Friday, September 22, 2006

Wounding the Invincible

A few months ago I was talking to one of my friends about a great contrast that I have seen within the sphere of Christianity. Many of my closest friends from APU know that when I hear the words "Homecoming King" I begin to cringe and turn "super-duper" awkward. For me, this persona was always one that my heart struggled against. This does not disregard anything of my time at APU or the blessing that the memories of that place still hold in my mind. For me, this insecurity lies in being categorized in a group which I hold little relationship to. For lack of a better name, I will call this group the "Invincibles."
To me the invincibles is a group of people that I have never been able to understand. These people are real people who, many of which, I deeply respect, admire, and sometimes even envy a little. When I visit their homes the absence of conflict seems shocking. Their fathers are loving pastors or businessmen. He takes is wife out on "date night" and goes on vacation with her because he likes to do it. The Invincibles don't usually live extravagantly but have a nice family sized house with lots of happy pictures and a "footsteps" poem in their bathroom. They attend church every week as children and grow up and go to school at places like APU, not because they are forced to, but because they have been so profoundly impacted by a Godly family that they desire to build a family like that of their own. They go to APU and get a business degree. Their senior year they meet a wife/husband who grew up the same way. They have a beautiful wedding where everyone has to take communion and listen to "Come just as you are" as they walk down the aisle on a cliff above Laguna. They both get great jobs, are completely happy, are involved in their church and love everyone they come in contact with, and in the end they raise children just like themselves.

Then, there's me and my group. I call us the "wounded." Growing up in my family there were rarely happy moments. In fact, no one usually wanted to come visit my house. Sure, my parents loved me and raised me the best that they could, but we had some really hard times. In fact, those times were so hard that I was depressed and wanted to kill myself. That was why I came to know Jesus, because I needed him just to get me out of bed to go to basketball practice every morning. In fact, it wasn't untill APU that I finally was at a place where I could have an on-going state of joy from being in community. Yet, for those of us in the wounded category, we all know what it is like when we face the invincibles. They are a reminder that we have a whole life outside of school; one that we have to face every time we go home. It's funny because as a wounded, graduation almost feels like a reentry into that life. You realize that the real world is a tough place and that old habits die hard. Not only that but things don't get easier, most of the time you face even bigger issues than you did growing up. Sometimes you wonder if you are destined to a life of hardship upon hardship. This leads to a questioning of your faith and a lack of understanding as to "why God lets these things happen." You know all the right answers to that question because you took Exo/Deut and went to see Francis Chan in chapel everytime he spoke. Yet, it still doesn't add up in your gut. Still, there's that ache in your heart that believes and you don't quite give up.

I don't hate the invincibles. They were born the way they are and I'm glad I have them as my friends. They remind me that there is a right way of doing things. On the other hand, I would never lose my place as a wounded. In my last blog I talked about Elliott Smith. I think that the greatest gift of suffering is the bond it brings. Sometimes I like to think about Jesus the same way. Maybe in that Old Testament stuff he just didn't get us. He just didn't understand why we were so stupid and made all these bad mistakes. Sometimes I like to think that maybe God just wanted so bad to understand why Humanity was so hard. I feel like when He came to be one of us, He did it just as much for us as he did for himself. I look at when He saw Lazarus die and He cried. I think He cried because He understood. He understood what it was like to experience the pain that we experience; a pain that could not usually be experienced by an "Invincible" God. I hope that I never become so wounded that I can't believe anymore. I hope I never become so invincible that I don't cry with someone else.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Elliott Smith: Celebration of a hopeless beauty 3 years after his death

Every so often there comes an artist whose work seems to impact you so profoundly during a specific event in your life that it seems they are having a direct conversation with you. For some it is a glance upon a painting that brings an understanding of the magnificence of nature. For others, a poem that resounds in the thoughts of the reader. Books that take us just where we want to go. Or simply, a song that when played, connects so deeply to a situation, person, emotion, or connection, that it moves not only in our ears but through the inner depths of our souls. For me, it was Elliott Smith who reached through the speakers of my car radio on one of the most painful nights of my life this summer. I understood his songs in a new way that I had previously never before experienced them. For those of you who have been deprived the great honor of cozying up to Elliotts music on a rainy day, you may remember his song "Miss Misery" from the Goodwill Hunting Soundtrack, nominated for an academy award for best song in a motion picture. That soundtrack was just a sliver of the grandeur that was his musical career. Elliott, a man whose nature glimmered beauty and desperation symbiotically, was in my mind one of the truest forms of an artist within my lifetime. Many of our generation can so easily identify with his genuine soulish struggles: the realization that life as we know it, can be hopeless, and yet, every so often we see simple reflections of hope that profoundly move us as a contrast to the complex pains of life. Unfortunately, in Elliott's case, these reflections were not enough to tame the tragic struggles that befell him. In October, 2003, Elliott stabbed himself to death at the age of 34.
One of the greatest failures of Elliott's career partnered with this death was the dealings of his last family of songs known as "the Basement" recordings. From this material Elliott's last album "From a Basement on a hill" was composed. The tragedy lies in the fact that this album was not necessarily the album Elliott would have intended. Due to legal restraints imposed by existing family members, more than 50 tracks went unreleased due to personal matters discussed within the lyrics of the songs which supposedly cast the family members in a negative light. In other words, Elliott's last goodbye to us is locked in the vaults of a music studio somewhere in Los Angeles.
On a more positive note, however, three more of these songs were recently leaked onto the Internet; an event that hopefully will promote the future release of quite possibly his best art.
For me, Elliott's music will always serve as the letters of a friend in times of turmoil. They are reminder that nothing that beautiful should ever have to die. That it is worth going through the pains in life if only someone else should benefit from them.
Anyways, please listen to his new tracks and check out any of his CDs(Elliott Smith, Roman Candle, Either/Or, Figure 8, Basement on a Hill). I hope that you are able to appreciate his life in the way I have.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Lookin' for a leader

This past week the Clinton administration has been outraged with the surfacing of a new mini-series on ABC about the events that lead up to 9/11. The reemergence of the Clinton administration in world events was surprising to me, which led me to try and follow these events. In an interview on KCRW this morning a reporter on the subject was asked why this mini-series has sparked the amount of controversy that it has, especially if the mini-series is based on the intelligence files released by our own government. The reporter, who had just watched an edited version of the mini-series, claimed that there were aspects of the 1993 attempt on the trade center that were presented in detail that were only briefly described in the report. The reporter concluded that much of the dialogue used in the film was from a source different from the government report, a source which he declined to reveal. Concluded from his interview, the main issue that the administration seemed to have with the mini-series was the democratic party's negligent response to a problem that was obviously there beforehand. He claimed that the Bin Ladin problem, though there if they had looked clearly enough, was ignored as portrayed in the movie.
In a country in which I find myself in one of the biggest global struggles for control in the past millennium, I find myself in a predicament. I am faced with a stark contrast between two administrations that represent ideally two positions that I disagree with. The first is the existent Bush administration. I am faced with a government power and party that has taken unethical and unjust roles in world affairs and has used the hurts of this nation to impose hurt on the poverty of others. The Bush administration has made dominant oppressing decisions. The second I am faced with is the Clinton administration and their negligence and passivity towards the issues that brewed. Had some of the issues with the middle east been dealt with, we may not have seen ourselves in this struggle in the first place. We as Americans find ourselves between two negative powers. The first is a Democratic party that can do nothing but criticize actions taken by the Republican party without coming up with solutions for problems on their own. The second is a Republican party that continues to take action and make decisions which do not align with the mission and goals of our country. Though obviously I am oversimplifying a very complex issue, I think I voice the frustrations of many of us that stand in the middle of this heated debate.
I often wonder if I, as an American, will ever have a leader whose decisions I am proud of. In China my students would often ask me what I thought of Bush. I found myself tightening up and becoming uncomfortable with that question. How could I defend the leadership of an administration whose decisions I find myself very opposed too? In one unique conversation, however, they asked me, "What do you think of the founding fathers of your country?" In China if you asked this question of someone who was not half-way indoctrinated by the communist party, they would find this issue difficult because of many of the questionable actions taken by Mao during the cultural revolution. In this specific conversation, I, for the first time, almost found myself in tears describing the integrity and character of George Washington. I'm not the most patriotic person in this world, but there is something beautiful to me about the ideals upon which our country was founded by those who sought good(not the killers of Indians, not the slave traders, but those that fought oppression and held to the rights of man).
I look at the party system which has really become a monarchy structure in which money and a family name are the biggest rights of passage to presidency. Something has to change. I know that I am not the only one that hopes that in this next election we might see a movement in which the silent majority, the true voice of the people, is spoken through the values of a new form of leadership or party.
Though many of Neil Young's opinions on what's best for our country are too extreme for my tastes, I lthink the lines of "I'm looking for a leader" on "Living with War" capture the political emotion that I find myself entrenched in at this period in time:

Lookin' for a Leader
To bring our country home
Re-unite the red white and blue
Before it turns to stone

Lookin' for somebody
Young enough to take it on
Clean up the corruption
And make the country strong

Walkin' among our people
There's someone who's straight and strong
To lead us from desolation
And a broken world gone wrong

Someone walks among us
And I hope he hears the call
And maybe it's a woman
Or a black man after all

Yeah maybe it's Obama
But he thinks that he's too young
Maybe it's Colin Powell
To right what he's done wrong

America has a leader
But he's not in the house
He's waling here among us
And we've got to seek him out

Yeah we've got our election
But corruption has a chance
We got to have a clean win
To regain confidence

America is beautiful
But she has an ugly side
We're lookin' for a leader
In this country far and wide

We're lookin' for a leader
With the great spirit on his side

Someone walks among us
And I hope he hears the call
And maybe it's a woman
Or a black man after all

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Can you hear me now?

A few days ago I rode the Gold Line back from watching the Roots play live on Jimmy Kimmel in Hollywood. A number of times the company I was with was discussing cell phone etiquette and how rude it was to not call people back or dismiss an incoming call. Others argued how rude it was to pick up a cell phone call while in a person-to-person conversation. We jabbered endlessly about the subject and eventually disembarked the metro train. I drove home and was just about to get out of the car when I stood up and noticed a lack of something. All of a sudden I frantically patted down my body and realized that I had left a ligament on the train. My cell phone had pulled a Tim Lahaye. Frantic thoughts went through my mind, "How will I be able to contact anyone? How will they contact me?"
That night I stayed up until 2:00 trying to work the who situation out with my cell phone company. It was not until I knew that I would have another digital connection to the outside world within a few days that I could sleep soundly.
I've never been a drug addict but I would compare the last few days to not having a fix. I find myself wandering aimlessly around the house wondering what other people are doing. Leaving the house is leaving my comfort zone because, "What if someone calls?" I find myself putting the lamp to my ear just to remind me of how sweet the sensation of "Lupia" is (PS if you haven't named EVERY possession that you own yet, you need to get on it.)
Four years ago I got my first cell phone. Before that life wasn't that bad. Even this past year in China I had a cell phone but would rarely use it because it was culturally accepted to only send text messages. The cell phone phenomenon tells us so much more about the culture in which we live. In China I never felt the need to always talk to people on my cell phone. Rarely would anyone call. Here I feel guilty if I don't pick up the phone. In the past if someone called and missed you and you didn't get back to them for an hour or God-forbid, A DAY, it was no sweat. Now, if I missed a call and didn't respond with urgency, especially from work, I had better have a good explanation. Maybe it is because of my people-pleaser tendencies but I feel pressure to even talk to people when my cell phone is low on minutes and it costs me extra money.
Cell phones, obviously have become a status icon within our society. The nature of the status they represent is unique, however, in that they don't represent financial status. Instead, to many, they represent relational wealth. The more you are called, the more important you are, the more people need you. If you don't keep up with your calls, eventually, people might decide they don't need you. A lack of calls might as well be a lack of friends in some instances.
The danger in this is not in the fact that people correlate cell phones to relationships. The danger is the type of relationships that cell phone relationships represents. For many, they would prioritize a twenty minute cell phone call over a 5 minute interaction with a stranger who they might not talk to if they were not making the call. The idea that relationships can happen spontaneously in the moment then becomes unconventional. It's for that reason that I hate to not have my phone because now I might have to talk to people that are my actual neighbors rather than someone who is a further distance away but more agreeable to my personality.
In the end we find another fast-food, get-it-when-and-how-you-want-it solution that steals from the nutrition of natural undigitized life.
Don't get me wrong...cell phones have their place...and I can't wait to have mine back tomorrow.

The Journey