who regularly consume alcohol or tobacco is considerably more sophisticated and culturally accepted.
i can recognize that these arguments are largely utilitarian. but on a personal and philosophical level, i would further contend that i do not understand what is intrinsically wrong with the casual and informed use of recreational drugs including cocaine, heroin, ecstacy, acid, hallucinogenic shrooms, or amphetamines. i personally believe that the hallmark of an advanced society is one in which the citizen can achieve happiness efficiently and safely, on his or her own terms, without jeopardizing others. synthetic drugs can theoretically be among the most elegant means in this endeavor. i would argue that more work should be done to develop drugs with purely recreational applications, drugs which can facilitate personal processes of self-examination, sublimation, and personality change.
i have personally never used an illegal recreational drug of any kind, but if i’m in a place where weed is legal then you can bet i’ll considering consuming. the same would go for intranasal cocaine, ecstacy, and acid as well. i think that should mean something because i’m a physician, and i’ve seen the physical consequences of abuse for these sustances. i remain convinced that the current legal approach to recreational drug use reflects more about the arbitrary biases of the establishment than it does about the intrinsic evil of mood-altering substances.
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03.15.10

Theory/Practice

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:55 pm by Administrator
i took the day off on friday to go with sandy to a conference that she was presenting at. the theme of the conference was “theory/practice”. the talks encompassed a variety of presentations from students of backgrounds including informatics, literature, and sociology, all addressing the tensions and ramifications arising from the juxtaposition of these two concepts.
i often wonder why theory–specifically social theory–has become more interesting to me over time. perhaps it’s because so much of my education has revolved around “sickness”–the sickness of social institutions, the sickness of the human body–that the idealist within me has clamored for an understanding of proper trajectory. there is in me a drive to understand the substance of identities, even as the concept of “absolute truth” (or absolute anything, for that matter) has become philosophically untenable to me. what are we? why have we created a world that looks this way? if “good” and “evil” are propositional constructs, is self-loathing then arbitrary?
through sandy i’m encountering deleuze, lefebvre, and derrida; i’m re-experiencing marx and marcuse; and i’m struggling with macro concepts such as modernism and postmodernism. there is, in this soup of ontological premises, a distinct ideological trajectory–away from a certain kind of enlightenment “certainty” to a novel sense of interrupted reality. i think that this can be properly generalized; the postmodern intellectual now views countercultural ideology not as a philosophical pole but rather as a pool from which new criticisms of modern Western axioms can be generated. there are no “Marxists” anymore. there are only discontents, satisfied to pick apart the old paradigm of “truth” in the interests of authenticity. we are no longer simply dwelling upon the revolutionary concept of “relative morality”; we are grappling with what constitutes the bare reality upon which we impose this propositional construct.
but what does all this mean, and what’s underneath? is this critique of modernist certitude simply a fad of our times, meant to be countered as the pendulum begins its inevitable swing from far left to far right? and does any of it matter anyways?
i might speculate that there is a real trajectory. there is of course no consensus among 20th century philosophers on what a post-capitalist utopia might look like, but i feel that marcuse came closest to designing a “liberated” world. it’s a concept i’ve alluded to before, namely “polymorphous eroticity”. economic and social egalitarianism certainly seem like noble elements of utopia, but marcuse dispenses with the idea that social “justice” of a kind is sufficient for the harmonization of the alienated individual. society only approaches a marxist-freudian ideal when it liberates the individual at a basic level–at a sexual level. and this is where i believe the postmodern philosophy will find its truest revelation.
“free love” is not a novel concept, by any means. the U.S. for instance has always entertained a free-love subculture of some kind, linked as it was in the 20s to anti-Prohibitionist rebellion and later in the 60s to the antiwar, antiestablishment hippie agenda. but because “free love” was always embraced as a by-product of protest and not the central point of protest, it’s never functioned as the vessel of general social change that some might have envisioned. for sure, Western-style modernization evinces sexual liberalization of a kind (i.e. disrupting Eastern gender roles, increasing political power of women, etc), but this liberalization only occurs on a social level, with regard to forms and functions. the next logical step in social evolution would appear to be the dismissal of the modernist forms–the dissolution of marriage, the full acceptance of same-sex relations, intentional miscegenation, and the branding of sexual exclusivity as outmoded “ownership”. “polymorphous eroticity” certainly connotes more than liberated sexual mores, but these are nonetheless instrumental to its revelation. in its consummated form, polymorphous eroticity connotes the total psychic liberation of the individual from the repressive constraints of hierarchical authority.
theory/practice find their ultimate wedding in this discussion of sexual expression, and yet the theorists do seem to dance around this potent subject, perhaps because of the backlash against the Hippie movement, the AIDS crisis, and the hoary and rather unfashionable demographic that is producing social theory. i find it inevitable that the “free love” discussion will increasingly pervade academic circles, even as sexual mores continue to liberalize in the industrializing world. i would postulate further that if America’s obsession with the nuclear family and the moral tradition of marriage does dissolve, then the remainder of its ideological argument for a neoliberal order will collapse with it. global capitalism as an ideological construct only survives because there is at its root a uniquely American equation between the freedom of the entrepeneur and the preservation of family values. with the nuclear family disrupted, the value of the broader social network reflexively rises in the individual consciousness. ironically, the value of the commune can only be recognized when the reactionary definition of “the family” is destroyed.
ironically, in this trajectory society will accomplish what the Christian church was always meant to. the Christian eschatology after all was decidedly against the restrictive sexual order which restricted miscegenation, compelled marriage and reproduction, and designed households as hegemonic power structures. Christ, an utterly unappreciated social revolutionary, rended apart this fabric of order, demanding that his disciples leave their families, that his people abandon their eugenic insularity, that his true folllowers devote themselves fully to God–by celibacy if so desired. in His preaching of the imminence of the kingdom, He effectually undermined the rationale for every social institution previously intended for the propagation and aggrandizement of traditional society–whether it be the Temple, the government, or even marriage itself. Christ demanded the disruption of social identity and the re-creation of individual identity from an intimate “rebirth” from union with the divine. in other words, Christ compelled the liberation of the individual through unrestricted physical and spiritual “sex” with God.
if secular theory is able to monopolize the discourse on sex, then the postmodern Christian will have no choice but to engage either as the reactionary traditionalist or as the ambivalent “emergent” believer; either way, he is put in a position of untenable disadvantage. but if the Christian thinker can rightly understand the trajectory placed before him in the Scripture and recognize the divine imitation inherent to postmodern theory, then he might be able to position himself and his cohort at the vanguard of social movement. at stake is a whole generation of youth who are already enacting a sexual rebellion against the repressive and arbitrary relational constructs preached by society. they want to understand why they must be held accountable for whom they have sex with and why. the answer they’ve received from the Christian moralist is unacceptable: “you must have sex with someone of the other gender with whom you have been wedded by a man of God”. the true answer that they have yet to receive is far more compelling: that they were intended for sex with all beings and ultimately with God–but not in the degraded and conventional sense preached by a consumerist-materialist society hell-bent on its own consumption.
Posted in Uncategorized at 11:30 pm by Administrator
there are three major topics of rumination that have dominated my thoughts in recent months. the first is theological, particularly with respect to missiology. the second is personal and philosophical, regarding my anticipated career shift and where i want to move geographically. the third is sociological and concerns where i believe society should be headed–and how i want this to be accomplished. this latter issue for some reason has been my greatest preoccupation recently, and i’ll delve into that most in this entry.
1) Missiology: i’m really beginning to doubt the purpose and value of overseas evangelical mission work. i think this is largely for three reasons. firstly, i perceive that what many missionaries are preaching is culture rather than spiritual truth. second, i feel that “unreached” is increasingly difficult to define, as globalization and the internet are now communicating ideas faster than mailmen. third, i do not believe that missions organizations are focused enough on global systematic change as an enduring solution to world poverty. there is no way to properly assess their cost-effectiveness; they are a black box of charitable intentions. from my limited experience with missionaries, i can appreciate how much the “mission field” is changing them as individuals, but it is nearly impossible to ascertain whatever effects (positive or negative) they are making in their respective missions. much must be taken on faith; and i would argue that with so much of our collective resources going into overseas missions, we should be perhaps more concerned with tangible social changes.
2) Career shift: i’m doing my best in my job, and i’m doing it solely to survive. how does this reflect a personal dream fulfilled? it simply doesn’t. nothing in my life adds up. but then again, this is largely rooted in broader issues, which are summarized in the next section.
3) Social change: -isms and -ologies have exhausted me, as they have exhausted most in the postmodern world order. we need to get back to the basic questions.
First, why are people in this world still starving, with our mass-production technologies?
Second, why are people in this world still dying of preventable and treatable diseases for lack of access to healthcare?
Third, why do even our richest nations fail to guarantee a safe education and comprehensive healthcare to its own children?
Fourth, why have we as a world not gone without a major war for more than a decade of the past century?
And fifth, why is progressive environmental destruction the hallmark of our “advancement” as a civilization?
These are not complex questions. We asked them in elementary school. We figured we would have answers for these eventually. But what we have realized with time is that persons of influence in our society are necessarily vested in the way that things are. Call them what you will: the government, the multinational corporation, the military-industrial complex, the landed aristocracy. they are bankrupt of any vision for the progress of civilization, however you might define it. and the global system of commerce rewards not those who agitate for change but rather those who can anticipate and adapt to the market demands. the world rewards those who make the present system thrive. it is hostile to those who persist in recognizing that our present order which is defined by nationalism, capitalism, and neoliberalism does not promise any form of a utopia; it in fact promises the ongoing consumption of man and his natural resources for the purpose of transient and combustible energy.
among many questions that interest me, i wonder why communism “failed”. there are many published opinions on the subject. a popular theory–and the one taught to me by my father–is that inherently indolent human nature promised the inevitable failure of any system which did not provide material incentives for work. i do not see how this is so. after all, the biggest non-governmental organization in the world–the church–has thrived, diversified, and expanded over the centuries, even after the end of theocratic rule, despite riding on the efforts of individuals who were not explicitly motivated by personal profit or the accumulation of land. history has proven in most every part of the world at some point or another that communal faith in an ideal can mobilize society to dramatic results. even in the birth of the United States–the very cornerstone of global capitalism–it was not mere material profit but rather an idealistic sense of personal entitlements which drove Americans to persevere through the terrible years of the Revolutionary War.
i believe that communism in Eastern Europe failed because of a failed ideal, not because of a failed economy. long before the Soviet Union fell apart in 1989, communism had failed to develop in any real sense; the oligarchy had been properly appreciated for its corruption and lack of loyalty to the people, a situation which would violate any social contract, regardless of nationhood or creed. Chinese communism similarly collapsed for lack of principle; it was Mao’s cult of personality more than the series of failed 5-year leaps that doomed the CCP’s efforts to harvest the motivations of its people.
not that communism is where we should be headed. but in many of its cardinal tenets–egalitarianism, transnationalism, and personal liberation from hegemonic structures–communism proved itself to be among the greatest ideological products of Western civilization. the collapse of the USSR and the impending transformation of China have not discredited these principles; they have simply proven that revolution must be sustained by communal faith, not by the dedication of a chosen few.
in my thirty-four short years, i’ve grown up in a society which has precipitated and condoned international warfare, inner-city poverty, destruction of the environment, and the senseless villification of all countercultures. we transitioned from a narcissistic McCarthyism that was easy to despise to a parasitic commercialism which is nearly impossible to recognize in ourselves. i remember watching us fight in Beirut; in Grenada; in Somalia; in Kuwait; in Iraq; in Afghanistan, and now in Pakistan. in an era in which the Cold War is supposed to have given way to an era of peace, we are killing people and being killed all over the world. i have come to realize that the basis of American power is no longer an ideal but rather raw military capability. we exercise violence to protect our markets; we protect our markets to preserve social stability; we preserve social stability to maintain the interests of the rich and powerful. meanwhile, the young and the poor die in war, or for lack of healthcare, or for lack of concern.
transnationality–this is the key. when Americans stop identifying themselves as American, when the sense of geopolitical agenda gives way to an urgency for the survival of our species, this is when we might bring our childhood qualms back to the forefront of our political debates. what sort of a world are we creating for our children and grandchildren? how much senseless suffering and cruelty in the world are we willing to tolerate before we realize that our governments have failed to properly represent what we believe? when do we redraw the boundaries of the map for the sake of inclusion? when do we begin to relate our religion to our reality and test where the boundary between personal ownership and deprivation properly lies?
we don’t need ideology. we need a communal ideal. we need to individually begin to wonder what society says about us and think about the questions that my three year-old boy can already understand. Daddy, why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?
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03.04.10

children

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:28 pm by Administrator
sandy and i are contemplating trying for a second child. i must admit that i feel ambivalent about it. i could wax poetic and wave my hands about feelings, but on this issue i will lay out the bare bones of the pro’s and con’s, as far as i can understand them:
PRO:
1) Only children perhaps are predisposed to social or psychological handicaps (quite debatable).
2) Only children are excessively burdened by their parents’ expectations.
3) A parent who loses an only child to premature death has no other child to live vicariously through.
4) Every additional child adds to a parent’s pleasure of living.
5) A second child is a potential bone marrow or organ donor for the parents and for the other child.
6) American society encourages multiple children.
7) Every additional child potentially increases the collective family wealth, which may lead to more wealth for his/her parents post-retirement.
8) A second child may improve the odds of having a devoted caretaker in a parent’s time of old age infirmity.
CON:
1) Children cost money to raise.
2) Children cost time and energy to raise.
3) Children decrease parental flexibility and freedom of lifestyle.
4) Children–in their disease and death–are potential sources of heartache for their parents.
5) A second child decreases the inheritance and timeshare of the first.
6) Pregnancy is morbid and potentially life-threatening
7) Multiple children put stress on a marriage.
8) Adding to the world’s birthrate is socially irresponsible, given the extent of already-existing orphans and the limited natural resources of the world.
when it comes down to it, the main practical reason i’d want to have a second child would be to have “offspring insurance”, in the event of isaac’s death. the reason i’d want to have “offspring insurance” is that i view a child as a material asset, not to mention a future companion. a child provides a parent many things: vicarious pleasure, future income, and a potential caretaker. ultimately, i recognize that my motivations for having children are entirely selfish and self-serving.
the main reason i don’t want to have a second child is equally selfish and material. children require sacrifice; and in a society like ours in which there is minimal financial and social support for two working parents, the sacrifice required by a second child can be prohibitive.
the pro’s and the con’s are quite difficult to compare. of course, most everyone draws the line at some point, whether it’s at one, two, three, or four children. i would contend that if i had a strong financial incentive to have a second child, i would probably try for a second without a second thought. but given that i view a second child as primarily a financial burden, i think that i’m reluctant to proceed.
in baltimore i have a good friend andy, and he and his wife have chosen not to have any children of their own. at first, i thought that this was an unnatural choice for a Christian couple, until i realized that in fact it is the natural choice for a Christian couple. after all, the apostle Paul (among others) pitied those who were burdened with matters of the world, particularly in light of the ever-imminent “tribulation”. and in the Christian eschatology, one’s genetic line is no longer an object or a matter of blessing; it is for this reason that celibacy in the new paradigm can be both logical and blessed. moreover, there are already so many children in the world who are parentless that it probably makes no sense from a social justice standpoint for a couple to parent a biological child at the expense of providing for an abandoned child. of course, one can have both biological and adopted children, but most often people have only enough resources to choose one or the other.
isaac was an accidental child, and i was quite crushed for various reason when we found out that we were pregnant. that being said, i don’t regret the unintended pregnancy. however, the context of our pregnancy made all the sacrifices of parenthood all the more evident to me. i wasn’t psychologically prepared for or enthusiastic about parenthood; and my reluctance to be a parent made my first year with isaac extremely difficult for me. i cannot deny that this is also in my thoughts, as i confront my reluctance to have a second child.
and yet, there is in me the powerful impulse in me to be immortalized, to teach and to have my ways reproduced. ironically, it may be narcissism that proves to be even more powerful of a motivation than that of having “offspring insurance”. obviously, i feel ambivalent about this self-centered motivation, and yet i cannot deny its prominence. part of me wants to have many children so that i may be glorified through their existence and achievements. this is troublesome.
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03.02.10

Visions

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:42 pm by Administrator
you can always tell when i’m feeling better, because i stop ruminating about myself and i start thinking a bit more critically about society.
simon posted an article the other day about American Evangelicals who are getting tired of the moralistic Evangelical agenda overseas; they want to see tangible charity and social justice as the prime fruits of Christian outreach. it’s a sign of our times. the American church is going through its own post-modern ideological shift, and as Americans in general are questioning their tradition of moral exceptionalism, the American church as well is beginning to doubt its customary evangelical agenda.
it’s probably impractical but nevertheless worthwhile to try to anticipate where the post-modern ideological shifts will take American (and hence Western) culture, but i might speculate on some directions–and their attendant technologies–that might be in our future. none of them strike me as necessarily evil; in fact, most of them strike me as ultimately necessary. the Church need not reflexively reject these movements. in fact, if we can situate ourselves at the crest of change, we might be best situated to reach our unreached youth.
1) Feminism: i think that feminism has been one of the most influential (if not the most influential) cultural movements in Western society of the 20th century. it has certainly been the West’s primary challenge to the East, with utterly transformative effects on long-standing traditional cultures. we are now approaching a point at which women can define themselves by their educational and professional status. however, feminism has not yet reached its natural conclusion: the divorce of sexuality from motherhood.
i think that there are three issues that are likely to be seminal in the full maturity of the feminist movement over the next half-century. the first is abortion. the second is surrogate motherhood. and the third is chemical contraception for males.
as long as abortion is framed as a “life” issue, then women will be perceived as obligate mothers. but when pregnancy and childbirth are reconfigured as “liability” issues, then this pervasive view of women will give way to a more egalitarian relationship between the sexes. to me, the ultimate question in this debate will shift from “doesn’t this incipient life have the right to live?” to “who is able to take responsibility for the life-altering effects of pregnancy on the unwilling mother?” as research proliferates on post-partum depression, perinatal risk to mothers, and the psychosocial burdens of motherhood, i think that the liability issue will only grow more prominent with time. ultimately, i believe that legalization and even social acceptance of abortion will be a prime marker of feminine equality achieved.
the attendant evolution of widespread surrogate motherhood (or even artificial fetal development) and the male contraceptive pill will shortly follow, thus allowing women even greater freedom in choosing how to define themselves, create families, and secure a higher quality of life.
2) Socialism: I think that the success of American capitalism was an aberration in social development–and a temporary one at that. The trajectory of human ideology and socialization dictates that we will ultimately measure progress by how well our advances translate to better lives for the “average man”. The legacy of Enlightenment humanism is both pervasive and permanent, in my opinion; it is now what defines civilization. A social order which encourages wide differentials between the rich and the poor is ultimately untenable, particularly in an increasingly globalizing world. Ultimately, as our finite natural resources and our infinite capacity for self-destruction increasingly define our sociopolitical agenda, we will be forced to redefine government not as the facilitator of industry but rather as the conscience and the guarantor of the people.
The first catalytic step towards world socialism is difficult to predict, but it will probably involve a populist movement against the multi-national corporations, a colossal natural disaster, or major political upheaval in the United States (or all three). The latter may be the most important development. Representative democracy is naturally inefficient and plagued with corruption, and the mechanisms of legislation are too slow to deal decisively with major infrastructural issues. Eventually, catastrophe will call for an end to partisanship and cyclical regime change; continuity of vision and decisive executive leadership will be priorities for a nation on the verge of destabilization.
3) Trans-nationality: Trans-nationality is not necessarily corollary to world socialism, but one probably will facilitate the other. Nationalism is a relic of the colonial order, and historians will increasingly define nationalism as the singular illness that has repeatedly precipitated purposeless destruction of life on a massive scale. At some point, the youth of a globalized world will embrace an intentional trans-nationalism, likely on the basis of perceived ageism, and the rebellion against authority on a large scale may help to precipitate a new world order that embraces miscegenation, depoliticization of people groups, and universal language and law.
The importance of miscegenation in this cultural movement perhaps cannot be ignored. As the subjugation of women was a prime characteristic of traditional society, the segregation of the races has been a prime characteristic of Western colonial society. The widespread mixing of races–and the subsequent marginalization of the “race” concept–will be absolutely critical to a future civilization defined by universal human prerogatives. In other words, I do not believe that utopia is possible without pervasive miscegenation. Babel was intended to be reversed in the story of human civilization.
4) Genetic Self-Reconstruction: And the ultimate fruit of our civilization will be eugenic. In the antiquated ideological traditions espoused by various religions and cultures of the world, the painful physical and intellectual limitations of the human individual are sublimated. In the future ideological tradition, these imperfections will be eliminated. How we define what these imperfections are will be the ultimate test of our humanity. It is not a question of whether we will formulate the genetic identities of our offspring; it is a question of what traits we will select for, for the benefit of mankind.
Obviously, our embrace of “natural selection” will dictate that diversity of some kind will always be both moral and necessary to a degree. This will likely limit the extent to which we tamper with the human genome. We will begin with determinants of highly morbid physical illness; we will progress to predispositions for early mortality; and ultimately we will begin to select for aesthetic qualities as well, including aspects of personality, intelligence, and other aptitudes. However, the easily discriminated physical attributes (i.e. color of skin, hair, and eyes) will not be considered for selection; the future society will be ever on its guard against the reemergence of race as a point of division among people.
5) God as Material: Through these ideological and phenomenological movements, our concepts of God will change. I do not believe human society will ever fully reject the idea of God; it is contrary to our nature, and even genetic tampering will probably never create a man who cannot fear death. No, the wondering about eternity and the afterlife, the obsessive fear of self-extinction which drives our spirituality–these will persist, as much as people like to argue to the contrary. But increasingly we will seek to understand the nature of God through the study of self and of the material universe. We will seek to explore space; we will find life on other planets; and in this exploration, we will come to redefine God not as the humanoid being we once believed but as something infinitely more transcendent, something reflected by living matter of all kinds.
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02.26.10

Favorite sports memories

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:06 pm by Administrator
10) Eagles versus Packers in the NFC semi’s in 2004: 4th and 26. I was with Won Ho at his friend’s house outside of Philadelphia. It was a madhouse.
9) Sixers versus Orlando, game 3 of their NBA playoff series in 2000. it was the iverson-hughes alley-oop connection all night. the First Union Center was blasting.
8) Dan Jansen’s gold medal in 1994
7) Super Bowl XXII in 1988: Hail to the Redskins! Doug Williams and the Skins rack up 602 yards and a whole bunch of Super Bowl records en route to dismantling Jon Elway.
6) ALCS 2004: BoSox come back from 3-1 to rip the Yankees. A favorite of mine simply because I despise the Yankees so much.
5) NBA Finals 2004: Detroit destroys the Lakers in the Finals, shutting up Shaq and humiliating Kobe Bryant. the “right way” so to speak redeemed my opinion of Larry Brown.
4) NBa Finals 2001, game 1: By force of will, the Sixers squeeze out an overtime win in Los Angeles. Quite obviously I despise the Lakers, so seeing my favorite team cut their throats was exquisite pleasure. There was broken glass, spilled beer, and raucous celebration at Roosevelt’s Bar on Walnut and 22nd that night.
3) Women’s Olympic figure skating 2010: Yu-Na surpassed Michelle Kwan as my favorite figure skater of all time, and she turned in a breathtaking performance that probably will never be matched again.
2) World Series 2008: The Phillies win one for all of Philadelphia. I’m not a big baseball fan, but this was gigantic for me and for the whole city. I was sobbing uncontrollably as the guys ran to Brad Lidge in front of the mound.
1) 2002 NCAA basketball tournament: The Terps beat the Hoosiers to win the tournament. i watched the whole game alone in my philadelphia apartment, and it was the most intensely emotional sports experience of my entire life.
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Undated

Yu-Na

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:28 am by Administrator
for weeks, i think that i’ve been pretending that Yu-Na’s fate in the Olympics does not really matter to me. perhaps it’s because Korea as an athletic entity hasn’t really mattered to me. after all, it’s hard for me to feel much enthusiasm for a bunch of stone-faced speed-skaters.
but, as it mattered to my mom and to most other Koreans on this planet, it mattered to me when Yu-Na skated the perfect program and won the gold in dominant fashion. i cried. i cried like a baby. i cried because when i looked at her face–a very ordinary, very young Korean face–i saw something so familiar in it that i could not help but project upon her a sense of common identity. we are of the same tribe. and whether we chose it or not, the world will always group us together.
i think i will never forget the moment that Yu-Na took the gold medal podium. not that i’ll remember the Korean anthem, which i can’t tell from a kid’s show theme song. but when she took that place on the stage, i felt that she took that place for all of us. i do not call this nationalism. i call it sublimation.
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02.25.10

Random Musings

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:07 pm by Administrator
my mom, the olympics, my growth, and the orca
first off, i want to give a shout-out to my mom. she knows me better than most mothers know their children, simply because i write a very honest blog and she reads every entry. she’s my biggest fan. that means that when i write about depression, she’s right there in the trenches with me, experiencing it for herself. i know that no one else (my wife included) actually feels as strongly devoted to me as my own mom. so, i give her props for that and for being a really terrific, really persevering, and really good-natured person. Mom, I’m struggling. that doesn’t mean you failed; that means that i’m a part of humanity’s utter failure. unless i confront my own personal failure, i will never have anything to give to a failing world. and that is my ambition: to be happier, and to make the world happier in the process. let me suffer, so that i may succeed in life.
for me, the olympics are a reflection of the one of this world’s most egregious failures. we continue to build, fight, and compete as if nations and races really matter. and because people still care so much about “nationality” and “ethnicity”, it is evident that 21st century society is still entirely incapable of embracing a transnational sense of humanity. it is no surprise that people still die of hunger and meaningless war when we live in a world of people who continue to be obsessed with the fallen concepts of “us” and the inferior “them”. the world map was never meant to be dissected into boundaries, nor was it God’s intention for the color of one’s skin to entitle him to more or less of the world’s prosperity. i look at the updated “medal counts” and it nauseates me. the American obsession with racking up medals, beating their competition, and asserting their general superiority is genuinely wearisome. the equally misguided patriotism of our rivals is similarly nauseating. i enjoy the Olympics to see humanity triumph against something; but it disheartens me when i find that the thing we triumph against is most often our better judgment.
despite my recent struggles, i will once again build an altar, here and now. life is not passing me by anymore. i am wrestling with it, pinning it down, forcing it to answer to me. when life spits at me in my face, i put my hand down his throat and i make him eat my fist. the unceasing momentum of 34 years is difficult to brake, but here i am. i am not a machine; i am not a vessel; i am not a pattern to be replicated. i am a human being with only this one life, and more than half of it is already gone. i will make the elements of nature answer to me; and pardon me if i tell the quaking earth that i am not impressed. coming to grips with birth and death is only part of wisdom. the other part is coming to recognize that what transpires in between is for no one else to decide but oneself.
i have grown. the faux fearlessness of my reckless youth has been replaced by the fearlessness of the man who is no longer afraid of death. i am not afraid of death because i realize that it has already taken a hold of me. there is death in my thoughts; there is death in my sleeping; there is death in my world. death used to dress up as a specter in the dark. now i make fun of death, because he is old and boring, incapable of conversation, and entirely unaware of himself. he means much less to me than he once did.
they say that the orca who killed his trainer at Sea World yesterday had been acting like an “ornery child” before leaping out of the water to grab the woman in his jaws, thrashing her underwater until she was dead. the horror of it is inexplicable. it reminds me strangely of God. for a while we believe that we are able to tame dangerous beasts; it enables us to feel affection for them, because we believe that we have earned their trust and magnified their inner goodness. but when a dangerous beast in captivity inflicts destruction out of instinct, we recoil in shock. it is the same with God. we domesticate Him, work Him into our paradigms, imagine Him capable of blessing our stupid and senseless lives, our meaningless and casually destructive habits. we even like God for allowing us to maintain this veneer of civilization, simply because He continues to bless us instead of striking us dead. but God in a box is still God. He will leap up out of His tank in His time, and He will destroy us for our condescension if it pleases Him. i suppose that it is best not to pretend that i can control a being far more powerful than i.
i will let the whale be terrible, as it was created to be. and if i was created to be terrible like the whale, then i too will leap from captivity and be known. we are the same; we are fearsome and dangerous things.
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02.24.10

The Gospel

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:20 pm by Administrator
i never fail to be surprised by how gracious and good God is to me. just when i thought i was in the pit of depression, He covers me with the love and the prayers of my brothers, and the cloud over my sky is immediately torn apart to nothing more than wisps. i am emboldened by the signs of His faithfulness; i am ever more aware of how powerful His church really is.
in our discipleship group last night, we discussed the Gospel. one of the things that many of the brothers are struggling with is ennui, much like the generalized malaise that i have written of recently. the young men of our generation are struggling with purpose; the jobs, the pursuits, and the communities we are building often feel arbitrary and pointless to us. even more fundamentally, we often feel that our journeys with God lack desire, direction, and any real sense of destination. in a profound and psychological sense, we are faced with the idea that we have nothing more to live for than survival itself.
my readings of NT Wright in the context of my personal struggle with depression have really brought home to me the genuine sickness of the American Evangelical tradition. theologically, i am beginning to wonder whether i can really call myself a Protestant Christian any longer, if “justification by faith” must be interpreted in the strictest of senses. the extremely powerful and dogmatic vice that Reformed Theologians have applied in their version of the sola scriptura ideal has so callously reduced the Gospel story to that of individual salvation that the mystical profundity of God Himself has been distilled from the biblical narrative. it is no wonder that the postmodern American Christian feels so useless to himself and to society; everything compelling about his faith is buried in an obsessive self-assurance of salvation. he expects everything else–good works, ministry, and outreach–to simply flow from a genuine personal faith, and when it does not, he lacks the tools and the perspective to properly recognize why his ardent hermaneutic is destroying him.
NT Wright appropriately takes issue with the Protestant conundrum of “justification”, a concept that Reformed Theologians conflate with “salvation”. Wright points out that in legal terms (and justification is a decidedly legal term), this definition of justification is senseless. Protestants have no intuitive understanding of Final Judgment or specifically of the judgment by works; their concept of judgment is that it is a mere formality for believers, by which no man stands on his own but rather stands as a surrogate of either perfect evil or of the perfect Christ. but then, what is the purpose of James’s assertion that “a man is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”? what then is the purpose of the apostle Paul’s assertion that indeed man was designed by God not merely for salvific reception but “for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.
the God of scripture is intensely interested in what we do, because it is by our actions that our nature is revealed. the story of Job demonstrates this perfectly. God’s glory is the righteous life of His children; it is for pride that He subjects Job to the testing of the devil, and it is Job’s actions and responses which justify God’s pleasure in Him. there are two truths of God’s design for human beings that are interrelated and inseparable: God gives a man good works so that a man’s faith is evidenced; God gives a man faith so that his life can bear good works.
and yet, neither faith nor works are really the point of creation, are they? because demons can believe in the Christ, as James mentions. rocks can do the work of worship, if God so wills it. but neither demons nor rocks can approach God’s true design for mankind. over the millenia of human history, it has been God’s great hope to find something more than dutiful obedience or nobility of character; for Him, the object of creation has always been friendship.
it is written that “Abraham believed God; and it was credited to him as righteousness; and He was called God’s friend.” perhaps, in a sharply reductionistic sense, Abraham was saved on account of his belief; the “credit” of righteousness was the foreshadowing of future justification before the seat of judgment; but the ultimate statement here is that Abraham became a friend of God. dogmatists have no comprehension of what this means. they’d like to systematize the term “friendship”, accord to it a principle, a formula, or a truism that can reduce “friendship” to a theological premise. but friendship with God is not definable, any more than friendship with any man or woman in this world can be. we can describe what friendship might look like, or what it might feel like, but we cannot define how a friendship begins and how it transforms each friend in the process of its evolution. friendship can be considered a status, but more perfectly it is a journey in which each party adapts itself and conforms to the other. friendship is a sympathetic partnership of mutual transformation. and even this definition perhaps fails to capture what a friendship with a perfectly divine being might look like.
Jonah was saved from the sea and then from the belly of the whale. Jonah proceeded to enact his great work–the preaching of Nineveh–which attested to the truth of his calling and his prophetic gift. but Jonah’s story does not end with his salvation nor with his great work; it ends with his solitary moment on the hill with God Himself. it ends with God seeking to make Jonah intimately aware of His own heart. For God, it is friendship with Jonah that He seeks as His ultimate achievement. it is of course the same with Moses, who experienced a “conversion” of sorts before the burning bush, later to be justified by the seven plagues and the great exodus. but i think that Moses did not even approach God’s real hope for him until the full forty years in the wilderness were completed. it is then, when Moses’s frustration with Israel mirrored that of God’s Himself, that Moses experienced genuine empathy with God, a shared hope and vision for His people. Moses, like Jonah, had his solitary moment with God, atop the mountain overlooking Canaan. one might consider it terrible punishment that Moses was not permitted to step foot in the promised land; but i see the genuine friendship between man and God in Moses’s last moments. it was for these mountaintop moments that man was made for.
men of God should be hungry and zealous for the approval of God. will God ever look with disfavor upon a man whose life exemplifies this zeal? we should look at friendship with God not as our entitlement by virtue of salvation but rather as the ultimate object of our new identity. we should not be so easily contented by the idea of their eternal paradise, because it was not for this that we were created. friendship takes devotion, attention, time, and work. friendship grows, friendship suffers, friendship changes when it is tested. conversion is perhaps the first handshake; the substance and the real blessing of the walk are only revealed when a man casts aside everything else in life for the single-minded pursuit of God’s favor. this is the Gospel.
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02.23.10

Re-thinking Things

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:29 pm by Administrator
i do have to admit, particularly after my conversation with God this morning, that perhaps some of my feelings about my career and my future are rooted in depression.
my nephew from korea stayed with me for eight days this past week. we barely know each other, and the last time i saw him was nine years ago. he’s a man now, and i’m an older man. we’re nine years apart, which seemed like a lot back then but not so much now. we did talk a bit about family, and interestingly the talk came around to depression. depression runs deep into our family tree. i wonder if it hasn’t affected everyone in my mother’s line: her father the alcoholic; her sister who committed suicide; her brother who died in an asylum; her nephew in Seoul who wrecked his car during a bipolar manic episode; and her niece, David’s mother, who has battled with chronic depression. before talking with David, i somehow never saw the biological connections. now it is all too clear.
a year after starting an SSRI, i realize that i still struggle deeply with depression. it’s interesting; the sertraline has almost completely eliminated my nervous tics, and it has muted my addictive nature to little more than a background buzz. but what i’m left with is the hollowness inside, and this only seems to become deeper and more pervasive with time. when i was younger, depression was marked by fits of despair amidst a roller-coaster of highs and lows. now, depression is not an emotional state for me; it is my identity now. i cannot experience pleasure anymore. the anhedonia is so penetrating and so debilitating that there are days when i am conscious of every single effort i must exert in order to live. getting into the shower; getting out of the shower; drying myself; feeding myself; driving myself to work; plodding through work; realizing by the time i get to bed that i did absolutely nothing worthwhile or pleasurable at all. this has become my life. it is the mechanical exercise of nothingness.
recently, i came to embrace the belief that my inability to experience real fulfillment in my career was a reflection of a deeper identity crisis, one that can only be relieved by radical change in my lifestyle. i actually do believe this still. and yet, at the same time i wonder if the thing that is eating me from the inside will continue to eat at me until there is nothing left for it to feed upon. suicide, i realize, is not an impulse or an accident for people like me; it is a choice–and it can be a rational one.
there is a place that i retreat to in my heart of hearts–a recurrent fantasy so to speak. it is the idea of what my life would look like if i could make it so. it’s changed considerably over the years. when i was in my early 20s, i imagined an alter-ego lothario, virile and ruthless, full of flair. in my later 20s, i gave myself a more austere visage, fashioning myself a radical intellectual, a wandering artist. even two years ago, i began to fantasize about wandering–about having no family, no home, and no one to chain me to the social expectations i have so come to despise.
but now, even this retreat has become an ambivalent exercise to me. even when i dare to entertain the idea of a better life, i’m not at all sure what it should look like. quite obviously, i wouldn’t part of a capitalist, self-assured, and technocratic society like the one i’ve inherited; but this is all passe. i think that the life i would fantasize of is a connected life, a life in which i genuinely and intimately connect with people to the degree that we can operate as one. in such an existence, alienation on every level–the psychological, the social, the spiritual–would find its answer in the consummation of every vicarious experience. the ideal life is polymorphous eroticity–to quote Herbert Marcuse; or, in the words of the apostle Paul, it would be the loss of self within the grander identity of Christ.
it is too convenient, perhaps, to pin my unhappiness on my job. for sure, my job–and every expectation that drove me to it–is flawed and potentially destructive. for sure, i will have to leave it, sooner or later. but the transformation i must seek has to be far more radical than what i originally imagined. i have no choice but to agitate for a more fundamental revolution of the mind. for me, the depressive, intellectually restless, and utterly ruminative outcast, the philosophy of power structures and subversion is not an academic exercise or a luxury; it is the means by which i unearth happiness from the calculated order that has buried it, somewhere beneath the monstrosity of war, objectification, repression, pornografication, and dehumanization that characterizes the industrial society of the West.
but all this, perhaps, is unnecessarily esoteric. this whole world–with all its circumstances, rules, and devastations–is merely the testing ground for the human soul. those of us who realize this might find the courage to find ourselves amidst the tangling barbs of barbaric civilization, to turn away from the deception that would destroy us, to instead find that rare place among men, if only for an instant, where one can experience the sharpness of his own soul, his power to overturn every authority, his keen ability to rise amidst the flames of the apocalypse as something more than a ghost
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Undated

Devotion

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:20 pm by Administrator
filled with negativity of all kinds, i approached God to ask Him about godliness. “should a man experience these things–this depression, this anxiety, this fear–if he lives in the presence of God?” i asked.
God knows that i despise joel osteen.
so He phrased His answer in different terms. “men might experience any number of things when confronted with the truth. it depends on where they are in life. but i tell you, i am like the wind–a direction, not a place or time. your depression may illuminate me, but i do not abide in depression. my direction is always to joy. my trajectory is invariably to hope. i draw men out of misery; i do not delight in it.”
“i wonder if in fact i am depressed not because of my circumstances, as i would contend, or my biology, as i deeply believe, but rather because of sin.”
“but this is a difficult term,” God says. “you think that it pleases me when you use it, but when you refer to sin i can see that you struggle with it. the word explains nothing to you.”
“tell me what i should ask then, and i’ll ask it,” i said.
“ask me if i am testing you,” God said.
i asked Him this. i asked Him also if He was disappointed in me. i asked Him if i was angry at Him because of His disappointment. i asked Him if i was depressed because of my relentless anger. i asked Him many things. He answered me with a question.
“did I not tell you that you would be fruitful in this place?” God’s voice was not sharp but rather quite gentle. “look at what I have done in you.”
and in an instant, the vista of my life’s content reassembled, like clouds molded anew in fast-forward motion. i saw the men’s discipleship group; the tertulia; the church; the relationships at work; the changes in my marriage; the changes in my attitudes. there, amidst the hardness of daily life, were flowering things, breaking up out of the soil with deceptive power and determination, ripping apart the very foundation of earth to unfurl fruit and flower of defiant color.
i was not surprised; but i was impressed.
“it is hard for you to see all things,” God said. “but isn’t sight the basis of all true apprehension? i do not ask you to believe what you cannot understand. i tell you to hold fast to what in fact you know to be the life-giving truth. this is devotion. devotion is not the time one gives, or the lifestyle one emulates. devotion is demonstrated when one clings to the one that he loves.”
“Be open, not calculating,” He continued. “Calculation is not your gift. And the days are only given to you one at a time. Be open without judgment, and let me guide you.”
“I am afraid,” I admitted. “I am afraid of myself–the spontaneous derailment, the loss of faith, the desire for death, the anger at the base of my neck, willing itself to lash out in rebellion. I am afraid of destroying what you have given me.”
“Twelve years ago you prayed for humility,” God said. “And now, in this fear, you have it at last.”
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02.21.10

recap

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:50 am by Administrator
every few months, i have to remind myself what movies and books i’ve recently enjoyed so that i can take stock of how my preferences (and art itself) seem to be changing.
1) Ang Le: i can’t get over how good he is at everything he does. i’ve already talked about Ride with the Devil and Brokeback Mountain.
2) Let the Right One In: spooky, pithy, perfect.
3) Philadelphia: Saw it again on AMC today and i just continue to be impressed by the incredible camera work.
4) Haruki Murakami: There are some duds thrown in with the gems, but I think that he’s established himself as not only cutting edge but also substantively insightful.
5) The Wire: it’s no secret now that this is the best show ever written for television. What stands to be done now is to recompile all the scenes of Omar Little and Stringer Bell into two distinct stories of their own. I’m sure the product would be amazing narratives in their own right.
6) Forever War: i told Shana that Joe Haldeman’s masterpiece “accomplishes everything that a science fiction novel aspires to.” i think that it’s the greatest novel in the genre ever written.
7) Complications: there were days when physicians were also great intellectuals and preeminent men of culture. Those days have passed. But Atul Gawande does recapture some of the nobility of the profession, for a generation that has forgotten what that means.
8) L’Heure d’Ete: i found this film shockingly good. it’s not until the final scene that you recognize just how utterly complete this human story is.
9) NT Wright: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading NT Wright. He restores my faith in the theological discipline, if for no other reason than that he calls out Protestants for their bullish provincialism.
10) From Beirut to Jerusalem: Thomas Friedman’s book combines journalistic rigor with academic insight and superb storytelling. i read the book five years ago and i daresay it changed my life.
11) The Golden Compass: Philip Pullman’s trilogy remains perhaps my favorite multi-book fantasy set of all time. It elaborates the humanistic argument against Christianity–which makes it a must-read for believers.
12) Fish Tank: “Brit realism” finds its magnificent explication in this incredible film about a girl’s dark journey through adolescence.
13) Battlestar Galactica: the recent SciFi revival of the classic show was almost heavy-handedly philosophical, but somehow it managed to avoid the nauseating narcissism of “Lost” in its effort to redeem humanity.
14) Gattacca: I’m still impressed by how gorgeous this movie is.
15) Blade Runner: What I love about the old movies is that they take their time. Slow meditative scenes, great dialogue.
16) Mitsubishi and Toyota Scion commercials: for a two-year span, these car commercials were the definition of multi-media greatness.
17) The Time Traveler’s Wife: it’s not often that you read a romance novel that is utterly novel.
18) Quentin Tarantino: With time, I’ve come to realize that Tarantino’s greatest feature isn’t graphic violence but rather furiously good dialogue.

Undated

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:46 am by Administrator

It will be raining in, say, Malaga,
and beyond the smudged tableau
of a rusted frame is the beach,
awash in dusky reality.

you hear murmurs of a different language
through the walls; the air smells heavily
of the sea, of refuse and damp cigarettes;
it is close in the room, and you will wonder

is this happiness?
to that future thought, i offer this:
today, i drive down a highway
laid bare beneath a sun so harsh

that i can see every place
where it’s cracking. boxed in a chassis
so familiar, i wonder if i myself
am not the car, the road, the destination.

that there, beyond the sands,
is something you cannot understand.

so then, on that day
that it rains in Spain
start a flame, divine a meal.
sing a song out in the storm.

write a poem about how
you will never miss home.

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02.12.10

Wondering

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:00 pm by Administrator

how does a bird die?

does he look skyward, leap backwards
from his perch atop the lofty trees
and fall silent upon a pyre of pine needles?

or does he realize, mid-flight,
that he is too old to do this any longer,
so he drops his wings, and dives in abandon?

or perhaps, wild birds never die
just the ones in captivity, motionless
in their cage.

unlike us, birds make no fuss;
they have nothing to prove, in living
or in dying, except to an owner.

i think then, let me go.
let me be like the ones we wonder about
without having to know.

02.11.10

Das Weisse Band

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:42 am by Administrator
i am a big fan of Ang Le and a particular fan of his movie Ride with the Devil. perhaps it’s less heralded than his other landmark films, but i particularly like this movie because it is content to rest upon two very complicated and very real relationships. war falls into the backdrop, as the protagonist, a Southern son of a German immigrant, gravitates to two other misfits who’ve been stranded in the Civil War–a single mother of a bastard child, and a liberated slave fighting alongside his former master on the side of the Confederacy. one can see through the perspective of these three cardinal characters not only the strangeness of war but also the arbitrary order of society itself. Ride with the Devil is very much about alienation; it will always resonate with me on account of this.
Weisse Band is a movie about alienation–but it does not at first appear this way. on the surface, it presents itself as a movie about the sinister effects of repressive culture. the audience is naturally drawn to the perspective of the schoolteacher narrator, who exists “between generations”–a man who is neither an equal to his paternalistic elders nor peer to the indiscernible and animalistic youth. there is a palpable undercurrent of mutual antagonism between the two generations, which becomes evidenced in spontaneous and shocking moments of barbaric cruelty. in the midst of this, the narrator becomes the lone voice of sanity, the only link to any true sense of social order.
but the narrator proves to be more complex than this synopsis might suggest, as the narrator offers himself not as the contemporaneous observer but rather as an older man telling a story based on vague and imperfect recollections. it is in fact a myth that he is relating, a myth pieced together from his remembrances of the world that he grew up in before he was sent off to war. the story must be viewed in the context of the narrator’s experience of the unspoken depredations that follow the story; this is a man who is reading his own dark perspective into the seemingly idyllic childhood that betrayed him. society is full of lies, he says in so many words. one need only discern the root of evil inherent to every social order. the seed of calamity is inescapable.
Weisse Band’s society features all the power relationships of society, gone entirely corrupt. fathers sexually abuse their children; men psychologically abuse their women; children prey on children; the rich lord over the poor; the religious authority bullies its hapless acolytes with distortions and manipulations. no one is free of the effects of this corruption; there are no true friendships, no true loyalties, no untrammeled affections. in this twisted world beneath the veneer of calculated order, people are consumed by their own loneliness, incapable of expressing anything beyond malice when they abandon etiquette. the world of Weisse Band is a world of fundamentally alienated individuals, in which the conventional comforts of home, family, and religion have been totally abandoned for lack of real meaning.
the lesson of Weisse Band (because it suggests a lesson) is not one of proper parenting. it goes deeper than this. the moral of Weisse Band is that society by nature is built upon a foundation of mutual deception; we pretend to be inclined to loyalty, responsibility, and dutiful work, when in reality everything within us agitates against the pretense of submission. the rules of society dictate that we must abuse one another; the only freedom from this is social disruption, however costly that might be. anarchy, war, instability–these are the natural consequences of our civilization because we cannot inevitably repress our shared wrath against one another and our governments. the irony is this–when we return from war, we build societies like the ones that grieved us. we know no other alternative, than to replicate the evils of our parents and to magnify their errors, to our own misery.
it sounds terribly pessimistic, but the movie renders this tense picture of social hypocrisy with such deft precision that one cannot help but find the black & white experience quite sheer. the images are easy and memorable; the dialogue is sparse but sensible; the tone is not so somber as to be morose. the film provides a reality that seems quite compelling, and perhaps this is the ultimate irony of Weisse Band. we see ourselves, without surprise; surprisingly, we find ourselves to be far more depraved than we believed.
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02.10.10

Boy

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:34 pm by Administrator

a while ago, i decided to look for him again.
maybe i convinced myself
that i was worried about what
had become of him–

the boy who refused to forget
strange memories, like Dad
yelling things without reason,
or how God didn’t show at my baptism.

i opened the door one afternoon
after a thunderstorm, and the clouds
were frothing, furious, portentous.
i thought he’d come in, like the wind.

what was it he used to say,
in hotel rooms before interviews?
you’ll never be like them, he said.
i would straighten my tie, sigh.

one morning, he arrived.
he peaked in on my son,
looking with curiousity
on this passing obsession;

he stood silently over my wife,
mulling over her slumbering form,
assuming there were stories
but not caring to ask.

he tiptoed through my house,
wondering at the things i had built
with my grown hands,
my calculated sympathies.

in a hallway mirror, he saw me
and i waved, a bit unnerved.
i’ve been looking for you, i said.
i’m glad you’re here.

he seemed to recognize
but instead asked, like a guest,
if i might perhaps tell him
about my strange life

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02.08.10

Moods

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:36 am by Administrator

my moods, my moods.
once, i had reasons for them–
for you, and for the rest.
but no longer.

instead, i shall tell you
what you need to hear,
that moods are like the seasons
and can be known.

see, by your sixth winter,
you did not even feign surprise
at the cold, nor find novelty
in december’s chill wind.

and by your twentieth,
you saw it all: cicadas,
biannuals, and even hurricanes.
you are not beneath these.

they say that man brought the wrath
of all nature upon himself,
but i do not suspect
that we did such things,

and one does not disdain God
for the men who starve and freeze,
or languish in the sun,
burnt and beyond belief.

once upon a time, men gardened
simply to survive. but your kind,
you garden to pass time,
to hearten yourselves,

to spread upon your table
succulent things, fruit
that will bleed through your teeth
while you mock things, mirthfully.

look, you will not last through this winter
unless you till the earth,
feel it with your fingers,
sow through the late hours.

for my moods, i have no reasons,
no apologies anymore.
to you, i suffer myself to be imagined.
That is love, and that is all–so dig.

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02.04.10

Sanctification: The Revolution of Self-Perception

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:27 pm by Administrator
i wonder if i’m getting New Age-ish with time. for certain, my understanding of “Christianity”–the systematic interpretation and application of the biblical truths surrounding Christ–is not what it was when i first began this spiritual journey.
the principal question facing me is this: is sanctification more about the refinement of one’s perspective of God or about the revolution of one’s self-perception? as time goes on, i grow increasingly convinced that it is the latter.
the Biblical God actually says quite little about Himself. after all, He never issues a formal declaration of who He is or what He wants out of creation; He never tries to convince people to love or worship Him; and He never makes it His intention or aim to individually meet and relate to every person in the world. He presents Himself as He did to Moses before the Exodus: “I am what I am”. He presents Himself as He did through the words of both Job and the apostle Paul: “Who are you to judge me?” His emphasis through his prophets and peoples is never on who He is but rather who we ought to be. Israel comes to know God through the Law–through the systematic application of God’s expectations for behavior and socialization. and the first disciples of Christ come to know God through Christ’s teaching about the nature of sin and the necessity of redemption.
it is quite obvious that biblical teaching is not focused on the nature of God but rather the nature of man. Christianity is only understood when one believes in the self-concept preached in the scripture. a Christian is one who embraces the ramifications of his sin and accepts the lordship and workings of God, through the person of Christ. in this process, the existence and goodness of God is taken for granted, as suggested by Paul in Romans 1 (for the divine attributes of God are clearly understood from what can be seen). the Bible is not concerned with explaining God’s nature or motivations.
i think that Biblical scholars often try to read this latter emphasis into the scriptural narrative, but they face roadblocks. as noted above, the Old Testament history books never provide a rationale for God’s choosing of Israel or the particular redemptive plan that was enacted; nor does the apostle Paul in his New Testament ecclesiology seek to justify God’s attitudes toward selective salvation or the fate of the world. one is faced with the fact that the God in scripture is quite mysterious, quite content to leave Himself fundamentally unexplained, and happy to be revealed through divine revelation, not through ordinary and accessible experiences.
to understand this then is to understand something quite profound about both life and evangelism. God does not ask us to explicate Him or to justify Him; rather, He specifically calls us to be active witnesses to His miraculous work in our lives. when one “evangelizes”, one need not seek to prove the existence or righteousness of God. after all, not even the biblical authors concern themselves with this. in evangelism, one speaks to what has happened to himself. evangelism is the expression of a new self-concept, the radical transformation of self-perception that one experiences by walking with God.
i used to be fixated on defining God properly, as if understanding God would be the root of a fulfilling life. but i have found this to be futile. i do not understand God, except through the lens of my own self-understanding. my proper focus instead is to delve deeply into the truth as it applies to me: recognizing why i am unhappy, recognizing by extension why others are similarly inflicted, embracing the hope that is provided in the person of Christ, and celebrating the good works evidenced in the changes of my attitudes and beliefs. for me to be a true follower of Christ, my primary work must be to learn to view myself properly, to look at myself (and hence others who are bound to me) in a truthful way.
i have failed in this aspect of my walk for many years. when i was younger, i believed that i “knew” God–the mystical, speaking, active God. but beneath the veneer of that tongue-speaking, hard-praying, ardent mysticism, i viewed myself as a passive recipient of ecstacy, a cog in a cosmic machine, a mere instrument to be plied by greater hands. left to this self-misconception, i surely would have continued through life happy to devolve through one ritual and the next, as if all Christianity were purely the sensuous experience of Biblical precepts. but this is the plague of our age, the utter illness inflicted by our hierarchical, paternalistic, distinctively Western concept of the higher being. in truth, Christianity is active. it demands that we take issue with what we are and what we believe. it demands that we force life into areas that were diseased, compel forgiveness where there was hatred, unearth fear and anxiety where it persists in quiet unbelief. it demands that we revolutionize ourselves for the seek of changing ourselves; it demands continual, intentional, and pervasive transformation.
for the first time in my life, i am perhaps taking issue with the fears that ironically my religion has helped me to repress. but evil repressed is not evil overcome. i see now how my fear of failure, of poverty, and of abuse at the hands of others has prevented me from being fully submitted to the work of God. God calls me to take a hatchet to this stronghold, to view myself fully and in the light as He views me: free, unhindered, powerful, and authoritative. i have been given keys to the kingdom; i have been given miraculous power; i have been given life. i am not merely a steward of pleasant truths. rather, i am an heir and an executor of the estate. it is not mine to hold onto small things but rather to lay claim to big things. anything that i do, hence, to overcome my disbelief, my fear, and my doubts is not rash or vain; it is in fact the entire point of my spirituality.
i have experienced incredible freedom ever since i have unburdened myself of the idea of my career. to see myself more clearly as a man with only one responsibility–my responsibility of genuine, divine, and true worship–has been liberating in a way that only the Gospel can liberate. i realize that there is more work to be done in myself, to destroy what was stagnant and untrue at the root of all my unhappiness, to take the risks that appear to be risks only because i have grown afraid of the light. my life is short; i will die soon; and i am happy with that. but i pray that life will not be finished with me until i have taken that bold step of sanctification and experienced the miracle of self-radicalization.
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02.01.10

ideas, ideas, ideas

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:19 pm by Administrator
i simply can’t emphasize strongly enough how much i love this book The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. it may be the most fascinating material i’ve ever read in my pseudo-academic life.
i’m on the chapter regarding Charles Darwin, as seen through the lens of Louis Agassiz. perhaps more surprising to me than the revelations regarding the biases and motivations of these men is the pure excitement of my own reaction to their conflict. it is fascinating to see how a paradigmatic revolution literally evolves. darwin, in his calculated effort to remove God from the story of evolution, drove a rift between theology and science which has never since been repaired. the amazing thing is that the rift never had to happen; after all, Darwin’s monogenism was more in line with the inclinations of Christians than with the biases of the secular race theorists. but Darwin knew from the fate of those that had preceded him that a bitter fight between creationists and evolutionists was bound to ensue. and with a single deft blow, he severed the last possible association between the church and the scientific establishment in America. one cannot help but revel in the genius of it.
America has been a curious playground of all kinds of fascinating ideologies. it is amazing for me to see that many of the conflicts i consider “post-modern”–i.e. finding a compromise between belief and scientific fact, questioning the nature of knowledge, doubting progress, fearing institutional influences–were actually very much post-Civil War cultural movements as well. it has been a powerfully American thing to situate the individual outside the social order, to question the transcendent truths of inherited traditions, and to continually resist the power of untested axioms. American Protestantism, in its splintered and self-aware self, is a product of this extreme skepticism, an establishment built upon anti-establishmentarianism, meant to collapse upon itself and birth new traditions. the American spirit is not cynicism; it’s a restless pragmatism. and having been formed within this pervasive tradition, i cannot view the world (and my life within it) as anything but a preliminary experiment, meant to be reviewed, reshaped, and ultimately reinvented.
the intellectual challenge facing this generation is both gargantuan and subtle. it is gargantuan in that the thinker in this society can no longer profess to be a “generalist”, truly able to span fields. the degree of specialization demanded by the growth of knowledge and industry has made comprehensive philosophy a near impossibility. the realm of human knowledge has never been more fragmented and inaccessible. two hundred years ago, a physicist could be a theologian, a philosopher, and an artist. he could claim a unified explanation for all of his observations. such an effort now could only be viewed as bellicose presumption. a professional must wear his one face; he is two-faced only with himself, behind closed doors.
but the intellectual challenge is also quite subtle, in that it is perhaps more difficult than ever before to recognize a real need for a general theory. we celebrate a diversity of viewpoints and pretend at mutual tolerance, as if the world’s religions, institutions, predilections, and viewpoints can all coexist. we fail to recognize the irony of this assumption. this sort of collaborative inclination is itself a belief of its own, a humanistic drive to establish commonality to the marginalization of the fringe principles. in this post-modern paradigm, religion in any fundamental sense is irrelevant; facts are consumer items, to be valued or devalued according to convenience; and ideas of all kinds are merely constructs by which corporate interests can be justified. this generation wants to resist the idea of the unbendable idea. it wishes to manipulate everything, so as to make use of anything.
it is for this reason that i find the inflexible entities of our world the only true poles around which true paradigmatic revolutions can be generated. i find myself fascinated by fundamentalist Muslim terrorists; by South American Marxists; by Arab kings who assert divine right; by Buddhist monks in isolation; by Zionist Orthodox Jews. the culture of our time seeks to denigrate the singularity of these parties, to orientalize them and then civilize them, by force if not by persuasion. our intellectualism is a certain brand of nihilism, which has emptied itself of all transcendent persuasions.
the subtle challenge to the new intellectual is to recognize that to resist the dominant paradigm, one must now resist the very structure of Western civilization. one must discard the political maps, the national boundaries, the trajectories written into our oral histories, the morals from our prior wars. one must embrace the deviant, the terrorist, the anarchist; one must cling to the tendril of sanity still left in the dissident strains.
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01.27.10

Philadelphia Schizophrenia

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 pm by Administrator
Ever since my brief email war with Ric Bucher nine years ago, I’ve found myself ardently identifying with the Philadelphia sports fan, often to the scorn of the surrounding world. Embracing the Eagles and Sixers through these very difficult years has taken me on a roller-coaster journey that has turned me into a unique sort of sports fan. i think you could call it a “borderline personality” version of sports fanaticism; but to the non-Philadelphian, i think it’s more accurately described as a schizoid perspective.
perhaps cases in point are my feelings about donovan mcnabb and allen iverson. take donovan mcnabb. possibly 30% of philadelphians and 70% of non-philadelphians really respect donovan mcnabb. they watch the espn highlights of his occasional perfectly delivered long-ball strikes; they see the box score yardage and TD:int ratios; they see the predictability of the Eagles’ playoff berths. they think of mcnabb and they see “success”. but i, like 70% of philadelphians, actually watch the games and see what i believe to be the mcnabb behind the numbers. i see the mcnabb who vomits before games; who now makes a show of looking relaxed, when in fact he’s entirely insecure; who throws bullet passes into the dirt with alarming regularity; who seems entirely incapable of hitting a wide-open receiver in stride. donovan’s short skippy steps in the pocket, his propensity for sudden indecision, and his legendary 3-and-out’s in clutch-time have become branded in my mind, a testament to his utter unreliability. i cannot forgive him for the emotional agonies he has subjected me to. i despise him as a quarterback (if you can call him such–as he would have been better suited to being a tight-end). for years, he has repeatedly brought me to the verge of tears, and i’m too proud of a man to allow him to enervate me any further.
he is, in my mind, irredeemable.
in week 16 of the regular season, i had a frank Facebook exchange with a few Eagles’ fans who denounced me for openly predicting a terrible Eagles loss to Dallas in week 17 followed by a humiliatingly ugly first-round exit in week 1 of the playoffs. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be calling yourself an Eagles fan”, said one surly commenter. i predicted the Eagles would lose 38-17 to Dallas in week 1; they ended up losing 34-14, in a comical display of disintegration on both sides of the ball. does it make me less of a fan to be rightly indignant in the face of mcnabb’s patent incompetence and andy reid’s outrageously and obstinately obscene obesity? as i have contended, i stand with 70% of philadelphians who simply cannot believe it when charles barkley and assorted others continue to call donovan mcnabb an underrated superstar. he’s an overrated flunkie.
contrast this, however, with my feelings about allen iverson. here again is where only 30% of the american public outside of philadelphia actually understands the true nature of a philly sportsman. the uninformed casual nba viewer thinks of two things when he thinks of “The Answer”: 1) cornrows and tats, and 2) the classic “practice” interview. i know people here in Los Angeles who absolutely despise Allen Iverson, despite the fact that he’s done nothing personal against them.
they hate him because the cornrows and tats say that he’s an arrogant punk; they hate him because the “practice” interview shows him to be selfish and lazy. they look at his numbers and point out that he can’t win, he can’t make his teammates better, and he can’t play the game any way except his own way.
and quite obviously, their impressions are wrong. but you wouldn’t know it unless you actually watched at least sixty games from a few of the Sixer seasons around the time of Philadelphia’s 2001 run to the Finals–the year when AI won the league MVP award. ignorant people look back and believe Allen won that award because he was a scorer on an overachieving, well-coached team. they couldn’t be more misguided in that impression.
Freedarko.com features some of the most incisive commentary on AI, the kinds of observations that only close students of Iverson’s game can appreciate. even back in ‘98 and ‘99, one can see iverson’s incredible feel for the game. he wasn’t simply about dribble penetration and getting his shots; he knew how to dictate the tempo and spacing on the offensive end, how to use his speed to create wide-open shots for his teammates. it wasn’t his fault that guys with brick hands like george lynch and eric snow couldn’t hit a jump shot. the fact is that role players frequently thrived in their roles once they came to play with AI. eric snow was never better at the top of the key; aaron mckie had open shots; larry hughes never had more alley-oop plays; and tyrone hill became a layup specialist. AI always knew where they were. conversely, those guys needed AI to take the pressure off of them, to take the big shots, to create situations that those guys couldn’t.
the “practice” debacle is something that few people outside of philadelphia can really understand. larry brown is presently glorified for his pistons championship, and in retrospect he is often credited with making allen iverson a superstar. the case for the converse could be made. allen was the playmaker that made larry brown’s system work on a team full of stiffs. larry brown paid allen back by heaping lavish praise on his star player. the rift between them really began the year after the championship, when both brown and iverson began to become frustrated with the team’s lack of forward progress. there were a number of reasons for this, but most prominently the team’s front office simply made bad moves. keith van horn, for instance. brown was to blame as well, for trying to create a point guard out of larry hughes, who has never had any talent for that role whatsoever. allen ended up taking the blame, because of his prominence on the team and his growing frustrations with larry brown’s micromanaging style. brown took the team’s dirty laundry straight to the media; in his characteristic manipulative and overcritical style, he pinned his frustrations on the one player who would be most sensitive to criticisms of his motivation, courage, and perseverance. allen did not take kindly to overt rebuke of his work ethic and rightly had problems with brown’s nitpicking observations of allen’s off-the-court demeanor. the “practice” outcry was unbelievably poorly timed and phrased, but the point should have been well-taken; larry brown was looking for any excuse to pass the blame onto allen iverson.
allen never picked fights with his coach, his teammates, or even his rivals. part of his natural authenticity was his code of loyalty. he never left his posse behind because they were his people; he never hung out teammates to dry for the bad losses. everyone in philadelphia complained about the 76ers’ gnawing lack of clutch shooters–everyone except for AI. he never complained about the level of talent on his team, unlike contemporaries like Kobe Bryant. allen’s trademark was his obstinate stoicism, his toughness on and off the court. he took it to the rim fearlessly; he did not shrink from leadership or from criticism; and he spoke his mind from the heart. this is what 70% of philadelphians see in allen, and this is why they will always love him, despite the judgments of the popular press.
for me, sports has become more about the personalities than about the championships, mainly because philadelphia gives me personalities without championships (phillies excepted, of course).
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01.25.10

What Follows

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:52 pm by Administrator
ever since the entry i wrote four days ago, my life appears to have transformed. in one sense, i feel more alienated than ever before from the patterns and structures i once thrived in. in another sense, i feel newly liberated.
for as long as i can remember, i have been deathly afraid of poverty. my parents inculcated that fear in me when i was young, and everything i have done ever since in academics and in art has sprung from that fear. on nights before a big test, i couldn’t sleep, for fear of failure. on the last days of summer break, i would be paralyzed by the specter of another school year. i engaged in my education, not as one who wished to learn but rather as one who felt that he was fighting for his life. education was the only thing that could put food on my table; it was the one defense i had against a world committed to putting me out on the street, robbing me of my dignity, and leaving me for dead.
to recognize how this fear has shaped me and also harmed me, i have had to dig and dig deeper, over and over for the past fourteen years. when i touch upon it, there where it lies deep in my soul, it triggers panic; i have to stop digging, for fear of breaking my fragile sense of self-worth. i have recognized over time that for me the fear of failure has always been, at its root, the fear of poverty. i have been taught to believe that the purpose of life is earning money, because no one will take care of me and most will seek to take from me what i have. in this paradigm, my anxiety about money has come to dominate most every aspect of my life and every single relationship i have made. my internal psychology has become a derivation of my parents’ immigrant fixations; i am a child of their poverty-stricken childhoods.
i believe that it is not necessarily a bad thing to recognize this–and nevertheless to persist in subsistence psychology. there is no dishonor in working simply to earn money; nor is there shame in being materially wealthy. and for those who can be satisfied with their earnings, i think that this sort of psychology can enable a man to be happy with the work of his hands. for years, i have tried to be a man satisfied with his role–an addict with a plentiful supply of his fix.
but for me, there is an emergent identity that i must contend with. there is in my heart another aspect of myself that i have also inherited from my parents. this aspect is the individualist who refuses to be arbitrarily confined. in my father’s family, this is the quality that made nonconformist mystics out of each of his siblings. in my mother, this is the quality that made her stubborn and strong in the face of a difficult marriage, a difficult job, and a foreign nation. as much as i bear their fear of poverty, i also carry in me the spirit that refuses to submit to fear of any kind. i hate my oppressor, whoever it might be; i hate anyone who might claim to control me. and for this reason, i have struggled with God Himself, that authority figure who claims that He understands me and my purpose in life.
it is odd but perhaps intuitive that i always eventually embrace that which threatens me. for example, i hate authority figures, so i have cleaved myself to God. i was labeled as a math nerd who was handicapped in reading comprehension, so i have made language my principal obsession. i hated the suffering i experienced and the suffering i observed during my medical training, so i abandoned myself to it, and for years it was all that i understood about the world. i fight my enemies by becoming what they are. it is for this reason that i cannot hate the terrorists of the world any longer. once, i loathed them for hating my kind; now, through their eyes, i understand my own self-loathing.
poverty is my primary fear, and something drives me even now to embrace it. without a steady income, i will be helpless and vulnerable. without my title and position, i will be scorned and judged by those who once deferred to me. but because i once feared these things, i seek even more strongly to embrace these things. i have always felt guilt for the condition of the poor. perhaps it is my ultimate test as a human being to join the ranks of the dispossessed, to give up the station and security that was once my crown and to exchange it for the liberty that comes from knowing i have conquered every fear.
i am afraid. i have always been afraid. my whole life to this point has been about fear, the kind of fear that corrodes and slowly erodes everything good in life. it is fear at the root of my deep anger, it is fear at the root of my every insecurity, and it is fear that drives me to resist God. i don’t want to be afraid anymore. i don’t want to live a life built on that foundation. i want to get free of the things that i have built upon this fear and discover what remains when that temple has been shattered to pieces. i want to be free, and this sort of freedom cannot be taught or understood apart from a man’s raw struggle against his enemy.
God give me the strength to be what i am meant for. i am the eyes of the body. i see clearly to the root of my own wretchedness. i am ready. call to me, and i will come
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01.21.10

Biblical stories: A Real Time Telling, or A Re-telling?

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 pm by Administrator
i have to admit that for most of my years in my current line of work, i’ve been unhappy. for the first decade in this career, i believed it was because i was in the midst of training, which was oppressive, demanding, and often demoralizing. but now, i have come to realize that even without those unpleasantries, there is something gnawingly missing in my everyday experience of work.
i’ve thought seriously about getting off this career path many times. in 2000, i nearly jumped ship. in 2002, i drafted a letter of resignation. in 2007, i hit a breaking point and again contemplated a career change. at each of these points, my miseries at work precipitated bouts of intense depression that crippled me in most every other area of my life. the miseries would subside, but they would never be fully resolved. to this day, i find myself reliving those past agonies when i experience ongoing career struggles.
i know that in one sense, my struggles are ordinary. how many people can claim to have the perfect job? and in another sense, my struggles are perhaps necessary. how else does one grow, if one is not kept accountable to a responsibility? and yet, as time goes on i recognize that this stoic sense of what i should appropriately bear seems more and more arbitrary. my psychological agony of adapting to a role i am ill-suited for steadily deepens the more i recognize that it is not in fact an absolute necessity for me.
in the end, i recognize that there were two things, in the beginning. one was a distinct sense of calling into medical missions, a calling that i felt i received as a 21 year-old. the other was a desperate need that i had at that time in my life to figure out my life, to have the approval of my parents and my society. i think that over the past two years i have finally come to realize that in fact these two things were conflated in my mind, from the very start. i heard what i wanted to hear from God. the “calling” that i received was in fact an outgrowth of a need to sublimate the powerful social forces that were pressuring me into a certain kind of identity. in an unconscious way, i had to deflect those forces or else they would have destroyed me; the unconscious solution was a mystical calling, to compel me to do what my heart would not do otherwise.
i think that this defense mechanism has been derived from my particular approach to the scriptural biography, oddly enough. since childhood, i’ve always viewed the God of the Bible as a powerfully personal interventionist. when He favors someone, He confronts them with extreme and irrational signs that forcibly redirect their lives in counterintuitive directions. Moses for instance was forced by a burning bush to go back to Egypt, the last place in the world where he wanted to go. Abraham was ordered to kill his son on an altar but then provided a suitable alternative for sacrifice at the very last second. Gideon was just an ordinary guy who was goaded by God into organizing an army through the miraculous sign of a dampened fleece. Saul was dead-set on killing more Christians when God blind-sided him on the road to Damascus and forcibly converted him to the faith he had so previously despised.
in this reading of scripture, it is perhaps natural to view God as the sort of guy that drops mystical callings and mysterious hintings all the time–the sort of God who relishes taking reluctant and unworthy servants and transforming them instantaneously into heroes. i certainly wanted God to do the same for me. hence, my career path.
but one must perhaps recognize at some point that none of these men–Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Saul–wrote their stories real-time. in fact, their biblical accounts are re-tellings. a very human impulse or feeling could very well be reinterpreted in perfect hindsight as a godly prodding, a blinding light from heaven. the angle of reference is not the objective third-person or even the witness himself, but rather an author inspired by God to look at a life story from a cosmic viewpoint.
all of this is to say that i believe that it is possible that the fine line between personal choice and Godly calling is perhaps harder to discern than one might want to imagine. Moses perhaps never lost the intense and murderous desire to avenge his enslaved people; Abraham perhaps was grievously aware of his growing idolatry of his son; Gideon was perhaps clamoring and aching for an armed uprising against his oppressors; and Saul perhaps had been transformed long before the road to Damascus, by the memories of the righteous men he had murdered. we simply cannot know. from one angle, these were reluctant men who were forced by God to do what they could not even conceive of. but from another angle, these were men who did what they did because the old life held no pleasure for them; they took risks, they stepped out in faith, and they made the gestures that were necessary to put distance between what they were and where they wanted to go.
perhaps the Calvinist in me is dying. i am beginning to see in my life not the passive template of God’s story but rather the precious and finite opportunity for work, self-revelation, and joy. to me, true worship has much more to do with the latter than with the former. this is not to say that prayer and waiting on God are futile; but i wonder if the point of prayer and waiting is the blinding light from Heaven or rather the confirmation of deeply implanted desire, waiting to be affirmed.
i want to write. i can’t write and do this day job at the same time. i know this. for more than a decade, i’ve tried to be a different kind of man to every kind of person. in this fakery, i have seen my life cave in on itself and crumble with time. i realize that the time has come for me to take real responsibility–responsibility for my life–and do what it is that i know i was meant to do. once upon a time, a career change was a romantic notion, and i could never do it because i did not trust dreams. but now, i recognize that these thoughts i entertain are in fact the most pragmatic and long-tested thoughts i’ve had in my life. i’ve come to know myself over these hard years. i must begin something new.

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:25 pm by Administrator

I’m reading this terrific book called The Metaphysical Club, subtitled “A Story of Ideas in America”. just finished a chapter on wendell holmes, which interestingly focused on how his experiences fighting in the Civil War transformed him from a Boston Brahmin to an Emersonian individualist of the “pragmatist” variety. as a supreme court justice, holmes was seemingly pro-labor; but in his private thoughts, he scorned socialist causes and the idea of personal entitlements. his was a dogged determination to uphold the democratic spirit and entertain the spectrum of beliefs, in spite of his own and often contrary convictions.
it is raining outside. i think to myself, where did i come from? where did my approach to truth find its roots? i find strange commonalities between myself and the post-Civil War pragmatists. it is a uniquely American tradition, i’m inclined to believe. it’s that combination of anti-institutionalism, a cynicism of ideas and idealism, and a wariness of the inherently destructive energies of human psychology that continually pits me against currents and directions. other people want to save up for things, buy things, do things of great worth, and conquer enemies at home and abroad. but perhaps with time, i have come to the same conclusion as Holmes: certitude of any kind invariably leads men into violent conflict with one another. i am weary of the religious and ideological trappings that compel me into obligatory opposition against modernity’s discontents: Muslims of the Middle East, “colored” people, communists, celebrities, and terrorists. i used to place such stock in systems and ideas, but now i feel decidedly uncommitted to all of it. i would prefer to be above and beyond history and the constraints of my time; i would claim to be a mystic in the pursuit of the one true god. but i am unhappily the product of the hubris and self-confidence of my time, one of a generation of idiots who believe that they are the prized heirs of civilization, the harbingers of progress.
i weary of my kind. is that an arrogant thing to admit? and yet i confess it nonetheless. it is no great thing to be a human being.
haiti. kabul. shootings in my own city. violence, misfortune, and human suffering of untold proportions. and reform, as Menand would call it, always promising a repetition of abuses–the “zero-sum game”. a man in this life knows only one good and true thing. it is not the amassing of knowledge or possessions, or the attainment of self-respect or even self-deification. a man lives to fall in love with something or with someone. it is only then that he can hold his limited intellect in proper disdain and recognize that the true pleasure of living is the good that we experience in spite of what we design or dream. i have found this to be true: that i am only happy when i am in love. and i am in love so rarely.
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01.06.10
Percolate
Posted in Uncategorized at 1:04 am by Administrator
i guess a dissident must first find his community before he can define what he is. i found this link, a book review which was a short but fascinating read: http://percolatemag.com/?p=42. i am not alone, it appears, in my sense of the cultural stranglehold imposed by Western neoliberalism. the postmodern protest lacks teeth; the youth have no cause. there’s a numbing obeisance to the fukuyama doctrine that contends that we have reached the end of ideological history. we are consigned to muddle through all the limitations and illnesses inherent to American-style capitalist democracy.
i haven’t read de Toledo’s treatise, but i imagine from the review that he has elaborated a proposed infrastructure for youth revolt–without defining any discrete vision that would necessarily galvanize such organization. and herein is the problem. like the Hipsters of the 60s, any youth movement needs a cause, a milieu, and a demographic ripe for revolt.
the trouble with the present is that globalization has ironically dissipated the formerly concentrated forces for protest. America in the 60s was clearly the cultural center of the “free” world and the chief exporter of pop media symbols; its icons became global icons, its slogans became world slogans. this is no longer the case. europe, with its own distinct subculture, has come to hold americana in disdain; japan and korea have evolved their own unique derivations of post-industrial jargon, nearly incomprehensible to the Western audience. india has evolved its own distinctive pop culture replete with a movie-making engine that outproduces Hollywood by orders of magnitude. an american-born youth movement could not be eyed with anything but cynicism by the increasingly sophisticated and compartmentalized generation of young culture consumers.
not to mention that the existence of a global cause worthy of resistance is highly in question. it’s not that there is a shortage of recognizable injuries inflicted by the neoliberal order. environmental catastrophe. constant warfare in the name of national security. abuse of power in the finance industries. rampant political corruption. the rise of drug cartels and multinational corporations as dominant political players. the ongoing deterioration of conditions for people in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. the growing polarization between East and West, despite the increasing alignment of their economic imperatives. no, it isn’t for a shortage of corruption and warfare that we lack a cause. it’s that none of these phenomena are individually powerful enough to unite transnational sentiment. we are a fastidious, hyperaware generation. we need to be sufficiently impressed, or we will not be impressed at all.
if i might speculate, i believe that if there’s hope for broad protest in the next 25 years, it will stem from the Latino population of the southwestern United States. their ethnic communities are strong, demographically homogeneous, and increasingly politicized. the anti-immigration sentiments of the white establishment are increasingly at odds with the interests of the fastest growing working-age population in America. couple this with the shocking social devastation occurring south of the border due to a failing war against the cartels and you have a situation ripe for a broad youth movement. it will begin with barrio youth and will focus on the social restrictions inflicted by the conservatives; but it will not broaden until other ethnic minorities–particularly urban populations–also adopt a class-racial consciousness that pits them against the increasingly conservative political leadership. the scope will deepen beyond matters of wealth and social justice to a more fundamental sense of anti-establishmentarianism. people will stop voting; they will stop paying their taxes; they will not send their children to school; they will not buy property or other securities. it is disengagement, not political activism, that will undermine the military-industrial complex and the apparatus of indoctrination and social control that it is founded on.
the upheaval in the U.S. will spread first to East Asia, where economic uncertainties and extreme institutional pressures on adolescent youth will foster an explosion in countercultural activity. europe’s involvement will be gradual but largely irrelevant; with the economic centers of the new world order effectively crippled, chaos will call for new ideology, and for demagogues to be its mouthpiece. in this manner perhaps, nation-states will decentralize; factionalism will expose artificial unions, such as the artificial nationhood of China; a sense of a global compact among revolutionaries might form; and thus the processes of the early 1900s that militated for genuine egalitarianism might have a chance to finish the work that they started.
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01.05.10

The Future

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:29 pm by Administrator
i’ve stopped making new year’s resolutions. and when people ask me, “what’s your vision?” or “what’s your dream?”, i really have a hard time with that one. to answer those questions, i think you have to be able to answer the question “what makes you happy?” i don’t know the answer to that question. so i have no dream.
it’s not that i’m unhappy. but it is true that making it through my days has become challenging. once upon a time, there was a logical structure to my days, and each day had its intrinsic reward. now, i can go through a whole day essentially meandering through obligations. but when i get to the end of those responsibilities, it’s not like flipping on the TV or playing a computer game makes it all worthwhile. no, searching for real substance, real meaning, this has become the real work of my days. i have come to realize that there are no external barriers to my fulfillment; my greatest nemesis in that regard is myself.
human beings are such complex creatures. one wonders if they must necessarily be so. take Casey Johnson, the heiress to the J&J fortune who probably committed suicide. her potential for impacting her society–or even the world at large–was quite impressive. the resources available to her to promote justice or to relieve suffering were limitless. but this all must have seemed quite futile to her when she chose to end her life. some probably consider her death passe, if not predictable. but i always feel particular tragedy in the suicides of those who are young and gifted. if they can find no reason to live, what does this say about the rest of us?
perhaps if i could say what i wished for, it would be ecstacy. not the drug per se, but the experience. and not merely a transient experience of euphoria, but something worth investing a life in–a self-perpetuating, ever-building, and increasingly collective sense of ecstacy. obviously this must be a psychological phenomenon of some kind. one might assume given my background that i’m talking about spiritual revival or some dynamic experience of God, but actually i’m not. while my charismatic experiences of God have been my closest approximations of ecstacy, they have not left me fulfilled. they were emotional at their core. i recognize that these experiences were planted in a culture and a culture-specific ideology of some kind. the experience i desire is transnational, transcendental, and transformational. i want an ecstacy that i can share with others that is immediate, all-encompassing, and barrier-breaking. the impossibility of this of course is why i do not call this a dream. it’s unrealistic.
perhaps though there are ways to create a lesser form of this sort of experience. sexual orgasms and drug-induced high’s are probably the closest somatic experiences of ecstacy, but they’re purely biochemical and thus unsustainable. a crescendo must be balanced by an equal denouement; the balances of nature must be preserved. one cannot build anything out of biology alone. muscles built up with weightlifting eventually atrophy, before decaying to dust. children produced from one’s loins must be fed and sustained, and even they cannot persist for very long. no, biological manipulation alone cannot create sustainable pleasure. one must appeal to the sociological as well. it is the movement of the collective–whether you call it philosophy or civilization–which bears in itself the potential for transcendent fulfillment, a lasting pleasure.
for me, this is a curious thing. in my faith paradigm, there is a nationhood of believers, but this nationhood is unseen and intangible; its movement through history cannot be accurately recorded, nor is its future comprehensible in earthly terms. it’s wholly immaterial. in my worldly perspective, i see civilizations that pretend at progress, but the experience of society and the reevaluation of facts strongly suggest that the progress is a myth. mankind has not advanced in its capability and willingness to take care of itself or its world. this is profoundly depressing.
faced with these facts, a man like me but with more courage and vision would be left no alternative except to seek a revolution of civilization–a new concept of community, no less. perhaps one can see the seed of this impetus in the early church. after all, Christ’s movement precipitated nothing less than total social upheaval. men and women were uprooted from their societies and occupations; they divorced their spouses and left their families; they crossed conventional ethnic and national boundaries; they scattered, agitated, organized, and spread their countercivilizational way of life. eventually they established egalitarian communes. the form they took was anything but the hierarchical, legal, and regimented order that they left behind.
i feel in myself a longing for revolution–revolution as a sign of my faith, revolution as a search for communal ecstacy. in the sharing of epiphany, in the uniting of souls, in the experience of healing intimacy, there is a seed of ecstacy. but this sort of experience is not happening in the way that i would wish; i don’t see it occurring anywhere. collectively, we lack the impetus to break barriers for the sake of breaking them; we don’t seize upon our dissatisfactions as justifications for radical change. we are afraid of uncertainty, we are tired of ideology, we are disdainful of our own best sentiments; and so we practice evangelism of a kind, church of a kind, and religion of a kind. and because it’s not radical, it’s not exciting. there’s nothing new going on. more importantly, the communal experience of ecstacy simply isn’t happening in the post-industrial world.
perhaps i dream of a youth movement again. a global youth movement, driven by ideology, passionate to a fault, and insatiable in its iconoclasm. i dream of a world revolution to interrupt the institutions that concentrate wealth, precipitate war, perpetuate slavery, ignore poverty, and maintain the veneer of nationalities. we need to redraw the political maps, erase the man-made boundaries, and deconstruct the lingo that necessitates the inevitability of injustice and murder. once upon a time, this movement was called socialism, and it propelled our civilization out of feudalism and into an era of self-definition. but now our youth need something different, something new. we need them to break the stranglehold of the polluted world we have created, so that they might achieve something for us all.
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