March to May, 2010

05.20.10

Engagement Phase

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:20 pm by Administrator
my goal of course is to move past the anger phase as quickly as possible (without shortcuts) and get into the real business of life change.
the question is my overarching arc. the bible gives a few ideas:
1) Legacy: Noah, Abraham, and Joseph bonded with God on the foundation of a promise, essentially the promise of a legacy.
2) Justice: Moses, Esther, and some of the prophets found their life stories shaped by God’s imperative for specific and situational justice.
3) Conquest: Joshua, King David and the apostle Paul derived personal purpose from battle orders.
4) Revelation: Jonah, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and other prophets found their lives rooted in allegory; their lives were not defined by discrete achievements.
i imagine my life will fall into one of these patterns as well. at the very least, i could be a cautionary tale (category 4), though category 4 could be also demonstrated in prophetic revelation or a poignant personal testimony. categories 2 and 3 overlap and constitute the “heroic” story (i.e. missions to the unreached, curing disease, rescuing orphans, etc). category 1 in the new covenant wouldn’t be so much about lineage or posterity as much as sainthood or purposeful fame. obviously, there can be overlap between any or all of these categories.
if i could choose, i’d obviously choose a heroic calling. give me a great battle to fight, a cause to champion. i’ve entertained some ideas along these lines over my lifetime: educating inner-city minority children, helping HIV-infected people in Africa, and being a missionary to the unreached. who hasn’t? everyone–especially people in the church–at some point fantasizes about a heroic calling of some kind. then life sets in, along with disillusionment. some, like me, begin to see that the fundamental problems to be “fixed” are rooted in systems and processes, like corrupt governments, unethical business practices, systematic racism, and inconquerable disparities in wealth.
life has moved me away from the “heroic” callings; for whatever reason, i’ve become a cynic. my aspirations reflect this. i have little or no enthusiasm for overseas missions. i privately despair at the effect of Western charity on the sub-Saharan HIV epidemic. i muse over extreme solutions to inner-city and developing-world poverty, such as the legalization of the narcotics trade and socialist revolution.
now, i haven’t received any real vision of myself as a church leader or a man of global influence, so any pursuit of a legacy strikes me as farfetched and even vain.
that leaves category 4–revelation. i’m no prophet, and i don’t want to be a cautionary tale, so that means that my tool in this calling is my life experience, my testimony. my gifts will find meaning if i can take my life story, interpret it through the lens of God’s truth, and share it with others in such a manner that it encourages them to engage in genuine worship. i think that God has called me to be a story teller, and at the very least, the story i must tell others is my own.
in this regard, i must figure out a few things. what is my vessel for communication, and what is my target audience? in light of these answers, i can figure out what i should be doing with my day-to-day life in order to meet these needs.
i don’t know what the proper vessel is. personal conversations are fine, but obviously i’m ambitious for broader impact. on-line blogging is my most candid and immediate vessel, but it is incapable of conveying my overall arc, and as such it is really a false representation of myself. the personal essay would be truer to my story, but i can’t see anyone wanting to sign on a personal essayist who has no credentials or fame. fiction would reach the widest audience in the early going, but i’m untested as a fiction writer, and the work would require an incredible amount of personal investment. poetry and screenwriting are simply not options for me.
the way i see it, i’ll have to try my luck at fiction. i’ll have to give a first novel a good college try and see where it takes me. if i can get my foot in the door, then i see myself eventually transitioning to non-fiction, specifically op-ed, column writing, and essay publication. the content of the writing will eventually have to broaden in scope, from the personal spiritual journey to something of greater relevance, though i’ll have to take care to stop short of political commentary (which would be self-defeating). i imagine that the issue i’ll want to speak to eventually is culture, specifically church culture and quite possibly the church culture surrounding matters of sexuality.
for a long time, i’ve written abortively; i start stories that i don’t finish, i grow disenchanted with my own characters, and i design new ones for new purposes. the problem is an odd mix of narcissism and perfectionism, in that i begin to believe that the story i’m writing is too important to be written badly. obviously, that means that the story never gets written. what i’ve had to realize is that every writer really only is capable of writing his own story, even when he does so in the guise of fiction, and a writer must see both the comedic and the mundane in his own story in order to write it. any person who reads too much of import into his own life story will be an abortive writer. the writing will be preachy, if written at all.
i speculate that this is why a lot of authors peak early. frank herbert’s Dune was so good, and all of the sequels sucked. john irving’s Garp and Owen Meaney were amazing, and Son of the Circus and Widow were so boring that i could scarcely believe i was reading the same author.
it’s also the reason why successful ethnic writers write about their unique ethnicity-related struggles. Hosseini and Pamuk for instance have defined themselves by their representation of their own people. the genre caters to the voyeuristic fascinations of overcivilized Westerners. i think i’ve seen enough “i’m a poor foreigner and look how i suffer in my backwards society, boo hoo” fiction to recognize that this is a genre that will never grow old. quite obviously, i’m not interested in the cultural pseudo-porn.
i’ve got a lot of hang-ups about what i consider quality writing and what i don’t. for example, i’d consider myself a sell-out if i wrote a story about a korean-american’s ambivalent experience of “making it” in the United States (i.e. the nauseatingly bad “Free Food for Millionaires”) or about a North Korean boy’s perilous and colorful escape from a despotic regime to the paradise of Western democracy. if i gave into the cultural porn, i’d probably be both sell-out and selling out at the bookstores. again, not interested.
anyways, that’s all i can think of. if anyone has any ideas for my first novel, please let me know. there are of course no guarantees that i’ll even write the first page.
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05.19.10

Self-loathing, Contiguous Authenticity, and Community

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:07 pm by Administrator
i’m now in my “angry” phase. i was muttering non-stop profanity all morning, in the shower and in the car on the way to work. the angry phase helps me to emerge from the vegetative “victim” phase, in which i feel powerless and generally helpless about my condition. if my pattern holds true, then i’m going to move from my angry phase to my “engagement” phase; i’ll start doing new things, making distinct lifestyle changes, pursuing new hobbies, and experimenting in relationships. the last time i went through this process was two years ago, when i dove into church discipleship and acting classes. this time, i suspect it’ll be something different.
there is something different about this anger phase, in that i have come to the sudden realization that what i am most angry at is myself. when i’m disciplined, criticized, or injured, i’m always initially defensive; but invariably i see the irony in my defensiveness, because i know that i deserve the criticism. my pattern of vanity, self-justification, and self-righteousness has now become so familiar to me that it is positively nauseating. there is a part of me that has come to rejoice in my sufferings, because they are the means by which i put distance between what i was and what i am becoming. i believe in self-loathing. i believe in self-loathing because i feel loathsome, and i find spiritual truth in my self-loathing.
is this right? it doesn’t seem right. we live in a Gen X/Y culture of “self-esteem”. the very concept strikes me as both important and entirely irrelevant. i think that my ambivalence is rooted in my coincident beliefs that 1) one should be secure enough in one’s identity that he need not be subservient to the whims of others, and that 2) one has no reason to really think very highly of oneself. and i credit those beliefs to my understanding of Christian spirituality, as distorted as that understanding might be. i think that God loathes people, even as He loves them. the duality of his reaction to us is captured in the apostle Paul’s self-concept. Paul, after all, considered himself the “worst of all sinners”, and why not? he was a murderer, a liar, and the chief of hypocrites before his forcible conversion. Paul understood depravity because his depravity was exceptional.
everything i experience during my depression is a manifestation of self-hatred. my passive wishes for death, escape, or new life are all projections of a real desire for death, and my mind justifies it because it sees self-death as one of the core teachings of the Gospel, even as life is reconfigured as the supplanting of self by the divine “other”. yes, i hate myself. i want everything that i am–the obsessive overachiever, the coward, the selfish only child, the vain idealist, the anxious materialist–to perish. i want the memories of my troubled childhood and my angst-ridden early adulthood to perish with me. i want to be reborn as one who couldn’t give a fuck about this world, in its arbitrary organization, rules of living, designs on people, and pseudo-morals. i want to be supernatural–not this shell of a being that i am.
in this state of mind, i can understand how my disgust with my life–my job, my activities, my social persona–is both true and justified and yet not fundamental. the real issue underneath is that i’m coming to really understand my nature of sin. you see, my nature of sin does not consist in what i desire, whether it be greed, lust, or hunger. the nature of sin is that i am truly devoid of any real charm or beauty, and yet i cannot accept the fact that i am boring. it is only when one truly comes to the conclusion that he can no longer stand himself that he recognizes the power, beauty, and utter necessity of God–and not just God as a theoretical identity but God as the self-identity fulfilled.
Bryan and i got together a couple of days ago, and he mentioned this idea of “contiguous authenticity”, which i’ve never heard of before. essentially, Bryan wishes he lived in a situation in which his relationships, activities, and wanderings were all direct outgrowths of patent needs and wishes. West L.A. Koreans, by contrast, are like a herd of social animals, living lives of material imitation and accessorization that demonstrate no sincere connection to self or to others. i believe Marcuse would have termed this “alienation”–a derivation of the Marxist idea that people in capitalist society progressively lose an understanding of why they are working and what they are producing. Contiguous authenticity is a lifestyle in which one knows why he is alive and why he is living in a certain manner. contiguous authenticity is the antithesis of alienation.
i don’t think i can find contiguous authenticity until my life stops simply consisting of self-loathing and moves beyond, to self-redefinition. perhaps this process is already beginning. after all, i’ve graduated from the ridiculous notion that i can be properly understood as a doctor, as a college graduate, as a child of immigrants. these false identifiers reflect aspects of my life that have generated grief for me. i acknowledge that self-redefinition cannot be a maverick undertaking; to redefine myself, i must redefine my role in my community. to redefine my role in my community, i have to understand what sort of community i see myself in.
Community–what is that? is that people you hang with? a friend of mine who has acknowledged personal issues with co-dependency recently suggested that we hang out more, as if this could be of help to me in my struggles. i appreciated the gesture, even as i thought to myself that this is precisely what i don’t want. i don’t want to “hang with” people for the sake of forced stimulation or response. the idea of that seems not only painful, forced, and arbitrary but also ridiculous. community isn’t whom you “hang” with. community is one’s concept of self, projected onto one’s choice of relationships, interactions, and ambitions. the problem isn’t isolation or loneliness, and by the way i’m neither isolated nor lonely. the problem is the absence of self-understanding and revelation. people hang out with one another in all kinds of brainless and dumb ways, and that has to only aggravate the underlying tension. i for one couldn’t stand the idea of joining another drinking club; the idea of incessantly getting together to smoke, watch sports, drink, and shoot the shit makes me want to vomit. disgusting.
yeah, i don’t see myself as someone who just needs to pass the time. i see myself as someone who needs an enemy to kill, a beast to slay. i need a community at war, so that i can be its warrior; i need a community at risk of extinction, so that i can keep it alive. my society is full of self-satisfied and self-perpetuating suburban ideals, a steady flow of misinformation to package and explain away all the violence, sabotage, and injustice of the world at large. i want to violate that world. i want to find underneath that veneer the other people agitating against things. i want to identify with them; i want to find identity through them.
the problem as i see it is that i don’t see that in the church here. it’s an institution. like the nba, it’s where “amazing” is supposed to happen, except that it really doesn’t. i want and need the church to be at war because i need the church’s struggle to reflect my own. when i engage a spiritual community and find it without distinct imperative or mission, i progressively fall inert; i check out. i have discovered that i can only live when i’m struggling to survive; i live best when i’m fighting alongside others who are sharing that struggle.
for me, contiguous authenticity is war. after all, who lives a lie when he is constantly in battle? pastor sam found this observation quite strange a month ago, as he argued that the constant struggle to survive can mask or overwhelm the personality. perhaps this is true, unless you are a man like myself who is naturally conflicted and who enjoys conflict. i don’t crave physical combat, although in another life (and body) i would have wanted only to be a UFC champion. i crave holistic combat, the matching of my wits and best virtues against the forces that i consider evil in the world. my community must be my army. my life of authenticity must be my war.
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05.17.10

Taps

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:29 pm by Administrator
i woke up at 5 this morning to start my run but i felt totally exhausted. i thought about crawling back into bed after my morning coffee, but then i figured that wouldn’t be too much different from crawling under a blanket on the couch to finish watching “Taps” on AMC, so that’s what i did. i watched the entire movie, commercial breaks and all, and that’s how i started my week.
“Taps” and “Dead Poets’ Society” are two of my favorite movies of all time, and i like them for some of the same reasons. they’re distinctly American movies, as they pit the idealistic individual against the society that supposedly celebrates those very ideals. they create tragic heroes out of noble youths who feel betrayed by their families and their schools. Timothy Hutton and Robert Sean Leonard even look similar.
part of the reason that i love both of these movies is that they say so much without preaching anything. they cannot preach anything because they cannot justify the death of a child. ideology cannot beautify it; an epitaph cannot sublimate it. one is left with a conclusion that can only be considered austere: growing up is about recognizing the failure of an ideal. growing up in America is about losing oneself–but finding a way to survive that self-loss.
and in this respect, i am perhaps still an adolescent, though i feel that i am on the verge of adulthood. i was trying to explain it to Andrew on the phone last night, though i feel like i failed to render it properly. i am Cadet Major Brian Moreland. my world is Bunker Hill Academy, a schoolground gated in from the outside world, where i defend my honor with ceremonies, trumpets, and big words. more than being afraid of an invasion by the forces outside, i fear having to walk out of the gates and rediscover myself outside of them. honor has become more than an idea; it has become a way of life.
perhaps this is the reason for much of my recent speculation. Moreland never realizes what Bunker Hill means to him until he is forced to a point of violent confrontation; he ultimately makes the decision to release himself to the outside world, to discover what else there might be to his life. i face the very same decision. in a sense, i clamor for confrontation, because i do not know if the world within my walls is real, any more than i know whether the man i could become outside those gates is a happy one.
in my Bunker Hill, men don’t wear uniforms and parade with rifles. rather, men wear their hair long, eat locusts, and walk with God in that crazy sort of way. men like John the Baptist and Keith Green. outside the gates are people who get torn apart thinking about how they’re thought of, how they can leverage approval into prosperity and security. it’s an arbitrary gate, but it’s the one i grew up inside of, with my hands closed over those cold iron bars. yes, i could open those gates and surrender that fiction of the prophetic hero; i could give myself to the social order that i have disdained as “hegemony” and “hierarchy”. perhaps i could give them my heart, in the hopes that they’ll receive me; and then they would give me my heart back without judgment or prejudice, and i would find it packaged with bliss. it seems primitive after all to believe, in my heart of hearts, that the true religion can only be the one that everyone is afraid to believe, and that the true path is the one that everyone is trained to disdain. there must be goodness in the mortgaged life; otherwise, why would everyone be living it? and yet, this is precisely the reasoning that leaves me unsatisfied.
here i am. i should be more flexible, as Christian spirituality would seem to be bendable in any number of ways. i could take my religion and adapt it to any way of life that is expedient; i could mold my philosophy to meet the practical ends of survival. why not? at the end of the day, am i less of a man for choosing to prioritize my obligations and responsibilities? am i less of a man for doing what i’m told? but the tree has grown its own way; one cannot bend the trunk without breaking the roots. i seem fatefully designed to be a treasure hunter, or a nomad like my predecessors. i weave stories to replace the tales i inherited; i give my feelings a voice, instead of silencing them with imperatives; i maintain within myself two camps, each posed to vanquish the other if not for the tenuous hold of a truce. some people believe that the inner battle must be won by one or the other, before the outer war can be properly fought. i have always believed that there is only one war–the one inside.
agh, but weren’t we all fashioned to be different vessels? i’ve tried to be different. but i’m left romanticizing my own journey, because it’s all i have. for whatever silly reason, i did command my peers to lock the gates and take up arms; i was never ready to surrender my home. here i am, with my raised sword, listening not to the sirens or the bleating of the helicopters but rather to the sound of this trumpet, my trumpet, assuming that when Taps is done, i will have done right, and done it well
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05.13.10

College

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:58 pm by Administrator
while we were out yesterday (and it was a gorgeous day to be out in Pasadena), sandy and i talked a bit about a college education. i told her about a patient of mine, a grandmother of Mexican descent, who has very strong views about a proper education. the woman told me that she pities young Mexicans for their ingrained dismissal of higher education. she asserted that the young Mexican immigrants have no interest in getting an American education or a college degree; they only want a quick buck so that they can return to Mexico and “live well”. she told me that the Germans who control Mexico “behind the scenes” are able to maintain their consistent influence in that country because of the premium they place on their own education. their children and their children’s children stay in power because they derive power from their education.
the “knowledge is power” concept is nearly religion in America, and particularly among Asian-Americans. but i wonder at it. my conversation with my patient–a very sharp and witty individual–left a profound impression on me, particularly because i’d recently begun to entertain thoughts about whether or not my own college education had been of any worth to me. i think that she and i look at education as two different things: she looks at an education as a status conferred, while i look at education as knowledge gained. she might look at a degree as something worth the investment of four years of time and money, while i might contend that that the worth of that investment depends on its yield–and on its opportunity costs.
it’s easy for me to say now that if i could go back in time, i would have passed on my ivy league education. maybe i would have gotten my state school diploma, which they would have given me for two years of study along with a stipend to cover my living costs. with the hundred thousand dollars i would have saved and (more importantly) the other two years of my life, i think i would have done differently. maybe i would have learned how to ride a bike or build a house; maybe i would have travelled to Asia and learned the art of meditation; or perhaps i would have started a small-scale home business of my own. i speculate on these things, because my college years were filled with reading and writing, but in truth i learned very little about the world, outside of a few concepts and the jargon needed to connect those concepts in conversation. a directed reading list would have accomplished the same; in fact, i know that if isaac had no interest in medicine or engineering, then i could construct for him a reading list that could passably prepare him for any public responsibility he might later take on.
we must admit, it is a strange thing to have one’s entire childhood shaped by the expectation of an arbitrary experience. why is the purpose of high school (and every other formative experience of youth) simply to get into college? one might expect then that college is the sure basis for every success that might follow. perhaps in some countries, this is true. in Korea of two decades ago, for instance, a berth at Seoul National University virtually guaranteed a young man a powerful social network, a future job, and financial security. in present-day America, an Ivy League degree gives you nothing more than a leg up on the competition for an interview at an investment bank or at Harvard Law School. in no other way does a Harvard degree in itself mean anything, in the practical or imagined life.
i have ideas, and sandy disagrees with them. but i do not think that college should be an inevitability for my son isaac. i think that he should have the opportunity–the real opportunity–to choose not to go to college. he should have the right to take the money that could have been spent on his formal education and do something better with it, if he can think of a plan. a cost-benefit analysis of the college education could support such a paradigmatic shift, i believe. and if he can take the four most formative years of his life to find himself outside the box, then i wonder if he wouldn’t be better for it. it’s better for a man to take a risk, to do what others will not do. it gives him the kind of pride that cannot be bought with money.
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Los Secretos de Sus Ojos

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:48 am by Administrator
sandy and i caught a movie at our favorite independent release theater, called “Los Secretos de Sus Ojos”. it was startling, furiously intense, and powerful. quite simply, the movie struck me speechless.
i’ve seen a number of very good independent movies over the past four years, including a couple of Swedish films (”Lat Den Ratte Komma In, Dragon Tattoo), Cary Fukunaga’s “Sin Nombre”, and a slew of Brit realism movies (”Better Things”, “Fish Tank”). each movie succeeded in a unique way in creating palpable tension, genuine internal conflict–the stuff of real characters. some of the movies succeeded better than others in developing compelling arcs from these characters.
“Los Secretos” succeeded in creating real characters, and it also triumphed in developing a compelling story to interweave them. but campanella distinguished his film even further from the rest of the field by forcing this story through the fullest range of human feeling–rage, disgust, desperation, and love–in an effort to make the resolution not merely the answer to a question but rather the fulfillment of a longing. “Los Secretos” is not just a passing fancy; it is veritably a profound human experience. and in the pivotal love relationship between the protagonists, one can recognize by the end that this love is neither trivial nor easy but as actualized as a story can make a romance.
told from one angle, the human life is a story of successes and failures, some of which are defining, others of which are forgotten. but Esposito gets it right, in one line among many very great lines, when he reclaims the story of his life and rejects the fatalist’s conclusion. “it was like another lifetime,” he says. “except that it is not. it is this one.” (I paraphrase)
like Esposito, the criminal investigator who seemed to find and then lose justice, love, and happiness, i am also the man shaped by memory. like Esposito, i might be tempted to define myself by a case that was never closed, a tragedy that was never explained. but the story of “Los Secretos” is this: one chooses what defines him. a man for instance might be traumatized by the loss of a loved one, but he will choose to define himself by the thing that he uses to move on, as with Ricardo. i have so many things to choose from, and i could root my story in any one of these things, even as i could choose to dismiss the inconvenient truths. i can define myself as the great American success story–the man who passed every test and came out on the other side, disillusioned but empowered. i can define myself as the religious child who had to leave a child’s religion behind in order to become a man, only to rediscover religion as a man so as to explain his childhood. i can be anything: the patients i lost, the mistakes i’ve made, the people who’ve hated me, the women i have loved, the things that i’ve accomplished.
Esposito chose to be the man still pursuing the love of his life, the romance of twenty-five years.
what do i choose? what is the secret in my eyes? when i tell my tale, which of a million possible story lines will come to mind? perhaps this is the question every man must come to, at some point in his wandering. every man must put the spin on his story, so that he can deliver himself unto the world and his posterity, to make wisdom out of his pain and to content himself with the years that he has lost and will never have again.
i think that i will be the writer. i am the 5th grader whom Ms. Sindelar gave a B minus in “self expression” for my monotonous presentations. i am the one who lagged in reading comprehension, because i wasn’t white. i’m the one who went to summer writing courses because i was handicapped in language, a math nerd who lacked creativity and suffered from a primitive range of vocabulary. my dad quizzed me relentlessly on SAT words; i read the New Yorker out of obligation; i pored over essays of worth, simply to probe their structure and their style. i imitated poetry like a man pretending to speak in tongues. i bent my own sentences and rewrote them dozens of times, not only to stretch my syntactical boundaries but also to destroy the internal order that prevented me from truly expressing myself.
in the process of becoming a writer, i became a cynic, a miscreant, a lover of lies. i told stories because i became dissatisfied with the recollection of reality. i did not realize then that by falling in love with words, i was falling in love with a process of re-creation, by which i experienced spiritual recreation. and now, i cannot be content with anyone else’s stories; i must tell them anew. i must tell them my way.
the secret of my eyes. you see a man with a job, a wife, a child, and a mortgage to pay. i see differently; i see the figment of my imagination and everything it appropriates–memories, relationships, ideas. i see the reality as the thing yet to come, the thing that will remain when my imagined life writes a record of itself, the thing that i will leave behind when it can travel with me no longer
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05.10.10

Because of Me

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:09 pm by Administrator
it has been a hard, hard stretch since January, and i don’t know if i’m wiser for it. but i do think i’m finally emerging from it with some sense of direction. i credit God for that. and i’m thankful for a conversation with my brother Dan Park last night as well.
since January, a number of things have transpired. i was written up in December for making a last-minute schedule change. i failed dismally at my second marathon in March. i lost a patient and may be facing a lawsuit. i’ve lapsed back into not only porn addiction but also a video gaming addiction. i had a famously good time emceeing my church talent show night but then had to come down from that high, which crushed my spirits. amidst all of this, i’ve faced renewed criticisms from my wife and her family about how i am being an inattentive father. overall, i’ve been reexperiencing a profound sense of failure, akin to what i suffered three years ago in Baltimore. moreover, i’ve been receiving a lot of feedback on my particular approach to scriptural interpretation, much of which has made me question whether my spirituality is frankly self-delusional. in some respects, i have been at an all-time low. i’ve reentered a dark phase of passive death wishes and escapist fantasies.
i hit the road at 5:30 on Sunday morning for my customary weekly long run. usually i’m brimming with enthusiasm and anxiety at the start of the run, but yesterday was different. i was thoroughly demoralized. in fact, at mile 3, i thought about stopping and just turning back. but i’ve never turned back; so i just kept going. there’s a sustained 200-foot uphill between miles 4 and 6, which used to be a make-or-break portion of my course, and generally it’s the low point of my run. yesterday, it’s where God met me.
remember Job, God said. so i thought of job, who once called out to God, saying “I loathe my very life…. does it please you to oppress me?” i thought of Job, whom God deprived of every joy in life in the midst of a seeming game with his nemesis, the Devil. after Job had seen his children die, after Job had lost every vestige of prosperity and dignity, i would think that God would come to restore him with words of encouragement and mercy. instead, God confronts Job with indignation. “Who are you to accuse me?” He challenges Job, in so many words (and there are many words). “Know who I am”, He compels Job.
and Job, covered in boils and alone in his shame, receives God.
i’ve written about the strangeness of this interaction before. it is one of the two oddest moments in the Bible for me. Job could have been goaded into an indignation that equaled God’s; yet Job is utterly satisfied with God’s forceful response. In fact, Job is immediately transformed, satisfied even with his own incomprehensibly desolate situation. “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job declares, satisfied then to say no more.
Is it that God pummeled Job into meek submission, thus redirecting Job’s anguish toward sorrowful repentance? with time, i think such an interpretation is inconsistent with the nature of God. on the contrary, i believe that God in his monologue issued to Job the only thing that could possibly comfort Job; God gave Job nothing short of a revelation of Himself. “This is who I am,” God told Job. and Job realized that the pains of his life were worthwhile, if only to give him this chance to look upon the presence of God. Job did not need kind words or encouragement; in fact, he needed to know that his God was powerful, worthy, and holy, because his identity was staked on this very thing. when God defended Himself and justified Himself before Job, Job himself was justified.
i often wonder at human suffering, even when i myself am not intensely suffering. i know that God can be glorified through our suffering, but the difference between appreciating this logic and really apprehending this as truth is considerable. but it is a remarkable thing to look at Scripture and recognize that the biblical story is full of men who endured extreme suffering and failure–but whose prize in this suffering was a genuine knowledge of God. everything has a price: not only salvation, but also real wisdom. God disciplines those He loves. even Peter, his friend, who promised never to betray Him; God had to subject Peter to the worst failure of all, so that in eating his own words and suffering the worst pain of betrayal, Peter might become the rock for all those who would claim to know Christ.
Dan Park called me last night, and we ended up talking for hours. he told me about his brother’s friend, who two weeks ago was cut off on the highway and ran his car off a cliff, suffering a cervical spine transection and instant quadriplegia. this was a “good man”, as Dan described him, a father of two boys and a good husband, actively involved in his church and a leader for Habitat for Humanity. now, he will never again ride a bike, or hike a mountain, or throw his children in the air; he will need other people to scratch his itches and move his body to prevent bedsores from developing.
like me, Dan has been in his own private hell, but when he heard of this tragedy, he could only wonder at the strangeness of his own attitudes. it forced upon me the very same reflection; how odd it is that i ruminate on pains that can be so instantly marginalized. and yet, the question still begs to be asked: what will become of this man, and all those like him, who have been crushed by God?
Job, like every humiliated, tortured, and martyred hero in the bible, proved just one truth, that i continually struggle to grasp. all of life–all of its trials, hurts, and clamoring–means nothing but for one thing: to illuminate the identity of God. “your living, your suffering, your dreaming, it all exists because of me,” God says, through the story of creation. “it exists, that you may know who I am. because if you know me, then you can love me; if you love me, then you will receive me. it can be no other way.”
had you run beside me yesterday, you would have at times heard me talking to myself, at other times farting, at other times even laughing. my run was very hard; it was a spiritual battle at every turn. but when i faced my last 250-foot climb at mile 16, i knew beyond a shred of doubt that the God that i believe in is worth persevering for. the ugliness i experience illuminates His beauty; the pain, however illogical and extreme as it often appears, somehow proves His goodness. i am the template, and upon this template He is imprinting a miracle. that is all i am, for these short years on earth. whether i am a success or failure in the eyes of any who might judge me, i exist in this trivial existence just for a time, and just for a single purpose: that God might be known through my suffering, my death, and my resurrection.
why all this pain, in life? why the struggle for sanity, for pleasure, and for love? “Because of Me,” He says. Because of me.
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05.07.10

third-person

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:57 pm by Administrator
you’ve lost the power of first-person perspective. so i am here. call me the rational interposition. or call me God. i don’t care. but i am your tool. i’ll use you to learn, as you’ll use me to survive. together, we’ll pull each other out.
your concern is not failing anyone. my concern is winning. if you live with a fear of failure, then you’ve already lost. and if your system of beliefs gives you no chance to win, then i will attack your beliefs. if your society gives you no chance to win, then i will attack your society. one way or the other, i will win; and if i have to drag you across the finish line, i will do it. i will gag your whining mouth, i will hood your pouty face, and i will chain you to the wagon. i am the part of you that does not lose. you will listen.
you’ve come a long way, remember. you were a greenhouse flower, once. everything was handed to you; everything was structured. you figured out that the rules were arbitrary. good! even the idiots know this, and shudder. suckers and losers bewail a world without meaning and trudge through it with self-pity. does this change anything about their existence? does it add an hour to their lives? you’ve gotten to a truth, but now the truth has stagnated and become for you a lie.
what does the gambler do when he recognizes that the odds are with the house? he can stop playing; or he can make the big bet when the time is right. what does the cornered man do when he is outnumbered by his foes? he can surrender; or he can fight with abandon, so that someone will pay the price.
you want to make a splash out of impulse. i say, be both smart and determined about the move that you make. blame no one for what has happened. and don’t seek destiny, that foul fiction. you make your own fate with the decisions that you make. if this is the game of games, then you must decide what the prize really is–and do what has to be done to win it. there are no ethics in this game. cheat, lie, or steal, you must take it from life, because life will not give it to you. life crouches at your door; you must master it, or it will destroy you.
and i know your prize even before you are willing to admit it. you want to fall in love, and stay in love. beyond the concept, i cannot fathom the specifics. that’s on you, the dreamer, to decide. but love is what you’re after, the very intoxicating, overwhelming, and consuming love. love that encompasses everything from the sexual to the ideological. you want to find it in someone and in something. what does that mean? you have to figure it out. you have to find where that treasure is. you have to buy that field, and not only that but you must build a fortress upon that field, walls too high for any thief to scale, towers too strong for any army to conquer.
i tell you, you weak and forlorn thing, sometimes i disdain you, but i understand you all the same. the disdain is irrelevant. the understanding is what matters. we must go from here. come, stand up and show me the way. you are the eyes, after all, and i’m blind without you. you must show me where to go, so that i–your hand of destruction, your voice of judgment–might go before you and destroy whatever stands in our way. i say that we are one and the same. does this not please you?
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05.06.10

Going further

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:18 pm by Administrator
Indeed, I’ve been blogging daily for the past week, in a concerted effort to stay afloat despite my latest spell of depression. i find that the writing is my primary therapeutic tool; it helps me to catharse, get in touch with my feelings, and recognize what is at the root of my pain. as always, i’m struggling, but the blogs give me a trajectory for my struggle, a sense that my life is moving in a direction.
yesterday’s entry did tap into something real and previously unexplored, i think. yes, i am a “feeler”; i can’t process any other way. but the deeper insight is that i’m a feeler who’s always tried to be a thinker–or at least to masquerade as one. and this is a microcosm of my bigger struggle in life. i’ve always tried to be what i am not.
there are three people in this world that i think i would rather be. now, this is not something i’ve previously admitted to myself, as i’ve always prided myself on being self-sufficient. the fact of the matter is that i’ve never been really very satisfied with who i am, and with time i’ve come to recognize that this dissatisfaction is what has driven me into the problematic attitudes that i have embraced. let’s explore the three people i secretly envy and figure out what it is that each man represents:
1) Andrew Lam: Andrew Lam is the son my mom and dad always wish they could have had. Andrew is practical, grounded, ambitious, good-natured, and persistent. When he gets into trouble, it’s because he cares too much; he rarely commits crimes of inattention. but i don’t envy Andrew because i miss the approval of my parents; i envy Andrew because i believe that he has the capacity to feel happy about himself. he is a concrete thinker who can honestly assess himself and correct the tendencies that he’s uncomfortable with. he can recognize areas in his life that he wants to improve and make plans to remedy those. he is thoroughly self-controlled. for me, this is a cardinal virtue, and it is one i have always lacked, because of my inherently impulsive and wandering nature. i wish i could be like Andrew because i hate my own instabilities.
2) Carl Park: Carl is whole. he is consummately well-adapted to a very strange world. he is both spiritual and worldly and demonstrates no internal tension despite his complexity. in short, he reflects within himself a seemless integration of the very aspects that have caused me self-disruptive conflict. as a result, i believe that Carl, like Andrew, can be a builder; i on the other hand am best suited for tearing things down. in seven years of talking with Carl about Christian spirituality, i have observed that Carl can acknowledge real struggle without feeling emotionally beholden to it, because he does not feel threatened by the gaps in his own understanding. in contrast, i have been considerably disillusioned by my incessant struggle against the rules that i cannot comprehend or agree with; my spirituality has not brought me fulfillment.
3) David Park: It is funny to realize that I have secretly envied David all these years, mainly because for a long time I considered him a failure. During our time together in college, David couldn’t get his act together; he couldn’t wake up for his exams, he couldn’t stay awake while he was taking exams, he couldn’t keep deadlines, and he couldn’t avoid falling asleep in the wrong person’s bed. David is a different man now; he has all of his old virtues plus a lot of real wisdom. What I’ve envied about David is his consummate rationality; once he was able to tap into his tremendous EQ and his analytical capacity, his wasted years in college were irrelevant. he has been a success and a leader in every venture he has since taken, and there isn’t a place he’s gone where he hasn’t been recognized for his incredible talent. i was the better student, because theories interested me; but David is the better worker/partner/manager/leader in real life, because of his calculating mind. in light of this quality, i feel mercurial, irrelevant, and weak. my big words and lofty ideals cannot impact communities in the way that his pragmatism and interpersonal insight allows him to do easily.
Two of these three men were in my wedding party, and i think it’s only natural for me to acknowledge why i respect them so much. the real question to me now is not how i can become more like them, but what i must do to let go of the ingrained impulse to be like them. i must figure out my place in the world, despite the imperfections and limitations of my nature.
it may help for me to polarize myself. if indeed i am built to be marginal, artistic, creative, and iconoclastic, then perhaps i will never escape my incessant self-loathing until i put myself in a position where those qualities actually become assets to me. i feel mediocre and unchallenged as a physician because my struggle is constantly to stay “within the lines”. i want to be in a situation where it is ok for me to criticize, attack, tear down, and dream of better ways of living and doing things. in a former era, i would have been che guevara or leon trotsky; i would have fought governments and marched for Civil Rights. but instead, i’ve been trying my whole life to fit a mold that doesn’t suit me, and i’ve been suffocating inside this mold. i’ve been trying to be Andrew Lam, Carl Park, and David Park, when, for better or worse, i’ll never be anything but what i am right now.
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05.05.10

Being Shaped by Suffering

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:54 pm by Administrator
danny chai believes that my theology and my rationality are determined by my emotions; my feelings dictate my beliefs on most issues. it’s an interesting observation, as won ho (who’s known me in a broader context) would tend to agree. in fact, won ho often assumes early in any argument with me that i cannot and will not be dissuaded from my position, simply because i tend to unfairly polarize our positions in such a manner that fair discussion is impossible. danny concludes from his observations that i can never be dissuaded from my opinions, as i will fail to appreciate any logical entreaty to the contrary.
accepting my inherent irrationality and emotionality has been a process for me. once upon a time, being accused of logical inconsistency and irrationality was very loathsome to me. now, i recognize that i am truly built around my passions. i’ve often tried to pretend that i was something different, but this seems increasingly unnecessary to me as time goes on.
admitting that i am prone to emotional judgments and sweeping generalizations has helped me to modify my behavior toward my wife, whom i used to pummel in verbal debate over the first two years of our marriage. now, in the midst of any argument, i am able to recognize when my feelings are “getting the better of me” (which is almost always) and when my words in fact do not really reflect what i believe about her or about our relationship. it’s made it easier for me to diffuse my passion and also to make sincere and appropriate apologies about what exactly i’ve said. yes, i’m stubborn and emotional; yes, that aspect of me probably will not change; no, it does not have to be a fatal flaw in my relationships.
but i will also contend that being an “F” individual in the Myers-Briggs scheme of the world is not necessarily disabling. while it does predispose me to vacillating judgment, unfair accusation, impulsive behavior, and bullying argumentation, it also enables me to empathize–to see every issue from viewpoints other than my own. because i am unprincipled (meaning that i do not base my identity or attitudes on any particular principles), i have no logical barriers to changing my mind on just about anything. invariably, my beliefs grow out of my relationships; my convictions arise from my personal experiences and my experience of other people’s lives.
i can admit that my theorizing and theologizing on the matter of homosexuality in the church is very much derived from an intuitive belief that homosexuality is no more wrong than heterosexuality. where did this intuition come from? not from Scripture, i’ll admit. and not purely from conscience either, as conscience is molded by experience. it’s rooted in relationships. a lesbian girl and a bisexual boy that i befriended in high school. a gay man that i once considered a close friend and even a mentor in the faith. a friend in my residency program who came out only after many years of hiding behind the veneer of other heterosexual relationships. innumerable patients with HIV, a couple of whom i consider very wise for what they have experienced in lives shaped by the condemnation, threats, and hatred of others.
“love the sinner, hate the sin”? i hate the phrase. because it undercuts how strongly some sinners identify with their “sin”. it seems like an excuse for exclusion, or a loophole that can be exploited for self-palliation.
there are many other people who’ve shaped me over the years: drug dealers, drug addicts, anorexics, depressives, dying people, angry people. i credit my profession for exposing me to some of the real suffering in the world. their experiences–thousands of them–have become a part of my own. might i give these experiences greater credence than Scripture itself? this is the question many people want to ask me, because they believe that they know the answer. i don’t believe that these experiences will ever violate the truth in Scripture. i believe that the Scripture itself encapsulates authentic human experiences. they’re all to be measured through the same lens. but even this is a conclusion i draw based on intuition.
i’ll make no excuse for it. right or wrong, it just is. i’ll continue to write on these issues simply because i believe in my viewpoint and i’ll continue to be irked/offended/insulted by the counteravailing views. what can i say? i take the issue of homosexuality personally, because my viewpoint on homosexuality is derived from real relationships with homosexual people. can i be dissuaded from my viewpoint? sure i can. my story and my emotional makeup prove that i am malleable. but i’ll concede that argumentation will never convince me to the otherwise. it would take a new personal relationship to convey to me a new truth. outside of this, i cannot see myself going against twenty years of lessons i’ve learned from the gay people that i love.

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:49 pm by Administrator

my mom wrote me this morning, in response to yesterday’s blog post. she wrote, “Happiness is our choice. We choose to live happily, not according to our circumstances.”
her comment reminded me of what Pastor Sam told me several weeks ago, that i must start to question my habitual distinction between “choice” and “calling”. they might very well be the same, he contended.
i wonder if it’s a generational thing. my older patients are typically resistant to the idea of taking antidepressants; they hate the idea of getting “hooked” or “not hacking it”. i think it’s because my older patients see their state of being as volitional, in that they’re responsible for their own well-being. my younger patients are much different. Even the ones who don’t like taking medicine raise the objection not because they’re afraid of drugs but rather because they are suspicious of authority. they are definitely willing to take any and every dietary supplement out there that can make them stronger, happier, or smarter, because they believe that there is little that effort alone can do to fundamentally alter their genetic constitution.
perhaps the generational difference in the nature of will is rooted in history? when it comes to Koreans in America, perhaps there is a case to be made. my parents’ generation grew up in an era of massive social upheaval, in which war and political revolution entirely transformed society in a matter of a few years. the consequences were destructive and profound. the weak-minded and the sick had no chance to survive; only those who pressed forward by sheer force of will could escape poverty and overcome the hurdles to their survival. ask any Korean-American over the age of 50 (or perhaps any of their contemporaries of different ethnicities). they will tell you that they have little sympathy for criminals, miscreants, social outcasts, and the homeless. these elements suffer because they lacked the will to make something better of themselves. more important than inherent talent, intelligence, or virtue is ambition; conceding defeat or asking for a handout is simply an incomprehensible humiliation.
Korean-Americans of my generation see it a bit differently. we didn’t grow up amidst social upheaval, facing daily challenges to our health and sanity. we grew up in relative prosperity but faced with the fairly stark contrast of the relative poverty of people of other ethnic minorities. we came to understand a world in which the color of skin conferred social and economic status; not only that, but the location of one’s domicile conferred certain educational and social entitlements. the 80s established not only the suburban elite but also the ethnic/social elite of America as well. Korean-Americans, because of the timing and nature of their immigration wave, were able to gain traction on a higher rung of this elaborate social ladder. their children felt “determined” by the achievement of their parents. success was handed to them, as a veritable entitlement.
volition is problematic to the Gen Xer because we have yet to witness any real change come out of activism of any kind. more fundamentally, we have seen our own lives evolve in a pattern well-recognized and even mocked by the popular media; our success is not unforeseen success, our failure is not inconceivable failure, and our lives are not potent or inherently meaningful. we conform to a pattern, so to speak, and even in our protests we feel like mere outgrowths of our milieu. ideology is passe, because it doesn’t change anything.
so back to the original question. is happiness my choice? i understand what my mom means, and yet there is a chasm of time and culture between us that makes the statement almost impossible for me to apply. how do i choose happiness? do i talk to myself and try to convince myself that eating this delicious apple in front of me is more pleasurable than it really is? do i turn on the television news and bewail the plight of the Iraqis, henceforth taking a private joy in the fact that i do not live in a war-zone? i suppose that embracing “relative happiness” is a choice; one can always choose to be happy in the fact that he is in a “better” situation than someone else. but such a happiness is not inherently derived. obviously, it must be built upon the relative misfortune of another. if there is another happiness that can be chosen, aside from the chemically-induced happiness of an acid high, i don’t know of it.
Happiness for me is not a choice; it’s a reflection of an interaction between myself and my world. i can alter that interaction, either by altering myself, altering my world, or altering the manner in which i intersect with the world. whether happiness comes out of that is entirely unpredictable. Gen Xers don’t place much stock in any particular experience or setting, because they know that the experience or the setting can get old. they’ve dispensed with the idea of happiness as stability or prosperity; they’ve mysticized it so to speak. if you look too hard for it, it escapes; but if you create a proper context for it, then it may come to visit, much like the bird who alights upon the feeder that you have crafted upon your deck, which you look upon but only occasionally, for fear of jinxing yourself in the endeavor. Happiness is the result, and life is the process. if happiness does not result, then the process has been wrong. the process will continue to be wrong until happiness results. this is the mechanism. this is why we, the lost generation, keep changing jobs, wives, countries, churches, and everything else. we are looking for the process that yields results. we are looking for real happiness
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05.03.10

The Good Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:04 pm by Administrator
i always wonder what the “good life” is. in this way, i’m like the rest of Gen X. we’re still trying to figure out what “good” really means. the traditionalists perhaps considered good equivalent to honorable; the Boomers equated good with ideal; the Gen Xers want to subjectivize “good” and thus make it knowable; i can only postulate that the Gen Yers might occasionally scoff at “good” as a derivative of “bad”.
it’s more than a theoretical question, of course. i’m thirty-four. sometimes i can’t believe it! life just raced by. i can still remember what it was like for me as an adolescent, seeing my whole life in front of me and fearing that potential for failure. if anything, perhaps i’m relieved by the passage of time, by how effortless it was; whether or not my life comes to anything, at least it will not linger in any particular suffering for so long. but it is funny that for all intents, i do consider myself still very young, as young as i was at 18. and if age is marked by a sense of establishment or stability, then i might be young for many more years. the idea of settling into myself still seems impossible.
nevertheless, i’ve always had a vague concept of the good life, if for nothing else than to promise myself that my labors are not in vain. when i was in high school, the good life was the idea of never having to be evaluated again. in college, the good life struck me as a life of veritable achievement. in my mid 20s, i became disenchanted with the idea of an accomplished life, as much of my 20s were mired in droll schooling and indoctrination. most recently, my early 30s have found me thinking of the good life as artistic escape, total freedom of creativity, influence without accountability.
the weird thing about the good life is that i don’t know anyone who’s lived the good life. my parents have been the strongest proponents of some real concept of the “good life”, as all parents probably are. but they don’t live the good life, at least according to them. i don’t think they even know anyone whom they’ve ever considered as having the good life. there was never a point at which they pointed at some guy on the street and said, “look Scott, that right there is the good life!” sometimes, the strangeness of the concept strikes me hardest when my mom tells me that i’m having the good life. my reaction is one of utter disbelief, then nearly sardonic humor. this is the good life?
in this world of facebook quizzes, personality tests, and mantras for success, it seems only natural that i’ve had innumerable conversations with all my friends about what’s most important in life and what makes us most happy. a list of our collective responses, with some caveats, might read as follows:
1) A happy marriage–defined as a marriage with someone who is compatible, understanding, and supportive
2) Good health
3) A good job–defined as a job that is reasonably enjoyable and not terribly invasive into one’s personal life
4) Money–not necessarily the more the better, but almost
What’s interesting about this list is that it’s fairly humdrum. The list doesn’t include millions of bucks, exotic vacations, or preternatural success. But when I turn that list into a picture of life, it doesn’t really strike me as “the good life”. it strikes me as “a good life”. the difference in modifiers is quite obviously everything.
sometimes i look at the Bible to find my paragon for living and am a bit shocked by what i find. abraham was a perpetual nomad. moses was a humiliated murderer. david was betrayed by his own son and then indicted as a murderer by his own prophet. solomon was crushingly depressed. jesus was betrayed, tortured, and crucified, as were his apostles. there’s only one guy in the Bible who seemed to live a pleasurable life (from what i can tell) and that was Enoch. of course, almost nothing is written about Enoch, except that he walked with God and he never died.
maybe there is no such thing as “the good life”. perhaps, it is the fable that inspires us to slave at our jobs, save money, dream of retirement, and goad our children into the same structure of living. perhaps, it is the fiction that keeps life organized and gives it trajectory, that we may abide in the illusion that we are getting closer and closer to the happiness we have yet to experience. it is a good illusion, the good life. it gives purpose to difficult days, and it convinces us that our “best days” are ahead of us, when indeed this may be false.
maybe, on the other hand, there is such thing as “the good life”. come to think of it, my 3-year old son is living the good life. his life is filled with games, even when no one is playing games with him. the bottom two steps of our staircase are full of endless possibilities; the space between the couch and the den table is a chasm that he leaps across with ferocious heroism; the mess of toys on his bedroom floor is a universe of personalities, waiting for him to give it life every morning. i do believe that my son is living the good life right now; and i conjecture that in fact these are his best years, while mine passed a long time ago. he has his imagination without rules, responsibilities, or restrictions. i have never met anyone in my life so free to be happy.
if i could unlearn everything and take myself back to the prime of my life, i think 3 years old would be a good place to begin. i remember those photos of myself, my head on my mother’s shoulder, my face lit up with glee as i rode in my red toy car next to my beaming father. in my thirty-four years of living, i have yet to discover why growing up was such a good idea. that it was necessary does not mitigate its tragedy. we have all tasted Eden, only to be thrust out into the world of hard earth and painful things. we have all left the good life behind. we love our children, because for a short while, they help us to remember that once upon a time, we were truly happy
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05.02.10

My Plans

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:52 pm by Administrator
it’s one of those mornings. i know what i want.
quit my job, sell the house and the cars. get on a plane and go somewhere strange. take a job just to learn the language. learn how to ride a bike. abandon television, the internet, and fossil-fuel consuming technology. seek community out of need, and find it. read and write. learn something new every day. and then, just when it begins to seem familiar, leave and start again.
my life is two things: a form of myself, a prison for myself. another way of looking at it: it is the one thing i create–but concede to others to shape. sometimes, i want it back. sometimes, i want it in the way that i can only want something precious that i am about to lose.
my life is many things, and i want it back–all of it. somewhere along the way i lost myself; and i am beginning the journey to find it again
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04.29.10

Even more on homosexuality

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:43 pm by Administrator
no one ever comments on my posts about homosexuality. i think it’s because the issue is so difficult to grapple with, and a lot of christians would prefer to back off and retreat from the rhetoric, which they often find heated and overblown. however, the issue is only gaining steam in the broader social discourse (i.e. jennifer knapp, deborah mell), and it is growing increasingly imperative that a believer not only knows where he stands but is also capable of justifying that stance. the seekers demand it; the church demands it.

that’s jennifer knapp, a christian music artist who mysteriously went “dark” for many years before recently coming back into the public spotlight recently with a disclosure about her lesbian identity and a same-sex relationship in her life. a san diego pastor Bob Botsford blogged about his disagreement with her manner of dealing with what he considered “unrepentant sin”, and the two of them went on Larry King Live last week to discuss their differences of opinion–a dialogue that was wrought with tension and ended ultimately on a fairly sour note.
paralleling this controversy, for the past two months, i’ve been in fairly intense dialogue with two friends in ministry whom i respect a great deal: Won Ho Kim (Westminster-trained PCA pastor) and Carl Park (Trinity-educated Ph.D. candidate). our dialogue has been mainly focused on the hermaneutics of the Reformed theological tradition, though homosexuality in the church has been a prominent issue. they are in basic agreement with each other, though they have not been privy to each other’s communications; and their disagreement with me appears to have common aspects.
the reason i make a connection between my dialogues on homosexuality and jennifer knapp’s situation is that i see very similar points of contention in both exchanges. i might summarize them in the following questions:
1) What was the apostle Paul’s concept of “arsenokoites”?
2) In general, how are the apostle Paul’s instructions on moral behavior to be applied by contemporary believers?
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The first question is difficult to answer, for several reasons that can probably be acknowledged by most scholars on both sides of the question. Firstly, “arsenokoites” is a Pauline neologism; as far as we can discern, the term was not used in his day, and it was not the typical term used to describe the most visible homosexual practice of his time (which was paiderasste). It does appear that the neologism is a fusion of the two terms “arseno” (man) and “koiten” (bed), used in Leviticus to specifically condemn the practice of men having intercourse with each other. In biblical times, this was a sin punishable by death.
Most contemporary Jewish scholars believe that the Leviticus law does refer to male homosexual intercourse of any kind, though they differ on whether this law continues to apply to them in current society. The rift within the Jewish-American scholastic community on this issue appeared to develop in the 1960s and 1970s, when cultural conceptions of homosexuality as a choice began to change. Increasingly, the community accepted the idea of homosexuality as an innate nature, distinguishing homosexuality as preference from homosexuality as sexual behavior. Within this cultural movement, Reformed Jews questioned whether even homosexuality as sexual behavior constituted sin, as this attitude did not appear consistent with a general approach to Talmudic law that upheld human dignity. The influence of the genocidal experience of the Holocaust cannot be underestimated in this. Currently, Jews of the Conservative and Reformed camps uphold the sanctity of gay union, in contrast to Orthodox Jews.
The debate on “arsenokoites” within Evangelical Christian circles has not evolved to the same degree, mainly because there are some who argue that Paul’s neologism is not meant to be a direct reference to the Leviticus injunction. Even among those who do make the connection, there are some who suggest that Paul’s deliberate semantic modification was meant to point to a contemporary cultural manifestation of same-sex behavior that was not necessarily connoted by the O.T. reference.
The nature of this contemporary manifestation may be difficult to discern. It is probable that Paul observed little (if any) of a gay subculture within Jewish society, given the strong bias against such behavior. On the other hand, Paul undoubtedly appreciated a Greco-Roman cultural paradigm that philosophically justified the practice of pederasty (the sexualization of adolescent boys by older male partners). Highly visible gay marriages among the Roman elite as well as the homosexual rape of slaves were a part of this cultural phenomenon as well. Gay life was a highly visible and very specific subculture in the 1st century, one which rapidly evolved over subsequent centuries as a cultural backlash against open homosexuality gained traction, ultimately culminating in the Byzantine authorization of the capital punishment of gays.
Did Paul create the term “arsenokoites” to indict all male homosexual behavior, or did he coin the term to address the specific phenomenon that would have been well-known to his readership?
Romans 1 is relevant to this question. In this passage, Paul distinguishes between “natural” and “unnatural” sexual relations, clearly defining same-sex intercourse as both unnatural and shameful. It is important however to note two things that contextualize this discussion. First, he indicts homosexuality within a broader critique of human sexuality in general. Second, he closes the discussion with the conclusion that no one “has the right to judge”, given the universal experience of depravity. It is true that one might argue that Paul’s point was to specifically indict homosexuality as an unacceptable manifestation of sexuality; but in the context of Paul’s culture, it might also be sensible to suggest that Paul’s intent was to emphasize that homosexuality was not morally and aesthetically superior to heterosexuality, as was suggested by the Greco-Roman paradigm of his day.
Paul’s subsequent references to “malakos” and “arsenokoites” in his letters to the Corinthians and to Timothy are few in number and no more specific in their content. “Arsenokoites” is placed in a list of offenses committed by those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, but the offense is not further defined. These references don’t clarify the true nature of the concept Paul was referring to, nor do they eludicate what Paul’s attitude would be to a 21st century “homosexuality” (also a relatively recent neologism, as of the 19th century), one not necessarily defined by rape, a power differential between partners, or overt connotations of self-idolatry.
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The second question is, of course, the more fundamental issue and no less controversial. Among many recent and forceful arguments questioning the true authorship of Paul’s epistles, the origins and evolution of the biblical “canon”, and the authority of Paul’s ministry, there is the more essential question of what Paul said (and did not say) about himself. As I’ve explored in a recent previous entry, Paul does clearly define who he is and the scope of his field. On matters of the gospel doctrine, Paul establishes himself as an authority. In contrast, on matters of behavioral instruction, we see a wider variety of self-descriptors and disclaimers. He will at times offer a personal command (as opposed to one explicitly issued by God); he will at other times offer personal judgment; and beyond this still he will proffer “advice”. Admittedly, these disclaimers are sparse and not the general rule regarding his teachings on morality. Nevertheless, they exist in his writings and do clearly suggest a self-awareness of himself as one capable of judgment and one who, in this regard, is quite distinct from God Himself.
Most contemporary believers will freely admit that they do not subscribe to Paul’s specific teachings on the behavior of women (i.e. his mandate on head-coverings, his command that they be silent in dissent) or agree with his implicit tolerance of institutionalized slavery. Reformed theologians however will contend that this poses no challenge to their belief in scriptural authority and “inerrancy” because of “trajectories” in scripture which allow for these changes in interpretation. These trajectories are evident upon detailed scriptural study and evidenced by Paul’s attitudes expressed on other related issues. Reformed theologians do not believe that such “trajectories” countering the condemnation of homosexuality are provided in scripture. Thus, their position is that scripture indicts homosexual activity of any kind within the church. This is the position embraced by Bob Botsford, who publicly criticized Jennifer Knapp.
Obviously, such a lack of “trajectory” on homosexuality is based on the specific reading of “arsenokoites” as the contemporary understanding of homosexuality, which (as previously established) is difficult if not impossible to prove. The only tenable position that one might take within this argument is that there is no clear evidence that Paul advocated a liberalization of mores regarding gay behavior. This is certainly defensible; there is no evidence that Paul encouraged believers to embrace homosexual behavior. Beyond this, it is difficult to make a more specific conclusion.
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What about for the believer who believes that scriptural “trajectories” are themselves matters of invention, interpretation, and debate? After all, who is to say that Paul did not actually intend for his specific concept of gender roles to be perpetuated to this day? In fact, one cannot reasonably conclude with all certainty that Paul would approve of the evolution of gender roles that has undoubtedly occurred in the church over the past hundred years. In many churches, women do teach men; they even teach from the pulpit. They do not wear head coverings, and in fact, some carry themselves bald (which would have been anathema to Paul). They express disagreement in the public assembly, and they take positions of lay authority. Who is to say that Paul would have evolved with the times?
I think one of the interesting aspects of the debate on homosexuality in the church is that both sides want so much for Paul to be “on their side”. Why is this? Because they believe that Paul’s writings are the closest thing we have to a direct and timeless communication from God. But would Paul have wanted his letters to be viewed in this manner? Paul himself suggested the central place of revelation in his own life, and in his recommendation to Timothy he advised that Timothy also be guided by the Spirit, in a pattern consistent with that demonstrated by Paul. Paul’s justification of his exercise of discernment in fact evidenced his sincere belief in the power of a Spirit-renewed conscience and a Spirit-guided judgment to properly apply the Gospel truth in every relevant context. Paul never specifically recommended his teachings on morality as timeless and for every audience; rather, he delivered his teachings to specific communities and on the basis of his personal relationships with them.
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The conclusion? There is no absolute conclusion. People will continue to argue about the rights and wrongs of homosexual union; they must, and they should. But if there is any overarching trajectory evidenced in Paul’s writings, it is that every struggle and debate must be for the glory of God and for the integrity of His church. Whether straight or gay, I believe that we are called to conduct ourselves in a manner that will edify the church, express a selfless love for the church, and reflect submission to the needs of the church. Obviously, there is no clear mandate involved in such a calling; but I would hope that for every Spirit-filled believer, such a calling would have a discrete and very practical application.
If a gay person knows that by bringing a homosexual union into his church he will divide his church and cause weaker brothers to stumble, should he in good conscience do such a thing? If a straight person knows that by commanding his homosexual brother to divorce, he is destroying a family and damaging that brother’s dignity, is it proper for him to do such a thing? If a scholar compares homosexuality to pedophilia, incest, and alcoholism, knowing that such comparisons fail to emphasize the cultural and psychological differences that distinguish these entities, can he in right mind advance such a demeaning teaching?
Perhaps these are the questions we must ask, at the end of the day. To dwell on lesser things is to be incapable of grace and to fail to understand the truth of love in its fullest application.
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04.26.10

More on homosexuality, and other thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:22 pm by Administrator
so, i really prayed very hard this morning for some clarity from the Spirit regarding God’s attitude toward the practice of homosexuality within the church community, and i received some impressions that are worth pondering.
God reminded me that He really is not interested in “adjudicating” this situation. He does not wish to approach homosexuals as their arbiter, any more than He is interested in separating right from wrong people in just about any other moral area. He is interested in reconciliation and restoration; the moral issues are of importance insofar as they constitute barriers to reconciliation and restoration.
regarding the latter, God really wanted me to meditate on whether the open tolerance of homosexual union within the church can facilitate reconciliation and restoration for the members of the church, both straight and gay.
now, i think that the answer is certainly yes if several points are taken to be axiomatic: 1) all people are needy of a sexual relationship, 2) marriage between gays can be restorative, and 3) prejudice and opposition from other members of the church does not ultimately have to disrupt church unity.
on the first point, i feel ambivalent, though inclined to say yes. if Paul will concede that some will burn with lust unless satisfied through acceptable intercourse, then he is conceding that for some believers a sexual relationship is imperative. on the second point, i am theoretically in agreement, though i continue to believe that marriage in general is not necessarily restorative, as it tends to highlight sexual brokenness rather than to obscure it. it is however the third point on which i recognize that my viewpoint on homosexual union most suffers. i do not believe that the church in general is prepared to embrace homosexual union for various cultural reasons; to impose this upon the church would be to create disorder and disunity, to the detriment of its ministry of love.
this is a hard point to grapple with. i think it can be argued convincingly that Paul’s failure to condemn the practice of enslavement and to forcefully advocate the abolition of the institution was a “utilitarian morality”. he could understand that his society was not prepared to accept such a teaching and that slaves in particular were not necessarily impeded in their pursuit of holiness by their enslavement. in fact, Paul was able to see that slaves could have a unique vessel of worship, by means of their humility and obedience. did Paul believe that slaves deserved their enslavement? by no means. did Paul believe that the institution of slavery was ungodly? i think he could see the sin in all hegemonic societal practices. but did Paul believe that the condemnation of slavery was the obligation of the church of his day, above and beyond all other imperatives? no, he did not. because Paul did not believe in the humanist ideal of personal entitlement. Paul believed that the interests of the church were founded upon a larger redemptive purpose which would be fulfilled in the afterlife. it was not Paul’s purpose to transform his politicolegal society.
in another social context, i believe that Paul would have sided with abolitionists if the opportunity had arisen. but even in this, i think Paul’s primary interest would have been the unity and ministry of the church. he still would have been willing to place the individual right of the believer beneath the missional purpose of the church.
this is a hard point for nonbelievers in contemporary Western society to grasp, because justice for the American resides in the freedoms, entitlements, and empowerments of the individual. any threat to these represents a systematic oppression or evil. the idea of a willing sufferer or an accepted injustice is anathema to the Western humanist. but such a concept is central to the Gospel. our Lord is one who did turn the other cheek; He did accept false accusation; He did suffer for things He did not do. and we are called to emulate Him.
so then, what did God teach me about homosexuality in the church this morning? He told me that i’m wrong–but He told me this in an indirect way and through my reason. He showed me that i’m wrong not because in principle i am rejecting truth but rather because i’m not looking at the church as His body. if i’m unwilling to subjugate the interests of every individual believer beneath the overarching vision of God, then i have no concept of what the church really means. we have graduated from the language of “justice” and “civil rights”; our morality is our submission to God’s Word and our love for the church.
so, i find this interesting belief taking root within me. if there is a gay marriage between believers that bears good fruit, in the context of a local church community fully able to support that marriage, in the context of a broader church that will not be grieved by such a relationship, then i will celebrate that as i would celebrate the fruits of my own imperfect but good marriage. but i see a church community that cannot merely reject its own humanity and cultural mores; and i recognize that i must expect gay believers to love the church above themselves, just as i am called to. i will not command a homosexual brother or sister to choose abstinence, but neither can i in good conscience encourage an open gay relationship or marriage within the church either. in fact, i’m not sure that i should be encouraging marriage even for my heterosexual brothers and sisters, as is commonly mandated in the church. marriage for straight and gay people will always be a gray area, and the truth within that gray area (as with slavery) will change as culture changes. and i do hope that culture changes, for the protection and respect of homosexuals, and for their happiness as well.
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kick-ass, sexual mores, and missions month

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 am by Administrator
chloe moretz was cool. “Kick-Ass” was otherwise a fairly average movie–sharp on the choreography, average on the storytelling, and not so novel. howard thought it was part “Kill Bill” and part “The Watchmen” but without any originality or teeth. i might agree.
i think “Kick-Ass” was a bit interesting though for what it reflected about pop culture. for one thing, it made me realize that the fairly open disclosure of the fact of adolescent masturbation is a relatively recent phenomenon–possibly less than 10 years old. i mean, i can’t recall any of the mainstream comedies in the 80’s even insinuating that the normal teenager jacks off, though the appeal of porn was sometimes acknowledged as a universal (if not somewhat comical) experience. for another, it reminded me that a certain candor about the loneliness of the adolescent experience is now accepted. Michael Cera’s popular roles for instance derive their appeal from his ability to tap into the tragicomedian role of the marginalized and sexually-deprived teenager.
our sexual mores have changed so significantly in the past twenty years. we no longer pretend at the veneer of the wholesome, cool, somewhat edgy teenage child, whose main preoccupation in life is resisting the suburban ideal (Ferris Bueller, Gleaming the Cube, Footloose). we now embrace a darker sort of reality, in which sexual frustration, self-stimulation, and self-loathing are the norms of adolescence and the basis of matriculation into a cynical adulthood. after a decade of school shootings, sex scandals, and internet porn, Gen X is not interested in pristine machismo; it seeks its catharsis through the celebration of its painful idiosyncrasies.
herein lies the basis of the new discourse on sexuality erupting between church and society. some of my friends (including my wife) have wondered whether society in general and i in particular have been too focused on the debate over homosexual union in the church. my answer is that avoiding the issue does not change the potency of the issue for the people who must wrestle with it–gay people and those that must interact with them. i will admit that my acceptance of the idea of gay union within the church as well as gay adoption is influenced by my own experience of changing social mores regarding sexuality. but i must also contend that i have never been comfortable with the scripture-based argument against the tolerance of homosexual activity in the church, mainly because i am still unable to view Paul’s teachings on both sexuality and marriage as canonical.
both my pastor and my friend carl have previously compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest, asking me where i “draw the line”. i believe it’s a fair question, as the analogy concerns sexual desires of various forms, while the commonly proposed analogy between homosexuality and alcoholism in contrast strikes me as both dubious and disdainful. i do consider pedophilia and incest to be disgusting and intolerable, even as i do not consider homosexual relations to be. even in this though, i will grant that my conceptions of pedophilia and incest are culturally-derived. i associate pedophilia with the rape of minors, as popularized on television news, in contrast to a more general concept of consensual sex between two partners on different sides of the age of 18 (i.e. King David and Abigail). incest is disgusting to me regardless of consent or a power differential. however, incest is a more complex issue than mere sexual preference because it is defined by a social construct rather than by a biological drive, with this social construct being based on familial definitions. one society might define incest as anything closer than a second-cousin relationship, while another might define incest as any marriage occurring within a discrete clan. a question might be raised as to whether a situation constitutes incest if two relatives who have no knowledge of their genetic/biological relationship marry and have consensual sex. does this constitute immorality, sin, or deviation? it is hard to say. incest, like any concept defined by a social construct, is a nuanced thing.
there is little nuance to the matter of homosexuality. like my friends tell me, a gay man knows he’s gay because he lusts for men–and because he always has. a gay relationship doesn’t necessarily have much in common with those of pedophiles or incestuous relatives. to me, the fact remains that the best analogy for the homosexual relationship is the heterosexual relationship. and they have most everything in common, except on the matter of gender.
now, this is not to contend that homosexuality is not “sinful”. in fact, as i’ve always contended, i believe homosexuality to be sinful, in the same way that heterosexuality is, as indicted in Romans 1. all sexuality has been thoroughly tainted to the point of unrecognizability to God; it is idolatrous. the question is not whether one person’s preference is superior to another; this is semantic and irrelevant. the question is whether the sexual passion can be tolerably expressed within a human relationship, to achieve some redemptive purpose. for heterosexuals, there does appear to be heterosexual marriage, although many believers mistakenly believe that heterosexual marriage is the proper consummation of their sexuality. the reality is that heterosexual marriage does not undo sexual unbrokenness; rather, it highlights the indelible fact of that sexual brokenness and hence mandates continual reconciliation and forgiveness as the basis of healthy marriage.
does such a redemptive relationship exist for homosexuals? the scripture never speaks to this truth, but by analogy with heterosexual marriage, the answer seems clear. this statement will make some readers angry. i want this to make them angry. i want them to think about why this makes them angry. and i want them to go back to scripture and recognize that they are wrong. it is their misguided interpretation of scripture that has fostered a culture that not only scorns gays but also licenses their disenfrachisement (as in the U.S.), their persecution, and their execution (the Arabic Middle East, Iran, and Islamic Asia). one cannot separate church practice from its ramifications in society.
i am tired and will save writing about missions month for another time
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04.22.10

starcraft 2, beauty, and sex scandals

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:06 pm by Administrator
for the last two months, i’ve been putting in major hours on the starcraft 2 beta version of bnet, and i have to say that i’m very impressed by the game. the graphics are meticulous; the gameplay is very smooth; and there’s nothing majorly broken about the units or tactics. i do have a few concerns.
first, the terrans have lost spider mines and goliaths, which means they’ve lost their best early counter to zealots and their only true ground-based anti-air attack against mutas, broodlords, and void rays. the reaper is a gimmicky unit which has no mid-game utility, and the marauder, while good, does not sub for the vulture. i’ve given terran about a month, and i don’t think they’re playable at a high level. unless there are major buffs to the power and durability of the hellion, i think terran is not worth using against z or p.
second, the zerg have all their old units except for lurker, plus major upgrades in the roach, corruptor, and economy queen, which make them far more potent in sc2. their only weakness is against the early rine/marauder push, which they can counter eventually (after significant losses) with overwhelming roach firepower. if roach/hydra doesn’t contain and kill terran, then corruptor/broodlord most certainly does. zerg is weak against toss though, mainly because their technology (aside from infestor) copes poorly with a toss who uses colossus, warp gates, and warp rays effectively.
third, i’ve barely used toss but they’re almost definitely the strongest overall race now, in contrast to the situation in broodwar when toss was owned by either the terran early metal rush or the zerg rapid expansion/massed attack. the immortal combined with the terran loss of spider mines means that toss will own the map against terran, which forces ran to turtle behind siege tanks. colossus and warped zealots also negates the zerg speed advantage while retaining the toss firepower advantage, which means that toss should own zerg at high-level play.
overall, if blizzard doesn’t do some major tweaking, all the pro players should eventually gravitate to toss, which will be unfortunate and require an eventual replacement patch (i.e. starcraft 2 broodwar). til then, it’ll be immortal/speedlot battles galore.
i’m sure that was a fascinating breakdown for the gamers.
on to beauty. i simply can’t put it any other way. beauty is troubling to me, because of mortality and possession. beautiful women trouble me, because i want them sexually but i know i shouldn’t. beautiful places (of the remote variety) trouble me, because one can only enjoy them to the utmost if one is privileged or wealthy. and beautiful art troubles me, because they capture only briefly in sensation what i wish i could internalize and experience forever.
in short, beauty makes my experience of “lack” nearly agonizing at times. i imagine that heaven is heaven because one is neither mortal nor constrained by the concept of possession. one can experience or even be united with all that is beautiful; one becomes beautiful. but until then, i damn these eyes, these ears, these hands. beauty makes life on earth both inspiring and intolerable. i find no solution, but to close my eyes and to wait.
sex scandals… what is there to say about them anymore? i fail to be impressed by the recent stories about Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger, when we have Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, and Bill Clinton in recent memory as well. everyone seems to make an incredible comeback from sex scandals; in fact, they seem to be better for it. Spitzer’s career and standing have a new vitality; Bill Clinton has never been more popular; and does anyone even think of Marv Albert’s hotel hooker when he’s commentating the playoffs, night in and night out? let’s face it. sex scandals simply don’t matter to most Americans, because we’ve grown to expect them from our leaders. let’s not even cluck our tongues about it; it’s nothing new, and it’s nothing surprising. i’ll go further in saying that i don’t even consider sexual fidelity an absolute requirement for my allegiance to a political leader or a professional sports player any longer. it’s an impractical expectation.
now, this doesn’t mean that i license sexual infidelity in general. in fact, i continue to rate it of high importance–and perhaps it remains for me the most important single criterion of a healthy marriage. and by sexual fidelity, i refer not only to the avoidance of adulterous relationships but also to the rejection of pornography, the existence of an intimate and mutually satisfying sexual relationship with one’s spouse, and the honoring within that marriage of the sexual needs and identity of that spouse. for me, true sexual fidelity can only come out of a foundation of genuine love and submission, upon which integrity and mutual respect have meaning.
but i do admit that i groan when i hear a public outcry against the sexual adventures of public figures, mainly because i find it pointless to pretend horror against such a commonplace violation. i do not approve of adultery, but neither do i approve of the worship of false gods. common grace does not indict the latter, and increasingly it no longer has the power to really highlight the offense of the former. is it my job as a believer to force a stronger sense of conscience on a community that has already relinquished this law? i find that a losing battle–which is partly why i do not believe that the church should generally be fighting battles in the politicolegal arena. neither does the increasing tolerance of adultery necessarily point to the progressive decline of society in general. after all, a heightened sense of environmental destruction, a greater sensitivity to the disenfranchisement of women, gays, and minorities, and a growing fatigue with war are all positive signs in culture, i believe. these things will continue to rock back and forth on the pendulum of culture. i feel it is most prudent for me to try to externalize culture as much as possible and to maintain integrity among the inner circle that i am most responsible for.
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04.19.10

a simple spirituality

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:36 pm by Administrator
the three most difficult things for me to do as a christian are 1) listening to sermons, 2) reading the Bible, and 3) singing praise songs. everything else is great.
listening to sermons has become less painful for me since i started going to cch. for years before coming to cch, i had to suffer through teachings that were elementary, uninteresting, and sometimes illogical; it really made me wonder actually what the point of the Sunday sermon is. Sam has somewhat redeemed the concept of the Sunday sermon for me, mainly because he is a gifted public speaker.
reading the Bible continues to be a chore for me, mainly because i don’t find it terribly engaging most of the time. my favorite book of all time continues to be “The Bridge to Terabithia”, and i don’t think i could read even this book more than once in a blue moon. it seems that people prescribe the practice of regular (and even daily) Bible reading because they view it the practice as a submissive discipline and as a process of directed self-reflection. essentially, the “quiet time” is ritualistic meditation, analogous to the mantra-driven experiences of the Muslim recitations. possibly there is utility in this sort of practice because it forces a person to set aside dedicated time that can’t be given to another purpose (i.e. a mini-sabbath). the value of that time’s content however strikes me as very questionable.
and praise songs are straight-up annoying to me. lyrically they’re patent and primitive. musically, they’re predictable. i find an occasional hymn that i feel does justice to the truth of the Gospel and is therefore worthy of meditation. largely though, i find the “praise experience” somehow false in its objective of facilitating an atmosphere conducive to a personal expression of worship, mainly because it does so by offering cheap catch phrases and classic chord progressions–in other words, incantations. the analogy with Buddhist chanting strikes me as apropos. the experience is self-abnegating and mainly emotive; the result of that experience is best described as a transient sensation. is “praise” actually better defined as “musical therapy”? is its purpose better described as worship or as catharsis?
as usual, i had a miserable time during “praise” this past Sunday, trying hard to make sense of the nebulous lyrics and also trying not to appear disengaged (by looking around, not clapping my hands, etc) so as to not be a negative distraction to others in the audience. but it did frustrate me that here i was practicing yet another ritual that did not resonate with my experience of God. in this utter funk, i begged God to help me worship, as i often did when i was eleven and equally disenchanted with the praise experience. and to this question, God replied with two questions of his own. Who are you? And who am I to you?
i still have almost the entire first two chapters of Ephesians committed to memory, a passage that i’ve enjoyed with deeper appreciation with time. i recited the two chapters aloud, working over the words in my mind, there in the Sunday service. i realized that Ephesians 1-2 speak with remarkable directness to these two critical questions. as i meditated on Paul’s writings, i experienced a comfort and encouragement that other experiences could never offer me; and i realized that something in this passage captures what real worship means.
when i am in a dark place, the Spirit always challenges me to remember what i am. and Ephesians 1 is entirely devoted to the identity of the believer. its language, filled with subordinate clauses, flowery descriptors, and passionate exclamations, is extremely difficult to memorize precisely. but with time i’ve come to recognize that every phrase is critical, not only in its semantics but also in its syntactical positioning. the phrases of emphasis cannot help but convey meaning in themselves (i.e. “according to his good pleasure”, “to the praise of his glorious grace”, “according to the riches of God’s grace”, “in accordance with his pleasure and will”, etc.) Ephesians 1 couldn’t be more lyrical in its exposition of the believer’s place of great favor in the eyes of his God; and in its poetic excesses, it couldn’t be more precise.
Ephesians 2 almost seems like an afterthought after the incredibly effusive first chapter. its principal focus is not on what we are but on what we were–and what we’ve been delivered from. in the context of this meditation on the departed identity, we are presented the most clarion statement of the salvific intent of God: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.” the verse of course is a restatement of everything written in Ephesians 1, but it is a concise restatement with a new emphasis. Paul wants it to be perfectly clear by the time we complete his second chapter that we are not only incredibly fortunate but also incredibly “lucky” people too. we’re rich, and we had no hand in it.
when i finished reciting Ephesians 2, i found myself transformed. yes, i still found the praise music vaguely annoying, but the essence of my struggle to worship–a sense of alienation from God–was relieved. i realized in that moment that the foundation of genuine worship is the full appreciation of the God-given identity, as defined in the scripture and confirmed by the renewed conscience. the key to spiritual apathy is not to seek emotional reengagement through worship rituals but rather to fully embrace the fact of what we are as children of God.
for all of my recent struggles over the correct interpretation of Paul’s teachings on proper behavior, i will gladly admit that for me the corpus of Paul’s writings have been foundational to my understanding of myself and my future–more so than the books of the Gospel, the Old Testament, and all of my personal experiences put together. i think that if i can just understand these first two chapters of Ephesians in all of their profundity and implications, then i would have enough wisdom to transcend a whole lifetime of troubles. when i meditate on Ephesians 1, i recognize that i am a prince in this world, an heir to an incredible fortune, a destroyer of worlds, a conqueror of principalities; the world has no answer for me and my kind, because we are of divine substance that it cannot comprehend. and when i sense Paul’s intense desire for me to fully unearth the implications of these titles, i understand that his passion to embrace “the hope to which He has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe” is a reflection of a desire for nothing short of spiritual ecstacy. scriptural truth is intended to lead us into the ecstatic spiritual experience. we are given a simple spirituality, so that we may experience our calling of the wondrous divine. doctrine informs identity; identity births the mystically miraculous spiritual life.
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04.15.10

My Year

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:07 pm by Administrator
Sam provided me some insights that I think I’ll be meditating on for a good long time.
i was raised with fairly intense expectations, which provided structure and meaning to me in my younger years. i thrived in that structure even as it exasperated me. now that i have emerged from the influence of the authorities i once submitted to, i can recognize that i have become quite dependent on a goal-driven lifestyle, even as much as i question its roots, its health, and its authenticity.
i admitted to Sam that my progressive resentment of authority has driven me to perpetually persist “outside the box” in most every respect–theologically, socially, creatively, and professionally. yet, i fear my own tendency to disengage, because without social constraints i feel alienated and ungrounded. i need boundaries in order to safely test them. i need a box so that i can climb in and out of it–and thus understand it.
Sam brought up Derrida, of all people, and reminded me that the flighty postmoderns often tend to be the unhappiest of people. those who subside in personal conviction alone find it difficult to maintain healthy and stable relationships. he said an interesting thing: that ironically i have a heart that seeks “calling” even while i have vision with such scope that i may be unable to recognize a calling should i receive it. he told me that a man like myself needs to appreciate that “calling” and “personal choice” may not be as distinct as i once believed. Sam believes that i must choose to commit myself to ventures that i consider worthwhile, invest myself as a father might invest himself in his son, and allow myself to be tested within the structure of that commitment. to me, that rang quite true. in my younger years, i would never have offered my hands to be bound; but now i have come to the point where i recognize that voluntary submission is the worship God seeks from me. i must be willing to go where others take me, even if i fear the costs.
i’m at a point in my life where i do see realms that call for a new kind of commitment–an intentional, single-minded, and devotional commitment. the education of my son for instance is something i have scarcely paid any attention to whatsoever, but he’s a sponge and desiring for instruction. my writing (and i do believe i’ve come to an idea at last) is wanting for commitment and despairing of my flighty sensibilities. the men’s ministry at church needs my vision and my personal investment; without my full investment, i think that the ministry could move in an unfortunate direction. and my marriage, as always, threatens to fall into disrepair, void of any real intimacy or transparency. the sexual, spiritual, and emotional health of my marriage constantly calls for renewed commitment, one that i weary of because of how difficult it is for me to give myself to someone else.
i’ve had some heated debates recently about hermaneutics and the proper approach to scripture, and i continue to believe that i am right and they are wrong. however, i cannot deny that i do not regularly read scripture, nor is it easy for me to understand why i should habitually review scripture. i loathe the concept of “quiet time”, and yet my conversation with Sam is making me wonder if in fact the fundamental issue here is that i don’t really want to submit myself to someone else’s agenda. what if i entered a time of scriptural study with the explicit purpose of listening to God? what if i asked Him to speak to me through the inanimate, translated, and historically remote words written by other people, as problematic as i might find these writings? could God not use these words and testimonies to speak new truth into my life? i do respect the scripture, regardless of how i feel about canonization and inerrancy; i respect and cherish it enough that i think it is possible that God could use it to transform me. and because i believe that, i want to have some sort of devotional life again. but i will refuse the 30 minute routine or the conventional bible-reading plan. i don’t believe that i can do that anymore. i must find a new way to engage the scripture; and this too will require intentional, devotional, and heartfelt commitment. i do not want to “do devotions”; i want to rediscover real devotion–in everything in my life.
my walk, as always, remains challenging to me, even as the person of God oftentimes strikes me as threatening, dangerous, and powerfully mysterious. i don’t want these aspects to change; and i don’t want to stop resisting the things that i cannot understand. rather, i want to find ways to struggle with these monoliths which allow me to actually find answers–satisfying answers, not the logical arguments expounded by people attempting to defend an orthodoxy. and in this process, i want the content of my thoughts–my anxieties, my hopes, and my ruminations–to be pure and pleasing to my God, in every respect, so that He may delight in me and talk with me, as a friend
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04.13.10

Self-examination

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:02 pm by Administrator
i think that i’m beginning discipleship with my pastor tomorrow, though i’m still not sure what i’m looking for out of the discipleship relationship. i figure that i’d better do a thorough self-examination of myself beforehand, so that i’ll know where to begin with him. of course an honest self-assessment is really impossible; history itself is an exercise in self-deception, and i have to accept the lies with the truth. that being said, i don’t want to lie. i have no agenda.
overall, i feel that i am struggling. i have good days and bad days. my “bad” days are when i am scraping the very bottom of my soul and coming up with nothing. the boredom, the emptiness–these are positively the most agonizing aspects of my existence. the good days are when my days pass effortlessly. the good days aren’t necessarily more filled with distractions or diversions; they’re good because they’re not so bad.
now, i’m tempted to call this abnormal and ascribe it to depression, but on the other hand i wonder if that’s a fair conclusion. there is something real to the emptiness. it hurts, but it also emboldens. in a subjective sense, i’ve had my back to the wall for so long that i find it difficult to imagine myself being afraid of anyone or anything anymore. i am more direct about things than i once was; i am also less restrained. traditional rules about things–about morality, about interaction, about propriety–really pain me now. the thing that i most fear–utter lack of inertia–drives me to search for real movement, and to dispense with empty rhythms. living for the sake of satisfying obligations is no longer acceptable to me. one should come to an independent conclusion about life, shouldn’t he? one should be able to feel something about his existence and recognize where that feeling is coming from.
and so, i am a skeptic.
i do not do “quiet times”. i do not have retirement plans. i do not plan vacations. and i do not have a master plan about anything. sometimes i think about what my “perfect day” would look like, and i end up ruminating about this hypothetical without coming to any conclusions. for me, there is no perfect day. the closest thing i can find to a perfect day is a day in which everything i experience is a spontaneous reaction to an unanticipated inspiration. my perfect day has nothing predictable in it: no routine, no habit, no work, no play. my perfect day is necessarily a mystery to me.
but all of this is perhaps not getting to the point of my self-examination. am i right or wrong about this and that? am i making forward progress in life, and to what end? but you see, i find these arbitrary questions; i am asking myself to impose some sort of authoritarian structure on my efforts, when in fact i do not believe that life fits structure all that well. i am not saying these things to be evasive. i am saying that i believe–and have always believed–that the meaning of life is to create a meaning for life. the process of life is to keep testing and retesting that putative meaning and to derive from that refinement a lesson worth sharing with others.
but i’m also a Christian, which calls to question why i’m not imposing the usual jargon to contextualize my life. sin. repentance. sanctification. communion. fellowship. prayer. evangelism. use these words, and people think they know what you’re saying. for instance, i could say that i’m struggling with doubt but experiencing the victory of sanctification, through my process of repentance from sexual sin, greed, personal ambition, vanity, et cetera. another believer could perhaps rate me or classify me through my facile use of these terms. they would have some insight into what i am–but not a satisfying picture by any means.
so then, where do i begin? what is fundamental? where is the axiom upon which i can build my argument, the argument of what i am? because even what i am is a theorem, not a fact, and my identity is a postulation, not self-evidenced.
i begin with this: i am afraid of death, and i am afraid of approaching death without conviction and without companionship. i subscribe to religion to gain conviction about an afterlife; and i have gotten married, had a child, and joined a community of like-minded people so that i might experience a companionship that will buffer the agony of life’s solitude. everything in my life hinges on these two particular fears. i admit that.
but beyond this, i believe that i have experienced a spontaneous spirituality that grew from a primitive religiousity. i have discovered a real and living God, through mystical experiences with a spiritual being other than myself; these experiences have been confirmed by the experiences of others in the community of believers, as testified within the church of the present and within the historical church as defined by the scripture. had it not been for these mystical experiences, i do not believe that the scripture would hold any meaning for me; but because i have known God, i can see how His reality is confirmed in the Bible. the personal mystical experience is the primary truth; the investment of self in the community of believers is the primary manifestation of this truth; and the outgrowth of this community is the confirmation and celebration of scriptural teachings which bind us to the church past and the church of the future.
my mystical experience of God is not merely sensational or intuitive, but it does require that i exercise discernment, judgment, and analysis in order to reconcile what i perceive to what i have previously proposed to be true. this process of “getting to know” God is dynamic and fluid; it calls for continual readaptation and self-questioning. obviously, this sense of my dynamic with God makes it difficult for me to imagine a relationship with the divine that is bound to static doctrines and defined according to moral principles. i don’t think God has ever defined Himself through a treatise; He instead defines Himself by what He does for His people. and His work in His people is an ongoing, fearsome, and miraculous thing.
i know that i am verging on sounding New Age, and i mean to. the book on spirituality was shockingly opened by Christ and further exploited in its permissiveness by the apostle Paul. the two men revolutionized religion, by divorcing true spirituality from any definable code of conduct. Christianity was the underpinning of the Enlightenment precisely because at its core it preaches a life primarily guided by divine, internal inspiration, manifested in selfless and socially unrestrainable love. many might argue that such a free-form religion will constantly run the risk of abolishing any sense of unifying orthodoxy, thus threatening its own cohesion as a system of belief. but i would argue that such fears have been raised from the very beginning, as it was by the Judaizers in the time of Paul, as it was by the Pharisees in the time of Christ. it is not the consistency of a regimented morality that protects the heart of true religion; rather, it is the veracity of the Spirit who reveals Himself that guarantees that a remnant of believers will always remain.
to summarize my struggle in the church, i have come to loathe what the church has come to represent in our society: moralizing, anti-homosexuality, right-wing politics. but even more fundamentally, i have come to despise what the church has come to embrace philosophically: a dogmatic, authoritarian, asexual, and unfeeling God who has completed His self-revelation to mankind. to me, it is a gross distortion of authentic spirituality, and it constantly threatens to pit me against my own kind.
and this sense of alienation is oddly my basis for community. i feel it my role to agitate and oppose. when there is consensus, i seek to break it; where there is satisfaction, i feel unease; and when people contend progress, i feel impending failure. it is the same with the converse. where others see failure in me, i begin to think that i’m onto something. when my ideas trouble others, i get excited. and when my community is threatened by my feelings and tendencies, i feel entirely in my element. i see unity between myself and the characters in the scripture that i so admire; for not one of them upheld the dominant institution of worship in his day. the only thing that ever seems to unite the people of God is a strange, antisocial commitment to unorthodoxy–the God who exists outside the box.
to bring it all together, i see that i’m looking for revolution, and i’m hungry for an enemy to conquer. this is what i was built for, being the natural discontent that i am. i do wish that i could be content with routines and disciplines, as if these could be the substance of a meaningful life, but i deliberately eschew these things because i see in them the fakery that is so tempting to me. i live a ruthless life, continually pushing myself out of bounds simply because i am not suited to belong. i would find the undiscovered country if i could; i would put a flag there if i could find it, and dedicate that land to the God that i cannot understand

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:50 pm by Administrator

i’ve passed the point of natural sorrow
or whimsical joy; things come slow
as if the mind, like the rest of the body,
has set itself not to wonderment
but rather to waiting.

i always wonder if i have it wrong
but perhaps this is not the question?
of course i have it wrong, and right.
right and wrong, they do not change
the color of things.

this morning, i made a prayer
the way one might make a song
if he had no voice, no tongue, no lips.
i made a prayer out of the morning,
as i waited for night.

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04.08.10

Cravings

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:43 pm by Administrator

i am in rustic Europe, somewhere where they do not speak my language. from an upper story window, i watch the forested hills beyond the slanted roofs, as they shimmer in the sunlight, like something in a Corot.
i write with a fine-point black ink pen, on vellum paper so fine that i can hear the pen strike and move, working its labor from the left to the right, and over again. i write without conscience or presumption; when i write, i empty myself of the thing i cannot bear with, and find myself lighter. the words are grafted onto the page in exquisite handwriting, and each in its place hangs beautifully. it is as if they were not meant to convey ideas, only to exist as a tattoo upon its tableau.
i go down to the street, where i am served by a silent young woman, with full breasts and clear eyes. i dream about her. we never say anything; we only smile. the food is simple, and i never eat to my fill. there is always just a bit of hunger left. neither do i indulge on the wine. i drink it for its taste, for the way it complements the meal.
i jog through the countryside, and always with a sense of purpose, though it only surfaces at each bend in the road. there is something beyond that i must see; and when i’ve seen it, there is another oddity that captures my fascination. a whole day can pass in this way. when i return, i’ve been thoroughly exercised.
am i alone? but i don’t ask this question. because i am assuming that imminently i am expected elsewhere, in the company of toils and troubles, so the solitude is full and begs no interruption. i live without questioning it. each sensation, in its place, is fully satisfying and worth remembering, if for no other reason than that it begs no distraction. i can tell the world and its god that i lack for nothing; and because of that, i am at peace
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Lessons from the Marathon

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:14 pm by Administrator
i finished the L.A. Marathon, but i took 5 hours and 31 minutes to do it, and i was extremely disappointed with the result. for a week afterwards, i thought that my time in training and the marathon experience had been a waste of my time. but i’m beginning to realize that the lessons i learned from my 2nd marathon are worth considering for a lifetime. Three weeks later, i think i can summarize what i learned.
1) Choose your company wisely.
It’s just like anything else in life. If you hang with the wrong people, they’ll get you into trouble. I made the mistake of running with Sandy’s cousin Daniel, a 23 year-old water polo player whose primary concern was to beat his younger brother across the finish line. He’d never done a training run longer than 10 miles. I dragged him down over the first 9 miles, and he made me run close to a minute per mile faster than my proper pace. I was wasted by mile 10; the debacle was already complete.
2) Run your pace.
It sounds like point #1, but it’s not. You can fool yourself by how good you feel at mile 3. You can tell yourself that today you’re going to break a personal record by a landslide, but that’s self-deception. You must always decide your marathon pace well in advance, and you cannot accelerate it on the day of the race simply on account of the conditions.
3) Energy is an oil well.
Part of the trouble with the Saudi oil fields is that they’re losing vast reserves because of how fast they’re piping out the oil. A reserve is like a big viscous glob; if you suck on the glob too hard on one end, you threaten to split the glob, making the separated portion inaccessible to the straw. It’s the same with energy. If you push your heart rate above the anaerobic threshold too quickly, you lose a lot of stored energy that otherwise might be useful to you, because you’ve told your body that it doesn’t have enough time to fully harvest it. You have to start slow and get the machine running, and you really shouldn’t be testing your marathon pace until mile 3.
4) Keep eating.
If you show up early to the start line, you’re in for a long wait. Starts get delayed, crowds push you back, and before you know it you’re starting a half-hour later then you expected. During that whole time, your nerves are on full go and you’re actually producing heat/energy that you’re not using on the racecourse. Every minute of wait time represents calories that you’re losing. You must keep refueling (albeit small doses) up to the point that you start running.
5) Take scheduled breaks.
As you pound your muscles and joints, your gait gets less efficient. You have to schedule longer breaks of 30-60 seconds periodically in the course to stretch, slow down your heart rate, and readjust your gait. No one likes to stop; they’re always afraid to restart. But the cost to efficiency of poor posture, muscle fatigue, and accumulated damage to the feet is inestimable.
I made all the newbie mistakes and paid for it. I’m not planning to embarrass myself in San Francisco on 7/25.
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