June to July, 2010

7.07.10

obituary

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:24 am by Administrator
back in early 2002, my best friend Chris got married. for old time’s sake, she asked me to hook up again with Vic and Dan to perform the song for her walk down the aisle. i stayed with Dan, at his apartment in Harlem, and in about two days we worked out the whole arrangement with Vic. the song was “Arise My Love” by Michael Card, chosen specifically by the groom, and it took our best creative efforts to turn the song inside-out and make it somewhat presentable for the ceremony. i remember Carl asking us if we were going to turn it “into a rap or something”. i do believe that what Dan did with that white-boy song was nothing short of magical.
the night before the wedding, Dan and I stayed up in his bedroom, just catching up and talking about everything. we talked a lot about his girlfriend, about their differences and their arguments, about whether or not he should get married to her. i sort of figured after that conversation that they might eventually break up.
A couple years later they got married. A couple years after that, they had a beautiful daughter, who most definitely became the apple of his eye. Dan loved his family. It transformed him. I think that it made music matter to him in a whole new way.
It was just like Dan to do things this way—to be apologetic about the details, to take your baggage, and to love you anyways. every year, Dan had a gripe about my trades in fantasy basketball, but he never stopped playing with me. unlike the other guys who’d fight over the nickles and dimes, Dan always thought it was hilarious in the end. “You know I love you”, he’d always say.
I loved Dan too. I loved his soft-spoken nature, his ability to accept and forgive, his approachability, his gentleness, his musicality, his understated wittiness, his self-deprecating humor, and his ability to create a life full of spontaneous discovery. Dan made the world more interesting. And he brought so much to it. He made a life out of writing for ESPN Soccernet, playing the cello for big acts, touring the world, and writing a blog that scored thousands of hits a day. People loved Dan’s life. And that’s why so many people will miss him.
A couple of days ago, I was waking up from sleep and had a random flashback to the time when Dan was stabbed in the chest by some muggers in a Harlem subway station. The docs later told him that had the knife passed just two inches higher, he would have taken the blade in the heart, a fatal injury. As it was, he nearly died that night. When I was lying in bed thinking about this, I thought to myself, “I wonder what Dan would say about that now?” I wondered if Dan would laugh about it. I figured he would. He was that sort; he didn’t ruminate too hard or let tragedy weigh him down. He preferred laughter.
I don’t know why I had that random thought two days ago. I hadn’t thought about that incident for many years.
Dan died in Switzerland yesterday, while on tour. I’ve heard it was an accidental drowning, but few people know for sure. When I heard the news a few hours ago, something in my life just shut down. I’d laugh off this piece of news if I could, pretend that it was a lie. I’d tell myself that Dan’s already survived one knifing, so how could water kill this man? I’d go to sleep and tell myself that I can sort this all out tomorrow. But I cannot. Because my world is irreversibly different if Dan is not in it.
I miss you Dan aka “mungmungdog”, the prodigy at the piano and the cello, the guy who made a song out of life and let me sit with him at the keys, who wanted me to sing along so that for a little while i might enjoy some of that good life too
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07.01.10

Just Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:46 am by Administrator
“Just Life”, the title of my most recent musing that i call a poem, perhaps describes it best. in the end, when i consider what is behind me and what perhaps lies ahead, i feel both tired and strangely amused. i take my decisions and responsibilities far too seriously. in fact, in one hundred years, no one will remember me, and it will not matter how i lived or what i did. my days are trivial, and my reflections are transient. whatever happens, it’s just life. one cannot control these things; neither do they matter enough to be controlled.
this is not an expression of hopelessness. it is realism, with a touch of optimism. for a long time, i’ve considered myself far more important than i could ever really be. my disappointments in myself, my fears of the future—these arose from the strange idea that i was meant to be a superman, a fated being. yes, i believe that my life is a purposed thing, and i have in me a divine aspect. but billions have lived before me, and only a few dozen lives have been worth noting in our legends and histories. in truth, the vast majority of us pass in and out of the world, unnoticed, and their mistakes are forgiven, just as their glories are forgotten. dust to dust—so it goes as well for our feats and fantasies.
the fury of the past month has truly settled, and i recognize that i’ve neither lost nor gained anything in that time. i’ve only rediscovered what i’ve already known. people can be cruel; i’ve known this before, and what revelation lies in this? i want to serve God in the priestly order; but this too i’ve known, and in truth, it says nothing new about what i am. for all my flights of speculation, doubt, and fantasy, i am left with the fact that while i was engaged in private acrobatics of the mind, the rest of the universe did not turn upside-down. i feel such a need to live a magical life, but when i retreat from my spiritual mania, when i recede from my hyperstimulation of reflection, i realize that life is not magical. to God, the order of the universe does not bend for men of exceptional ability; rather, it is the wise who recognize that what we misunderstand as magic is in fact the unchanging essence of God. in one sense, we are blind; but in another, we are too easily impressed with ourselves.
if i accomplish nothing for the rest of my life and fall into abject poverty, perhaps i will care about this for a short time, but in about forty years (the flash of a second, if i might interject) i will care about it not at all. all of life is filled with decisions of seeming import, as if in the summation of pros and cons, one might speculate on some idea of success or glory. i’ve grown weary of the calculations. rich or poor, influential or ignored, what does it matter to me anymore? every day that is simply satisfied with itself is good enough.
i’ve often decried Ecclesiastes for being a silly book and a random entry into the biblical canon, but this does not mean that i do not love the book as literature. Solomon, if he wrote it, was no special man; he was just another fallen guy who realized that his best years were now behind him. he had nothing to live for, and his religion, it would appear, had not saved him from a lifetime of folly. we could look at Ecclesiastes as tragedy, but perhaps this is far too proscriptive. Ecclesiastes, perhaps, is the fate of everyone, whether or not they ascribe to their lives a certain kind of magic. a realism in line with the history of the church will always break this spell in some way. yes, we are created, and special. no, we cannot understand what this means. and the self-importance we feel as we live is misguided. it fails us. it will always fail us.
in some way, i’ve reclaimed my mornings, days, and nights. it has not been easy. i had them, all three of them, when i was a child. piece by piece, i gave my life away, to other forces and structures, and they bound up my days and nights with rope, chains, and loneliness. only by warring with the world—and losing everything in the process—did i begin to claw back from the grave all the little things i had relinquished: silent mornings full of anticipation, serendipitous afternoons of adventure and escape, fascinatingly surreal twilights colored by amorous adventures, deliciously eternal nights of seditious speculation and innocent yearning. i wanted my life back, and it’s all i wanted. the rest, i came to loathe.
there is no language to describe what i have been through. words in any tongue are insufficient; the dance would be imprecise; a song would be misleading.
to the world, i’ll say that once i wanted to be something special to you, a celebrity in your midst, a man with wise words and a legacy. but instead, i’m going to cut short my campaign to be remembered. i’d rather laugh at myself and at you, and have a few days of my own, to pleasure in by the grace of God. i thought i was something, but i’m not. for the first time in my life, perhaps, my life has unfettered itself. let me live. after all, it’s just life.
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Just Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:07 am by Administrator

to rend my mornings
from terrible dawn,
i only had to pay the price
of sanity.

today, i woke up in that still water
of amnesia, and having forgotten
what i was,
i could feel the curiosity of beginnings.

to redeem my middays,
all that was required
by the scrutinizing sun,
by his progeny of cruel eyes,

was the price of dignity.
give me back my days,
i cried out in the court of the gods,
as i stripped myself bare.

ah, but nights,
these proved a harder thing to reclaim
from that slaughter of the soul,
that terror of ceaseless ritual.

to walk in the cool of night
and feel my own flesh,
to fly like demons do,
without breath or false words

i had to give up a dream–
my dream.

i told the lofty moon
i’ll never sleep again.
Return to me wondrous night,
that silent and consuming embrace.

Let me delight in everything unseen,
in the extinction of light,
in the upending of pretenses
and the end of all meanings.

she smiled, in shadows deep as valleys
and said, if only i would know
that this idea of everything—
this sleepwalk of the senseless—
is life

just life.

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The Lover

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:49 am by Administrator

From May 26, the day i was fired.

“The Lover”

The mind is like fingers;
the trauma, like a naked body
mysterious after nightfall.

Thoughts find new ways
to explore the figure of pain,
starting with the seemingly familiar–

a face, with its lips, its eyes.
One might be satisfied with that,
but love, how insatiable!

In dreams, the mind confronts memory
from a thousand different directions,
grasping with lust at curves, contours.

Every touch electric, jarring, agonizing
but one cannot stop studying, caressing.
he penetrates that thing he cannot bear

until, i would think, love is satisfied
and the mind concedes
“I understand”

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06.24.10

Coco & Igor

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:26 am by Administrator
i feared the worse when it came to “Coco & Igor”, the movie based on a novel written about the rumored love affair between Gabrielle Chanel and Igor Stravinsky in 1920. and yet, i suspected that what the reviewers disparaged—a kind of expressive inhibition—was actually reflective of a stylistic bias. the truth of the matter is that the movie was an effort to elaborate the pathos that links tragic romance to unappreciated genius. i think that it succeeded powerfully in its aesthetic depiction of the fundamental loneliness that unites (and separates) human beings. much like “Lost in Translation”, it’s a movie that requires feeling, more than analysis; it demands patience without judgment.
the movie was oddly a very comforting experience for me, perhaps on many levels. first, it’s really the first movie i’ve seen alone in a long time, which is significant because during periods of more severe depression, i am mostly incapable of enjoying anything solitary. second, had i been in a worse emotional state, i don’t think i could have handled the drawn-out moments of inarticulate disconnection, which occurred frequently through the film. third, the movie said much about the idea of failure and how relative such a thing can be. coco, after all, lost the love of her life and never really found it again; igor was profoundly rejected by his audiences and eventually lost his marriage, experiences which framed the rest of his life.
i met with a psychotherapist for the first time today and found the experience fairly interesting. her first question to me was how i expected to work toward a healthy life. my response was that i didn’t know how to answer the question, because i do not intuitively know what real health looks or feels like. with this in mind, i was shocked when she told me at the end of the session that her hope for me was not merely that i would survive my depression but also that i would find ways to experience a powerful happiness in who i am. i almost laughed with incredulity; in truth, i don’t think that i’ve ever been particularly happy about who i am or what i have accomplished. my life to this point has been a program, and i have lived out someone else’s agenda. i admitted to her that i don’t know how to get my life back, and i don’t really understand what it is to be happy about myself.
this doesn’t mean that i’m not making “progress”. in fact, i’m done with antidepressants, and i’m never going to go on pharmacotherapy again after the trance-like existence that they imposed on me. i’m also recognizing that, to some degree, i do have the power to redirect myself from depressive thoughts, simply by rejecting the arbitrary values that have been imposed on me. and i am experiencing a new enthusiasm in life now that i have chosen to walk away from a career path that was totally incompatible with my giftings and inclinations. but if the culmination of progress is a totally satisfying self-concept, then i am still very far from success.
my therapist wants me to explore the negative thoughts—where they come from (triggers), what they lead me to feel, and how they constrict my way of life. i’ll offer my first speculations:
TRIGGERS:
1) Boredom: boredom is the pervasive illness of my existence. I have no psychological explanation for it, and i cannot identify what underlies it. thus, it strikes me as fundamental. life, people, the universe—they are all interesting to a point, but they are not interesting enough. invariably, i find that i cannot find enough thrill in my relationships or activities to really engage me on a deep level. i am constantly needy of something more shocking, more novel, more transcendent. life, when it starts to seem predictable, becomes utterly intolerable to me. i need change. i need to keep moving. i need something new, all the time.
2) Unfair expectations: When people have enough power over me that they can begin confronting me with expectations that are either unreasonable or impossible to fulfill, i feel threatened and trapped. the resentment i feel toward authority figures is slow to build, but once built it is explosive. i despise conformist tendencies; i detest those who abuse their authority. i am allergic to expectations, and when unfair expectations illuminate my vulnerability, i am driven to anger and helplessness.
3) Criticisms of my character: perhaps nothing is more demoralizing to me than a pointed criticism of my work ethic, my dedication, or my honesty. i thought for a while that i was making progress in this regard, but recent events have made it obvious to me that i am still quite vulnerable in this area. there is no faster way to become my enemy for life than to accuse me unfairly of laziness or dishonesty; i will find a way to fight back, by any means at my disposal. of course, if the accusation is true, i expect that i would eventually relent, although i have never believed an accusation of this nature (and it has only happened to me three times in my life) to be true.
FEELINGS:
1) Hostility: i am like my father in this regard; once triggered, my most natural first response to any difficult situation is anger. i need to objectify the trigger, i need to identify my enemy. my anger needs an immediate outlet.
2) Self-loathing: my hostility is quick to cool, and i’ve never held a grudge for very long. neither have i ever resorted to physical violence. within a day or two, my anger almost invariably evaporates, leaving me in what ends up being a fairly prolonged state of self-loathing. even if the trigger was momentary, i am often left with the fact that i reacted in an unbecoming and frankly selfish manner, an observation which leads me to self-hatred. unlike my very transient feelings of anger, my sense of self-loathing lingers for months, even years. it transforms my self-concept into something that i cannot live with.
3) Depression: depression is self-loathing without interruption. repeated triggers and recurrent dysfunctional responses put me in a cycle of sharp self-criticism which i cannot transcend. i not only hate myself; i feel that i cannot live with myself. i begin to believe that i would be better off dead and that the world would be better off without me.
BEHAVIORAL EFFECTS:
1) Extreme social neediness: since i got married, i have found that the effects of my depression on my socialization have very strangely reversed. once, i was prone to extreme social withdrawal. now when i’m depressed, i feel an exquisite need for people; i need to be in their company, i need to have their attention, and i need their verbal responses to my situation so that i can internally process. i find myself increasingly incapable of processing alone, not to mention that since i am my own worst enemy, i increasingly cannot bear being alone with myself.
2) Increased alcohol consumption: there is no faster way to interrupt my cycle of depression than to drink. i find that even a little bit of alcohol is often sufficient to disrupt my pattern of thinking and give me relief from uncontrollable obsessions and ruminations.
3) Provocation: i instinctively start debates and arguments to reverse the trajectory that leads from anger to depression. i use anger to overturn depression. obviously, anger’s consequences only exacerbate my depression, leading to an eventual replication of the cycle of negative feelings.
WHERE I CAN BREAK THE CYCLE:
my cycle of depression is able to progress unchecked because my self-concept allows for and even encourages self-loathing. this is probably rooted in a number of inherited misconceptions, that i often find myself vocalizing in times of self-searching:
1) “i am not entitled to validate my sufferings”. i don’t want to blame my dad for this, but it was his fault. for a long time, my dad refused to believe that i was depressed, mainly because he felt that he had afforded me a healthy foundation for a happy future. it was not his belief that life itself was intrinsically depressing, which is how i have found it. being unable to acknowledge to myself that my sufferings are real has retarded my development as a person and crippled me emotionally at a very deep level.
2) “i am fundamentally a bad person”. i blame the Bible for this one. the apostle Paul clearly offers a very schizophrenic definition of self—the bad half, the redeemed half. Paul’s answer to his personal depression is to continually and forcefully assert the primacy of the redeemed half to his identity; “it is not i who live but Christ who lives in me!” when i struggle with depression, the schism does seem arbitrary and merely semantic. either i coexist with my sinful nature or i am defined by it; either way, it is inseparable from what i am. and because i am intimately tied to an evil nature that cannot be reformed, i find life to be a process of slow attrition. like Paul, i begin to overtly desire death, as a means of being free from this perpetual internal conflict.
3) “real success is defined by self-sufficiency and wealth”. this might be the most destructive misconception of them all, because the idea of self-sufficiency prevents me from getting the help that i need, and because the drive for wealth forces me to commit my most precious possessions—my time and my energy—to whatever is expeditious in amassing money. the outgrowth of this misconception is enslavement.
to break the cycle, i have to break these misconceptions. i have to change not only the internal rhetoric that enforces these ideas but also the core belief system which allows these ideas to linger.
how can i challenge these three core misconceptions?
1) “My sufferings are valid and in fact valuable”. my decision to enter the pastoral ministry is the outgrowth of this emerging counter-belief. part of me is really beginning to believe that yes, despite the fact that i did not endure the poverty of my parents, my sufferings have been equal to if not greater than theirs. they at least had the satisfaction of reversing their misfortunes through hard work and self-sacrifice. my sufferings ironically are defined by my hard work and a misinformed sense of self-sacrifice. i think that having the responsibility of connecting with people at the level of their sufferings will help me to validate my own; it will engage me in a process by which i can sublimate my agonies in such a way that i can inspire others to overcome their own.
2) “i am fundamentally a good person”. this is extremely difficult for me, because to believe such a thing, one must navigate the New Testament scripture in a very careful manner. the key to this lies in genuinely and deeply identifying with God, to the degree that i am able to “assert” quite confidently that i am His representative. of course, this goes against my ingrained sense of what humility is, but i need look no further than the apostle Paul to recognize that a truly humbled man can nevertheless elaborate a self-concept that borders on total hubris. Paul was unapologetic about his virtues, his special place in God’s revelatory plan, and the power and authority of his ministry. he was vicious against his critics; he repeatedly and forcefully argued his moral, intellectual, and spiritual superiority over them. it is true that Paul defined the sinful nature in a way that no former prophet ever had. but more fundamental to his teaching was his assertion that the sinful nature need not define what a man is in his new covenant with God.
3) “real success in life is defined by connectedness with God’s body and total dependence on His provision”. once again, i think that my decision to go into the pastorate is a direct consequence of this growing belief. i’ve found no satisfaction in making money; in fact, having money has been a burden for me, as the condition of wealth has forced on me the subtle obsession of acquiring things and upgrading my possessions. the best thing i’ve recently done for myself was to throw away my Blackberry and to discontinue my data package; the next thing i’ll be doing is to discontinue our television service altogether. i’m hopeful that eventually i’ll be able to get rid of my car and offer my house for others to share with me. i want my life to be marked not by my efforts to save for my retirement but rather by my efforts to build everlasting treasures in heaven. this requires a total change in the orientation of my attitudes; and that change is beginning right now, with my move into full-time ministry.
quite clearly i run the risk of using the pastoral ministry as self-therapy, but i actually believe that God’s specific plan compels me to recognize my calling as also my means of healing. this does not mean that my motivation for ministry will be to sublimate my struggles; i actually believe that to be a positive by-product of my work. but i do rejoice in the very interesting observation that God is calling me to be a minister at the very point in my life when i seem least capable of fulfilling that role. i am one of the most dysfunctional and internally disabled people that i know. how can such a man intercede for others or help them in their inadequacies? yet, this for me is the very essence of the Gospel. His strength is made perfect in my weakness! yes, i am a crippled human being, a victim of my own self-deceptions, a man predisposed to porn addiction, alcoholism, and countless other antisocial tendencies. and yet, i recognize now more than any other time in my life that when i stand, i stand with the strength of God.
for all the inadequacies and failings that i am beginning to own up to, God has correspondingly given me confirmations of a kind that i have never before experienced. He’s told me that He will prove my ministry with signs and wonders, which is strange to me because i don’t really believe in mystical signs and miraculous wonders. He’s told me that i will be both prophet and teacher to my generation, which also strikes me as strange because i’ve been rebuked by even my close friends for departing from orthodoxy. and He’s told me that i will not be living any ordinary life; His plans for me are special, in a way that will distinctly set me apart from other men. the fear in me says that this is narcissism speaking through my thoughts. but the one in me who has walked with God has known it from the very beginning. even when i was six years old, i was different from my peers. God spoke to me in a different way; He spoke to me in a personal and articulate way. and even when i was the only one in my youth group who could not speak in tongues, God was speaking to me in a way that was far more clear; He gifted me in specific situations with the ability to interpret tongues, which i have found to be the rarer gift.
often, i do not know whether to cry or to jump with joy, when i think about my life. but one thing is for certain; God has a grip on my trajectory in a way that i have never before experienced. His grip is powerful, passionate, and jealously assertive. He wants me for something very specific, and in that desire i feel a genuine sense of privilege. i think the thing that i feared most when i was a child was that i would grow up to be a responsible and professional man of the world, who would pay his bills, send his children to college, and die without seeing a single miracle in his lifetime. i feared this, because i knew that this sort of a life is a tragedy. i have always wanted to see my life as a miracle; moreover, i have wanted to see God enact miracles of the most supernatural and unexplainable variety through my life. now, i believe more than ever that this has been His plan for me. and because of this, perhaps, i am open to the idea that someday i might actually approach genuine healing. someday, i might be able to feel truly proud of who i am. someday, i think i might experience happiness, in that unqualified and overpowering way, the way children feel it, the way i have not felt about my life for a long, long time
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06.23.10

Group

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:44 am by Administrator
I went to my first group counseling session today, and the psychiatrist who was leading the session talked about a couple of misconceptions that often underlie hopelessness: unbearable loss and the impossibility of change. there was a third factor he discussed, but by then i’d essentially checked out.
what was odd about the experience is that the psychiatrist was talking to a group of 40-60 year olds about basic concepts that seemed fairly elementary; and yet many of the people often seemed startled or impressed by what they were hearing. regarding the idea of unbearable loss, the psychiatrist posited the question that perhaps the experience of depression leads people to ask the basic question of the meaning of life. his concrete challenge to each of the members was to identify an individual in each of their lives who seemed to have the answer to that question, and to ask that person what gives him/her meaning. he suggested that the question of meaning could be answered; and yet when a group member asked him if the consequences of exploring that question might be futility and further disappointment, he acknowledged that this could be true.
regarding the second concept (the impossibility of change), the psychiatrist suggested that people probe their memories for positive experiences from their past and try to relive those experiences, even duplicate them. the interesting response from many of the attendants was that depression had suppressed their memories of all positive experiences; they had very few happy memories left. the psychiatrist suggested that these people use family members, photo albums, and other relics of the past to “jog” the memory and restore a concept of the past.
the psychiatrist’s conclusions and suggestions seemed odd to me, mainly because they seemed non-intuitive. tackling one’s depression by ruminating on the abstract and extremely challenging question of the meaning of life seems to me like an aggravation of the central issue. after all depression is derived from the intuitive sense that life is meaningless; one who attempts to explore this question rationally will be impeded by his instinctive sense that the question is futile. and regarding the pursuit of happy memories, i think that this too can deepen the immediate sense of depression. after all, many who are depressed feel this way partly because they view their life in a downward trajectory; highlighting past happiness might only accentuate the sense of paradise lost.
i’ve stopped taking zoloft for a variety of reasons, but the reason that it succeeded in ameliorating one form of my depression is that it curtailed rumination. it did not facilitate these seemingly fundamental questions about life’s meaning and joys; rather, it removed the psychological impetus for these questions, thus freeing my mind from an obsession with unanswerable questions. indeed, i believe that one cannot help but be depressed by the question of life’s meaning, because it is nearly impossible to define. as a Bible-believing Christian, i cannot even answer the question of what purpose life has. in a theoretical sense, i can posit that the meaning of life is worship; but for me to genuinely understand what that means, i would have to have some concrete sense of worship is, how it is manifest in my life, and how it affects the object of my worship. these are all painfully abstract notions. i have to admit that despite my religion, i do not understand what the meaning of my life is. this is the reason that i can believe in a religion that embraces hope and yet paradoxically i can feel fairly bewildered about why i am alive.
the Christian life must be balanced between ruminations of mystical quality and interpersonal interactions of a more concrete nature. this is not simply because one activity informs the other; rather, the human being really cannot survive without a balance of the two. thus, we receive a picture in scripture of the saint as one who prays and also one who acts; one who is defined by the receipt of grace, but also one who is called to define himself by action and obedience; one does not need works to justify himself but nevertheless needs to do good things because this is what he was purposed for. in the psychological balance struck between mysticism and realism, the believer is mystified; the two realms will contradict each other inasmuch as they will elucidate each other.
for example, my observations of suffering and death in the world inform my prayer life, and yet they also disrupt communion with God; essentially, suffering in the world depresses me. when i explore that disruption to a deep extent, i do not find satisfying answers. invariably, i recognize that the path to relieving my angst and trouble does not lie in answers but rather in the marginalization of my questions. as a result, i recognize that the Spirit affords me comfort and wisdom mainly by redirecting my thoughts, away from the things that trouble me and toward the things that i can act on for positive effect.
in this way, i’m beginning to recognize that my spirituality is not a form of philosophy. i do not use my religion to answer the existentialist and moral questions that plague my existence. rather, my religion exists in spite of the fact that it cannot answer these questions; and it is manifested when the motivation for these questions is extinguished. hence, i find it true that the old questions about predestination and election that once led me to question the justice of God are no longer interesting to me, because i have come to believe that the questions are designed (by their human authors) to have no answers.
i do not believe that the “meaning of life” is a definable entity. among all the apostles, prophets, and judge in the Bible, only one preoccupied himself with this question, and Solomon in doing so exemplified how warped and distorted his manner of thinking had become as a result of his sins and betrayals. Ecclesiastes is not an inspired teaching; it is the record of a man who was abandoned by the Spirit to the relentless torture of the unanswerable questions of human existence. on the other hand, the question to the Christian inevitably is transformed, from “what is the meaning of life” to “where is there meaning in life”? when the believer embraces those aspects of his life which are life-giving, then those aspects come to define his life, and by virtue of these activities his life takes on something of godliness. but in the grand cosmic sense, the meaning of life simply cannot be defined; to essentialize such a thing is not even a biblical endeavor–it represents the very futility of human hubris that has warped Enlightenment thinking and plagued Western civilization with a uniquely idolatrous form of self-preoccupation.
my struggle with depression is changing. for me, it is no longer about what i am or what i believe; rather it is about what i’m dwelling on and where i need to refocus my thoughts and energies. if i allow myself to stew on any question or matter for too long, my death catches up with me; like gravity, it pulls me down to the grave. my walk must be a walk; it must be defined by motion, constant upward motion, constant war against the questions of doubt, constant rebuking of the tendencies to misrepresent God and to hold life itself in disdain. it is an odd thing to recognize that indeed i was not intended to answer the questions of essence and meaning; i was intended for simple trust and obedience. this is not a simple thing, as trivial as it might sound. it is the profoundest thing about existence, that we are called to view ourselves as vessels for a time, meant to understand only in part—and this to preserve us—even as we are ultimately intended for a transformation that will allow us to know completely and be completely known
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06.21.10

Reading like a Madman

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:53 pm by Administrator
now that i’m not working, i’ve been reading like a madman. i’ve been averaging a book every two days. a few observations:
1) Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Zafon is the most remarkable author i’ve run across in recent history. i would describe him as similar to haruki murakami in his magical fixations–but more probing. he is like hosseini in his knack for relaying sensory detail–but far better. he is like john irving in his capacity to tell the multi-generational family saga, except that he’s less likely to lose his reader in the process. quite simply, zafon might be the best fiction author i’ve ever read.
2) Geisler (Answering Islam): I tore through this rather interesting critique of Islam, written from the viewpoint of a Western Christian. I found it at times incisive and at other times almost ludicrous in its propositionality. It strikes me as a distinctly nauseating Western tendency to dismiss Eastern philosophies on account of “logical inconsistencies”. Geisler essentially declares Islam an internally inconsistent religious system, while declaring Christianity in contrast to be indisputably coherent. he succeeds in raising questions about the former; he fails dismally in proving the latter. the internal consistency of the Christian belief system simply can’t be posited; denominational diversity and marked schisms within the church on basic issues of theology can’t be ignored. i really doubt that the Bible can ever be proven to its detractors on the basis of historiography.
3) Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker: I could barely endure the first fifty pages, continuing my streak of being unable to handle Korean-American fiction.
4) Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty: Leonard is a master of dialogue. Chili Palmer comes off the page, a compelling character from his very first line. The novel peters out toward the ending as the unclimactic climax devolves due to a series of improbable and uninteresting developments. I tried to get through Be Cool, the sequel, and couldn’t get past page 20.
5) Ephesians: i’m in the process of memorizing chapter 3 (after consolidating my memory of the first two chapters) and continue to be boggled by the apostle Paul’s remarkable capacity for belabored sentence structure and a repetition that approaches perseveration of nearly bludgeoning quality. the first three chapters of Ephesians amazingly repeat the same basic tenet nearly three or four times without significant embellishment, which must have impressed upon his audience a message of dreadfully dogmatic quality. i’m trying to give Paul the benefit of the doubt; yes, the expansion of the covenant to include the Gentiles was a revolutionary and remarkable concept. yet, the quality of his writing in this particular epistle summons the image of a pathologically bipolar author in the grip of an uncontrollable mania. i think that Paul would have rewritten Ephesians had he known that it would reach a broader audience in subsequent centuries. this being said, his semantics are quite interesting, and i find his emphasis on the central role of divine revelation to be fascinating.
6) Laker fans on Facebook: My Laker-fan friends have been liberal in their use of “redemption” and “miracle” to describe the Lakers’ recent playoff run, which is a simply nauseating misapplication of these hallowed concepts. There is nothing redeeming about a championship run built upon a woefully imbalanced trade (Pau Gasol) and the career of a disdainfully arrogant superstar who cannot be more obsessed with his legacy (Kobe Bryant). Neither is there anything “miraculous” about a championship bought at the price of an exorbitant payroll. I think that the scriptural concept most applicable to the Lakers’ underwhelming title is “common grace”: even the wicked of the world can taste the blessings of victory, for better or worse.
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06.20.10

The Other Side of the Coin

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:01 am by Administrator
i think it’ll take a bit longer for me to rehash all the little things that have made the last month truly the most extraordinary month of my life. i’m not ready yet; i feel like there’s an aspect of the story that is yet to be revealed. it should suffice however for me to say that God has met me; He’s radically redirected my life; He’s proven to me my calling and paved my path with sensations of a supernatural nature.
but there is the dark side of it. going through a blinding experience like this always casts the world in black and white for a while. the white is powerfully white; but the black is utterly black. the cruelties of people are never more clear when one is vulnerable; their praise is never more precious than when one is exquisitely needy.
those closest to me have encouraged me and given me strength, even confirmation. in fact, out of perhaps three dozen people i’ve confided in, most everyone has supported me, including my parents. but there are a few who have not—-a few, meaning three or four. i have understood their specific concerns, their difficulties with my decision. and yet, despite this, their stances have created a rift between them and myself that may never be repaired. with this sort of thing, i feel that there is no room for disagreement. if God delivers a clear calling to the ministry, but another refuses to recognize that, then fellowship is broken. that fellowship cannot be restored until the doubts have either been clearly validated or utterly extinguished.
i confess that i’ve harbored some anger as a result. it is something i will eventually have to resolve by direct confrontation. but i don’t have the words yet, not in the ginger state that i am in. so i direct the anger elsewhere, to things more removed, and yet the odd thing is that i find that even these things have become quite intimately personal to me.
one of my closest friends is a pastor, and he’s been suspended from public ministry because of a dating relationship that went badly. i’ve been involved indirectly in the situation since the breakup two years ago, a situation which has dragged on and on ever since because of an utter failure of church leadership. this past week, the “sentence” from the session was handed down, and it caused me no shortage of frustration and rage. to me, the suspension was simply the culmination of two years of ineptitude, injustice, and idiocy.
i’ll admit that i am not privy to all the details, although i’m aware of most of the relevant facts. i have tried to be an unbiased mediator over the past two years, as i also know and strongly respect the other involved person a great deal. the process of trying to reconcile these two people over the past two years has illuminated to me how strongly i feel about the proper approach to counseling and mediation—and how grossly deviant i found the session in its fumbling of my friend’s quandary.
perhaps i’m most angered by what has ensued because the pastorate is now my ambition–and foreseeing this sort of trouble for myself is simply inconceivable to me. i enjoy persuasion and consensus, and yet i despise the utilitarian nature of politics, the role that influence plays in matters of adjudication. i sympathize with the pastor against the incessant complaints of his lay audience; i despise the agitator for his power to harm the shepherd. one angry parishioner can cause a lifetime of trouble for even the most noble of the clergy. this potentiality brings out the worst in me, because if i believe myself to the right, then my opponent will always be wrong. it is far easier for me to be a fighter–in the most visceral, destructive, and mean-spirited sense–than it is for me to be a man of reconciliation. in this, i know that i have found one of my deepest weaknesses. when i am angry or wounded, i cannot discern injury from iniquity; i confuse misunderstanding with malice.
i want to advise my friend with wisdom, and yet i am full of rage on his behalf. and i recognize that the rage is rooted in my own recent experiences of having been judged, misunderstood, and injured. and in recognizing this, i experience a kind of shame i’ve never before experienced–the kind of shame that only a minister of the Gospel can feel, when he sees the grotesque coexisting with the utterly divine. i’m bewildered, yes. i’m ashamed. and even before i’ve begun my new journey, i feel somewhat defeated. i feel the doubts of others, even as i wrestle with my own doubts. i wonder if i am destined for yet another failure, whether it be a suspension like my friend has experienced, or scandal as many before me have suffered, or just the defeat that so many experience as a result of the ceaseless attrition endured by men of God.
i am afraid. i am full of anger. and yet too, i discern. i do believe that God has begun a new work in me. so i’ll sleep, and i’ll wake up and move on without this burden of hostility. i will be new. i will begin again. because i have not come all this way, through all these years of darkness and pain, simply to fail. God is with me; I feel the magnitude of His hopes for me, and in this, I feel a privilege I have never before recognized. as powerful as my fears and angers might be, the power of His love and forbearance are stronger. and so, i know that i will prove myself to be much more of a miracle than i now appear…
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06.10.10

CCH

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:22 am by Administrator
ruminations on my church…
CCH has its beginnings, its meanderings, and its struggles, as every church does. my church began as a small church that principally grew out of a certain clique of Glendale High School graduates. it has enjoyed slow but steady growth over the past ten years, now a mid-sized church of perhaps about 200 consistent members. about two years ago, it merged with a United Methodist congregation primarily consisting of elderly Caucasians, a church which was suffering from steadily declining membership due to attrition and lack of new membership. overall, CCH is still a young, predominantly single, Korean-American population dominated by long-time members in the 25-35 age group.
theologically, the church is not easily classifiable, as is the case with many younger Asian-American churches of the “nondenominational” mold. i would describe the church doctrine as defined by a belief in the Holy Trinity, the immaculate conception, the singularity and exceptionality of Christ as Lord and Savior, and the authority of Scripture. the church leadership (i.e. the head pastor) does not explicitly embrace a doctrine of “scriptural inerrancy”, which is probably the main issue that distinguishes him from clergy of the Reformed tradition. one specific manifestation of this stance is that he allows ordained female pastors to teach from the pulpit. the church is not overtly politically active and elaborates no specific stances on political issues, though the head pastor does not allow for active homosexuals in church leadership.
the church is solidly within the American Evangelical tradition and might be best situated in the doctrinal camp of Evangelical Holiness. it is contemporary but not charismatic in its worship style; attitudes toward mystical gifts (i.e. tongues) vary widely among congregants, but even so these manifestations are rarely seen in public worship.
in my two years at CCH, i’ve observed a number of things which are interesting.
1) The focus of the church is the Sunday teaching. This may be partly because the head pastor’s focus (and strength) is the Sunday teaching.
2) The majority of committed church members will acknowledge that the strength of our pastor’s teachings is a major reason for their commitment to the church.
3) Most committed church members belong to a small group, but the roles of the small groups appear to vary widely, the leadership of small groups demonstrates little turnover, and the satisfaction of members with their small groups seems variable.
4) There is a general reluctance of the younger church members (ages 22-30) to engage in leadership training and to be actively involved in a “ministry”–which is a code word for commitment and accountability.
5) New members find it difficult to get “plugged in”; there is no recognizable structure guiding their discipleship and training within the church.
6) CCH is actively engaged in multiple community service and outreach projects, but the majority of members do not understand or feel invested in these projects.
7) Overall, CCH appears to be a place where congregants are stimulated by incisive teaching and have a relatively unthreatening social environment within which to network with other young Asians. It is not a place where the church culture is strongly informed by a sense of “mission”.
i was talking this evening with a young Latino man named Chris who is committed to CCH and who is, for lack of better words, clearly “on fire for God”. He has recently experienced a powerful personal transformation and feels strongly motivated to express his enthusiasm for God through practical and impactful ways. outside of CCH, he has been connecting with other believers in his social circle to engage in street evangelism, service to the homeless, and small group accountability. his primary frustration with CCH is that he does not know how and where the “edification” process is really happening. in other words, he wants to know where he can apply his gifts to best serve the body in an effort that encourages the body to more noticeable fruit: evangelism to the community, the discipleship of believers, the training of leaders, and the sending of missionaries.
i know what he’s talking about.
the real “identity” of the local church is a real quandary in 21st century America. on the one hand, the organized church as a whole is in a watershed phase in America, as some long-standing denominations and faith traditions are facing near-extinction. the growing churches are either immigrant ministries or churches that have grown out of single-unit outreach. increasingly, the church is not simply a natural magnet for people in the immediate community; the burden is on the church to define what it means to its environment and what it is trying to accomplish in its world. for better or worse, the unreached American has been trained to be a spiritual consumer; he/she is looking to the church to address a very specific personal need and in a very specific manner. the 21st century American wants to be not merely connected but also tangibly and authentically meaningful to others.
i am tempted to look at CCH the way Rick Warren would and slice/dice/analyze all of our functions in such a way as to enhance the specificity and effectiveness of its outreach as well as its internal discipleship programs. in fact, some of the solutions to our problems may be systematic. but another way of looking at CCH is that it is not intended or even prepared at this point in its growth to take on a more diverse crowd or to inculcate a certain culture among its congregants. perhaps to aim for such structure would be heavy-handed, formulaic, and inauthentic.
nevertheless, the frustration of alienation remains. how do we harness the energy and passion of the few congregants like Chris, while respecting the fears and boundaries of the majority of passive congregants, and while maintaining an open and “seeker-friendly” environment for the visitor who is looking for God–or at least something different? i don’t know. so many books have been written by pastors of “breakout” churches and successful revival ministries, but i believe that the health of church ministries is really something that must be understood on a case-by-case basis, in the context of the history of the community and how it has evolved.
For CCH, i want to ponder a few issues in the years to come.
1) Do we give all congregants a discrete and accessible means for expressing their physical and spiritual needs?
2) Do we give members an equally accessible means by which they can practically address the needs of others in their community?
3) Do we have a system of some kind in place to recognize and train men and women with leadership gifts or callings?
4) In a general sense, do we have clear expectations for people in our congregation, in terms of behavior and theological inclinations?
5) In a specific sense, do we clearly embrace a mission that at least some of the congregation feels strongly invested in?
6) If not for the charisma of our head pastor, is there some other strong basis for community that would keep CCH together if he left us?
My journey in the church has been a strange one. For a long time I was cynical of the church; and then four years ago during a time of crisis I came to believe in its importance and mission; and now I feel compelled to serve the church in the most devoted way possible. My tendency is to simplify and to sanctify in the most severe and efficient of ways; but I recognize that such a tendency has no place in my attitude and service to the church. The body is like marriage. It takes not only love and wisdom but also profound understanding and patience; in fact, the latter two virtues might be most important in shepherding a flock.
I realize that I love CCH, in a way that i have never loved any community in my entire life. I want to see God do a new work in this church, a work of revival and growth, a work of testing and deepening, a work of transformation and jubilation. In this hope, I am filled with doubts. I look at the young, cynical, disengaged single men in our service and I think to myself, “They are what I was when I was 25.” the thought depresses me, because i know that no one could speak wisdom into my life when i was that age; it has taken all the failure and humblings of the last ten years to even bring me to the point where i can admit that i have no answers, none at all.
this is my starting point. how i long for the Spirit to simply baptize the congregation into a new heart, but this would be the stuff of selfish dreams and primitive imaginations. perhaps what i really want is to see a congregation that is able to worship God in one heart; a people who really understand how to identify with the brother in distress, the sister in misery, and live as one blood, one family, to the glory of Jesus Christ
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06.07.10

vis nova

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:46 am by Administrator
the last two weeks have been surreal.
God’s been talking to me. it’s not the short interruptive bursts of ruminative dialogue that i’m accustomed to. it’s been extended conversations, lasting up to hours. the conversations have taken many turns; they’ll start in a time of biblical meditation, meander through the internal dialogue of prayer, and consummate in a conversation with someone. i’ve been seeing Him everywhere; i’ve been hearing His voice in so many places. i’ve seen myself through His eyes and felt the range of His feelings toward me. i’ve felt His anger at my bondage; His frustration with my ignorance; His compassion for me in my struggles; and His joy at the inevitability of my liberation.
what can i say? every passing day takes me farther and farther away from the man that i was, and the groundwork laid over years is now all of a sudden bearing an incredible harvest of fruit. things i once found impossible are now a sudden reality. i no longer think of possibilities; i assure myself of certainties. i tell myself, if God is doing this, then God will do other things as well. i would make plans for myself, but then again, i recognize that i do not need them. as i have always wished, i have finally turned a corner in my walk. the thing in myself that i most hated is gone, gone forever. my narrative has been transformed, from one of bitterness, anger, and defeat into one of lofty expectations.
i feel pain. i feel joy. i remember that once i was a child who told God that nothing matters in life except for His pleasure in me. i am that child. i am the remnant of what went through the fire, of what stood in the face of His blinding radiance, and this thing that i am now, it is a lighter form. it suits me well.
i see myself and my world through new eyes. i am not afraid of you anymore. come to me, in your flaming chariot, and let us blaze the firmament of the sky as we gaze together upon this world we have conquered
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Posted in Uncategorized at 2:38 am by Administrator

Ah, today oh Lord. the day of all days. i give you thanks and praise for remembering me. God give me the strength to take every great gift i am given and delight in it, for your pleasure
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