Monday, February 08, 2010

new home for the LoneTomato Stand

I've moved on over to WordPress (sorry Blogger, you've been good to me).

You can now find me here:

Or you can always use the URL Both addresses will get you to the same place.

See ya there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

336. learning to read x-rays


It's been a long time since I've felt the writer's itch - that longing for the tortured joy that comes from writing.

And so I hope to be back at writing.

There's a good chance that it may not be as regular as the once-per-week that I used to strive for. School is a TON of work. I've done more reading in the last month than I've probably done in all the time I've been here in Seattle.

Anyway, there's lots going on with me and in my head and so I hope to share some of it with y'all.

It feels great to be back.

[end preface]

I've never been a huge fan of the Blade movies - I did like the second one more than the first and I don't remember the third even though I saw it. The description of Blade that other vampires often say of him is that he has all of their strengths but none of their weaknesses since Blade possesses superhuman vampire strength but can walk around during the day, which, of course, the vampires can't do.

Well an incident occurred recently that has me wondering if I'm like the opposite of Blade - that I'm one who has all of a group's weaknesses while sharing none of their strengths.

I'm speaking of racial privilege.

I don't know who reads my blog (especially now, after not posting for so long) and so I have no idea how much knowledge any of my readers may or may not have in regards to the issue of racial privilege. And so I guess I'll start by sharing the little I know about the topic.

In America, there are people from many different racial/ethnic backgrounds. And out of these differences, a particular group often has benefits, powers, privileges that those outside their group do not share. The privileged group may or may not be aware of these advantages and even if they are aware of them, they may not actively exploit them but nevertheless, they hold access to assets that those outside their group cannot attain. (Click here if you have no idea what I'm talking about - it's an excellent introduction to the topic.)

In terms of race, this is most often talked about as White privilege.

And that's a big can of worms but there it is, I said it, I went there.


But that's not the only kind of racial privilege that exists in America.

I grew up in Hawaii where Asians are the majority racial group (link). As an Asian-American, that means I grew up being the advantaged group.

Among other things, this means that:

  • When giving me my receipt at Safeway, the cashier would say, "thank you, Mr. Ajimine" instead of just "thank you" like they do in the mainland (and this after they said, "thank you, Mr. Anderson" to the person in front of me).
  • Likewise in school (K-12-college), my teachers/professors knew how to pronounce my name without asking.
  • In local magazines and publications (the Honolulu Weekly for example) it was easy to find people who looked like me.
  • Although I went to a private school where it didn't happen (at least I never heard of it happening), I knew of a practice at some schools known as Kill Haole Day. On this day (usually the last day of the school year) white students were taunted and sometimes assaulted. White kids not coming to school on that day was not a rare occurrence.
  • The butt of racial jokes were usually white - the Portuguese, for example, were a common target of racist jokes.

Those are just a few examples but basically, what that adds up to is that I grew up never having to think about my racial identity. Because there were examples all around who looked like me, talked like me, behaved like me, I never had to worry about fitting in or standing out. And it pains me to admit this but in cases of blatant racism like Kill Haole Day and white jokes, I didn't really think about them. In fact, I laughed about it with my friends and didn't think it was a problem because that's what it is to be a member of the privileged group. I had the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware and unconcerned because I and those around me were not the ones affected.

In college I took a Political Science class where the professor spent a few weeks talking about issues of race and racism. Looking back on that time, I honestly can't remember much of what was said, but I do remember the prof talking about how even though Hawaii is very diverse racially, there were still problems of racism that were unjust and needed to be dealt with. But I didn't understand what he was getting at. My thought was, "hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do," why can't everyone just behave like us and think like us and talk like us? Then everybody would get along. What I didn't realize then was that I was able to say "us" because I was in the "us" group and it was those outside my group I wished would change and fall in line and not make a fuss. Because it's far easier to want another group to change than to change yourself or your own group.

And then I moved to the mainland and the shoe was on the other foot.

Now I'm the one that feels the pressure (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so) to conform to the norms of the group in power so that they can feel comfortable.

And I suppose that's messed up enough as it is but here's the other thing.

Because I grew up with privilege growing up in Hawaii, I have little to no experience of what it's like to be the other - the one without privilege. And so not only was I one who had perpetrated acts of racism on others (I remember learning white jokes, laughing at them, then telling them to others) back then, I am now someone who lacks empathy when it comes to race, even now that I'm in the mainland and am part of the minority group. And by that, what I mean is because I used to be the one with my boot in the face of the other, I don't know what it's like to have a boot in my own face. And so even when the boot is there kicking out my teeth, sometimes I don't feel it.

That's a poor metaphor because how could I not feel a beat down like that? Maybe because racism is not always so stark? Or is it? One of the things I've learned from men and women of color in the mainland is that when you grow up with constant reminders of your marginalization and your otherness, when you grow up in an atmosphere where you're under pressure to conform to some impossible "norm,"1 then when you bump up against privilege (personal or institutional), you're aware of it immediately.

Maybe a metaphor would help here.

When doctors learn to read x-rays, their teacher puts a film up on the illuminator and asks the students to point out what the image is showing them. As this process begins, the students just see white splotches on a black background. They can recognize structures like bones and maybe organs but that's all they see. Then the instructor puts his finger on one of the splotches and says, do you see anything there? And the students say no because that grey bit looks exactly like the grey bit next to it.

As their training progresses, they keep looking at x-ray films and they begin to get better at identifying normal grey bits from diseased or cancerous grey bits. After a while, it becomes second nature and so when they're with a patient discussing their x-ray results, they can point confidently at something they see in the image - something that the patient doesn't see at all.

I think that's kind of what it's like to learn to see racism for someone who didn't grow up seeing it. Imagine growing up in a household where both your parents were expert radiologists and so you grew up looking at x-rays. If this was your upbringing and you decided to become a doctor, when you went through your training and got to the bit where your fellow students were learning to read x-rays, you'd already be able to see what the instructor was trying to point out because you grew up with that skill whereas the other students just see splotches.

Unfortunately, unlike this metaphorical hypothetical, when it comes to race, growing up with an awareness of it (because you're in it, because you're of it) is a disadvantage, not an advantage because unlike the students trying to learn to read x-ray films, those who can't detect instances of racism aren't striving to learn to recognize it - a difficult process that takes months, years, maybe lifetimes.

And when it comes to racial reconciliation and advocating for justice, learning to see is only the first step. And as difficult as that step is, it may actually be the easiest because once you see, the next step is figuring out what to do about it.

Honestly, for myself, I'm still learning how to see. You'd think it'd be easier for me to recognize since now I'm an Asian-American in the mainland and so I'm sort of surrounded by it. But for me, it's still hard to see unless it's right there in my face. For example, a few months ago when I was working at a temp job at a copier company, the guy I'm working with asks me, "where are you from?" and I say, "Hawaii." He responds, "Hawaii? But you don't look Hawaiian." I explain to him that I was born and raised in Hawaii but no, I myself am not Hawaiian. Then he asks, "okay, so where are your parents from?" And I tell him that they were born in Hawaii as well. Of course by then I realized what he was asking me and so I finally said, "I'm Okinawan." And he says, "oh, well why didn't you say that in the first place?"

I'd venture to guess that some of my mainland Asian-American friends are reading that and groaning. They probably knew where my co-worker was going from the very first question because they've heard that question throughout their lives. Me? It took me a while to figure it out and even after the incident I just thought to myself, "hmm, that was odd."

And it seemed merely "odd" because that was a new experience for me. But friends who grew up with that kind of ignorance probably have a different reaction. Think of it this way. Say you're sitting in an airplane on a long flight. You get settled in and then you feel a bump from behind you. You don't think much of it because you figure that's just the person behind you getting situated. But then the bumping continues and continues and continues because maybe it's a fidgety kid with an inattentive parent behind you. The bumping, of course, drives you crazy and even when you ask the parent to ask their kid to stop, the bumps continue all the way to your destination.

Now say you get on a connecting flight. Again, you find your seat and are glad to see that the kid is no longer behind you. But if the new person behind you accidentally hits your seat, your frustration level spikes immediately and even if that's the only bump of the entire trip, you still have a general sense of unease just anticipating another jostling.

Imagine growing up with a lifetime of bumps. Often inadvertent, sometimes purposeful, but still there - bump after bump after bump. Imagine always feeling the sense of anxiety that the passenger felt on that second flight. Imagine feeling that all the time. Imagine living with the expectation of being bumped - knowing that it will come, sometimes subtle, sometimes direct and sharp and full of spite.

I didn't grow up being bumped. I was the one who did the bumping - sometimes unknowingly, sometimes with full knowledge of what I was doing. And I never felt compelled to stop other people from bumping because it didn't seem like a big deal. Because what's wrong with bumping someone - telling one small white joke even when there's a white person around? For me it's just the one joke but for that person it may be one more in a series of bumps that they've had to endure throughout his life.

And now I'm the one being bumped. But I just sat down in this seat and there have only been a few kicks from behind. I don't have that sense of anxiety or expectation of one who's been bumped their entire lives. Even worse, like the person who can't read x-rays well, I don't recognize it when those around me are being bumped and so it's hard to step in and to help stop it. Even when a friend gets bumped and asks me, "did you just feel that?" Sometimes I have to say, "sorry, I didn't." They've got their finger on the cancer on the film right in front of me and I can't see it. I can't feel it.

And that breaks my heart.

And so I'm trying to see. I'm trying to feel. I'm trying to learn.

But it's hard.

But it's vitally important because I can't fight a disease if I can't see it.

Because the bumping has to stop.


I wish I had finished this post a few weeks ago but it's been difficult for a number of reasons, not just because school has been keeping me busy. But I wanted to let you know that starting this evening (10/27/09), my church is beginning a three-week depth class on the issue of race called Faith and Race. It culminates in a one day conference called Skin Deep: A Conference on Faith & Race in the Church. If you're in the Seattle area, I highly recommend you attend the depth classes or the one day conference, preferably both.


1This is my understanding of what it's like to grow up as a minority in the mainland based on how I've heard the experiences of friends here. If I've missed the mark, please correct me through email or in the comments and I'll revise. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

335. my real job?

I had mentioned in the [preface] portion of my previous post that "because of an experience a couple weeks ago (which I'll also write about soon), I should be back on the writing bandwagon now."

Well, what happened was, I got a temp job at a company that sells and leases copiers to businesses. They had a particularly big order come in and they needed someone to help un-box new copiers and help get them ready to ship out. Sounded like a simple job and so I took it.

And then I got there and learned that these weren't just any copiers. They were these huge, heavy (over 400lbs), Konica Minolta bizhub c650 machines. I asked the guy showing me how to un-box them how much one of them cost and he laughed and said, "probably more than I make in a year." A quick Google search shows that they probably go for around $27,000.

During the course of my two day temp job, I helped offload and un-box about thirty of those along with their associated finishers (the bit that sorts and staples print jobs). And let me tell you, it was HARD work.

First off, just getting these monsters off the delivery truck. Did I mention they weigh over 400 back-breaking pounds each? Well the box they come in is probably about four feet high and there aren't any holes cut out of them so there's really nothing to grab onto. They come strapped to a custom-sized wooden pallet but the drivers advised against pulling on the straps because they break. They're designed to be off-loaded with a pallet jack, but they didn't have one that would fit the copier's odd size so they had to be moved by hand. The only way to move them was to grab under the lip of the cardboard lid that topped the box and even then, they're so heavy that the only way to move them was to shimmy them back and forth - get the left end out a bit then pull the right side around then go back to pulling the left end, etc.

The delivery drivers were expert at moving them around. I watched the driver maneuver one of the boxes to the end of his truck, where the forklift off-loaded them, then I turned to grab the next one. The driver had made it look easy so I grabbed hold of the lid and yanked. Nothing happened. I yanked again, as hard as I could this time, and still nothing. So I grabbed one side of the lid with both my hands and pulled again and it moved. An inch. I was soon relegated to pushing from the back once the driver pulled the box out enough for me to get behind. I think the driver appreciated that, but not as much as he would have if I had been able to actually drag one of those boxes by myself.

Then came the un-boxing which sounds like it should be easier than the offloading. And it sort of was, but it sort of wasn't.

Those boxes were made of the thickest, heaviest cardboard I'd ever seen. Luckily, it was only the outer shell that was big and heavy. The bits inside were smaller, lighter pieces of cardboard and bits of styrofoam. Everything got recycled and so after un-boxing one of these beasts, I had to throw the styrofoam in the styrofoam recycle corner and take the (heavy) cardboard to another area and throw it into the big roll-off recycling bin they had parked outside one of their warehouse doors. So while it wasn't quite as hard as moving the copiers off the truck, there were lots more steps involved - process steps as well as physical steps.

And there were about thirty of these damn things that needed to be un-boxed.

It took me most of two days to get them ready to go upstairs to the techs who finished the assembly and got them ready for the customer.

This is probably one of the hardest jobs I've done since I left my Iron Mountain job almost two years ago. I blogged a lot about that job - a bit about the job itself but more about an ornery co-worker I code named Harold. And it reminded me about another work experience I had many, many years ago.

Back in Hawaii, I was trying to start up my own music recording business. Whenever business was slow (which was just about all the time) I would do temp work to pay the bills. One of the first jobs I got was working for a large insurance company. The first time I was there I was working on the second floor where the all paper-pushers are. My job was almost literally to push paper from one bin to another. Of course there was some form checking and sorting and stamping along the way, but the job was basically to shuttle the paper from one tray to the next tray. And that first tray never got empty. I'd work my way down but after lunch and in the morning the next day, it would be stacked high yet again.

A few months later I got assigned to temp again at that same insurance company, only this time I was on the third floor where the executives worked. Even though it was the same company and I was only one floor up, the differences were dramatic. On the second floor, all aspects of productivity were tracked meticulously - keep track of how many sheets you process per hour (and make sure this number is always going up), ask questions if you need something clarified but keep chatter to a minimum, track the time (to the minute) you leave for lunch and the time you get back, you're allowed two breaks per day neither of which can be more than ten minutes (a bathroom break counts as a break), if you need a day off or need to leave early, be sure to put in a request at least one week in advance. And that didn't just apply to the temps. Even the regular workers were under those pressures.

On the third floor? Sure everyone had a job to do but as long as it was done before deadline, no one cared how much or how little time you spent on it. There were lots of people walking into one another's offices, chatting - sometimes about business matters, more often not. People regularly took long lunches and long breaks. If someone had to leave early to pick up a sick child or for a doctor's appointment or to play a last minute round of golf, they just sent an email and took off. As a temp, I didn't have all of those freedoms but still, it was far less stressful than when I had worked on the second floor.

Oh, and food. On the second floor there was a vending machine and everyone had to pay if they wanted snacks. On the third floor there was usually a box of fresh doughnuts lying around somewhere and pizza deliveries were not uncommon.

I worked on the third floor in the middle of 1999. I remember this because my job was to move their HR database from an old system to a new one. The Y2K bug was in the air and this company wanted to make sure it was safe. I guess they didn't have time to come up with an automated solution to port the data from one system to the other so they brought in a temp (me) to do it instead. So my job was to copy information like name, address, phone number, emergency contact, salary, 401k info, tax exemption info, etc. into the new system.

It was a big company so the job took a few weeks to finish. I remember one day I came across the entry for one of the top execs (not the top top, but the top that was handled by this level of HR). She was making a six figure income and that blew me away. I mean, prior to that I knew people made that kind of money but something about seeing the actual figure and a name attached to it drove the point home for me. Some people make LOTS of money - a yearly salary of $100,000 comes out to $8333 per month which is over two grand per week.

That afternoon while eating my lunch, I saw a grounds maintenance worker emptying out a trash bin. It struck me that the exec made more in one week than that guy did in an entire month. And the question that was planted in my head back then (which puzzles me to this day) was, "how can one person's work be worth so much more than another's?"

And I know there's a lot to that question, but sometimes we get lost in the complexities of an issue and maybe it's good to get back to basics. Why is brain labor worth exponentially more than muscle labor? That's a tough question especially when one considers that the body of the person who earns money with physical labor will suffer because of that as they age - they'll basically be used until they're used up. In comparison, the body of the person who earns money with brain power will (with proper care - which they can afford) be nowhere near as broken as the laborer.

And the comparison doesn't have to end with physical versus mental work. What about the differences between the work environments of the second and third floor? Why are those on the second floor driven and treated like cattle by the managers and execs just one floor up whose luxuries are paid for by those they (literally) stand over? Again, why is the work of the mind worth so much more than the work of fingers?

Those questions are far too big for this little blog (and my little mind) but I think it's worth asking.

Anyway, the reason I mention all of that is because my little temp job at the copier company reminded me of something.

I can write.

The grounds maintenance worker? The paper pushers on the second floor? The workers at the copier company? Most of them are doing that because they don't see any other viable options. And while I have met and talked to a few people who actually like physical labor and would choose to do nothing else, most of them hate their work but they do it because it's all they can do.

Me? Well, while my blog doesn't have a wide readership and my stories haven't had any large-scale publication, I can write. And while I would never equate writing with back-breaking labor, writing IS hard work. It's just a different kind of work and I need to be grateful that I have this option. Most importantly, I need to USE this gift that God has given me.

Like I said, I haven't had any huge successes with my writing (yet), but I do enjoy writing. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I often hate writing. It's a torturous, arduous task, and I bump into my insecurities quite a bit. But that's the work and if I had to choose a life of that versus a life of heavy lifting? I'll choose writing and I need to remind myself that I'm blessed to have that choice.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

334. my first fixie


Um, so I haven't been posting lately.

Sorry about that.

No good excuses, I've just been busy doing other things (and yeah, I've also been lazy and...well, more on that in a future post).

Anyway because of an experience a couple weeks ago (which I'll also write about soon), I should be back on the writing bandwagon now.

And so...

[end preface]

It all started with a craigslist ad for an old, beat up bicycle frame that was my size (48cm).

I already have two bikes, one of which is an old (circa late 80's) Fuji bike that I built up as a commuter. It has fenders to guard against the Seattle rain and a rack on that back that I'll use to carry my books once school starts. My other bike is a Vitus 992 racing bike. This is the bike I take out on fun, fitness rides. I've been wanting a Vitus for a long time and I thought my chance had passed a long time ago since I don't think they're in business anymore (even their wikipedia page is tiny) but when one came up on craigslist for a price I couldn't resist, I didn't resist and snatched it up.

So I have two bikes that basically cover all of my bicycling needs. Why did that old, beat up bicycle frame catch my eye?

Two reasons. One, because the guy was selling the frame for $10 or a case of beer. I drove a 12 pack of PBR out to his house and drove away with an ugly, rusty bicycle frame. And two, because I wanted to build up a fixed gear bike.

For those who don't know, the easiest way to describe the difference between a fixie and most of the other bikes out there, a fixed gear bike is one where it's impossible to coast - to not pedal if the rear wheel is moving. Imagine a unicycle where the pedals are affixed to the wheel - if the wheel is moving, the pedals are moving. A fixie is kind of like a unicycle with a front wheel.

With all the bicycle technology that's out there with gears and all, why would anyone want to ride a bike with just one gear that can't coast?

Well, when asked, fixed gear riders say that they feel at one with the bike, that it fosters good pedaling technique, that it's more fun than riding a multi-geared bike, that one just needs to ride one to understand.

Which brings me to the guy selling a frame for beer.

My goal was to build up this bike for less than $200. Trading the frame for a case of beer gave me a head start but if I had known then what a time and money sink it would be, I probably would never have bothered. But I didn't know and by the time I figured how much the rebuild was costing me, I was well past the point of no return.

I'll spare you the gory details of the build and fast forward to the photos.

This is the whole hog. I've temporarily nicknamed it "The Terror" because as a first time fixie rider, it's pretty scary to ride especially when coming to a stop.

Those green bits are painted with chalkboard paint. The idea is, I can write words or draw designs on those parts with chalk, erase and change them later. I've tried this out but haven't taken any pictures that include chalk drawings yet. It's hard to write words on tubes but drawing stripes and other designs is pretty easy.

I stole this idea from the Fixed Gear Gallery website (see this bike - my version is nowhere near as elegant as that guy's Bianchi but it works). The left brake lever operates the front brake as usual but the right brake lever rings the bell (no rear brake). The first time I took it out for a ride and needed to brake, I grabbed both levers (like I do on my regular bikes) and pulled and was surprised when I heard the little "ding ding" sound. Now when I ride on the hoods I make sure to keep my fingers off the brake lever.

One gear. 42 tooth chainring, 17 tooth cog. Nice and easy on the flats, a bit of a struggle on the hills and I haven't had the balls to try it out on any big downhills yet. I don't want to die a virgin.

I actually built up the front and rear wheels myself. Like I said, once I got into the project it started costing more money than I had wanted to put into it. One cost-cutting measure was to buy the hubs and rims separately and build them up. As a bonus, not only did I save money (most shops charge around $50 to build a wheel), I learned a new skill. Win, win.

So this is kind of cool. The night before I (finally) finished the build, I was perusing craigslist when I found a guy selling a Fuji saddle for $20 (did I mention the frame was a Fuji? match - match). I needed a saddle but wasn't willing to shell out $20 so I offered the guy $15. After threatening to walk away from the deal, the guy sold it to me for that price.

And finally this is me with the fixie. Don't let the shaka and the smile fool you - I was frustrated and pissed off at the bike when the picture was taken. Like I said, it was a really frustrating build and I had to make three four trips to Recycled Cycles to find little bits and pieces to get everything fit and working.


So I finished the build on Friday night and started writing this post that evening. I'm finishing and posting the entry on Sunday night and I've gotten to ride "The Terror" a few times now and I must say that I'm already becoming fond of this bike. It definitely demands respect - forget you can't coast and the bike reminds you in no uncertain terms - but it's also a pretty sweet ride. Again, I haven't taken it on any big down hill runs (or big up hill slopes) yet so I haven't had the full fixie experience yet.

I did swap out the platform pedals in those photos for egg beater clipless pedals but that pedal system is so easy to get in and out of that it wasn't as hard to learn as I thought they would be. It was hard at first to clip in while the cranks were moving but again, egg beaters are really easy to engage so it didn't take long to figure it out.

One last bit.

There are lots of people who ride fixies to look hip. I built up this fixie and am learning to ride it because one, I want to see what the whole one-with-the-bike-Zen-experience is about and two, riding fixie is supposed to teach proper pedaling technique. And putting this thing together from the frame on up has been a huge learning experience. Before this I thought I knew a fair bit about bikes but once I started the build I quickly ran into all the things I didn't know. Thank God for the internet where I learned some cool tricks like how to build my own headset press and how to get old paint off of a bike (my favorite low-cost methods: wet/dry sandpaper and wire wheel brushes on a drill - an angle grinder is supposed to work better but I wasn't about to spend money on a new power tool).

Monday, May 18, 2009

333. by one

Yeah, I haven't been writing again.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I got a temp job.

That's been keeping me busy.

On top of that I have a friend in town from Hawaii.

I've been trying to think of an analog for what I've been doing at my job and I think I've found one.

Imagine a big bucket of marbles.

What I do is, move these marbles, one by one, into another bucket. Once all the marbles are moved, I get another bucket and start moving those marbles (again, one by one) into a different bucket. A few days later I get the first bucket back - the bucket I moved the first set of marbles into - and they tell me to put those marbles (yeah, one by one) back into the first bucket.

My ten key is getting pretty good. If I can keep myself from getting carpal tunnel syndrome, it'll kind of be like getting paid to practice.

Anyway, I got lots to write about so stay tuned.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

332. ISO "inspiration"

So I don't know if you've heard, but Google is giving people a way to have some control over what shows up when people Google themselves.

Actually, I have no idea what this new Google feature is about but I signed up for it because I found out through a Lifehacker post that if you signed up for Google's new profile feature, Google would send you 25 free business cards (and that includes free shipping!).

I'm a sucker for free, especially when it's something as geeky as this.

Well, free isn't entirely free. In order to qualify for the free cards Google has a quota of information that you have to put in before they'll consider you worthy of free cards. One of the bits of information they ask you provide is your "superpower:" Some of the examples they give are, "flying, teleportation, eating chips and salsa." And that's just the sort of question that I can't just leave alone. I have to try and come up with something uniquely me. And so I came up with this:

My superpower:
I write really cool short stories when I'm in love. Singleness is kryptonite to my storywriting abilities...which is why I haven't written anything new in years.

Which I think is funny and me.

It's also true.

Last time I was on a story-writing kick was when I was infatuated with and chasing after a girl. Some of the details that served as seed material for some of my favorite stories (like this one) were based off of things I knew about her. And when it became clear that she didn't feel the same, the stories started to turn as well (as in this one). (And if you want to know how it "ends" - the story, not the relationship - you can read this one.)

Anyway, all that to say...

that I'm longing to write again...

...I just need some inspiration.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

331. new updates

So I (finally) started working a temp job today. I use the word "finally" because I've actually been on file at temp companies since January. At first it was just one then another and another until finally on Mondays I found myself calling five different temp companies telling them all that I was still available and looking for work.

I got a call on Tuesday from one of the companies telling me that they had something starting on Wednesday and would I be interested? I said yes.

It's basically a data entry job for a company that hasn't quite worked out the bugs in their software so information that's eventually going to be automated has to be put in my hand. It's tedious, boring work but honestly, I kind of like it. I certainly don't love it, but I don't mind it. The pay is nice (but not a lot) and it's nice to be out of the house again on a regular basis.

One thing I've learned from being at home so much is how to make my own food. I mean, I did cook for myself every now and then but it was usually really easy to make stuff like Spam and Vienna Sausage and rice and rahmen. Actually, those are still regular parts of my diet but one thing I'm getting better at is making eggs. I know two ways - scrambled and over easy. I'm still working on the over easy method (fresh eggs really help) but thanks to Alton Brown's show on eggs (on You Tube), I've had some of the best scrambled eggs ever. This has less to do with my cooking skills and more to do with the fact that I like my scrambled eggs runny and when I make it myself, I can make them my way.

All that talk about food may seem to have nothing to do with my temp job but truth is, all that cooking has gotten me geared up to make my own lunch and take it to work. I used to try and take lunch to work (back when I was working) but it was inconsistent at best. And a lot of times, it wasn't really lunch. It was a ghetto smoothie (bananas, yogurt, and apple juice). My lunch today wasn't anything spectacular (sandwiches, granola bar, and an apple) but it wasn't an option. That is to say, making and taking my own lunch was something I did without having to think about it and it's only because of all the cooking I've been doing at home.

Something else I've been meaning to update you on is my MacBook. A few weeks ago I wrote about how my church was going to pay for half of what it would cost for me to replace my stolen MacBook. Turns out they actually up and paid for all of it!

I love my church. I mean even before they did this for me I loved my church and I would still have loved my church if they hadn't help pay for an part of a new MacBook.

I really do need to write a post about Quest Church sometime soon.

Let's see...any other updates?

I cut my hair the other day in preparation for my temp job...

Um, no, I think that's about it.

I'm just counting down the days until I can start school.

And speaking of school, please pray for my friend Matt. He's on a waiting list for getting into architecture grad school and the deadline is coming up. He's done a ton of work to try and get in and he's great and really deserves to get in. Please pray for him when you get the chance.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

330. extraterrestrials and the Body of Christ

A few weeks ago on MSNBC's show, Hardball, there was a discussion between atheist Christopher Hitchens (who wrote God is Not Great) and senior fellow at the Family Research Council (a conservative, christian organization), Ken Blackwell. The discussion was about whether America is having a crisis of faith - a Newsweek poll shows that 68 percent of those surveyed believe that religion is losing its influence in America.

At one point, the host asked why it is that religion (particularly Christianity) is losing its hold on growing swaths of the American landscape. Blackwell said that faith in America has always gone up and down. Hitchens suggested that people's skepticism towards faith may have to do with the fact that one of the greatest threats to global peace and stability is terrorism which is itself driven by faith.

If I had to answer the question of why Christianity is losing its influence in America, I have a few ideas but the one I want to talk about here is this: The church really needs to make peace with science. In particular, the whole anti-evolution thing just needs to be dropped.

Crack open any book critiquing the theory of evolution (Google "intelligent design" for examples) and there's one word that you'll see over and over again and it's the word, "impossible." For example, they'll say that it's impossible for evolution to account for the flagellum of certain kinds of bacteria. Or they'll say that while microevolution happens all the time, it's impossible to find the sorts of transitional species required to prove the existence of macroevolution. Most commonly, they'll say that it's impossible for random mutation alone to account for the exquisite intricacy of even the most basic unicellular organism.

I won't go into countering those "impossibles" here because that's already been done in many books. One book in particular that I'll point out is The Language of God by Dr. Francis S. Collins - a christian biologist who headed up the Human Genome Project (when it comes to biological street cred, it doesn't get much better than that). If you want to see those "impossibles" I listed above dismantled, check out Dr. Collins' book.

In this post, I want to argue the more general point that christians need not fear the claims of science - that the church needs to make peace with the scientific world. Now I won't go so far as to say that we need to embrace all of science because just as there are questions and issues that the Bible isn't designed to take on (what's the atomic weight of helium?), there are questions and issues that science cannot tackle (what's my purpose in life?). What I am going to try to say is that religion and science cover two different aspects of the world and they both have a lot that they can learn from one another if they could just get along. I'm no scientist so I'm ill equipped to make the case that science needs to learn from religion, but as a christian, I do want to make a plea to the church to listen to and learn from our friends, the scientists.

Because I believe that there is much that God is trying to show us through them.

I suppose there are a lot of ways I could make the case for the church needing to accept the claims of evolution and other areas of science but I want to try a route that hasn't been tried before - at least I've never heard of anyone taking this tack.

I want to make my case by talking about...

Extraterrestrial life.

Now before you think I've gone all Coast to Coast AM and resign me to the lunatic fringe, conspiracy shelf, I'll have you know that a great many scientists across different fields believe that finding life outside of earth is just a matter of time.

Two reasons why I believe we'll find life outside of earth in the near future:

  1. Turns out the universe is teeming with planets.

    Planets orbiting around stars other than our own sun used to be just a theoretical possibility but today, with scientific tools specifically designed to detect them, planets and solar systems outside of our own are being found with increasing regularity.

    According to the Drake equation, the greater the number of planets circling stars, the greater the possibility of there being life outside our own planet. And so as we continue to find planets, the chances of finding life goes up as well.

  2. Used to be that scientists thought life outside of earth would be rare because twenty or thirty years ago, they thought that life was delicate and required a cushy environment in order to survive. For example, marine biologists used to think that the deep sea was a desolate, underwater dead zone, completely devoid of life because of the lack of light and the extremely high pressures. Then they started sending probes and cameras down and started finding hundreds of new species lurking in the deep. Similarly, scientists have found entire ecosystems living next to hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor - a highly acidic environment where temperatures can reach 750 degrees F. In fact, biologists have found so many creatures living in extreme environments that they've created a category for them called extremophiles.

    The fact that life can be found in such extreme environments makes it all the more likely that life may exist in some of the extreme environments found in our very own solar system.

Just these two factors alone lead me to believe that it's very likely that we will find evidence of life in our own solar system in the very near future and by that I mean in the next few decades if not sooner.

My guess is that we'll find evidence of past life on Mars or one of Jupiter's moons and this life will likely be simple in nature. I suppose it's entirely possible that we will find complex multi-cellular life and/or creatures that are living, but that's almost too good to hope for.

And what will the church say when such life is found?

I'm sure some in the church will do their best to deny the findings as long as they can and as more and more evidence pours in, they'll finally they join in with the Flat Earth Society.

But what if, between now and the then when extraterrestrial life is found, the church were to make peace with science?

Because here's the thing. I'm having trouble finding links to back this up but I know that many of the first scientists were christians. For them, studying the world was a way to learn about God. Romans 1:20 tells us that "God's invisible qualities . . . have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . ." In other words, God has revealed himself not just in his Word, the Bible, but also in the universe he created. The first scientists saw this and figured that if they could better understand the world that he created, they might learn more about God.

Then somewhere along the way science and religion began to drift apart. And when Darwinian evolution entered the scene, things really went ape snatch. Some people in the church got it into their heads that scientists were conspiring to debunk the Bible and once their guard when up, all kinds of scientific claims became suspect. I've known christians who railed against quantum mechanics, claiming that the random, chaotic universe it describes is an affront to God who created an ordered, rational universe.

With all due respect to christians who fear science, the fact of the matter is that we have to live in the world that is, not the world that we think the Bible paints for us. Christians have nothing to fear from the theory of evolution because there's nothing in the theory that contradicts the creation account of the Bible. The important thing to realize about the first few chapters of Genesis is that it is NOT meant to be a step by step, blow by blow account of how God created life, the universe, and everything. The main point of those chapters is to show that it was God who did the creating - how he did it is nowhere near as important as the idea that he was the one doing it. At the same time, the Bible does describe God as being wise and in control of what's going on. That doesn't mean that randomness and strangeness at the quantum scale is any threat to God's sovereignty.

To take this idea even further, what if God is trying to teach us things about himself through the things we are learning about his creation? For example, what if through the ideas of evolution God's trying to show us that change isn't such a bad thing after all and that maybe we should be a bit more generous in our orthodoxy - allowing time and "natural selection" sort good theology from bad? Similarly, what if the chaotic nature at the quantum scale is God's way of showing us that even though christianity can get messy and strange on the personal scale, the body of Christ (his church) as a whole can remain solid and firm in the same way that quantum messiness is all but transparent to us.

If the church makes peace with science, it need not be embarrassed when evidence of life is found outside of earth. And mark my words, this will happen whether the church is ready for it or not. If the church sees science as a partner and an ally, it will be able to celebrate with the rest of the world at the discovery that our universe is thriving with life - glory be to God!

And okay, here's where I get really wacky - way outside the box and off the reservation. What if many, many years from now we make contact with intelligent, sentient beings - an entire civilization of them somewhere out there? Wanna know what I think might happen?

While I suppose it's possible that their religious ideas might line up neatly with ours (perhaps with their own visitation from Jesus) I think it's more likely that God (yes, the same God that we know, love, and worship) will have revealed himself to that civilization in a way uniquely suited to them just as he uniquely reveals himself to us here, today. And my speculation is that while elements of their idea of God will differ from ours, the main points will be the same - that God created everything, God loves us and is trying to help us (our unruly selves) to live and thrive in his creation - to right wrongs and to help the needy, the oppressed, and the marginalized.

Hopefully, by the time we get to this point in our own civilization, the various denominations of our own churches will have learned to get along and accept one another. Because if we're as divided and divisive amongst ourselves then as we are today, that's going to make for very thorny inter-galactic ecumenical communications.

In closing, I just want to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should get some of our best theologians together to think and talk a bit about how our understanding of our place in the universe as informed by the Bible will change if/when evidence for life outside earth is found. I suggest this not just so that the church can be better prepared to respond to such a discovery, I also suggest this because by viewing theology in this broader context, we may find some clues as to how to be the Body of Christ here, today, now. But even without this extraterrestrial theology conference, the church as a whole really needs to make peace with science.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

328. updates

A friend (and blog reader) pointed out to me the fact that I sometimes forget to post updates on some of the things that have been going on in my life. And she's right. Lately I've been caught up in talking about my latest thoughts about christianity or about Bob and I've neglected talking about things like my job situation and my stolen laptop and my application to Mars Hill Graduate School and what's going on with my band.

Sorry about that.

And so, one by one:

  1. My job

    I lost my job back in October of last year. Back then I thought that I'd be back to work in a couple months at most. I thought this because for one thing, I'm a kick-ass worker with a work history and references to prove it and secondly, I was willing to do almost anything since I was planning on going back to school in the Fall. But here it is, April, and I'm still sending out resume after resume (six this week alone) and getting next to no call backs.

    This is the longest I've been unemployed since college and to be honest, I'm going a bit loopy. It's getting harder and harder to not get discouraged - to not think that the lack of response from employers is a reflection of me and my abilities. But I'm trying and I'm continuing to plug away.

    Financially, there are only three things keeping me afloat.

    a. Unemployment Insurance helps a lot. But I only get a fraction of what I was making at my last job. If that was my only source of income I'd probably be out on the street by now.

    b. Because of some restructuring at my church, I've been hired on as their Audio Visual Tech Lead which means I take care of scheduling the volunteers who run sound and PowerPoint during service and I fix things when they break. There are other elements involved with this position but that's the bulk of the week to week work. It's not a lot of hours and it's not a lot of pay but like UI, it really helps.

    c. To be honest, the only thing really keeping me off the street is the support I've been getting from my parents. Without their help I'd be super screwed. And I have to admit that it's a bit embarrassing to be counting on my folks at my age...but I'm insanely grateful at the same time.

    It's clearer to me than ever before how easy it is to end up homeless. Especially with the way things are financially right now.

    It's not hard at all.

  2. Stolen laptop

    So this one is pretty cool.

    My pastor felt bad about the way my laptop got stolen, especially since it was taken while I was trying to help get a Quest Global Presence meeting up and running. So he said that he was going to have the church pay for half of what it would cost for me to get a new MacBook!

    Needless to say, I was stunned, floored, just blown away.

    Apart from the immediate, concrete aspect of being able to be mobile again with my computing, there's a far deeper healing that I'm sensing. See, to be honest, I realize that I've come to see the church as a place that takes and takes from me. I mean, I know that they are there to support me if I ask, but asking doesn't come easy to me whereas giving does. And so the church takes what I give and waits for me to ask but I don't ask and so I don't get and while it may be unfair of me, I get to the point where I see the church as a place that takes without giving back.

    Let me be clear here. I'm not talking about the church I go to now. Even before this generous offer to help me with my MacBook, I've always had the sense that my service was appreciated and there have always been people making sure that I wasn't taking on too much, guarding me against burnout. So when I talk about seeing the church as a place that takes without giving back, I mean some of the churches I had served at in the past. Not all of them, but some of them.

    The fact that my pastor's offer to help me get another laptop came unsolicited really blows me away. I've said on numerous occasions that I love my church but, in a way that's hard to explain, this act has done some deep work of repair in me. It's got me realizing and rethinking some really bad ideas I have about church.

  3. Mars Hill Graduate School

    I got in!

    I posted a status update on my Facebook page announcing my acceptance but for those who missed it or aren't on Facebook, yes, I've been accepted.

    I'm super excited and I wish life had a fast forward button because I start late August but wish I didn't have to wait that long.

    There are lots of reasons why I'm almost giddy with anticipation. For one thing, it'll be great to be in school while this financial tsunami blows through. But I'm far more stoked about the school itself.

    It's a small school, probably under 300 students. It's probably best know for its president, Dan Allender. But I'd never heard of him until I started researching the school. I found out about the school through friends at church who were going there and one of the things that intrigued me from their stories about the place was how the study of theology is taken seriously but it is taken seriously so that it can be more effectively used in a people's lives to bring about healing. That is to say, studying theology isn't an end in and of itself. It's a means to develop a better counselor. And that's an important distinction.

    We'll see if my excitement and expectations are warranted once I begin classes. But for now, I'm just glad that my life is finally headed towards something like a career, grad school being the first step towards that career.

  4. My band

    Not really sure what's going on on this front.

    Earlier this year we started working with a producer named Brandon Bee. He's helping us write and produce a new song. I recorded my tracks back in January and I haven't heard anything from either of my bandmates about what's been happening since then. I know Brandon is a busy guy with his own band and he's touring to support an album he recently released. I'm basically going with the assumption that Brandon is out on tour and that the remaining tracks are being recorded on the days when he's back in town...which judging by the gig calendar on his MySpace Page, might not be for a while.

So that, in a nutshell is what's basically going on in my life - at least the things that are front and center on my mind.

There are lots of other things I'm hoping to write about soon so stay tuned.

As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

327. money, sex, power...and Bob

I was asked an interesting question today. Actually, it wasn't really a question, it was a comment. More of an aside, really.

A friend and I were talking over lunch and somehow we got to the topic of that bit in the Gospels where Jesus was tempted by the devil (mentioned in Matthew and Luke). My friend said that there's no way he could have withstood those temptations, particularly the one where the Devil offers up the world to Jesus. He jokingly offered up a few things that the devil might have used on him - things he longs for but might never have - and said that if he were offered those things, he'd give in.

It was a funny moment at lunch but for me, there was a disturbing undercurrent to the conversation. Because as a way to continue the levity of the topic, I thought about offering up some things the devil might use on me that might get me to sell my own soul.

But I couldn't think of anything.

Not one thing.

And so I changed the subject.

Now before you think I'm trying to be all holy and cool by suggesting that I'm beyond temptation, that's not what I'm getting at at all. What I'm trying to say is that I couldn't think of anything that I wanted out of life - anything that I really desired, anything that the devil could dangle in front of me to entice me. And that worries me.

Sex? Nah, that comes with consequences and tons of emotional baggage.

Power? No way. With power comes responsibility and who wants that?

Money? Eh, that'd be nice but I'm a person of modest means. I don't like bling, I don't want to drive a fancy car, I don't want to wear fancy clothes (mostly because I have little fashion sense), I'm not even a huge fan of traveling and seeing the world (although I'd like to someday). I mean I am looking for a job so I can pay my bills and the rent but that would more or less be enough for me. If I could do that at a job that I didn't absolutely hate, I think there's not a whole lot more I'd want.

Money, sex, power - aren't those the things that entice most people? But, I don't know, I don't really want any of those things.

And I think that's a bit fucked up.

Because if I don't want anything then what am I doing here?

I suppose if pressed, I'd say that if I could be granted any personal wish in the world, I'd wish to write a book like Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz or Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies. That is to say, I'd like to write a book that brings Christianity back for people, making it real and vital and relevant once again. Because that's what those books did for me and that's something I'm truly grateful for.

And that makes me wonder as well.

What does it mean that some of the most important things in my life are books - those books in particular? Why isn't it the case that my friends or my family are most important to me? I mean, is it screwed up that a couple of books (inanimate objects) are what have made the most difference in my life?

I think this is another hint pointing me towards whatever awfulness Bob is about.

In my last post about Bob , I suggested that maybe Bob was that part of me that is still crying out for love - both to receive and to truly give love. And that's something that's bad enough, but what if it goes even deeper than that? What if I've lost all want and desire in my life?

Because if I'm not striving towards something that I want then what am I here for?

I wonder: If the devil has gotten me to the point where nothing he dangles in front of me allures anymore, what does that mean? Is that the coup de grace? Is his work done?

And then how do you get desire back once it's gone?

Maybe I should just go with the writing idea since it's all I have. Which is why I suppose I'm writing this post, which is why I write at all.

Truth be told, I do enjoy writing.

And I'm beginning to get the writing bug back again.

And that's a start.

326. the atheist bus - orthodoxy vs orthopraxy

I learned from a post on my pastor's blog that a version of the Atheist Bus is going to be making a showing in Seattle and in the comments section of his post there are a bunch of responses (most of them positive last time I checked) to the idea.

In writing about all the money that went into the campaign (and the likely additional money that some church will put up to counter the atheist ads), my pastor jokingly suggest we start a third campaign spearheaded by the website:


A great point which gets at something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

What's more important - orthodoxy or orthopraxy? That is to say, is it more important to believe the right things or to do the right things?

Of course I think the answer is "both" but then what happens if a person only gets one right?

I mean which is "better" or "worse:"

- the athiest who (by the standards of Christianity isn't in line with orthodoxy) works hard to combat global poverty and injustice (and therby practices a kind of orthopraxy)?


- the Christian who believes all the right (orthodox) things but fails to invest in anything outside his own church and his 401k (orthopraxy fail)?

Because behind my pastor's faux-website is the idea that maybe the debate between theism and atheism is a luxury we can't afford right now. There are far more concrete problems in the world that need our attention, our money, our intellect, and our creativity.

And I agree with that wholeheartedly. Which is why I struggle with the orthodoxy/orthopraxy thing.

Again, the ideal is clearly to have both but we can't always have both and so I guess the thing that I struggle with is this:

If doing the right thing is more important than believing the right thing then why "waste time" trying to convert atheists or other non-christians who are doing good work around the world?

Honestly, I'm not sure.

I do have an idea, though I'm not sure how strong it is and I'm even less sure that it's possible to implement.

But it's all I have and so I'll share.

I think orthodoxy is more important BUT I think we need to work on the orthos (right, true, straight) part of the word a lot harder. Because if we truly had right belief then right action (including working for local/global justice) would inevitably follow. That the question, "what's more important, orthodoxy or orthopraxy" even needs to be asked suggests that we're not getting the orthodoxy part right.

In my own personal utopia, here's how things would work.

It starts with this premise. The plan of rescue and redemption, as laid out in the narrative of the Bible and lived out through the life of Christ, is the ideal way to bring about the restoration of the world.

If you don't buy into that premise then everything else falls apart but if you do, then keep reading.

I think it's vitally important to see the primary work of God's revelation in the Bible as one that is about bring healing to a fallen world. Salvation and evangelism is a part of that work, but only a part, not the whole.

With that in mind, here's a kind of grossly oversimplified idea of how I think things should look.

Everyone (christians, non-christans, people of all faiths or non-faiths) who can should work at doing what they can to fight problems like poverty, human trafficking, AIDS, clean water, etc.

Now some groups will be more successful than others and I believe that christians who operate out of an examined, holistic orthodoxy (which includes orthopraxy), informed by the Bible, will be the most successful in the long run. They will be more successful because God's plan is the best one since he's the one that got everything started in the first place. Because of the successes of christians, other groups will sign on to be a part of the Body of Christ (little to no evangelism necessary) and everyone lives happily ever after.

And I realize that's an extremely arrogant scenario to lay out, but if my premise is correct then isn't something like what I lay out a possibility?

And maybe the thorniest part of my idea is the bit where I say that evangelism is only a part of what we as christians are to be about because that's not how things appear in the Bible. In the New Testament, in particular, there are tons of references to preaching the Gospel and people joining The Way.

But here's what I think.

I think the first century church looked a lot like that little scenario I laid out above. When those first new christians believed in the Gospel, they were signing on to a movement to redeem the world - to bring food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, justice to the oppressed. They became christians to be a part of the radical idea that maybe revolution is possible not at the end of a spear but by turning the other cheek, by going the extra mile, by giving up your life in order to save it. And they joined because they saw that the christians' way of doing things was actually working.

So when the NT talks about the apostles preaching the Gospel, what they were preaching was not just accepting Christ, they were talking about accepting the whole of what Christ was about and that included accepting his call and challenge to redeem this fallen world.

And so yes, the NT does talk about evangelism, but where a lot of evangelism falls short today is where it only speaks of believing in Christ - it fails to go on to say that accepting Christ means carrying on his call of redemption and reconciliation. Anything less is missing the point.

I don't know.

This post has veered a log way's off from where it started. I've laid out some pretty bold claims and I've painted them out in broad strokes, failing to build them up in any systematic way.

But it works for me.

Welcome to my world.

Now if only my own version of orthodoxy would lead to more of my own orthopraxy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

325. thoughts on Hawaii

I've been living in Seattle now for about two and a half years. I've been back to Hawaii to visit three times now.

As time goes by, I'm beginning to realize what a strange place Hawaii is.

Of course it could be the case that it's the mainland that's odd and Hawaii that's normal. Then again, maybe in America there's no such thing as normal. Every place has its quirks and charms, its beautiful spaces and its sharp edges.

Some of the things I've learned about Hawaii (and Seattle):

  • In Hawaii, there are almost no cool bars to just hang out in. Most of the bars in Hawaii have karaoke blaring away in some corner. And a lot of the bars look the same - sparse, white walls with beer and sports posters on them, generic tables, generic chairs, generic selection of drinks. In contrast, Seattle has a ton of really interesting bars - each with their own unique vibe or theme. And while they all play music in the background, at least it's not drunken wanabe singers or (even worse) crappy assed Jawaiian music.
  • However, Hawaii bars do have some of the most unique pu pu selections. I remember going to an Irish pub in downtown Hawaii where they served sashimi. Is there another Irish bar anywhere else in the world with raw fish on their menu?
  • Hawaii has very poor urban planning. On this last trip, there were a bunch of people from Seattle who were also in Hawaii (we were there to see a friend get married). One of these friends is an architect and she was the one who pointed out how it seems as if little to no thought went into zoning. And I didn't notice it until she pointed it out but she's right. Everything in town seems to just be strewn about haphazardly and the highway system is woefully inadequate to get the urban sprawlers back to their workplaces downtown.
  • A lot of places also leave much to be desired when it comes to interior design. One of the worst examples of this can be seen at the popular restaurant chain, Zippy's. The restaurant side of their Vineyard branch is particularly gaudy and ill conceived. I mean, I love their food but they really need to fire the person or the firm that designs their branches.
  • It's really hard to find people riding nice bicycles in Hawaii. There are lots of low-end hybrids and mountain bikes but very few nice road bikes. I remember when I first moved to Seattle I was blown away by the quality and variety of bikes I saw just tooling around town. And I don't just mean the big brands like Trek or Specialized or Bianchi. It's not uncommon to see people commuting on bikes like Kona, Surley, and LeMond. On top of that, every once in a while I see some really top end bikes on the road like Seven Cycles, Cervelo, and Davidson (my someday-dream-bike, made in Seattle). I also like that I can walk into a grocery store in Seattle with my bicycle helmet on and not get strange looks from the customers or the people behind the checkout stands. Doing so in Hawaii might get me one false crack.
  • I suppose the lack of nice bikes in Hawaii is no surprise considering what a bike-unfriendly place it is. There are very few bike lanes and drivers, in general, hate bicyclists (or at least they drive that way). I didn't realize this until moving to Seattle where almost all drivers give me a wide berth when they pass. On top of this, Seattle has lots of bicycle lanes, sharrows, and even bicycle paths - little roads specifically for bikes!
  • The famous Ala Moana Shopping Center is unique in that it is the largest open air shopping mall in the world. In addition, whereas most malls cater to a specific economic demographic, Ala Moana has everything from local grocery store chain, Foodland to nose-bleed priced haute couture shops like Betsey Johnson, Dior, DKNY, and Chanel. Show me another mall where you can buy a can of Spam and a Tiffany brooch without leaving the property. It also has the distinction of being named "one of Earth's four great mall fortresses" in Douglas Coupland's book, Shampoo Planet.

I don't mean to be all down on Hawaii. There are lots of amazing, great things about the place. It's just that...well, when I lived there, I was a townie - which, in Hawaii, means that I was someone who preferred to hang out in the city rather than go to the beach. And the city of Seattle is just so much cooler than the city of Honolulu. And so when I go back to Hawaii, all the places I liked to go (places I thought were hip and cool and with it) aren't as cool anymore.

Lots of my other friends are water people. They need to be near water, more specifically, the ocean. Lots of them couldn't imagine living anywhere but Hawaii. But water isn't as high a priority for me.

And then there's the race thing.

I've written before about how lucky I am to have grown up Asian-American in Hawaii, and the longer I'm up here, the more this sinks in. Not only am I fortunate to have grown up in a place where I didn't always feel different, where I wasn't teased for my appearance or my last name, where I never had to worry that my race might be making it harder for me to achieve certain goals. I was also fortunate in the sense that because I didn't have to grow up with those sorts of racist barriers and experiences, it's easier for me to not get worked up when racism comes my way. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are times when I don't even notice subtle forms of racism in situations that Asian-Americans who grew up in the mainland would readily recognize as such.

I remember reading a friend's blog post where she wrote about a time where she was running in the park. She ran past a white woman who asked her, "where are you from?" My friend is Korean-American and grew up in the mainland and she immediately saw this question as a product of racist ignorance. She responded with a curt, "from America," and let her stink eye say the rest.

If it had been me in that situation, I probably would have just said, "Hawaii," and been on my merry way, never considering the racist undertones of the question.

Now an important point needs to be made here.

There may be some who will look at that and say, "why can't more people just be like Randall?" To which I would say that if anything, my response is the more damaging of the two because it doesn't take into account or confront what's really being asked.

The white woman, let's call her Flo, would never ask another white runner that question. The only reason Flo asked my friend where she was from was because she assumed that because she wasn't white, she must be from somewhere foreign and exotic. By answering with the snarky, "from America," she forced Flo to confront her own assumptions about who people are and maybe that will help her think twice before asking the same of another minority.

My lame response would have just perpetuated her stereotype allowing her to continue thinking, "all non-white people are from fascinating, far away lands and gosh, isn't it amazing that America opens her borders to everyone? Americans are awesome."

On the other hand, I hope that my mainland minority friends don't come down too hard on me for not confronting Flo on her question. Because I didn't grow up with regular experiences of racism, I'm just not as sensitized to it as mainland Asian-Americans are. When I hear Flo asking me, "where are you from?" I honestly just hear the question (and not the subtext) because I'm hearing it the way I would if the question had been asked of me in Hawaii. That is to say, I'd hear it as a mere question of geography, not as one of race.

I don't know, maybe after I've lived here for a few years I'll experience more racism and become sensitized to it as well. I don't know.

I'm really digging my time in Seattle.

I don't know if I'll spend the rest of my life here but I can say that I don't miss Hawaii as much as I thought I would.

And to be honest, I feel more "at home" when I arrive back in Seattle than when I land for a visit to Hawaii.

I suppose "home" really is where the heart is.

But I'm not sure my heart is anymore.

But that will have to wait for another post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

324. karma police

"Karma police, I've given all I can, it's not enough."

I don't believe in karma.

I don't believe that what goes around comes around, at least not in this present lifetime.

Here's what I do believe. We all need to do the best we can with what we have, knowing, all the while, that it may never be appreciated, may never come back to us, may never offer us safety from "the whips and scorns of time."

But more on this later.

First, the reason I'm waxing philosophical: my beloved MacBook got stolen yesterday, basically right out from under my nose.

Here's how it went down.

I was hanging out at Q Cafe working on entries for a new blog I want to start (more on this when it gets off the ground). I'm typing away at my laptop when a friend asks me for some help with her computer. She's setting up for a presentation in a room just down the hall from the public cafe area. I think this won't take long and so I go and help. I'm probably away from my computer for ten, fifteen minutes max but when I get back to my table it's gone. I stand there looking at the empty desktop and try to puzzle through the mystery of why my laptop isn't there anymore.

Because the first stage of anything out of the ordinary is denial, I refrain from jumping to the obvious conclusion that it's stolen. Instead, I look in my bag, I go back to the room where I helped out my friend, I retrace all my steps and think through all the different things that I could have done with my laptop before it went missing.

And then I faced the ugly truth.

It was gone.

Once I realized that, I moved on to other thoughts and feelings. I thought maybe God was punishing me for not using the bulk of my unemployed free time to catch up on my writing. I became angry that my laptop was stolen while I was doing something to help a friend.

I quickly reasoned away the idea that God was punishing me. I don't think that's how God works and besides, my laptop was stolen in the midst of a writing session.

That second bit though, I have to admit that this theft brought back some old, latent feelings.

I was reminded of an entry (caution, potty mouth) I wrote back in '05 where I ranted about how frustrated I felt when I found that someone had stolen the brake pads off of my bicycle while I was at work. Back then, it wasn't really the brake pads that pissed me off - they were just the last in a string of frustrations I was having to endure at the time. The thing I was really writing about was the realization that doing and good and being good didn't mean that good would come back to you. And that was a pretty startling, sober conclusion to come to.

It was frustrations and revelations like that that led me to re-think my understanding of Christianity. A lot of the churches I attended and sermons I heard back then gave me the idea that God rewarded and protected those who were good. There was supposed to be a kind of one to one relationship between what you did and what was done to you. If you tithed, you'd never be poor. If you practiced abstinence, you'd marry a supermodel and have a rockin' marriage (and sex life). If you extended love and good deeds to others, love and blessings would come back "pressed down, shaken together and running over. . ." (Luke 6:38).

But of course life doesn't work that way. I tithed and was always struggling with money. I abstained but remained hopelessly single. I did my best to do good to others and then got my brake pads stolen. And that's why I was so angry in that blog entry. It's no fun learning that the theology that governed your behavior for so long was wrong.

Then again, the good thing about learning that you're wrong about something is that you can start to get it right. And that's what I did.

A few months after the angry rant, I put up this post where I came to this conclusion:

I realized that I could be kind and generous DESPITE the fact that it was a bad investment, despite the fact that it offered no yield. I could be kind and generous knowing full well that it would likely never come back to me, that it offered no guarantee of good friends, good jobs, good wife, not even a good reputation. I could be kind and generous as an act of sheer rebellion, as a subversive act of open aggression against a greedy, needy world. I could be the leader of a rebel force of one. I could strike out with guerilla attacks of random kindness. I sow the seeds of a revolution that seeks to overturn a world stuck in the trap of consumerism - where everything is seen as a transaction with one party profiting and another suffering a loss, where even free car washes are not really free car washes, where we are defined by what we own rather than what we give a way.

Yes, it's futile. Yes, I'm just one little man and my revolution of kindness will go unnoticed, ignored, perhaps even exploited by those who will take advantage of my cause. I acknowledge all those things, but I don't care. If I am just one tiny flame of light in a dark world, so be it. If I can allow the Kingdom of God to trickle into this fallen world through my life, I think that's as noble a cause as any.

It's mad, but it's beautiful. I just hope I'm up to the task.

Which brings me back to the thoughts at the top of this entry.

I don't believe in karma.

I don't believe that what goes around comes around, at least not in this present lifetime.

The person who stole my MacBook? He's probably done it before and he'll very likely do it again. He may never get caught.

Then again...

His life probably sucks. I mean, how bad must it be to go from place to place trying to take things, always being worried about being caught. What's it like to be living a life where you're always looking behind you? Maybe he's stuck in a cycle of addiction and needs to steal in order to soothe his angry fix. Maybe he lives for the high of the successful pull. Either way, there's no way I'd ever trade my life for his.

Me? I have friends who feel bad for me, who are offering to help in whatever way they can. And I suppose that's a whole lot better than being on the take and on the run.

And I have options. I've been trying to sell some things I don't use anymore on ebay and craigslist. If I get anywhere near asking price on a couple big ticket items (like my Felt racing bike that I'm finally admitting is too big for me), I'll have enough to get a new MacBook. Of course I was hoping to use that money to pay down some credit card debt in preparation for going back to school, but I should be thankful that I even have this option. A lot of people would just be SOL.

I'm fortunate in other ways as well.

I backed up that laptop about a month ago so I didn't lose all my data, and that's a HUGE plus.

And I'm glad that I'm put together in such a way that I understand that the laptop was just a thing and that I just don't have that thing anymore. I'm not all twisted up in a pretzel of anger or grief or jealousy. I'm not wallowing in self-pity.

You know, maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe things do come around - just not the same things. I probably never get my stolen MacBook back but I've got friends who are there for me. And maybe that guy has my laptop but I'm guessing he doesn't know what it's like to have friends who send consolation and support via Facebook comments and text messages.

All in all I suppose I'm actually a really lucky guy.

And maybe that's because of good karma.

Friday, February 27, 2009

323. for the late (far too early), great Rocky Green

I learned last night that a good friend of mine succumbed to brain cancer recently. I met him back in Hawaii and he played a huge role in the way that I've remade my understanding of the Gospel and what it is to be a Christian.

His name is Rocky Green.

In addition to being a great friend and Christian, he was also a brilliant guitarist and songwriter. And I don't mean that in the "he played guitar every once in a while and was pretty good" kind of way. I mean he was a bad ass gee-tar slinger who, though he possessed chops for days, always played with restraint. He always put making great music ahead of showing off his licks.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs of his (sorry, I don't know the title).
Try clicking here to download a copy.

How can I show them what is good
How can I show them what is real
How can I teach them about love
How can I show them how I feel

I'll write it in the sky at night
I'll encode it in the sunset light
I'll carve it in the canyon side
So they can find it
Hiding in plain sight

I'll make creation resonate
From its head to its toes
I'll write a powerful song
I'll make it start off nice and slow

I'll write it in the sky at night
I'll encode it in the sunset light
I'll carve it in the canyon side
So they can find it
Hiding in plain sight

All of the universe will show them
That I designed them to be free
I will create them man and woman
And in their hearts I'll place eternity

And in their hearts I'll place eternity

You know, it struck me just now as I was writing out those lyrics. I always knew the song was about God's love for us but I just realized that it's also very much about how Rocky saw God. He saw God as someone who loves us so much that he spares no expense in displaying it across the universe. Rocky didn't just marvel at how much God loved him, he marveled at how much God loves us all.

And that last line, "and in their hearts I'll place eternity." Taken from Ecclesiastes 3:11, it really is a striking statement. And I never made the connection between our awareness of eternity and God putting it there as a way to know his love. But then again, perhaps it's only with eternity in our hearts that we can ever know "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ," (Ephesians 3:18).

Anyway, I'll leave this post with a kind of reprint of a story that I wrote for him years ago.

It's called The Secret Chord.
Once upon a time, there was a man who played guitar with all his heart and all that was within his soul. Word of his singular talent spread far and wide such that whenever he'd play a show, he'd draw a crowd the size of a small city. And they would listen, rapt in awe. Women would swoon and men would cry and call their mothers between sets to apologize for stealing quarters from their purses when they were young.

But one day while writing a new song he went in search of a chord that would not come. Interval upon interval, he tried them all but none would satisfy, none were right.

Tours were canceled. Fans went wondering and rumors sprung up like weeds. His critics said he was done, washed up, expired.

And then one morning upon waking, he found it - the secret chord. The one jazz artists strive to find night after smoky night in empty bars. The one composers try to find at the bottom of flasks of bourbon. The one rock stars try to find between lines of cocaine.

It was a chord like no other. Bird, Bach, and Hendrix would have, all of them, traded their left hand for those notes. But it was Rocky Green who fished it out of the collective unconscious.

He took this chord to California, back to his love who was waiting for him there. And though she could not fully understand the weight of his discovery, she knew - deep down inside, where wisdom is born - that the chord was her's and that he had searched far and wide for the sound of it.

And she held him in her arms all night long as he played her song.

The end.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

322. tell me about love (part 3)


(Part 1 here. Part 2 here.)

This has been one of the hardest posts to write in a really long time.

According to the journaling software I use to write my posts, I started it way back in January 19th. That's almost a month ago.

It was a hard post for many reasons, but mostly because I think I'm being even more open and vulnerable than I usually am. On top of that, I'm not even sure about what I'm writing about and so being vulnerable about something I'm not sure about doesn't make for easy writing.

But I'm glad I got it out and I'm glad I'm putting it up.

This has been a tough nut to crack but now that it's done, I'm hoping to finally get back to posting at least one post per week.

Anyway, this is all just my (lame) excuse as to why it's taken me so long to put anything up.


So I've written before about how since the start of 2006, I've been content as a single person.

That was an interesting time in life for me. Prior to 2006, my one aim in life was to try and find someone to love. More specifically, someone to love who would love me back (an important distinction). I used to complain endlessly about being single to the point that my friends would politely suggest that I shut the hell up and just date someone already.

And then 2006 rolled around and all that longing went away all by itself. I mean there wasn't any sort of grand epiphany that I had or any major life lesson that got me to change the way I felt about finding a girlfriend. Those longing feelings went away so cleanly that I didn't even notice that they had gone until a few months had passed. I was just driving around one day and somehow noticed that I wasn't pining for a relationship anymore.

In the months following my realization, there were two things going through my mind. First, I was wondering how long this contentment would last - I thought that I was somehow experiencing some sort of temporary reprieve from desperation and that one day the really bad, really lonely feelings would be back. Second, I wondered if there was any price to pay for this contentment. That is, I wondered if, in losing the longing that had plagued me for so long, I had lost something else at the same time.

Well two years have passed and I can say that I'm still very content with being single so I'm no longer worrying about that first bit. But the second bit? I think I'm beginning to realize that there was indeed a kind of price that I paid for this newfound contentment. And I'm beginning to think that the price may have been far higher than I ever thought it would be.

A little over a month ago I wrote about something that was eating away at me, something deep and hidden and ugly. I didn't know what this something was so I decided to call it "Bob." Anyway, I'm beginning to think that, in some way that is still unclear to me, Bob is a part of what it cost for me to have contentment as a single person.

And I realize I'm being obscure and vague, but it's because the connection isn't entirely clear to me either.

Let me see if I can write my way out of this.

There were lots of different reasons why I longed for a relationship prior to the liberation of 2006. Among them were these: I've always found women fascinating - the way they thought differently about the world, their soft skin, all the different ways they knew to do their hair, etc. I also longed for relationship because I wanted to know what it felt like to be loved by a woman. I wanted to be there for someone - someone who would be there for me as well. And of course I wanted to learn what I once called, "the warm, buttery language of touch."

I had all kinds of different reasons why I wanted to be in a relationship, but I think the main one was always - to learn about how to love and how to be loved. I remember at one point, I got close to having a girlfriend. It's a pretty long, pretty gory story (if you must know, see post 174) but suffice it to say that before it went bad, it was really good and I still (vaguely) remember how wondrously, vitally alive I felt during that time. And a big reason why I was looking for a relationship back then was to get that giddy, amazing feeling back - that feeling of loving and being loved.

And this is where I think I've paid a huge price for my contentment with being single.

See, it's taken me a long time to realize this but...and this is really hard for me to admit and write here...I wonder if I've lost my desire for and ability to love. And I don't just mean love in the context of romantic relationships. I mean love in all contexts. This is very difficult to write because it's embarrassing to admit and hard to face but I think I need to go there if I'm to get through. And I know that sounds like hyperbole, like I'm being overly dramatic for the sake of making my blog worth reading but in this case, I mean it just as I'm writing it. I don't think I give or receive love very well, if at all.

Actually, this isn't the first time I've thought and written about this. Back in post 284 I wrote the following, "What if I have no idea what love is? Because . . . I don't think I know what love is."

Maybe I've lost my ability/desire to love. And maybe that's because I don't know what love is.

I don't know.

But here's what I think.

I think that Bob is the part of me that still wants to love and be loved.

Because love is at the core of what it is to be human isn't it? But even if it isn't, then love is certainly at the core of what it is to be a christian.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:7-12

See, I wonder if after all those years of being an unhappy single person longing for love, I wonder if some subconscious part of me got tired of being lonely and frustrated and so it just kind of amputated that part of me - lopped it off and buried it away somewhere. And maybe it thought that was that. And I didn't think all that much about it because I was more than happy to be rid of all that old longing.

But maybe it wasn't just the romantic love part of me that got put away. Maybe love can't be so neatly dissected. Maybe all (or most) of my ability to know/give/receive love got buried as well.

But love is important, integral even. And if love is a large part of what it is to be whole, then despite the fact that I'm enjoying being single (being free of that old longing for a romantic relationship), something is very wrong in my life.

And that's what I think Bob is about. Bob may be that submerged longing for and need for love working its way back up to the surface. And love is patient, love is kind and perhaps that's why Bob only breaks through in moments of stillness and quiet and vulnerability.

So what now?

I don't know.

But something needs to change because I think this not knowing how to accept, not knowing how to give, not knowing how to ask for love is affecting me in more ways than I'm aware of.

Because (and this is also very hard to admit) there are times when I wonder about God's love for me. I mean, I know in theory that he loves me but I don't know how to experience, how to sense, how to feel that love. And turing that around, I'm not sure how to love God.

Maybe it's the perfect time for me to be attending Mars Hill Graduate School (I just realized that I haven't blogged about this yet...stay tuned, I will). Maybe working towards a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology will help me work through these issues of love.

I don't know.

And so tell me about love. Is anything I'm saying making any kind of sense? Am I suffering from mountain-out-of-molehill-itis? Am I still missing the point about Bob?

I don't know.