A Peaceful Protest, Why I Love Police & Other Nuances and Unanswerable Questions

This weekend, dozens of protests sprang up all throughout Orange County. This morning, I went to one held in Irvine, the textbook definition of the suburbia. It was a peaceful march that led to a demonstration at Irvine Civic Center where the Irvine Police Department is headquartered. I have five quick reflections from my time, and then I’d like to expound on what I spent the rest of the day thinking about.

1. He shouldn’t have been, but my favorite person at the rally was a South Asian dad. He was there with his daughters. They must have been in their early teens and they had these beautiful, ornate signs and portraits while he had half a piece of oak tag on which he hastily wrote a slogan. He would run ahead of them, so he could take pictures of them in the crowd and he kept his distance so as not to embarrass them. But you knew he kept his eyes on them the whole time. This was very moving to me and he was not the only one proud of his kids today.

2. Towards the end of the rally at the Civic Center, many people shared from a central bullhorn and spoke passionately from their personal experiences. I was struck by how many mentioned being kicked out of their homes and ostracized from their families due to differences in opinions. Families are being torn apart, and when you see the depth of the passion of the people who are involved, you can understand why. It’s just heartbreaking to see, and I want to believe that there’s a better way to deepen understanding and find common ground.

3. There was a moment before the march as the crowd was still gathering. I was sipping on my watery coffee and looking around when I thought I saw one of our church kids. Now, there were a lot of young people at the demonstration, but there was one who looked like a specific church kid. A certain small one, who wears her hair shoulder length and carries a Fjallraven backpack. From far away, a dead ringer. And a thought hit me with a great deal of emotion. I thought about how sorry I am that we’re asking our children to fight the battles we should have already won. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. I sipped on my coffee.

I have lots of thoughts about the demonstration. But those were some that resonated on a very emotional wavelength with me.

***

Now, despite what people may think, I try to make it a point not to persuade people to my point of view. I like to think that my goal is to educate on both sides. If you can’t find the humanity in someone’s argument, you can’t build consensus. Without consensus, there’s no sustainable progress.

I’m sure that it’s apparent by now that I agree with many of the things that the Black Lives Matter movement. Namely, I believe that black lives matter. I believe that bad policing needs to be held to account. I believe that steps need to be taken to undo systemic bias and injustice. I believe that policy and reform have the power to reshape the relationship that the general public has with law enforcement for the better of our entire society. I believe lots more stuff.

As I marched alongside different people, It was clear that people’s convictions are as diverse as the stories that they carry with them. Our thoughts and feelings are nuanced and while hashtags have their purpose, they could hardly capture a full story. Today, I wanted to expand on a little more of mine.

Like the rest of the country, I am appalled at the actions of many law enforcement personnel. Still, I love the police in principle. These are some reasons why.

1. When there is danger, they run towards it.
I grew up in New York City, and I’m old enough to remember what the smoke looked like on 9/11. You could see it rising all the way up from where I lived in Queens. Police are not predominantly bullies and villains, they are the type of people who can see a building on fire and run towards it. There is a special kind of bravery that compels these brave women and men to see innocent people, danger and say “I’m going to stand between.”

2. It’s An Impossible Job
A while back, I listened to a TedTalk about the impossible task that soldiers have overseas. On one day, they give out aid and build rapport with local citizens. On the next day, they have to stop heinous criminals with lethal force. We praise the police when we see them breakdancing with kids or shooting hoops, but the fact of the matter is that in the next moment their job could involve taking down a violent criminal. Everyone they meet during the day is experiencing the worst day of their lives. It takes a saintly level of composure to do that with fresh patience and poise every day.

3. They Get Spat On By The People They Protect
There are police on the front line who are just as outraged as the protestors. Yet, they put on the uniform, stand on the line and endure abuse by the people they’ve come to protect. Believe me, I’ve seen every video of when a cop snaps, but there are unheralded heroes who bear the weight of guilt for their colleague’s sins despite deserving none of abuse themselves. I think next to cops, maybe lawyers and IRS agents are the most hated occupation, but they don’t have an awesome NWA song for people to blare in your face.

***

I’m still thinking through some things. Here are some of those things.

Unanswerable Questions

Chokeholds & Strangleholds
When I first read this, it was very clear. Don’t choke people to death. Easy. But there’s some nuance here. First, there’s a difference between a chokehold and a stranglehold. A chokehold is meant to restrict air by compressing the windpipe. When this is applied, people stop breathing and die. A stranglehold, while sounding more horrific, is the equivalent of rear naked choke, a move that applies pressure to the blood vessels in the neck and renders someone unconscious. It sounds scary, but if you’ve done Jiu Jitsu, it’s something you’re very familiar with. Rendering someone unconscious, can be incredibly valuable, especially when doing with someone who is dangerous and/or someone whose drug use or mental capacities make them incapable of logical/rational thought. A stranglehold can be a very safe and effective tool, but the margin very error is slim. If I’m to err here, it’ll be on the side of

My concern here is not necessarily for the particulars of this method, but for the idea of limiting which tools are available to law enforcement. I’ve had to teach in a number of different contexts for different things, including a New York City public school. In all of these situations, I did not have the power to change a student’s grade levy and kind of penalization for disruptive behavior (I wasn’t looking to choke them out, I promise). And while you don’t need tools of control/enforcement in most situations, when the situation does arrive, it sucks not to have them. I’m not saying that I think it’s happening here, but it can be a slippery slope if people outside of the field begin to legislate HOW people can do their jobs. There’s a need for external oversight, yes, but micromanagement would be counterproductive.

A Division of Responsibility
An interesting proposal I’ve read/heard about includes a separation of responsibilities. It’s an idea based on data that shows the majority of police calls don’t involve violence. It may sound counter intuitive, but what if we increased the size and scope of, lets say, SWAT teams to include violent crimes that typically local police respond to. If that’s the case, then could we limit the scope of your average police officer to your run-of-the-mill police response. This would be non-violent crimes, traffic stops, etc. It could eliminate the need to switch back and forth between kill-or-be-killed, and you have a broken tail-light. It could also very well eliminate the need for these officers to carry lethal weaponry and make it more clear that their responsibilities don’t include the use of lethal force.

The reason this is in the unanswerable question category is that police who are set on killing people will continue to do so and have done so in the most mundane of interventions. There’s another problem if we remove guns from the typical police officer. In America, it’d likely that the person they pull over or confront in a theoretically non-violent situation might very well be armed. We’d be asking police to be sheep in a world of wolves. To be honest, I don’t know if I rule that out, but that isn’t a decision to be made flippantly.

Accountability / Qualified Immunity
Of course police brutality should be held to account. Of course heinous acts should be met with criminal punishment to the full extent of the law. But, the police are trusted to go into the most dangerous situations in our society. They have to make impossible decisions and they have split seconds to do it. How many of us would handle a dangerous situation well. How many of us would get 100% right if we had multiple a day. What about multiple per day over the course of a career.  How do we legislate this well?

I feel that there needs to be some grace when it comes to the responsibilities of a police officer, just as you would have for soldiers. Not because the police are militant, but because their job requires discretion at the most consequential of levels. If we punish every good cop who makes a mistake like a villain with a pattern of abuse, I think we do those cops and ourselves a disservice. Qualified immunity in theory isn’t supposed to protect every officer in every situation, no matter how heinous, but it’s been used that way. This is a systemic problem with implementation that needs to be addressed, but qualified immunity on face value isn’t necessarily a bad practice.

Closing Thoughts
I suspect that there will be many aspects of this post or others that upsets the people reading it. Some progressives will be appalled that I more or less posted something akin to Blue Lives Matter. Some conservatives will be shocked that I marched in support of Black Lives Matter. My better friends will know that I’m a complicated sort of a person, that I try to give careful thought to things, that I really do try to listen, not just to the words someone speaks, but the human behind the words. My friends will know that the cognitive dissonance I’m holding in my brain could fill the Grand Canyon. They’ll know that I’m trying my best out here. It might not be good enough, but it’s all I got. 

The Only Real Movie Recommendation to Make During Covid-19

It’s been a long (figurative) winter and you can feel the people getting antsy and restless. All of our old memes about wanting to laze about at home can’t make up for the undeniable truth—We aren’t meant to be cooped up, and we aren’t meant to be without human interaction.

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Like many others, I feel like I’ve watched all of Netflix, and indeed, the binge-watching has been out of hand for weeks now. I’ve rewatched the whole Sorkin television library, most recently Newroom (the ethics of Newsroom are laughable when compared to modern reporting), Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and West Wing (twice). I rewatched Parks and Recreation, Avatar: The Last Airbender and half of the stand up specials on Netflix.

What we watch and listen to can inform us, inspire us and help us to not only get through these strange times, but to come out on the other side better, more whole individuals.

The whole library of history is available to us, but I need to tell you that I’ve found the perfect thing to watch right now. The perfect thing to watch right now is: basically anything by Jean-Claude Van Damme

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I want a lot of things out of what I watch. I like to be challenged—intellectually (Black Mirror), emotionally (Bojack Horseman), civically (West Wing).

But right now, I just want to watch Jean Claude Van Damme fight in a bloody, no holds-barred tournament known as the Kumite (Bloodsport 1988). 

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It’s “Based on a True Story”

I want to see JCVD star opposite HIMSELF as displaced identical martial artist twins out to avenge the death of their parents (Double Impact 1991). 

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Watch carefully to see how they explain how two men growing up in Hong Kong and Los Angeles both have identical French accents.

I want to see him team up with DENNIS !@#%ING RODMAN as he escapes a prison colony, jumps out of a plane and fights a tiger to save his family from an international terrorist played by Mickey Rourke (Double Team 1997).

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Just look at those posters and tell me that’s not what the world needs. Just look at any plot synopsis from a JCVD classic and tell me it won’t give you the strength to face the day.  Now go forth and enjoy (a lot are on Amazon Prime Video). Enjoy a break from the weariness of the world. Relax and take a split and smile. 

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Bojack Horseman and Unseen Victims of COVID-19

This evening, I sat down to eat my dinner quickly as Stephy fed a grumpy wee-baby-Shelby. Most days, the timing works out where she’ll swing on her baby seat while we eat hasty panicked mouthfuls before she grows impatient with the lack of attention. Today, we had no such serendipitous scheduling. I ate my way a little bit too quickly through a Post-Mates Pad Thai and settled down with a watered-down Thai Tea. And then, invariably, I revved up the engine on that old demon…Netflix. 

I may or may not have spent my weekend watching some of the trashy mid-budget action flicks Netflix seems to be pushing out for the masses. Spenser Confidential didn’t know what movie it wanted to be. Triple Frontier felt like it had the potential to be good, but fell flat at the end. 6 Underground was unwatchable. This week, it felt like I needed something to cleanse the palate. So it was finally time for me to watch Season 6 of Bojack Horseman. 

I enjoy Bojack Horseman. It reaches deep down and resonates with some of the best darkest places. It’s a show that shines a light on addiction, self-loathing and despite the prevalence of animals, it really highlights humanity. On top of that, Bojack from time to time tumbles into interminable tongue twisting tirades of titillating tête-à-tête. But this post isn’t really about the show.

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mmm… so good


This post isn’t really about the show because about two minutes into season 6, I sort of freaked out. I thought about AA meetings. In the midst of all of the confusion with COVID-19, I hadn’t thought about AA meetings. How are people going to meetings? For a lot of people, monthly, weekly, even daily meetings were and are the life-blood for a life of sobriety. A steady routine of accountability and catharsis, or at the very least, stale coffee and familiar faces was an essential tool to stem the tide of a personal darkness.

About a year ago, I went to a meeting in Orange. It was an assignment for my Pastoral Ministry class, but if I’m being honest, I’ve always wanted to go to an AA meeting. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I pictured a cold room with a circle of chairs and a lectern, people wearing khakis and work polos would share stories about hitting rock bottom. What it ended up being was warm. People were warm and friendly, but not pushy.

Tropaholics Anonymous - TV Tropes

When I was waiting, I could see that a lot of people were there as part of their routine, or as part of a court-ordered mandate, so there wasn’t intensity in the room, just a kind of familial energy. It felt like people waiting for a pick-up basketball game to start.

Then, when we did start, people casually opened up and shared about what they’ve done and how they were doing. When I think back on it, I can’t remember the specifics of any of those stories, only how it felt to be in the room. The meeting itself seemed to have a liturgy, a routine that lends special power through repetition and consistency. 

I saw people sharing about their lowest points. And after they finished, other people would smile at them and nod and clap. They accepted each other because they knew they were the same. Think about that. Think about the hardest truths you’ve never had the courage come to grips with about yourself. What would it mean if you voiced those out loud and had people not judge you. It felt like Sunday Nights at Winter Retreat. Sunday nights are testimony night where sleep deprivation takes hold of everyone and the walls come down. There’s a mighty power in this, a power that is sometimes just enough to keep us from tumbling back down into the pit.

I think about AA meetings amidst this crisis and I find myself praying. Super hard. For some reason it’s gnawing away at me.

You know, almost every day, I think about Thomas. Thomas is neck-deep in the muck of fighting this disease in the New York epicenter. My best-good-friend is a verifiable hero in a time where heroes are going to make the difference between a death toll in the thousands and one in the tens or hundreds of thousands. He’s trained his whole life for the skills and character to dutifully save lives without any fanfare and recognition.

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He saves lives every day in an overworked New York Hospital and I #stayhome. So you can say we’re both doing our part.

Like everyone else in Quaran-Town, I’ve been glued to the news. Every day Stephy gives me some updated numbers and I can’t help but watch how COVID-19 ripples out into the world affecting industries and lives even outside of the health ramifications.

I don’t know if you think this way, but when there’s a crisis, I think about my role in it. This is because when you internalize something like the Amazing Spider-Man, you truly believe that you have a great responsibility to help. Now, I know I’m already a hero because I’m staying home and watching Netlix in my pajama bottoms (#stayhome), but for this whole crisis, I’ve had a sinking feeling that I’m on the bench for this one. I didn’t know my role in all this, and I began to suspect that I didn’t have one. But then Bojack, and addiction and a light bulb seemed to go off. It feels like this is a clue, a hint at my way to be a part of it. 

I don’t know how to help. I wish I did. I’ve contacted Orange County AA. They’ve put me on a list of resources, but neither of us knows what that means. I’m reading as many articles as I can, including this excellent NY Times article. Maybe I can train some folks to use Zoom. Maybe I can donate some Pro accounts or some pizzas for meeting hosts. Maybe, quite possibly, I can offer an ear to anyone who might be reading this. If you’re isolated, or deep in a well, or living too much like you’re in a Bojack episode, I’ll be here for you as best as I can. I don’t know how to run an AA meeting, but I can sit, I can listen and I can accept and I can pray. 

True to Its Brand, BoJack Horseman Shows That Happily Ever Afters ...

Danger Was Almost My Middle Name

This all started because I’m wearing a mask at work. When your job is to work with dozens of Chinese students and their day is spent going to school with other Chinese students and one of the first domestic cases of the Wuhan CoronaVirus was confirmed in your city, you might be concerned about managing the risk of infection. The thing is, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have cared at all.

Adventuroot
You see, in my teens and twenties (I resent needing to phrase it this way), I took every adventure available to me. If there was a cliff, I’d find a way to climb it and jump off it. If there was a distant land, I’d find a way to travel to it whether by train, plane or automobile. In Mama Liu’s Rav4, I drove half the distance to the moon (five times the circumference of the Earth), making my way to every state in the contiguous United States, staying in shady motels, camping out in the back of my car, or better yet, spending the night in a frosty bivouac sac. I got a handful of speeding tickets and a boatload of parking tickets. I drank all the coffee and ate all the slow-smoked barbecue I could find in this great country. I almost legally changed my name to make Danger my middle name. While I didn’t go on drug-induced benders or get into low-level violent crime, I lived my life as hard as I could, or as far as commitment to my faith afforded me (plus some extra-curricular, extra-biblical activity on top).

I’m the blip in the middle.

When people would question me, discourage me or otherwise rein me in, they used the threat of danger. “Don’t do that, that’s dangerous.” “Don’t eat that, you’ll get cancer.” “Don’t go there, it’s not safe.” My response was always the same; live longer? For what? Live longer? At what cost? In the words of the great George Strait “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.” I wasn’t looking to extend my time at the expense of how I spent it. Greasy food tastes better, driving fast is more fun, the road less traveled makes a better story.

Existentialroot
At the bottom of all that, there was the fact that I didn’t want to live long, regardless. Like my sad existentialist heroes, I was weary. I was weary of life. The point wasn’t that I was willing to pay the price for a lifestyle that I wanted. The point was that I wanted a lifestyle that cost me more life. In other words, burning the candle at both ends wasn’t a means to an end, it was the goal. I was tired, and on a lot of days since those times, I’ve been tired.

Something always resonated with me in Ecclesiastes. From the moment I stumbled across it in my teens, it’s been my favorite part of scripture. Ecclesiastes echoes a meaninglessness that burrows deep into the marrow of your bones and saps joy from so much of life. There is a fleeting quality to this world that doesn’t make it ephemeral and beautiful, but cheap like a disposable napkin. 

The one solace was that we have a chance to make a difference in something eternal. The one solace was that somewhere, there was a way to have a legacy.

We shine most brightly when we can reflect the good graces of God. We leave a mark by dipping our toes into the eternal. But even still, there is a longing for the other side of life. The apostle Paul says as much in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He knows that the things of this world pale in comparison to just a sliver of the goodness of God. What we experience here is but a shadow of what is to come. He stays to possibly do some good. But in his heart, he longs for the other side of the veil.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t eat my vegetables.

Just kidding. I like vegetables, actually. But Paul encapsulates a big portion of my approach towards life and particularly my own safety. When I took the 16PF at Talbot, my three highest factors were High Threat Immunity, Thrill Seeking Behavior and Low Energy Depression. If you’ve known me for some amount of time, you look at those three phrases and you recognize all of it immediately in how I live. I never saw the need to shield myself from the dangers of this world. What’s the worst that could happen? My untimely demise? Perfect, I could use the rest. Let’s roll the dice.

Saferoot
If this all sounds awfully morbid, rest assured. I’m not embarking on drug-fueled benders or living my best hedonistic life. I spend my days in a two bedroom condo in one of the safest suburbs in the world. I go to and fro from my safe job in a sensible mid-size SUV with lots of airbags and even a dashcam. I lock my doors now. Take a snapshot of my life these past few years and I venture to guess that it’s largely indistinguishable from the safety-seeking people I pass on the freeway.

And today, I’m wearing a goofy facemask at work.

(facemask photo)

I’ve never been known to be the most cautious one in the room.

In 2002, When SARS broke out in eastern Asia and around the world, I was a teenager. Like any teenager convinced of his own immortality, SARS was a just punch-line and a means for taking self-deprecating racist pot-shots at my own people. My only responsibility on a day to day basis was reading Fitzgerald novels and getting Kennedy Fried Chicken from the corner of Fulton and Fort Greene. The closest thing I had to a bank account was a new paperback novel and a receipt from Barnes and Noble.

Now, in 2020, I’ve got a job, a mortgage, a wife (total babe) and most recently, a tiny baby to take care of. I can’t afford to joke around. I can’t afford to be cavalier about my own life because the outcome of other lives depends on it. If I get hurt, if I get hurt, it’s not me that pays the price, it’s these other two. And it’s a heavy weight to carry.

Dadroot
You know, I thought that I would resent this weight. All of the married characters in my writing resented their families for it. I thought I would be bogged down by the responsibility of caring for a family. I’d spend my days in a cubicle, rotting away under fluorescent lights instead of under the stars somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. But now, now that I’m on the other side, I think that I imagined it wrong. 


No, I don’t love the suburbs. I don’t love the safety. I don’t love having a mortgage, and furniture and a life that I can’t pack up and leave on a moments notice. I love my family, and the other things are necessary costs to that end. I do enjoy a home, and I suspect that they do too. Instead of looking to speed through life, I’m trying to slow it down. I’m trying to stretch it out because my family doesn’t need a martyr, they need a father. They need a rock, an anchor, not a rolling stone.

I know I’m not always going to have to sacrifice things. When Shelby isn’t a tiny bitty baby, she will come along on adventures. She will sit in that center seat between me and her mom while we explore the world together. I’ll do dumb things to try to impress her. But even now, with my quiet day to day, I am at peace. I realize that what I do with these two ladies will be the greatest adventure I embark on, and how I do it will be my greatest legacy.

look at these two babes

me too, but not what you think

The past couple of weeks has been intense. It began with revelations about Harvey Weinstein and snowballed into a veritable explosion of information in all different realms, not just Hollywood, and there’s no end in sight. I am still trying to figure out what I make of all of it. Where’s my voice in this? What do I want to communicate? Every podcast and thought-piece I’ve listened to or read describe our social landscape irreversibly changed. It should go without saying that it’s for the best. Transparency is necessary and the systems of oppressive boys’ clubs and abuses of power should be exposed and torn down.

I love Miramax movies, but Harvey Weinstein was a predator and overtly used his power to prey on young actresses. Kevin Spacey is an amazing actor, but he always had a reputation for being a cruel man. These men are easy to vilify, to demonize. Then, last week a Times article chronicled an encounter with Louis C.K. and two other female comedians and he joined the list of these evil men.

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Louie. Not Louie. Louie was and maybe still is one of my heroes. In the midst of a culture intolerance and division, Louie’s voice championed nuance and understanding. His commitment to his craft inspired many shows I love (yes, even Horace and Pete). His methods in creating Louie on FX changed what was possible for a singular comedic voice to drive a show as he directed, acted, and even edited his own content without network intervention. There’s no Atlanta, no Master of None, no Better Things, without him.He became the Carlin/Pryor role model for a generation of comedians (Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Trevor Noah, etc.) showing them what it takes to stay relevant: work the clubs, build an hour, film a special, burn it all, repeat.

Then, this week, I listened to Marc Maron and Bill Burr address what has happened with their friend. Burr’s was very Burr-like. He described when he gets assaulted by aging, wine-breathed cougars. He defends his manager Dave Becky, who has been caught up in this by association.

But Maron, Maron really opened up. He shared times where he used his power influence inappropriately. He told a story of when he was hurt by a person he trusted and the powerful, lingering effect it had on him. And when he talked emotionally about CK, I almost cried.

“And look, I hope this doesn’t come off as any sort of apology for anything. You know, I’m disappointed in my friend. He did some gross s***, some damaging s***, and people are like ‘how are you gonna be friends with that guy. He’s my friend! And you know, he f***ed up. And he’s in big f***ing trouble. So, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna be his friend. What do you want me to do? I mean, it’s probably the best time to be his friend, when he needs to make changes in his life. I can learn from it. He can learn from it, I hope.” – WTF Podcast 11/13/2017

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Louis C.K. and Marc Maron, 1989

It doesn’t feel right to lump Louie in with the others. The others were evil, but Louie was good. I see a portrait of a man who is haunted by his sexuality and he’s afraid and ashamed and apologetic for what it has done to the people around him. Then I realized why it was so hard. Not just because he’s a hero, but I think when I saw Louie, ashamed at the demon inside him that has taken control and wrought havoc in the world around him, I saw it. I saw myself. This week, I finally found my voice in all of this controversy.

I knew when the dialogue began that I wasn’t one of the victims. I wanted to be an ally, but there was a part of my conscience that held me back. When I saw the hashtag #metoo, I wanted to say #metoo, but specifically me too, I’m guilty. I’m guilty of treating women inappropriately. I’ve touched them inappropriately. I’ve pushed girlfriends further physically than they wanted to go. I’ve entertained thoughts about women that haunt me and would turn the stomachs of anyone who could step inside my mind. When I look down at this situation, I’m not standing amongst the victims, I’m not standing with the allies. I stand with the perpetrators, not in their defense, but sharing in their guilt.

I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to say. I think I want to come out and say me too, but not in the way that you were hoping. Me too, I’m guilty. Mostly, I think, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.

29.

10.25

I never expect to, but around my birthday season I always end up reflecting on my life. I burrow deep down into some existential spiral that’s a mix of “what am I doing with my life?!” and “what have I done with my life?!” This year, it snuck up on me.

About four years ago, around this time, I was in a bad way. I was heartbroken, flat-broke, living in half of a one bedroom basement with no job or prospects. Mom was really sick and dad was almost out of the picture. Every day had a weight of anxiety and uncertainty. I was definitely a sadroot.

I think if sad 2013 Sunroot could see me now, he would be really excited. Everything looks great. I’m dating a super cool babe who is good to me. I’m getting paid full-time to work on the kingdom of God. I’m in a great seminary through the generous support of my church. I’m living in a pretty dope pad above a bustling area. My finances are more in the black than the red and by way of some generous friends, I just recently acquired a beautiful Ford Mustang GT. I am reading, writing and boxing in my free-time and I’m in the best shape I’ve been since early on in college. Everything is awesome. Young SR would be stoked, but young SR would not have known how terrifying everything is.

I’ve done and accomplished more than I could have hoped from that basement in Brooklyn. I’ve driven all throughout the U.S. I’ve backpacked through Europe based on a dream I had. I’ve compiled and published my own writing. I’ve enjoyed the freedom and independence of a man in his twenties with limited responsibility and some disposable income. Many days, I’m tempted to complain, but by the grace of God, I’m in a good spot. There’s some stability for once in my life.

All that said, the weight of uncertainty is replaced with a weight to maintain everything that you do have. I’m afraid of messing things up with Stephy, especially as we get closer to making bigger, scarier and more permanent decisions. I’m afraid at work, there’s a great burden of responsibility that falls on my shoulders to provide a spiritually nurturing environment for these youth and every day has a sinking feeling that I’m messing it all up. I’m afraid when I drive, because I’m driving stick and 400 horsepower is a terrifying power to wield. I’m afraid when I box because apparently, I forgot how to defend and I’m getting punched hard in the face. I’m afraid of my writing, because I’m not that young—I don’t have any excuses for sucking anymore.


(Me when I drive)

In the Dark Knight, when Joker is talking to the half-exploded Harvey Dent, he calls himself a dog chasing a car, and he wouldn’t know what to do if he caught it. In many ways, I feel like I caught the car and it’s terrifying. I’m sitting in the seat that I hoped I would be sitting in at this point in my life and I’m finding out that nothing could be scarier. I have more to lose than I’ve ever had and I can’t help but be nervous because by past experience, I’ve always lost most everything I’ve wanted to keep.


11.09

I wrote the above passage a few weeks ago, a few days before my birthday. I didn’t know how to end it, so I just left it floating in the cloud of my google drive. The impetus behind it really was the car. I think the visceral tangible terror of driving the Mustang provided a very present metaphor for the weight that came with the gifts of my adulthood. That post captures how I felt then.

Today feels different. I think it’s because I’m 29 now. I’m clearly older and wiser. I’ve also grown pretty comfortable driving the car. I mean I still try to avoid driving it sometimes (partially because of gas), but we’re getting along better. We’ve come to an understanding. I mean, I still can’t play pokemon and drive or anything, but maybe thats a good thing. In this small aspect of my life too, I think there’s a lesson for me to learn, which is that I’m going to carry that weight. And that’s ok.

This season of my life is challenging me to trust God in a different way. For young Sadroot, it was trusting God to get me out of the muck. For me now, it’s trusting God to sustain and grow what is already there. And if He decides to let it fall into ruin, well that’s my comfort zone anyway. There are a lot of things I cannot control, and that get’s scary when you have even more to lose than you’ve ever had. But I enjoyed driving the GT today. I’m enjoying the life I have. I like who I’m spending it with. And I get the sneaking suspicion that the best, not the worst, is yet to come.

new york state of mind

This week, someone drove a truck into a bike lane full of bikers and runners, killing 8 and injuring a dozen others. This random act of violence in such a public space is meant to make you think that it could happen anywhere at anytime. It’s meant to put fear into people’s hearts. But I wanted to take the time to post a message up: you ****ed with the wrong city.

I grew up in New York . We build our lives on pushing through the muck. Our entire lives in this s***hole have prepared us to take a punch on the chin and move forward.

In high school, I was assaulted twice and mugged once on the subway back from school. You know what I did right after those happened? I moved to the other side of the train. I went home. And then I went back to school the next day. Once, I saw a friend walk into the deli bleeding from being stabbed. He chatted with a friend and bought something before we walking over to the hospital. I’ve walked past bodies under a sheets while transferring stations. Every one of us has a story about being a witness to or victim of some kind of crime. All of us have these stories. We collect them. But you know what we all did? We kept going. It’s what we do as New Yorkers. we shrug it off because we got s*** to do and s*** doesn’t get done by sitting around and being afraid.

Every day we walk through chaos and tragedy and we keep walking to our crappy internships and tiny apartments. I’m talking about rivers of black slush, air made of hot garbage, Brooklyn hipsters. We just keep going. A coke fiend can be snorting a line next to us on the 6 train and we won’t even change our seats. We can hear gunshots or sirens outside and we won’t even go to the window to check anymore. You can attack our public spaces and we’ll be there tomorrow, because **** you, that’s why.

I’m mourning this week, and praying hard for these families, but if you think this is gonna scare New Yorkers, you don’t know who you’re messing with. We survived 9/11. We survived Sandy. We’re surviving the Jim Dolan Knicks. Terrify us? Us? Get the **** outta here.

“When Were You A Stranger”

I have stronger feelings than I’d like to admit about this one. I’m a little too close to the issue. I know too many loved ones, friends and former students who are recipients of the DACA program and through it, have been able attend higher education and/or provide for themselves and their families. I’m around too many people whose lives would be entirely upended with the loss of a work permit and are spending today feeling confused, betrayed and afraid of what is to come.

To help understand how a DREAMer might feel today, here’s some context. In the early part of this decade and since the introduction of DACA, undocumented immigrants have come forward in good faith with the promise that their trust in our government would not be used by ICE as a weapon against them. Now, there is an announcement of the end of DACA with no information about the future prospects after expiration. There are no assurances that their trust will be met with protection and their security is pulled out from underneath them.

I don’t want to get into the politics and details of this. I don’t want to discuss all of the stats and numbers. I didn’t make this post to debate policies and pick sides. It was created because I hope to address hearts and hopefully convey biblical values in the midst of rhetoric and politics.

I’m not even trying to make an argument that accepting the stranger, whether DREAMERS, refugees or Muslims is better for our country or not. I’ve seen arguments about GDP impact, unemployment, tax issues, security, etc. What I’m suggesting is that the Bible encourages us to welcome the stranger and give to the needy.

I’ve seen numbers on both sides in support of and in contradiction to the effect of immigrants on the national economy and security. My point here is this: even if it came at a cost, should we as Christians be averse to it? I think we’re foolish to think that we can give to other’s without cost to ourselves. But isn’t a self-sacrificing generosity our calling? Wasn’t it the example set for us?

Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Leviticus 19:33-34
33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

 

creep

from love is a watched pot that never boils

creep
in a shadowy
dorm room

my lips meet teeth
because she smiles
when I kiss her

or, at least,
that’s how I picture it

her, smiling
with her hand on my chest
as I press

the skin of her palm
casts soft ripples
of lightning through my skin

then I find myself swimming
again
and again
in the rhythm of her hips and I
feel as though I’ve drowned,

but I’ve drowned
in solid air,
there is life in the sound of her footsteps,
little pockets of air,
found in the violence
of her swaying hair

the weight
of her shoulder
on my chest, the scent
on her nape would’ve be enough
without diamond eyes
cutting me to ribbons

but now, those eyes are gaping open.
mine are still closed,

when she pushes me back,
her smiling mouth is gone
and she’s
speaking,
shouting,
protesting,

my hands are stretched out,
not holding her,
not helping,
not calming her down.

Simon Peter and My Mom Would Get Along: The Christian Duty of Nagging

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Usually, I’m ashamed to tell people that I still live with my mom. There’s something infantilizing about living in the house you grew up in, where your baby pictures still hang in dusty frames on the wall. I could excuse myself with lots of reasons why I’m still on 59th ave., but let’s be honest, if I were making more money or if I stopped going to so many fights (Golovkin v. Lemieux is going to be great), I probably would have made the move already. I like living by myself. I miss it.

Anyhow, despite living with Mama Liu (sharing a wall with her, in fact), I don’t see her all that much. In a given week, I might sit down with her for one or two meals. During this meal, mom gets the chance to exercise her favorite activity with me: telling me stuff I already know. Boy, does my mom love telling me stuff that I already know. It’s gotta be one of her favorite things in the world. It’s right up there with seafood and complaining about my dad. Some may call it parenting, I’m going to call it 罗嗦.

Mama Liu has a couple of common reminders for me too. Save your money. Go earn some more money. Don’t come home so late. Stop wasting your time . Do well in school (seminary, now). Don’t break ladies’ hearts. Don’t let ladies break your heart. Use an umbrella. Wear a coat. Stop cutting your own hair. Eat more fruit. Also, vitamins.

In 2 Peter (or Segundo Pedro, as I call it), the apostle/badass Pedro does the same. He is explicit about his nagging “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have” (2 Peter 1:12). Segundo Pedro is all about reminding the church in Asia Minor of the fundamental tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ died for the salvation of sinners, in accordance with prophecy, as confirmed by eyewitnesses. And, He’s coming back. Apparently, in Peter’s day, there were lots of people saying other things, teaching other doctrines, and taking advantage of vulnerable church-goers. Peter is reminding everyone of the truth, so that when non-truths present themselves, people can defend themselves.

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To this end, Peter beats a dead horse. He essentially tells his audience that he will remind them of these same things until he dies. The more I study this letter, the more I see that he is not concerned with the presentation of this gospel, but the reinforcement of a truth that should already be known. Peter, like my mommy, is trying to drill home simple truths. False teachers may conjure some “cleverly devised myths” and have sexy new spins that appeal to the people of the time, but the truth cannot be shaken by a trifling fad. Peter remains diligent to his message. It’s not new, and it shouldn’t have to be.

Every week, I try to drive the same message home. Jesus comes alongside us, pays for our debts. Jesus is a god worth following. I’m tempted to come up with fun new ways to say it, or give in the positivity of the prosperity gospel, or entice my friends with a sexy socially conscious gospel, or assuage the binary nature of the kingdom with a calming pluralism. Peter reminds me to keep it honest, keep it simple. Much like a good story, a good truth deserves to be told. Even when it isn’t the first time.