Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Discipline (II)

So I memorized a grip of Bible verses, went to bed, woke up with my alarm, ran 3 miles and then wasted 6 hours. I then recovered, read my Bible and started reading poetry, overcoming the temptation to watch Star Wars in the living room. Overall, mediocre.

Thank you, my invisible audience. The day would have otherwise been a complete waste without you.

Now you have an opportunity to become visible. What do you want me to write about? Post a comment and it will heavily influence what I write about. I have many ideas that I'd write for me; however, if I knew it was benefiting or entertaining more people than me, I'd be much more motivated to write.
  • Political ("Why you should vote for Ron Paul" or"Why we shouldn't recycle paper")
  • Reflections on the book of Esther (I read it last night)
  • Poetry discussions (I just read through some Blake)
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (a book about Objectivism that I'm planning on reading)
  • Personal updates (my musings on medical schools, interviews, and class)
  • Other ideas

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I just watched the Bourne Ultimatum with my family. Of course, the movie was awesome, but it reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend BJ about discipline. We talked about how cool it was that humans can do so much if we put our minds to it. Jason Bourne is a super hero simply because of his training. There are a million other movies/people who are similarly cool. Hitman, Batman Begins, etc.

There are also plenty of real life examples of discipline. There are Jews who memorize the Torah. The entire Torah. Eastern Monks become masters at martial arts. Even people who live in a disciplined setting for a few years have their lives changed. I know people who go into the military as slobs and come out four years later as upstanding and disciplined men.

People use discipline to accomplish great things. In general, though, it does not seem to be a very American attribute. In school, procrastination seems to be the rule. Why do an hour a day when you can do five hours the night before? Likewise in the church, even the most pious churchgoer has difficulty spending even 10 minutes a day reading the Bible. There is no society or authority to enforce discipline.

In Boot Camp, you learn quickly to wake up on time, make your bed, and look sharp by 5AM every morning. Perfection is expected. You get yelled at and mocked if you are less than perfect. They don't ask nicely to wake up early and do PT. You know that waking up that early and exercising is good for you, but you'd never do it on your own (if you are a normal American). They demand you do what you know is best for you.

Sometimes I wish this was true of the church. Not in an obligatory, legalistic manner, but in a voluntary and manly manner. I want to go to a Bible boot camp or join Bible ROTC. I want someone to kick my butt at 5AM and help me do what I am too weak to do by myself. I want to be mocked by my peers when I don't show up. I want to be ridiculed by my leader when I am late. Why? Because I know I am capable of so much more.

Nobody has ever done anything like this to me. It's understandable given draconian enforcements to orthodoxy of the past. However, I think the pendulum has swung way to far on the side of softness. Especially for men.

2 Timothy 1:7 "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self‑discipline."

And this is speaking of external discipline ("chastening" in the KJV):

Hebrews 12:11 "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

And added the day after initial writing:

1 Petet 1:13 (KJV) "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;"
In writing this, I now realize this is all one big intellectual excuse. If only ______, I would have discipline. I need to gird up my loins and be disciplined. Tomorrow I need to wake up early, exercise and read my Bible. I need to not waste time playing video games our lounging around the house. While it would be great if there was something to help me, I have it in me to do it myself and I need to stop complaining about the state of the world and do what's already in me.

I will post tomorrow and let you know how much a man I am.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A good friend of mine said something like this: "I don't love poetry, but most of the men of history I respect loved poetry. I must assume it is I who am in error." I agreed with him entirely.

So last week I picked up an old book of compiled English poems that my dad had on the shelf and started reading. I was blown away! I actually enjoyed poetry!

Here is a bit of what I've been reading (page numbers for my own reference):

William Wordsworth - "The Daffodils" (643)
He describes the wonder and awe of nature. He described it like a show that God put on just for him.

I will fully admit that I had to Google a Daffodil and have included the image at the left for the benefit of you who may not know.

Thomas Traherne - "Wonder" (497)
This is a wonderful picture of childhood perspective. I read it to my mom and she was convinced it was a poem about heaven instead of childhood. It made me reflect on Jesus' words: Matthew 18:4 (ESV) "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Kid's have some spiritual ability or sense that we don't have (generally); we should learn from them (and enjoy Traherne's poetry).

Rudyard Kipling - "Recessional" (1047), "White Mans Burden" Recessional is very powerful. It reminds the British to remember God. He warns them not to "loose wild tongues that have not Thee in awe" and not to trust in muskets and human power.

"White Man's Burden" deserves a fuller treatment, maybe another blog entry. It was a very interesting perspective, not least because Roosevelt said of it, "rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view."

American Folk Songs - "Casey Jones" (1015) and "John Henry" (1016) The American spirit is strong in these! Casey Jones is about a train engineer who, in order to meet a deadline, redlines his train and dies in a crash: "We're goin' to reach 'Frisco, but we'll all be dead!" and "The switchman know by the engine's moan/That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones." John Henry is about a man who tries to beat a steam machine in driving rails who, in his ambition to win says, "I'll hammer my fool self to death" and "I'll die wid my hammer in my hand." I love the ridiculous ambition. It is so American and I love it! Maybe I identify too much with these two characters.

W.H. Davies - "Leisure" (1065)
A nice rebuke to our American go go go lifestyle. "A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare." I think "leisure" in 1900 omitted video games.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Conversation with a Congolese Scientist

I just had a conversation with a biologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is in the PhD program at UCLA. I was over at my friend Josh Beck's apartment and we had dinner with him. I asked him his perspective on Africa, its problems and his ideas on solutions and decided to email you what he said.

Neville has been working in Congo with the NIH (a US institution) on Monkeypox, an emerging disease with the potential to become as deadly as Smallpox. His advisor in Washington DC and he organized a massive sampling in the villages throughout DRC. In the end, he collected 15000 blood samples by trekking through the Congolese jungles. They are going to be processed in Oregon where they hope to track the mutation of existing diseases and identify new viruses that are emerging in the jungles.

He is one of the top scientists in DRC, which has one of the best educated populations in Africa. He was awarded a scholarship from the NIH to be trained as a PhD at UCLA.

He is critical of aid as it exists today, but believes it is very important nonetheless.

The UN works with whomever the government tells them to work for, and then the clothes or food go to the families and friends of the government workers.

He also talked about how stupidly it is given. Right before he left, he told of visiting a neighboring country and seeing a very expensive piece of diagnostic/science equipment (a flow cytometer) just sitting collecting dust. France had donated it to help in the fight against AIDS, but there were no scientists who knew how to use it. Someone stole it thinking it was a TV, but after being unable to get it to work, he brought it back. The bottom line was if the machine were given to DRC on the other side of the river, it could have actually been used.

His idea is to connect with individual and trustworthy individual Africans who would be faithful in giving aid to those who actually need it. He said when he went out into the villages, that there were naked and hungry people. Most of the aid stays in the cities or goes to greedy politicians. He said he has many trustworthy friends that could be held accountable by being expected to show pictures and stories of children helped and with occasional visits to Africa. I've gotten his email and plan to follow up with that.

There was definitely a Flat-World moment or two. When he was doing his research, he had a Land Rover that was connected with an antenna to a high-speed modem back in the city. He said he once was in a village 1000km away talking via Skype videophone to Washington DC to get advice on how to proceed in the Congolese rain forest.

He mentioned the cost of Internet was rather low, about a cent a minute. To call the US, it was 40 cents a minute.

He believes education is a major part of getting Africa back on its feet. He said he would help as much as he could, but he just didn't have the money to send everyone to school. A student really wanted to go to university, but couldn't afford it. He said the cost of attendance would be less than $1000 per year and that a degree took 3 to 4 years to complete. There are 2 year masters programs, but no PhD programs.

The thing he wants to achieve to build up the scientific world is collaborations between American and African institutions. Surprisingly to me, there are many Congolese scientists. They know all about what a Western Blot would be, but have no money to do them. There are no resources in DRC for researchers or students, so he proposes an exchange program. Americans could go to Africa to study Malaria as it really is, and Africans could come to America to learn how to use equipment and get trained.

I asked him what were some of the things that were different about America's culture that he noticed. The first thing he said was, "You are very hardworking."

The second thing he pointed out and admired was our patriotism. He thought our patriotism was important in our success as a country. He said, "Without patriotism, it is the death of that country." He believes that this is a major problem in African politics: the leaders aren't patriotic and don't want their country to be great. Their patriotism can be bought, so they sell their country.

He believes our biggest failing is in our ignorance of the world. "The world is a village," and we have no idea what is going on in it.

"That is what is lacking in Africa: men of principles". He respects America for its principles, or rather the principles of our founders that exist now only as a residual (He told a proverb of using a jar to store chilies, and then even if they are taken out, the jar will still smell of them forever).

It was a really cool night. I learned so much and got such an improved perspective on the world. I hope to actually collaborate with him and have an impact on Africa instead of just feeling bad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Sweater and the Gospel

I was invited to a party last Saturday night. In deciding what to wear, I settled on a kitten Christmas sweater. That is, I decided to wear (over a tan collared shirt), a child's medium sweater that had a large white kitten in the middle surrounded by candy canes and gumdrops. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous.

Why I made such a decision is an entirely different conversation, but the fact remains, I wore a kitten sweater to a party that I expected to be very out of place at.

Normally I go to parties, find someone to talk to, and then get into as deep and philosophical a conversation as I can with that person. I'm normally near the edge of the room and it's normally awkward.

With the kitten sweater, I was popular.

For a nerd like me, being popular was a new and exciting experience. I've been respected (or feared) while in FISH, but by no means was I ever popular. That is, I could tell people to do things, but few people would ever want to spend time with me.

Normally, I could never break into a tight circle of conversing people. During the party, things were different. I simply had to approach the edge of a closed circle, someone would point out the lurking kitten at the periphery, and I'd be in. My attire (which everyone complimented) would be the center of conversation for the group for a few minutes.

The things that I said mattered greatly to the group. One person was discussing Messianic Jews. I said something like "Messianic Jews are lots of fun," and the mostly group (most of whom I'm sure had absolutely no idea what either of those words meant), decided I was right. After a few more minutes, the group of agnostics and Catholics literally wanted to go to a Messianic synagogue. If I'd been on my toes, I think I could have actually gotten a few of them to go. I've never had that kind of influence with people. I normally have a hard enough time getting people who are my friends to go to church with me, let alone semi-intoxicated secular strangers at a party.

I've recently started going to parties and doing evangelism. I would talk with someone, shift the conversation to spiritual matters, and share the Gospel as best I could over the music. This time, I was preaching Christ from a position of (what seemed to be) social authority. I was no longer a social beggar, barely holding on to the few minutes of attention I could steal. I didn't beg for a glace at a flyer or signboard (or worse yet, a 8' sign with "REPENT" on it). People wanted to give me their attention.

Learning the language and dynamics of a culture is essential in effective evangelism. Paul in Athens spoke the language of the Greeks, and made a masterful argument for Christ that was relevant to what Greeks valued: Reason. Today in college, we make our decisions based on what our social leaders are doing. For example, tonight there will be more than 5000 people running through UCLA in their underwear. Why? Because a few people with immense social authority did the same thing a few years ago and told their friends. Why are they running in their underwear and not to Christ? Because Christians do not have any social authority.

Perhaps Christians ought to re-learn the language of those around them to win them for Christ. We continue evangelizing with the outdated language of reason to a culture that no longer understands or cares.

Social authority, like money, is not inherently evil. If the analogy between social capital and capital capital holds, then the parable of the unjust steward applies:

Luke 16:8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

For perhaps the first time, I believe I learned a few words of cool. I intend to continue learning the language and maybe one day, I'll be able to translate the Gospel to so many lost people.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Life, Death and God's Sovereignty

God is good. He's been teaching me a lot about His sovereignty recently. That's always a scary topic, and a good one if you're ever feeling prideful.

My dad randomly ended up in the hospital. At first, we didn't know what it was or even if he would make it through the night.

He was the first person I've ever known who truly looked Death in the face and smiled. In consoling a family member, he said, "What's the worst that could happen? What? Disneyland. That's the worst that could happen. I die and go to heaven."

He literally was happy. The weirdest part was that I was happy too. It wasn't the illegitimate put-a-smile-on-to-hide-the-pain while reciting Romans 8:28. It was intense and true joy, unlike any joy I've felt; I was almost crying tears of joy. Amidst others weeping and mourning, Dad and I were rejoicing together in the sovereignty of God. It was surreal.

I got to watch God use this to reach so many people in so many ways. It was really incredible. Who thought an Arterial Vascular Maleformation could be such a good thing?
1I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

4Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! 5You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.
Psalm 40

What a great God!