Tangents

•November 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

During mass tonight, I was sitting in the pew, trying to maintain good posture, going through a core stabilization checklist in my head (been reading “Becoming a Supple Leopard” haha). I was intermittently stretching out my neck, which is pretty sore today, and as I looked around I was kind of surprised that no one else was fidgeting and stretching, not even the old people. But back pain is one of the most common ailments in modern society (and there were so many old people!) so there must have been people dealing with neck and back pain. My random takeaway from this was: Just because people don’t look like they’re suffering, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Everyone worries that they might be the only one struggling with a certain issue or a certain kind of pain, but it’s only screaming at you because you’re the one feeling it. Others’ pain is just as real, but even if you see signs of it, you’re not actually experiencing it, so it’s easy to assume it’s not there.

Then I was a Chipotle, eating a steak bowl and reading this article. Here’s a quote:

One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not. Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more.

What I think I want to point out is that we’ve all been guilty of this. I’ve been guilty of it since I was admitted to Cal back in 2003 (which is funny because I’m sure ivy leaguers view us UC plebs in the same way we view the masses). Some of us are guilty of this in the same way Deresiewicz is writing about. Some folks might be guilty of this in terms of condescending towards the “lazy people”, “the whiners” etc…

I hope that the next few years sees a growth of understanding across the divide. It’s interesting because even though I currently walk and live in a political climate that is very different from the one in which I was raised, I still have a very hard time understanding “the other side”. When I hear the things people say, their reasons for believing certain things or vote a certain way, the thought process is alien to me. And yet, I know they care about others, for their friends and family, for their Soldiers, for their country. I know they live by a moral code, they work hard and try to do what’s right. I guess that’s my own shortcoming, that I am surprised that people can have different beliefs than me, and still live lives of integrity and still choose to serve others.

If we hope for a positive outcome in all of this, it’s going to a take a lot of hard work, a lot of painful individual and collective self-reflection and honesty. I hope we’re up to it.

Some unfiltered thoughts on the eve of President Trump

•November 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I guess it’s not over yet. Fivethirtyeight (goddam 538…) still gives HRC a 21% chance of winning the election, but it’s looking bleak. I may have to retitle or delete this later, but as it goes:

  1. Trump was right. America isn’t as great as I thought it was.
  2. How happy am I that I’m getting out of the Army five days before he’s to be sworn in? I actually caught myself panicking over whether he might be able to keep me in… but he shouldn’t be able to right?
  3. I have the thought that if anyone can see a Trump victory, and not feel a quick pang of fear, they are likely not part of the many demographic groups that he has offended during his long and storied campaign (women, muslims, jews, mexicans, blacks, the poor, Americans, Chinese, etc)… and that they  are more likely than not to resemble the candidate in one of the following ways 1) white, 2) male, 3) wealthy, 4) angry etc etc etc. I guess I didn’t think it was really possible.
  4. I think I now understand how those who thought Obama was the antichrist felt when he was elected. Is that kind of empathy/perspective a bright side? Still deciding.
  5. He was also right about the “silent majority”, as scary as that might be. The puzzling thing is, I haven’t really met any “silent” Trump supporters. Who are these quiet, measured, reasonable people that support him? Is it hidden misogyny and racism amongst educated people? Did he really speak to the depths of people in positive ways that I can’t understand? I’m grasping.
  6. Sometime during this long campaign I had the (probably too self-righteous) thought that, regardless of what side you’re on, if you sincerely hoped that certain segments of the population (wacko Christian conservatives, goddam treehuggers) wouldn’t show up to vote, then you’re as damaging to democracy is Candidate Trump. I still think this is true, and I still think it’s better to know about the grotesque, rotting darkness hiding out of view in our society, but I’m struggling with this right now. Voter suppression is a horrible crime against the republic…I just wish more people agreed with me I guess…
  7. I think our greatest hope now is that Trump is too inept and too self-centered to really do much during his time in office. He said at some point he’d leave the boring legislative stuff to his cabinet, and just work on making America great again… I hope he does that.
  8. I really hope that the evangelical Christians that voted on the one issue of abortion or LGBTQ (anti-)rights are convicted to minister to the lives of poor, young, single mothers or women who are pregnant. I hope that they fact that they voted on one issue (at the sacrifice of caring for the lives or the poor, the homeless, the stateless, the marginalized etc) and that their candidate won doesn’t give them a warm sense of satisfaction that God’s will has been done. That would be a shame.
  9. There is a very high likelihood that Trump supporters prayed harder than HRC supporters. I think that’s something to convict myself, but also to reflect upon for all believers. Didn’t the Jews demand a king? And didn’t God grant them their wish? And wasn’t the result unforeseen pain and confusion? Just because God answers our prayers affirmatively, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. But maybe the religious right is correct, maybe God is punishing us.
  10. Congratulations Putin.

 

p.s. I really want to post something like “well nation, get ready to get grabbed by the pussy” but it seems inappropriate. Who would say something like that?

Black and Blue and

•July 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Of course it hurts.

Like the re-breaking and setting of a bone,
the debridement and cleansing of a wound,
the light and the drugs to kill off and chase out pieces of yourself that are no longer recognizable.

Sometimes a broken body needs more breaking before the healing can begin.

The hate, the ugliness, the fear, the violence, the pain, and anguish are not new. They’ve always been there. Though some may long for a past that seemed peaceful and comfortable, such a past never really existed. Not for all of us.

And as our hearts move toward despair, speak hope. Light is revealing what was in darkness. What was isolated to certain neighborhoods, to certain streets, hidden in the hearts of more people that we could have feared. When darkness has covered and reigned for so long, we must not be surprised that what is uncovered is disturbing and putrid. Think dumpsters, basement corners, rotting logs, and abandoned buildings. It has been there all along, most of us just didn’t care to see it. As hard as it is to hear the cries, to see the blood, and the truth, at least it’s out there, at least there are words and righteous anger. This is a step.

Do not fear the end, for this is certainly the end of something. Let us rather envision what the next thing will be. This is the beginning of that. Whether we close our eyes, block our ears, and retreat to our ideological ghettos, or we seek to understand the other when possible, and fight for a better country when it’s not, will make all the difference.

Today I read about Why God Will Not Die. The gist is that, in the face of undeniable defeat (i.e. certain individual death, as well as the eventual collective death of our entire civilization when our star dies, when the universe ends, when Donald Trump is elected, etc…), we will all, secular and religious alike, seek refuge.

Religion has been despised as a crutch for the weak, a bastion for cowards who are too afraid to face reality. But aren’t we all cowards in the face of this aforementioned truth? I just wonder whether Atheists think about death (I’m sure they do, but how often, and how seriously?). Perhaps I’m just weak like they say, but I cannot imagine a person could meditate seriously on their mortality every day, knowing that anything they do is basically random, meaningless, and doomed to be forgotten, and still maintain the drive and care and love that is required to live well… Isn’t a willful forgetting, (maybe the author of the article would call it “self-kidding”) the only recourse?

Christians have, in Christ, a vehicle (and redeemer) through which we can daily meditate on death, on sin, on brokenness, and maintain our hope in the face of crushing realities. Most prominent atheists seem very passionate about their causes, whether they be debunking religion, espousing science as a belief system, or seeking to convert people to their own way of thinking. I don’t doubt that they believe what they say, but I am puzzled by the zeal. Where does it come from? If nothing matters in the end, who cares? Those who have faith in what cannot be studied by empirical science have been scorned as cowards by people who cannot possibly be facing the reality that they, if they are right, are going to die pointless deaths. These are two responses to the unknown, only one of which strikes me as lacking in courage.

Mark,

I hope you are happier now. I hope the pain is gone. I hope you know you’re not alone now, and that you were loved here.

Thank you for the reminder that we can never really know. Though we can see and touch and talk to and remember one another, we never really know what anyone is going through. I hope this makes us more gracious and patient, and moves us to express our love for one another more clearly and regularly than we had before.

Thank you for the reminder that it is a blessing to wake up in the morning and be glad you’ve woken up. That a love for life should never be taken for granted.

Drawing close

•April 25, 2015 • 1 Comment

One summer when we were on a camping trip with a group of families, I found myself alone for a moment, the other kids had gone exploring somewhere. I laid on my back floating in the lake, just staring at the sky. It was blue and large, and even then I knew that this sense of peace and quiet was rare in the world.

In college we were encouraged to take a four hour quiet time/sabbath once a week, to ensure we were resting properly. One night I sat on a bench outside of Wurster and after maybe half an hour of frustration, feeling like I couldn’t pray well or clear my mind of dumb thoughts and petty worries, I prayed for God to be near to me. And as I prayed I heard over the chirping of crickets the wind begin to pick up. I felt a strange sense of expectation as my prayers for nearness to God and the movement and activity in my natural surroundings seemed to converge. It felt like eternity was approaching the door, and preparing to knock. Then my phone buzzed. I’d received a text, and the night was normal again.

I also remember multiple occasions, walking between Channing and campus on College, I would look West and glimpse the bay and the bridge in the distance, I would catch my breath at the sight of it, somehow surprised at the nearness of the water. And continue on my way.

It was perhaps the sixth or seventh day of basic training. Our platoon was marching somewhere, maybe the DFAC, maybe the classroom or back to the company area after training. We were marching in formation in the sweltering South Carolina summer heat, and I remember glancing up at the sky. That’s when I realized that it had been days since I’d seen the sky, and I remembered that there was a bigger world outside of training, that there was a bigger purpose outside of learning how to be a Soldier, and there there was life outside the walls of Fort Jackson. The clouds were in formation as well, and beautiful, and their purpose pointed higher and their song was of a different timbre.

—-

Sometimes the place seemed to occupy her and to have its being within her, and she forgot herself.

At the end of a cloudy day in full spring the sun suddenly came out. Along the edge of the woods, the thrushes began to call. A mockingbird sang from a dead treetop nearby; a cardinal sang and a wren; in the distance a bobwhite whistled and was answered. Laura felt herself carried up into the freshened light where she seemed to have no life except that which now sang all around her. 

On a rainy winter day, just at sunset, she saw the sky divided by the leftward stroke of a rainbow, the other side hidden by trees. Within the visible arc the sky glowed with a vibrant pinkish light, while outside it night was falling.

Walking one frozen afternoon in a wooded hollow of the valley side, she realized suddenly that her own steps made the only sound in that place. She stopped. And then absolute silence came over her, absolute stillness. Every tree, the wooded slope, the world itself, stood as if in the very nothing from which it had been called out.

At such times as these she felt that the great, mute creation was trying to speak to her. This disturbed her, it moved her  almost to tears, for it seemed to intimate the nearness of some consolation—forever imminent and unreachable, almost knowable—for everything that was wrong. 

– From “A Desirable Woman”, Wendell Berry

And He Kissed Him

•March 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As we walked to the garden my hand kept straying into my pocket. There my fingers traced the outline of the coins, felt the weight of the bag, gripping it and feeling the silver shift inside. Was it just me, or was the bag feeling heavier? Thirty pieces of silver. Not as much as the flask and its contents would have sold for, but a decent sum, and it was worth it, right? How would I point him out to the crowd? It was dark, we wouldn’t want him to get away, or to arrest the wrong man. He did have a knack for walking out of trouble, unhurried and unseen, I’ll give him that. It would be hard to explain the crowd, but he’d expect the normal greeting, and a kiss. 

When we arrived he was talking to the others, I made a point to walk straight up to him, avoiding eye contact. “Greetings, Rabbi!” A kiss. And it was done. Now that it’s all over, I wonder. I wonder, why did he call me “Friend”?  Those were the last words he ever said to me, he knew what I was doing, he knew it when I dipped my bread. He knew I was going to dip my bread before I even decided to dip it. I wonder. 

The last time he was ever addressed, he was called “Friend”. Before his name became synonymous with Betrayer, Jesus called him Friend. At the height of his rebellion, his greed and disbelief, the Lord of Lords, called Judas Iscariot, soon to be silver-less, and a suicide, Friend. And this is good news, is it not? If God did not call sinners Friend, what hope would any of us have? At our very worst, at the bottom of the pit, what more do we really need?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

Peter was asked about his love three times, one for each denial. His grace abounds and corresponds with our falling. We are all one time rebels, and even now we continue to deny and betray and reject him, despite our experience of grace. As we betray with a kiss, we find that God, before we can even get our spiel out, has embraced us and kissed us. What glorious indiscretion, what scandalous oversight! It is egregious how little we deserve them, the robe and the ring, the crown and new names.

Lord, I am a man of unclean lips, unclean hands and an unclean heart. Jesus, I know the wine was bitter on your lips, the nails pierced your hands, and your heart broke for all of us, the blood and water flowed from your side. Would your words be like honey on my lips, make me your hands to do your work, and continue making my heart whole again, oh God. Thank you.

And nothing will be impossible

•January 29, 2015 • 1 Comment

For the sake, as he sees it, of the ones he preaches to, the preacher is apt to preach the Gospel with the high magic taken out, the deep mystery reduced to a manageable size. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it will be moved and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matt. 17:20). “Come, O blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 35:24). “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The wild and joyful promise of the Gospel is reduced to promises more easily kept. The peace that passeth all understanding is reduced to peace that anybody can understand. The faith that can move mountains and raise the dead becomes faith that can help make life bearable until death ends it. Eternal life becomes a metaphor for the way the good a man does lives after him. “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt. 11:6), Jesus says, and the preacher is apt to seek to remove the offense by removing from the Gospel all that he believes we find offensive. You cannot blame him because up to a point, of course, he is right. With part of ourselves we are offended as he thinks by what is too much for us to believe. We weren’t born yesterday. We are from Missouri.

– From Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

I don’t know why or how I met him. Maybe we were on one of our well-meaning outreaches and I gave him food; or maybe he asked me for money and I, being the sheltered product of an Asian American upbringing, a confused faith and suburban childhood, didn’t have the heart (or balls?) to ignore him. But he was sitting on a low wall on Channing, it was sunny, I know because even now I can see the light filtering down through the trees above us. He was ragged and dirty, in the way of Berkeley homeless who aren’t just kids who don’t want to live at home anymore, and I thought he was crazy. I must have told him I was a Christian, or he asked because I looked the part, and so he was going on and on about how he’d been in ministry and what he believed. Then he said, “It’s true, you know, about faith. I used to pray, I could pray right now, and that tree there, would bend over and touch the tips of its branches to the ground.”

Maybe he was crazy, but I’ve never quite been able to shake the feeling I had then. I thought of mustard seed sized faith and mountains. And I thought of my own faith, that was more like the kind that gets tossed to and fro by the waves, than the kind that lets you walk on them.

Should Have

•January 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

I heard in a sermon the other day that “Jesus died the death we should have died”. I think it makes more sense to say “the death we should die”, since we haven’t died yet, but that’s besides the point.

Jesus died the death we should die.

I thought about this and realized it works two ways. Jesus died the death we deserve, for our sins, in order to bring us back to God. That’s the classic sense. The other sense is this: Jesus died the death that, in our new life and with the motive power of God’s grace, we should choose to die. To die for others, to die for the sake of mankind.

I had the thought: What if everyone on earth were willing to lay down their life for another, in both daily life and in the ultimate act? The possibilities would be endless.