August 16th, 2016 § Leave a Comment
So when I set out to observe the Sabbath, I discovered that the hardest thing to do was cease from all work. I thought, “Wait a minute. What’s going on? I’ve always enjoyed an excuse to take the afternoon off. This isn’t like me.” I’ve never been an overachiever, a teacher’s pet. In fact, if there was a shortcut to be found, I was your man. The apparent incongruity had my attention.
One day, someone said these words, “I work to save myself.” Ding. Ding. Ding. Bingo. That’s it. Everything from the feverish work on the basketball court to running myself into the ground during those uncertain years of my fledgling career, I have always worked to save myself. The connection to the next part of our conversation was a good deal more immediate.
If I work to save myself, that for which I work is then my savior. My god. As I looked back to the desperate person that I’ve been throughout most of my life, I saw a path strewn with idols. I have always been an idolator.
Around this time, it struck me that the Ten Commandments does not begin with a command. Exodus 20 begins, “God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ …” Then to command one: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Idolatry is so bad not only because I am trusting in a false god, which is itself plenty bad, but because there is a true God — a God who loves me. Lived for me and died to save me. Idolatry is not only the turning to that which is false, but turning away from him who is true. There’s betrayal at the heart of idolatry. It’s not just the sleeping around, it’s the leaving of a faithful, loving wife to go slide into bed with a lover.
July 18th, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’ve had a five year conversation with God. I realize how that sounds. It is however about as plain and as accurate as I can state it. It’s the truth or at least what I believe to be the truth. A few weeks ago, we arrived at what I think was the conclusion. While it was going on, I thought, “I need to write some of this down.” So, in a few posts, I am going to try to capture the highlights of this conversation. I’m writing this more for me than anyone else, but the point of the conversation might be of interest to you. It was about joy.
For most of my adult life, I’ve taken a day a week to spend some extended time with God, which is my way of saying I spent anywhere from five to eight hours reading the Bible and praying. When I transitioned to a new position at work, I let this part of my life slide a bit. My wife notices when I neglect these times, so at her behest, I renewed my commitment. About the same time, I decided to depart from my usual pattern of skipping about the Bible in my readings to read the Bible in a linear fashion from Genesis to Revelations. In those first couple months, as I read through the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah, my attention was drawn to the repetitive phrase, “You shall do no work …” In particular, I was struck by the stern, prohibitive language.
And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement,
to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. Leviticus 23:28
I came home and told my wife, “I think God is telling me not to work.”
“If he’s telling you not to work, you had better listen.”
For the next year, one day a week, I decided to do no work. Not to touch it. Almost immediately, I expanded the definition of work to include any life giving activity. One day a week, I did zero work. No computer. No calendar. No people. Nothing. The only thing I did was spend time with God and come home to serve my family. I fasted on those days. No food. No exercise. No entertainment. No TV. No hobbies.
The surprising discovery was this: Of all the things from which I abstained, work was the hardest thing to drop. Not doing work was by far the most difficult discipline. Harder than not eating. Harder than not playing. The discovery was particularly noteworthy because I have always been by nature someone who enjoys play a good deal more than work. One of my highest values is leisure. Why was it than that when told I mustn’t work, I squirmed and fidgeted. How’d I become that guy who at every opportunity was all about frenetic activity?
April 20th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
The thing I’ve heard about poverty is that it removes the steps between what is by all appearances a normal existence to a life of utter destitution. In other words, the steps between a poor person and the streets are fewer and in many cases non-existent compared to those of a middle class person. Most of you – maybe all of you reading this would have to have multiple things go off the rails before wandering the streets, not knowing where you were going to lay your head for the night. The chances of you not knowing where your next meal will come are so remote that words like “impossibility” would best describe the unfolding of such a scenario. For the poor, not only is it possible, that world lies just on the other side of the door.
Ever since we’ve had our foster child, we’ve spent six to eight hours a week with his parents. As you might imagine, they are not without their flaws. One thing they cannot be accused of is lacking interest in their son. Despite the many challenges, their determination to try to regain custody of their child is undeniable. In a significant way, we believe he is an anchor that keeps them resistant to the forces that would shove them out the door. It is their love for him that stirs in them a certain, healthy love for themselves, and a love for life itself.
Early in our pondering about foster parenting, a good friend helped us look beyond the child to the plight of parents. She put us in the shoes of parents whose child was removed. And by so doing, stirred in us an empathy for those who deal with the unthinkable: Losing a child.
Like countless others in their situation, our foster child’s parents are a jump, skip and a hop from a destitute existence. Their unlikely savior is the baby they hold in their arms for eight hours a week. And the love they have for him is the thing that keeps them standing on their tenuous foothold on life.
December 18th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
Some things I’ll never understand: techno music, men and plastic surgery and the comb over. The comb over. Why? Has anyone ever seen a comb over and thought, “That’s a good idea”?
Last night, at my daughter’s orthodontist office, I saw one of the greatest comb overs of all time.
I know. I’m not saying that lightly … of all time. And trust me, I’ve had my run ins with the comb over. An image I can’t get out of my head is of one of my Dad’s best friends, a summer afternoon and ping pong. He was short and stocky, tidy and proper with a classic, well matured comb over. There was a heated ping pong match. The shirts came off and the sweat flowed. With the lunging forehand, the comb over slid off his wet, slickened dome and hung shoulder length to one side of his head. Instantly, this man who’d been up to that point the picture of restraint and propriety transformed into a crazy dwarf who works in underground dungeons. It left an impression.
But what I saw last night … I was standing in the waiting room, holding our foster child who’d had enough of waiting, when walked in an older Chinese gentleman – trust me, us Asians can tell. Taking notice of the unhappy child in my arms, he walked over with a kind smile in what I could only assume was an effort to cheer the kid up. The man, already of diminutive stature, bent slightly to get eye level with the kid. By so doing, he basically shoved his comb over in my face. I was frozen.
Turn away man!
It wasn’t your standard “Bring it over and lay the wet strands across” comb overs. No. This comb over borrowed from every side of his head. A little from the east, a bit from the west. Pull some forward from the back. The fine mesh gathered was spun, patted and held in place like a thin swath of jet black cotton candy laid over shiny flesh. I’ll never forget it.
I suppose the only explanation for it is that of evolution. No one goes bald overnight. The thining and retreating happens gradually. I suppose one can be forgiven for combing a bit over to cover a thining patch. After a decade of “little here, a little there” and you have it – the comb over. Hey, you didn’t plan to end up here. It just happened. So, in a way, your loved ones are as much to blame as you are. Has no one to told you, “Enough’s enough”?
Well, enough’s enough. You’re not fooling anyone. Combing over is not a good idea.
December 8th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
If Star Wars was what made an otherwise happy outing into something despised – I still can’t stand that damn dragon – what does this enduring memory from my childhood tell me about myself? What does it tell me about the difficulty of maintaining a thankful disposition? What does it say about discontentment and the anger that so often accompanies it?
The only reason Star Wars came to bear on that afternoon was because I believed I was getting it instead of Pete’s Dragon. Falsely, but believed whole heartedly nonetheless. If I don’t see that poster on the way in, Pete’s Dragon might be one of my all time favorite movies … ahhh, maybe not, but you get the point. When I expected one thing and got another, I was pissed. This was an isolated incident, so how does it translate to an overall state of ungratefulness? Do I live with a general belief that I deserve something more? My life is Pete’s Dragon when it should be Star Wars. There’s a word for this. Entitled. It’s an ugly word. It’s what gets some turning to an absurd line when special demands are denied: “Do you know who I am?” Yeah yeah, I know who you are. Now, get your ass back in line like everyone else.
And so what is at the root of Do you know who I am guy? The question itself is revealing. Isn’t it what we believe about ourselves? More specifically, our belief in the self-aggrandized version of ourselves. An inflated sense self-importance? Somehow, we’ve gottin’ it in your heads that we are more important than others standing in line. And as deplorable as that sounds, isn’t this more or less the default setting for all of us?
I got news for you self, and it’s not really news: You’re not that important. One day, sooner than you think, you will be no more. And when that day comes, if you’ve lived well, a few will cry for you. And just as their tears dry, so will the memory of you evaporate. And if you understand this, you’ll know this isn’t sad. It’s not tragic. You’ll let go of self-importance. Cease from asking, “Do you know who I am?” You’ll not need a lifeless statue erected in your name to realize that you are far more valuable than you’ve ever dared to believe. Nor will you need the idiocy of a discolored, bronze image, staring blankly into nothing, a glorified perch for birds to be comforted by the reality that you’re far less important than your fragility has demanded. And maybe, forgetting that you deserve anything, forgetting that you’re entitled to more than they, you’ll sit back and be thankful for Pete’s Dragon.
And c’mon really, how much better is Star Wars than Pete’s Dragon?
December 3rd, 2014 § Leave a Comment
Pete’s Dragon was one of the great disappointments of my life. The partial animation, musical of a jolly dragon frolicking with a couple of kids. Really. I’m not making that up. It’s what I remember, at least. Look, it was a long time ago. And at the time, I could barely speak a word of English, let alone follow a full length film. And even if I could, I was too bent to make an effort.
I’m pretty sure it was a field trip. I don’t remember anything leading up to it. I don’t remember looking forward to it. The bus ride. Nothing. The first thing I remember of that day was seeing the Star Wars movie poster outside the theatre. My brother was with me, and I remember turning to him, wide eyed, “StaaAAH WaahhSSEH!” We were straight outta Seoul, but we weren’t living under a rock. In 1977, there wasn’t anything bigger than Star Wars. And as far as I knew, we were walking into a theatre to watch it. I wanted to run around in circles, jumping and screaming.
Barely able to contain myself, I took a seat in the theatre. The lights finally dimmed. “StaaAAH WaahhSSEH.” Into this space of unparalleled anticipation entered a fat, green, stupid dragon. “Huh? Okay, this must be … wait. What? No. No. No. No!” In the first thirty minutes of Pete’s Dragon, I went through my own stages of grief: Shock. Question. Denial. Anger. Resignation.
Pete’s Dragon was one of the great disappointments of my life. But it shouldn’t have been. I was at the movies! First time ever. And not on any day, but on a school day. Any movie is better than a day at school. There were plenty for which to be thankful, and yet it was one of my greatest disappointments. Why? Star Wars, that’s why. When I thought I was getting something better, the good I got was worse than nothing.
After a weekend of pondering the act of giving thanks, I wonder if the ease of it eludes me because I still think I should be getting Star Wars instead of Pete’s Dragon.
November 11th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
Faith, if it’s real, permeates the whole of life. In fact, I’d argue that this all encompassing quality is one way to verify its authenticity. Real faith will appear in every aspect of a person’s life. There will be no “separation of church and state” nor any other separation for that matter. I realize this sounds unsettling, if not unAmerican. This is where it might be helpful to make a distinction: Although real faith cannot be separated, religion can and often does exist separated.
My take is, when drafted, the authors of the 1st Amendment weren’t worried about individual citizens living out their faith. Having fled the hostile environment created when unchallenged religious leaders get in bed with national rulers, they made it first priority to keep these traditional powers at opposite ends of the building. Separate religion from affairs of state? Where do I sign?
So, what was my point? Right. Faith … real faith, affects the whole of life. When I came to believe in a loving God, he slowly began to have a meaningful, tangible affect on my life. The more I trusted him, the more this faith stepped outside of designated places and times. The practice of my religion spilled outside of church and on the days between my Sundays. And it increasingly took the form of love. Love God and love your neighbor – things I could do anywhere and at anytime.
There’s this passage in the Bible that reads, “The religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …” Have compassion for those in need – small or great. It’s what makes Christ, a person over whom there is great dispute, so universally respected. The religion of Jesus Christ is the religion of unconditional love.
Goes without saying I’m no where near laying hold of it, but I press on. I’m a believer.
This is it. It’s the reason why I’ve gone out of my way to keep this blog free of religious language. If real faith permeates all of life, then words spoken in ordinary life can express my faith. These posts have been about love, hope and faith. They’ve spoken of sacrifice, generosity, compassion. These are the pillars of what I believe to be the true religion.
June 27th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
Facebook is like the combination of a 20 year high school reunion, bumper stickers and “What I did last summer” slide show, rolled together, streaming, non-stop in all its “Hey, look at me!” glory.
I don’t know … maybe it’s just me. I am going to be forty-five this year. Anyway, you can follow me on Twitter @theRealCookedGoose … just kidding.
March 6th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
I confess that I have a condescending attitude toward the Oscars, like the whole thing’s beneath me or something. I dismiss it as a beauty pageant of sorts – a popularity contest. The red carpet, posing for the cameras in their Versaces, all the “who’s who” hoopla. Entertainment reporters who are – let’s face it – not real reporters going on a gluttonous butt sniffing frenzy. What does any of this have to do with art?
Like I know something about art. That’s why it’s a confession; I’m aware that my disdain for the glittery Hollywood ball is wrong. I of all people have no right to look down on anything. “What have you done that’s so great that artists being recognized for reaching the heights of their craft is beneath you?” A good question to which I have no good answer.
Over the years, my misguided attitude has kept me from tuning in. This year, my teenage daughter wanted to watch the Academy Awards. My wife and I have always felt that in parenting “blocking access” needs to be used sparingly. “You want to watch? Sure, let’s watch it together.”
Other than Ellen DeGeneres being surprisingly good, the show pretty much went as I expected. Ho hum. Then it happened. In the Best Supporting Actor category, a ten second sample of Jared Leto’s offering flashed on the screen. The transvestite Rayon’s sorrowful, tortured, solitary moment in front of a mirror was stunning. Wow. Give the man his Oscar.
January 24th, 2014 § 1 Comment
Through the glass door adorned with various beer ads and other non-descript stickers to a slight incline onto the main floor. On the left were the two top sliding glass door freezers packed with bags of ice and ice cream; on the right was the back of a small, waist level news stand … no, really a magazine rack. All I remember of it were the Hustler and Playboys tucked away in the corner … forbidden fruit blinking neon on the drab tree. Beyond it was the wall of liquor. Literally, a wall – front to back , top to bottom, a distilled menagerie of the establishment’s namesake. To a ten year old boy, it might as well have been decorative … the sweet tooth there long before a taste for spirits.
Sometime around 1980, my Mom and Dad bought their first business. Being Korean immigrants, naturally they bought a liquor store. The thought of that store still fills me with that warm, bountiful feeling of anticipation … you know that feeling you get as you step into your favorite “all you can shove down” buffet. Yeah, that feeling. I still see the afternoon lighting coming through the store front windows, the lighting of my after school foraging. Oh, and the happy dilemma: “Do I go Mars bar or Snickers? And do I couple that with RC Cola or Pepsi? or do I just go crazy today and grab that Big Stick that always seems to call my name.”
My first time in Hillis Liquor, as it dawned on me that by extension all this was mine, I remember feeling that in some small way I’d arrived in life. Candy, soda, Big Stick, Funyuns, and porn: I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.