Flights of Faith

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Awkward Turtle Strikes Abroad


I loved exploring Japan alone, free from impersonal cutesing. Solo.
China, here comes the gang.

I really dislike first interactions with people from a random pool.
Give me a church, protest, dance and I will be fine.
Throw me in a room with no dig...I become silent and restless.
Still observant though, which makes it so entirely painful.

but fun for you since I record my awkward moments

1) coughing right before attempting to shake someone's hand. Then
2 talking to someone about my experience in Israel and simply making a hardly
progressive claim to dual victimhood (Israelis and Palestinians) then finding
out she is a member of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) who
made me affirm the "little Israel" stereotype by pushing "right? right? right?"
My passive murmur flashbacked me to the awful complicity that was summer 2006.
3) being silent during an entire conversation about the Iraq War because my
perspective in the crowd would have had me thrown in jail. a lot of dangerous
hypotheticals that implicitly praises what we've done.
4) cringing at the awful imperialist language and essentialism that's
contributing to our ongoing project of dividing the East and West into
irreconcilable halves. Of course, they make the Chinese vendor experience the
normative one.
5) seeing how awful my cultural gaze is and also witnessing it in others through
the camera lens.
6) imagining the pain it would be to be Asian-American on this tour. And not
really knowing where the solution starts for this problem and wondering if I'm
even positioned to make a dent publicly.

I'm also in a weird place thanks to some books I'm reading. Floating in a lot of
ideas and potential problems. Hopefully, I can sort them out in the coming days.
Maybe there will be posts soon.

Until then,

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Absolution: Not from ourselves, from God

Found this while webtrolling...

"And that's when you realize why [Rafael] Nadal, like so many young people his age, speaks in absolutes. He is too old not to have answers and too young to know there aren't any.

How to be humble and yet confident?
How to be quiet and still be heard?
Even, How to find God when there's so much pain in the world?

"I would like to believe there is a God, but I think it is better to say I'm not sure there is a God and live your life with kindness and respect for people than to say I know there is a God and then do bad things," he said.

You know, come to think of it, he might have that God thing down. I wonder what's next on the list?" - LZ Granderson [ESPN]

Sigh, two things strike me from this feature piece on Nadal, a top ranked tennis player expected to go far in the ongoing French Open.

1) We are all so afraid of being hypocrites. It is if we delay any type of metamorphosis until we somehow know we've achieved perfection without ever even trying. Except that last part never happens. We just wait and remain unchanged.

2) This whole belief system relies on the notion that we can have "kindness and respect for people" without Christ. It's easy to see why so many Christians critique a position like this from the underbelly, the use of an Ultimate Truth. It effectively ends the conversation. But isn't that part of the problem? That can't be all we say. We need to talk this through.

The recognition of a God is not enough. After all, the Devil knows God exists. Recognition must enter one into a relationship with a cleansing and gracious God. We cannot afford to be paralyzed by guilt over not being perfect. That is an impossible feat for us. Instead, we can choose to get better, grow stronger, and, most importantly, look to the Cross for forgiveness and a sense of renewal.

Nadal’s main error is assuming that God will not help him identify his bad actions and correct them. God never abandons us and acknowledging Him is the beginning of a journey that promises we will never be alone. It’s not a lone tightrope demanding perfection without providing a hand when we lose our balance.

Recognition should produce fruits. Life changes. We will not, in any sense, be perfect. However, we will have unlimited counsel and unconditional love from someone who is. As long as we do not abuse this unwarranted grace, we accept a lifestyle of constant transformation for the better.

Yes, Nadal. I will fail. And fail again and again.
But I cannot do this by myself.
I may be a hypocrite, but I am not a fool.
I need God.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


In Tokyo. Such a cool city. The sky is so awesome right now.
Blurry blue haze kisses the industrialized treetops.
Lot of thoughts racing through my head. For now, I'll just post a couple poems I wrote on the plane.

My Arc

I am bending towards justice
Twisted, my back eases from the wall
It was so easily placed against it.
My body lifts, and I find myself rising.

I is We

I sit, waiting.
I wonder when you will come.
Foolishly, I wonder.
Selfishly, I wait.

I sit, thinking.
I reflect on your goodness and on your grace.
I remember where you are
As I see grace in everything I witness.

Waiting and wondering is how I cope
With my own inaction.
I must start to sway.

Humming, I begin to transpose thoughts from my mind
Into something actual.
The buzz becomes a song as my lips open to worship you.
Bending my knees, I stand up to give you glory.
I stretch towards you.

I take steps. I try to follow a path of righteousness.
Your hands push mine outwards, I see how you are still helping those without you.
Prayer is only the beginning.
My words are spellbound to the act of giving
With bread and Christ, juice and Christ, shelter and Christ, rights and Christ.
Justice and Christ.

Only you lift me up.
Only you nourish me.
I is we.
And we exists because of your sacrifice, your grace.
My legs cross and my back rests, but I am not sitting.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Acceptable and Possible

Jim Wallis from gave a commencement speech a few days ago for Georgetown.

I read it, and I was inspired.
The apathy I was feeling, gone.
I'm printing this out for my room next year and reading this entry whenever I lose hope.

Not so these words can comfort my desire for change.
Not even so I will be motivated to act after reading Wallis' words.
But so I will know why I care about justice: God.
And why I have to act in His name.
If I am...

May it be a blessing for you as it was for me.

Georgetown Commencement Address, May 18, 2007

I feel very honored and excited to be addressing you graduates today; about being a small part of this great occasion in your lives--the day when you are symbolically "set loose" into the world; and I would suggest that all of us have a great stake in what you are going to do.

Let me start with a story, about another occasion when I was invited to speak - not for the commencement of one the nation's premier universities, but for the inmates at Sing Sing Prison in upstate New York. The invitation letter came from the prisoners themselves and it sounded like a good idea. So I wrote back asking when they wanted me to come. In his return letter, the young Sing Sing inmate replied, "Well, we're free most nights! We're kind of a captive audience here." Arrangements were made, and the prison officials were very generous in giving us a room deep in the bowels of that infamous prison facility - just me and about 80 guys for four hours.

I will never forget what one of those young prisoners said to me that night, "Jim, all of us at Sing Sing are from only about five neighborhoods in New York City. It's like a train. You get on the train when you are about 9 or 10 years old. And the train ends up here at Sing Sing."

Many of these prisoners were students too, studying in a very unique program of the New York Theological Seminary to obtain a Certificate of Theological Studies - behind the walls of the prison. They graduated when their sentences were up (of course, none of you feel that way). Here's what that young man at Sing Sing told me he would do upon his graduation: "When I get out, I'm going to go back and stop that train." Two years later, in NYC I met him again, and he was the youth minister of a local church. Now that is exactly the kind of moral decisions we desperately need today from the graduates of Sing Sing, and from the graduates of Georgetown.

Each new generation has a chance to alter two very basic definitions of realty in our world—what is acceptable and what is possible. And, from a community such as this school is, a third chance--to also shape what we mean by the word "faith."

First, what is acceptable?

There are always great inhumanities that we inflict upon one another in this world, great injustices that cry out to God for redress, and great gaps in our moral recognition of them. When the really big offenses are finally corrected, finally changed, it is always and only because something has happened to change our perception of the moral issues at stake.

That something is this: The moral contradiction we have long lived with is no longer acceptable to us. What we accepted, or ignored, or denied, finally gets our attention and we decide that we just cannot and will not live with it any longer. But until that happens, the injustice and misery continue.

And it often takes a new generation to make that decision—that something that people have long tolerated just won't be tolerated any more.

So the question to you as graduates as ambassadors for a new generation is this: what are you going to no longer accept in our world, what will you refuse to tolerate now that you will be making the decisions that will matter?

Will it be acceptable to you that 3 billion people in our world today--half of God's children--live on less that $2 per day, that more than 1 billion live on less than $1 per day, that the gap between the life expectancy between the rich places and the poor places in the world is now 40 years—meaning that death has become a social disease, and that 30,000 children globally will die today--on the day of your graduation--from needless, senseless, and utterly preventable poverty and disease. It's what Bono calls "stupid poverty."

Many people don't really know that or sort of do but have never really focused on the reality or even given it a second thought.

And that's the way it usually is. We don't know, or we have the easy explanations about why poverty or some other calamity exists or really can't be changed--all of which makes us feel better about ourselves; or we are just more concerned with lots of other things. We really don't have to care. So we tolerate it and keep looking the other way.

But then something changes. Something gets our attention, something goes deeper than it has before and hooks us in the places we call the heart, the soul, the spirit. And once we've crossed over to really seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the injustice we can never really look back again. It is now unacceptable to us.

What we see now offends us, offends our understanding of the sanctity and dignity of life, offends our notions of fairness and justice, offends our most basic values; violates our idea of the common good, and starts to tug at our deepest places. We cross the line of unacceptability. We become intolerant of the injustice.

I see many signs of change from a new generation.

I was in Minneapolis and, after speaking, was signing books. I looked up from the table and saw a very little girl who was next in line." How old are you?" I asked. "I'm eleven," she said. I stopped the line; I wanted to know what she thought of what she had just heard. I asked her what she got from tonight. "Well…I think we are just going to have to change the world!" And, who is going to that I asked her with a smile." I think people like me!" she replied. I told her story the next night in Tacoma, Washington. Sure enough, in the book signing line afterwards was another little girl who grinned at me and said, "Nine!" So I told both their stories the very next night in Seattle. There in line was the littlest girl of all. When she approached the table, she said, "I think I'm the youngest so far. I'm eight." I couldn't help but ask this child what made sense to her tonight. She paused thoughtfully for a moment and then answered, "When you talked about that 'silent tsunami,' that is killing so many children every day because of poverty—children like me…I was just sitting there and started to think, if I'm a Christian, I better do something about that."

Those three little girls really touched me, and I believe there is a great deal of both wisdom and hope in what they have to say to us.

First, the kids believe the world needs to be changed. The truth is that the rest of us do too. We're not happy with things as they are. But all that generally just adds up to both cynicism and apathy—justifying itself by concluding nothing can really be changed. But not with these young girls-- they have decided the world needs to change. And the little children may lead us.

Second, they are specific about what needs to change. Talking with them afterwards it soon became clear that certain facts about the world strike them as just plain wrong. They aren't just complaining; rather, they are learning about things which are unacceptable to them. And that is always how change begins.

Third, they all connect their desire to change the world directly with their faith—"If I am a Christian, (or another faith or just a spiritual person) I better do something about that." Their spirituality, even at this young age, has sensitized them to injustice and given them a sense of responsibility for it. Faith is a motivator and is what inspires them to think they ought to try and make a difference. Maybe their childlike and simple faith might inspire ours.

The two greatest hungers in our world today are the hunger for spirituality on the one hand, and the hunger for social justice on the other hand. And the connection between the two is the one the world is waiting for—especially a new generation.

But just changing our notion of what is unacceptable isn't enough however; we must also change or perception of what is possible.

I believe that the real battle, the big struggle of our times, is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. The choice between cynicism and hope is ultimately a spiritual choice; but one which has enormous political consequences.

Hope is not a feeling; it is a decision. And the decision for hope is based upon what you believe at the deepest levels – whatever we call faith. You choose hope, not as a naïve wish, but with your eyes wide open to the reality of the world - just like the cynics who have not made the decision for hope.

I believe it will take a new generation to reach the "tipping point" in the struggle to eliminate the world's most extreme poverty. It will take you.

At the beginning of a new century and millennium, I see a new generation of young activists coming of age and talking about globalization, HIV/AIDS, and reducing global poverty.

I am also convinced that global poverty reduction will not be accomplished without a spiritual engine, and that history is changed by social movements with a spiritual foundation. That's what's always made the difference - abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights. This will be no different.

So let's turn to you, the graduates. You are a bright, gifted, and committed group of students. There are probably many people who tell you about your potential, and they are right.

In that regard, I would encourage each of you to think about your vocation more than just your career. And there is a difference. From the outside, those two tracks may look very much alike, but asking the vocational question rather than just considering the career options will take you much deeper. The key is to ask why you might take one path instead of another - the real reasons you would do something more than just because you can. The key is to ask who you really are; and what you want to become. It is to ask what you believe you are supposed to do.

Religious or not, I would invite you to consider your calling, more than just the many opportunities presented to graduates of Georgetown University. That means connecting your best talents and skills to your best and deepest values; making sure your mind is in sync with your soul as you plot your next steps. Don't just go where you're directed or even invited, but rather where your own moral compass leads you. And don't accept other's notions of what is possible or realistic; dare to dream things and don't be afraid to take risks.

You do have great potential, but that potential will be most fulfilled if you follow the leanings of conscience and the language of the heart more than just the dictates of the market, whether economic or political. They want smart people like you to just manage the systems of the world. But rather than managing or merely fitting into systems, ask how you can change them. You're both smart and talented enough to do that. That's your greatest potential.

Ask where your gifts intersect with the groaning needs of the world--There is your vocation.

The antidote to cynicism is not optimism but action. And action is finally born out of hope. Try to remember that.

At college, you often believe you can think our way into a new way of living, but that's actually not the way it works. Out in the world, it's more likely that you will live your way into a new way of thinking.

The key is to believe that the world can be changed, because it is only that belief that ever changes the world. And if not us, who will believe? If not you, who?

What is really possible? The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews says this: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And my best paraphrase of that is this: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.

I want to leave your today with something from Nelson Mandela. In his inaugural speech, the first president of a free South Africa said,

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are we not to be?
"You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking, so that other people won't feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
"And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear; our presence automatically liberates others."

So my commission to the graduating class of 2007 is

No longer accept the unacceptable.

Change what is believed to be possible.

And always make the choice for hope.

Look out world, here you come!

Congratulations and God Bless You!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Black Camelot?

"My mother was a very powerful woman. This was so in a time when that word-combination of woman and powerful was almost unexpressable in the white american common tongue, except or unless it was accompanied by some aberrant explaining adjective like blind, or hunchback, or crazy, or Black. therefore when I was growing up, powerful woman equaled something else quite different from ordinary woman, from simply "woman." It certainly did not, on the other hand, equal "man." What then? What was the third designation?" - Audre Lorde in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

"Usually, I love the dynamics of a cheeky woman puncturing the ego of a cocky guy.

I liked it in '40s movies, and I liked it with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in "Moonlighting."

So why don't I like it with Michelle and Barack?" - Maureen Dowd in her column (click the #1 search item for full text w/o registration).

Because she's black, Maureen. And a woman.

Now, I realize I'm laying down a bold claim. I don't know what Dowd thinks about Hillary or what she thought of Mrs. Heinz-Kerry, but I do see something unsettling in her critique of Michelle Obama's treatment of her husband. In the article, she discusses Michelle's tendency to humanize Obama through (what I would consider) teasing. I understand Dowd's critique that this humanization starts from an understanding that he is more than that: a superhero only dressed like one of us. But let's face it, famous politicians are more than their bodies. Bush, Cheney, Clinton, Obama, Pelosi, Kennedy, and Guliani all stand for something bigger than their life experiences. It's a longstanding trend and one that is worthy of a brief historical analysis.

Black (male) leaders have always been seen as more than human since most of our community bought into (even after bondage, we had agency) a system of patriarchy that states that as the norm anyway. From Douglass to DuBois to King, these figures have benefited from a system of patriarchy that historicizes them as demigods while their female counterparts (Sojourner Truth, Ann Plato, Lucy Delaney, Mary McLeod Bethune, Irene Morgan, and Claudette Covin to name a few) remain unwritten or passively written in history books. It is also a system that demands the oppression of these men as non-white members of a hierarchical oppressive system.

Michelle Obama does not “emasculate” Barack as she jokingly reveals his flaws, she liberates him from an imposed hypermasculine and distant identity forced upon other men, especially men of color. While I do not think this a necessary duty of a significant other, I do see it as teamwork on the part of the Obamas. This seems to be a system that has worked well throughout their marriage, and I am glad that the campaign trail will not force either of them into foreign and constrictive gender roles.

Dowd, for whatever reason, sees Michelle in light of Barack. It could be the trappings of the potential first lady position or it could be perpetuated by racial or gender bias. I think all factors are to blame since this piece might also fall into a similar framework. Let’s try to change that. What does Michelle have to say about this? In a USA TODAY article, she does not directly address Dowd’s critique when asked about it she simply said that Dowd “doesn’t understand.” In other comments though, it really seems like she is sincerely trying to get America to judge Obama as a person rather than a deity. Looking at Camille’s piece a few posts back, it might be a good idea. She says:

It’s important at this time for people to feel like they own this process and that they don’t turn it over to the next messiah, who’s going to fix it all, you know? And then we’re surprised when people turn out not to be who we’ve envisioned them to be. There is a specialness to him [but] if he’s doing his job, he’s going to say things you don’t agree with.

Responding to John F. Kennedy’s pristine Camelot model, Michelle is deliberate in her stance:

“Camelot to me doesn’t work. It was a fairy tale that turned out not to be completely true because no one can live up to that. And I don’t want to live like that.”

I think that last line is critical. Michelle sees this period before the primaries and possibly general election as real life. Not time where events, people, and personalities can be suspended for the public eye. She knows a Messianic politician is very close to, if not already, an oxymoron and is using her agency to anticipate the inevitable Obama deflation by emphasizing the positive but not lying or hiding the negative, even if it’s unseen to everyone but her.

Michelle Obama does not seem to believe in these safe spaces we bring up on TNS. Or rather, she believes in a safe yet public space for her own career and her own life instead of a private one where potential problems with Barack would fester. It seems to be a matter of possession. She knows he could be ours (if only representatively) and wants us to see things from her perspective to facilitate an easy and honest process of electing the best person for the job. It might just be me, but I find that admirable.

As for Ms. Dowd, I don't think she knows what to do with a strong black female who will not simply sit and smile but instead will be her own person free and willing to examine her husband's behavior, politics, and his public reception when she thinks it’s appropriate. I don't think Michelle should remove herself to the business side of Barack's campaign, as Dowd suggests. After all, Michelle’s speeches on the campaign just might be implicitly critiquing those oppressive systems that relegate her to that third unnamed designation far from recognition or understanding. Neither a mammy nor a jezebel, Michelle Obama is free from the usual expectations for black women. Equipped with a high profile career and an educated black man, Michelle Obama is writing her own history.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The State of Things

I am surrounded by stillness.
This always happens.

I beg for it, come home, and writhe out of anxiety from it.
More than ever, I realized this year anxiety is completely God's calling resting on our hearts.
So what is He saying?

Well, I think the first thing I need to do is reclaim stillness by reading the Bible and praying.
Sometimes, writing.
Basically, I cannot run.
I have to face things.

Even the ways I stand up to injustice are fluid.
Part of it is being temporarily stationed.
I don't relate to Iowa, Indiana, Connecticut, New Haven, and Yale is kicking me out soon.
I wonder if time will solve this problem for me. Or if I will step up?
Shouldn't I step up?
Yes, I am convinced.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reflections, Coming Soon, and Musings


We're approaching FoF's one year anniversary.
Watch out for some reflections as we get close to the date.

I titled this blog Flights of Faith because I was convinced that belief is not a leap. We do not have to touch down again if we do not want to. After confirming a conviction, we only have turbulence mid-air. In many ways, I still believe that. However, there is something about the act of starting that a leap perfectly captures. Compared with leaping, flight has no point mid-journey that could feel like a beginning. Possibly an ascent?

Whatever the case, I realized that faith is a series of escalations in one's flight or longer leaps in one's race. We should never feel complacent and unchallenged. If we do, I feel like we are not listening to God's call as sharply as we should be. Believing is great, but it should compel action and a lifestyle infused with "Sunday praise and obedience" every day of the week.


Coming Soon

This is what you can look forward to if you're a FoF reader

Christians and Humor
Christian Decisionmaking
Definition of caring
Definition of friendship
My Residential College Experience
Star Wars
Social Justice Tips
My Social Justice Action Plan


Starbursts, Skittles, Peppermints, Gumballs. This is my finals diet. Gulp.

I love the smell of Korean food on my breath and clothes every Sunday. With deep breaths, I make communion again.

Being with the light is Godly, but darkness is only another way God convicts our hearts through His absence. Something else that is His.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Summer Listing

Summer is A Coming
Here's a list of what I wanna do
(this will be frequently updated)

Meet The Robinsons
Spider-Man 3
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At The World's End
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


The Bible (NT first, OT second)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Re-read all HPs
C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy
Entire C.S. Lewis catalog
Rahner, Barth, Gutierrez, and Cone (and possibly other theology)
Maybe tackle The Two Towers again
Song of Solomon
Finally finish John Henry Days
Anything my friends have sent/d me

Avatar Season 2
Finishing the LOST Season 2 episodes I skipped
Alias Season 5
The rest of Heroes this season
Rest of 30 Rock
' ' Scrubs

Recommendations, anyone?