Monday, March 30, 2009
Lee's was a particularly tragic death, by his own hand, a final grasping at control at the end of a long descent into despair through cancer and chemo, job loss and financial ruin, wrestling with relationships, sexual identity, and familial rejection, and always . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting for love . . . and the small indices of hope, a gift of a computer to remain connected to reasons for living one more day, the paperwork submitted and accepted to receive government funds for disability, an in-person visit from a distant friend . . . .
Facebook and blogs are amazing vehicles for connecting people who expressed their love for Lee across an infinity of molecules in space . . . so close in feelings, yet so far away in distance and actualization. Those Internet vehicles are also the way that many of us, unfamiliar with and unknown by Lee, have now come to acknowledge this fellow sojourner on what is too often life's crushing path. I wonder . . . is it selfishisness that moves me to pray that our retrospective validation of Lee and his life will make a difference in the Creation . . . .
I wrote a poem entitled "Losses" a decade and a half ago after the death of a long-time girlfriend to breast cancer. The poem was dedicated to Jeanne when I wrote it, and tonight I feel moved to rededicate that poem to Lee. There have been too many losses / in too many states / of being loved and unloved / (but never unlovable, one hopes) / at war and at peace / but never at rest / If I don't care, does the hurt abate? / If I hadn't cared, is your absence erased? . . . . [To read the poem, click on "Losses" to reach iDisk Public Folder (Magenta), then download the file titled "Losses."]
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Last night I celebrated my birthday with nine women friends – a day late because of the 14 inches of heavy wet snow that fell all day yesterday, the actual 60th anniversary of my birth. Three others had planned to join us but had calendar conflicts. It was such a gift to be celebrated and affirmed by one’s friends and to be shown so much untethered love.
When I closed my eyes to listen to the erhu music Melissa had selected to play for me, I had a new insight about the cross of Christ. I have always been in touch with the suffering of Christ fully human on the cross, but for the first time I had a sense of the intensity of the love that Christ fully divine harbors for humankind which I characterized as “the ecstasy of love” while sitting among my friends with my eyes closed. In the short span of that one musical interlude I thought further upon the ecstasy of love that Christ fully divine emanated to all of humankind upon the cross and came to understand, to see – really see – for the first time, how the ecstasy of love is sufficient to overcome the suffering of death upon the cross.
Thefreedictionary.com says that one expression of ecstasy is “the rapture associated with prophetic exaltation.” What could possibly be more prophetic than Christ dying on the cross to redeem humankind? What could possibly bring a feeling of rapture – of extreme joy – more than the knowledge that one is about to be reunited with God as Jesus the Christ sheds the human condition?
In the past, when studying the theology of the cross, I have tended to focus upon the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. While I did understand that the sacrifice of God’s only son was made out of God’s infinite love for humankind, my error I now see is that I focused on the sacrifice and not on God’s love. It now dawns on me that the lesson I am supposed to learn is about love and not about sacrifice as an expression, or as the most important expression, of love.
The commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” not to “love your neighbor above yourself” or to “love your neighbor more than yourself.” In other words, God does not require sacrifice from us. What God requires from us is love. When I think about the parable of the workers in the field who were paid the same wage whether they worked one hour or all day, it reminds me that it is human nature to measure and compare, but it is not God’s way. God’s love is infinite and immeasurable. God’s requirement of us – we who are created in God’s image - is to love without measure, trusting God to equip us with the generosity of spirit to express boundless love for our fellows.
Matthew 18:3 says that unless we change and become like little children, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. We are called to unlearn the lessons of measuring and comparing – what we have vs. what others have, how much we are given vs. how much others are given, how hard we work vs. how hard others work, how much we suffer vs. how much others suffer. We are called to stop reciting those lists in our heads. We are called to remember how delightful it is to receive and give love – like little children receive and give love: just receiving and giving love from their innate spirits. God calls us back to our innate identities: beloved children of God created in God’s image.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I’ve been following the Bernie Madoff and bailouts/AIG retention bonus stories with disgust and fascination. How is it that white collar criminals and white collar workers can visit such far-reaching harm on so many people to such an exponential degree that they bring a whole nation’s economy down and impact the world’s economy to such a historic level? There are real people whose real lives are really being destroyed by what has transpired in the ordinary course of doing business.
One thing I know for sure as I survey this economic landscape is that we are all interconnected in ways that boggle the imagination whether or not we believe that we are active participants. Whether you have prudently lived within your income or you’re living on credit cards beyond your ability to pay them off, you’re impacted by what is happening in the corridors of power, narcissism and greed on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C. – like it or not.
In a March 20, 2009, opinion piece for Newsweek entitled “Wall Street’s Economic Crimes Against Humanity,” Shoshana Zuboff writes:
Each day's economic news leaves me haunted by Hannah Arendt's ruminations on Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann as she reported on his trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker 45 years ago. Arendt pondered "the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil" and sought to capture it with her famous formulation "the banality of evil." Arendt found Eichmann neither "perverted nor sadistic," but "terribly and terrifyingly normal."
We Americans live lives that are separated by many degrees from what animates us and what we do or others do for us to achieve the fulfillment of our daily wants and needs. Just stop for a moment and consider: Where does the water come from to brew your morning coffee? Who cleans it so that it is potable? How is it cleaned? How does it get delivered to you? How do you pay for what you use? Who determines how much you get to use vs. what someone, say, in India or Sudan gets?
What about the work that you do? Are you an information worker, a service worker or someone who actually produces a product? How many steps are you removed from the actual end user of your labor? If Hurricane Katrina’s devastation had hit your workplace or the neighborhood where you reside, would there still be any demand for your labor? Would you still have a job to go to? Would what you do make any difference to anybody?
Recently, I had the opportunity to ponder what people in third world countries do about their health issues, such as living with and dying from life-threatening illnesses like diabetes, heart and kidney disease, and cancer. If you live without the banality of medical tests that tell you blood pressure and blood sugar readings, how would you handle hypertension or diabetes, how would you live a healthy lifestyle or care for your body?
I submit that we all participate in “the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil” to the extent that we are thoughtless about how we live, our roles in the world economy – how we get to live the lives that we live, how we depend on others along the way, and how the way we live impacts the way that others live.
What we think of as ordinary and normal is actually rather extraordinary for most of the world. We take so much for granted.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I have only read the House of Bishops' Pastoral Letter regarding "the worsening financial crisis around us" once. As a person in the pews, in that one reading, I am actually comforted to know that my church's bishops are reminding us to turn to our Triune God and the lessons of Scripture and our Christian tradition to find solace, strength and renewal. I am heartened by the fact that they view the current economic crisis as not being isolated in history by the mere movements of the secular white collar criminals and institutions that have led us down this awful path. It has taken years for us to get to where we are today as a nation of excess, greed and entitlement. Our whole country and culture is one of privilege. I consider the pastoral letter in that sense an appropriate exercise of leadership.
Personally, I am sitting in a house that is upside down right now. We owe more than the house is worth due to an over 35% drop in market values in Boulder County. Our retirement portfolio has declined by over 40%. Yet I am strengthened by being reminded by my religious leaders to look at myself and my situation in perspective. As a first generation Chinese American, I am grateful that my church leaders remind my brethren of something that I try to remind others of all the time, which is that even the poor in America are rich by global standards. My spiritual button was reset recently when we had to evacuate our house for a fast-moving wildfire. It only took about 30 seconds for me to realize that everything except for my mother and my cat could be replaced and didn't matter. But perhaps the experience of my refugee family background - of having to leave China with only what you could carry in a suitcase - has prepared me emotionally for where we are today. I finally "get" the Beatitudes.
I don't read the bishops' letter as telling us to forego our own internal justice issues. Rather, I see them reminding us not to be so distracted by taking care of our own that we forget that there is a whole world outside of the church where others and we, also, live that needs our attention.
My family may end up losing our house at some point either due to the economy or to illness, but we will never be without a roof to sleep under. We will always have an extended family that will love and care for us. I can't turn my attention inward to focus on taking care of my family when my eyes have been opened by being a follower of Jesus to look at the suffering of others, which is worse than our suffering. We who have been equipped with gifts to do ministry are called, today, more than yesterday, to do multiple ministries, to divide our attention, to look in many directions, sometimes seeming to be all at the same time, and to answer many calls for help and succour. I pray constantly that God will grant us grace and mercy to be able to do even a piece of the work.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
My friend has an antique pocket watch
Genuine 18 kt gold
Ornate and small
Handed down the generations
Probably belonged to a genteel woman
Who tucked scented handkerchiefs
Into her sleeve
Before alighting from her front stoop
Into a world scented with horse manure
Black fumes from blacksmiths’ forges
I have an iPhone
Only first generation
I’m not the first adopter in this family
I’m only an inheritor of personal technology
Slow to fall in love with devices
That require commitment
Sleekly outfitted with its own skin
It’s a fashion statement
My pocket computer
My home away from home
How will future generations know
How I kept time
What object I fondly stroked
Empowered by its presence in my pocket
Bereft when I leave home without it
When their archaeologists unearth
My iPhone with its dead battery
Will they patiently reassemble its pieces
Into a working whole
Write about it in Discover emagazine
Or whatever their version of “e” will be
In the promised fantabulous future