Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Studying, Taking and Building

I just finished a 20 year career of listening to people talk at me. On Friday, I anticlimactically drew 63 filled-in ovals with a #2 pencil on a green and white piece of paper. If I put them in the right places, then it means that the $15,000 I paid in tuition this quarter, worked (actually, it was the government who paid, and the government who will make darn sure I pay it back). I have 2 short years left of working in the hospital, and then people will have to call me “doctor” and I get to write “MD” after my name (which will work out to more than $100,000 per letter).

How do I feel? Well, if you know me long enough, you’ll know that I don’t feel very much of anything emotionally. But if I feel anything, it is relief. Saturday night, I drove south from Stanford with all of my earthly possessions packed into my Toyota Prius with not a care in the world; the super moon rose over the desert landscape somewhere near Bakersfield (and I caught it!). I was on no schedule (and firmly intend to keep it that way for at least a week).

I enjoy classrooms, but I really enjoy doing things. And now I am one step closer to doing stuff. It’s rather exciting. But in the back of my mind, there a voice nags me, “Why weren’t you content in the classroom? Have you no patience?”

I told someone once that I wasn’t a patient person. In the Biblical sense (translated longsuffering), I think patience is a virtue I possess to some degree. I can endure unpleasant things (like years of stasis in classrooms). But I am not ‘patient’ as it may be used in common speech: I am not content with inaction; I am not content with stasis. Perhaps it is by my arrogance that I can look at the privilege of studying as stasis. But thus it is in my mind.

I am in my element when I am building, be it an idea, a machine or an organization. Up to now, building has been relegated to the periphery by my ‘real job’ in the classroom. And this has always frustrated me. It felt like, for the past two decades, I have done nothing but take. I’ve piled up for myself more and more knowledge, swelling my head to the point of bursting (as some of you have noticed on this blog). I understand that it may be necessary; but now, if I am to be a person who gives, I must break a lifelong career and habit of taking.

But I hope I can break it. I hope that as my life progresses, I will be able to give more. I hope that I can give in the way that I love: through building.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Defense of Alexandra Wallace

There is nothing more dangerous than defending witches. When the community has decided that someone needs burning, defending the accused inevitably leads to charges of complicity. Witch hunts divide the community between witch and hunter, and I fear this post will put me in the former category.

For those who aren’t aware, Alexandra Wallace ranted about how annoying Asians were in the library. The Asian Pacific Coalition summarized the video here here. And then a firestorm of rage descended on her from all parts of the internet. The video was taken down as being “hate speech,” and thousands of people expressed their hatred of the “blonde bitch” who posted a “f*ckin racist video”. People have called for UCLA to expel her for posting this YouTube video, “I'm actually disgusted... please KICK her out,” others spoke with satisfaction about how her life was now ruined. One even took humor in the thought of her turning to a life doing porn, “ten bucks says she ruined her life and now turns to porn Hahahaha.”

There’s the background. Now let me ask you some questions:

Have you ever thought of yourself as better than another group? If you are human, you probably came across someone today who offended you. And there’s a good change that the first thing that went through your head was something along the lines of “Stupid Men/ Women/ Old People/Young People/ Republicans/ Democrats/ Christians/ Atheists/ Blacks/ Whites/ Asians” or whatever demographic the offender happened to be a part of. And if it didn’t happen today, go back far enough and you’ll find a time.

For all you college-educated, do you always treat high-school dropouts as your equals? Have you ever in your life complained about how the ‘uneducated’ voters made a dumb decision? Do you ignore homeless people more often than you do people with UCLA sweaters? Do you know the name of the maid who cleans your building? Have you ever had a conversation with the people who cut the grass?

Racism is bad. Sure. But it’s just a special kind of bigotry. Is “thinking differently about a person because of their race” morally different from “thinking differently about a person because of their class/education”? We are all guilty of bigotry. And that’s why we love Alexandra Wallace. Because we can lay on her all of our own sins.

Two thousand years ago, a woman had been caught cheating on her husband. Her punishment was as severe as could be meted out: she would be thrown into a pit, and the community would throw rocks at her until she died of brain trauma or internal blood loss. There was a popular young teacher present, and the crowed asked his opinion. The evidence was against her, and the law was clear. They expected him to reject the woman and proceed with the stoning, or reject the law. But instead, the man did neither. He stood up and proclaimed, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” The words shocked the crowd. After a few minutes of stunned silence, one of the older men dropped the stone that he would have used to bash in the woman’s skull and he walked away. Then another dropped his stone. And another. Finally it was just the teacher and the woman. He asked her, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” He said to her, with warmth and compassion, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Alexandra Wallace has sinned. She has committed the unforgivable sin: racism, and she is presently being stoned to death by hypocrites. They are filled with self-righteous anger at this filthy sinner and, as if hoping to cleanse their own conscience, they fling stones. They can stone her to death with stones of shame and then go home self-righteously satisfied that they destroyed something evil. But they have only concealed the darkness which remains in their own hearts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On Shopping and Slavery

12.3 million people are in slavery right now (1). Today, in 2011, nearly 1 out of every 500 humans alive today is a salve. Some are ‘bonded’ to work off debts. Others are sold as children into lives of prostitution.

That’s a lot of people, and that’s the low estimate. Others estimate the number is as high as 27 million (2). It took us four centuries to make that many salves in the Atlantic Slave Trade. There are more slaves alive today than at any other time in human history. Another disturbing fact: there are slaves in the US. There are sex slaves in the Bay Area. Apparently, we have produced enough demand to bring a market here.

Did you know this? Because I didn’t. There are so many problems in the world, and I didn’t see this one coming.

I don’t know much more about the problem than this. The biggest conference ever on the topic of human trafficking occurred in Feemont a few months ago. For more info, go here: http://freedom-summit.org/2011/

What can you do about this?

Go Shopping.

One of the major reasons for human trafficking is poverty. People will sell their children into slavery out of desperation. Women will remain prostitutes because there is no other work they know how to do. An organization was founded to address these problems in poverty. Consider the following from Trade As One’s blog, an organization dedicated to providing dignified jobs to the poor:
I remember sitting in a small room in Mumbai, India, listening to a woman who led a business close to the red light district that employed women who had come out of commercial sex work … As she shared her greatest need – that of ensuring enough orders to sustain the momentum of their business and keep the women fully employed – this good woman could not mask her personal sense of guilt of not being able to provide for her women the opportunity they needed to keep them away from the grip of their old life. (3)
Buy a purse. You don’t need to give a handout; these people don’t need that kind of help. They need work. So buy a handbag. Or some earrings you like. If you’re a guy, you can buy one for your girlfriend (and explain to her how sensitive you are, and how much you care about sexy causes like human trafficking). You’ll support a group of women taken from slavery and given respectable jobs. Read about the organizations providing the jobs here

Trade As One’s website lets you spend your money on products made by poor people. Do you care about Palestinian refugees? Don’t just complain about Israeli bulldozers; switch out your soap and use olive oil soap made by the refugees.

Worried about war-torn regions? Buy some re-modeled bullet casings. Are you worried about HIV orphans? Make your next birthday card one hand-made by them. Do you hate Starbucks? Bypass the corporate fat-cats and buy coffee from the farmer co-ops.

There are a lot of problems in the world, and to solve them fully will take a lot of sacrifice. But this one’s different. Keep buying stuff. In fact, buy more stuff. But spend a bit more and create a decent job. You can help the poor every time you take a shower, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and put on your earrings. It’ll be well worth the extra few dollars.

(1) From the US Department of State http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/142980.pdf

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Remove the Log

I went snowboarding in Tahoe with my fellow medical students last weekend. To begin, let me confess that I am no expert snowboarder. But I generally go a day or two per year, and can hold my own. Anyways, I and a friend got out-boarded by a group that I was trying to keep up with. My friend was a beginner, and was going to go off by herself so as not to hinder me, too. Now if you’ve never learned snowboarding, let me explain: learning to snowboard sucks big time. It pays off in the end because snowboarding is totally awesomer than skiing. But when you’re learning it, it is not fun. Not even a little bit. Especially if you’re doing it all by yourself. So I decided to go with her a few runs and give her the boon of my super-smart expert advice. And so I did that. So under my wise tutelage, she endured many corrections: “Go faster; you’ll have more control.” “Don’t be afraid of falling.”

Then after the two runs of this, I realized something: I kicked my foot out when I turned. I went slow. I was afraid of falling. I knew what was right, but I didn’t do it. My mediocrity that day and the day before was because I did all those things I told my friend not to. I was the biggest snowboard hypocrite on the mountain.

In Christianity, there’re a lot of things that God gets angry about. But there is a special place in the wrath of God for hypocrisy. Jesus certainly did not approve of sexual sins, but treated sexual sinners with compassion and forgiveness. He didn’t do that to hypocrites. He proclaimed their doom, shamed them in front of massive crowds, and once, even used physical violence against them. In Matthew 7, Jesus gives a powerful and wise command, and then follows it up with a mocking satire:
1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
This got me thinking about the Church (big ‘C’, that is, the set of all those who are followers of Jesus). How often do we say things and how often do we actually do them? How much of our own super-smart expert advice do we actually take?

A perfect small example of this is the Jesus fish on cars. To my Nor Cal friends, in other parts of the country, Christians will put a fish on the back of their car, (Ichthus which is an acronym in Greek for “Jesus Christ God’s Son [and] Savior”); the more familiar Darwin fish (and the Flying Sphagetti Monster logo) was a response to this. Imagine if Christians actually were “slow to wrath” and “considered others better than themselves” on the road. I, for one, have certainly not noticed a difference between rude driving by cars with Jesus fish and those without them. Remove the log!

Let’s take a more serious case. We are (in)famous for proclaiming the importance of family values. But we still engage in divorce and adultery. We shout with righteous indignation about how the gays/liberals/perverts/pornographers are ruining marriage, and then we, even the most faithful among us, have a 32% failure rate (among Christians who frequently attend church). It’s no good pointing to the non-Christians with a divorce rate of 48% and saying, “Well at least we’re better than them!” We are to compare ourselves only with God. If we want to be able to proclaim that homosexuality is an abomination, our ranks need to be slightly cleaner than 32% abomination. Remove the log!

Finally, let’s look at the Great Commandment. Jesus asked to summarize the law. #1 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” #2 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Let’s just look at #2. Do we really love our neighbor as ourselves? The example Christ gives to illustrate is a foreigner helping a Jew who was robbed (“The Good Samaritan”). Do we behave like him? Christians certainly give more to charity than secular people, $2,210 per year, compared to $642 (2). But we are the ones with the “Not of this world” stickers. If we really considered our citizenship in Heaven, would we not be much more liberal in our charity? The cost to prevent the death of a child in Africa is as low as $1 per year of life saved. Did we really need the leather seats, the pool, or the grande caramel macchiato? Will we be able to present our bank statements to Christ on judgment day and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? How can we tell others to leave the concerns of earth and care only for the things of Heaven? How can we talk to others of eternal life, and yet pay it so little regard ourselves? Remove the log!

If we’re right about theology, we’re sitting on the greatest teachings of the greatest man who ever lived. We have the ability: the philosophy and teachings of Jesus, the example of the saints, the fellowship of the Church, the Power of the Holy Spirit! We can look up from our grey daily struggles identical to those of our non-Christian peers and we can see the multi-colored glory of Christ, who calls us to a life of adventure. But such a life of driving our cars radically differently (that is, politely), making promises that we never break, and giving with abundance and joy is scary. It was the same problem I had on the mountain. I knew exactly what to do, but I didn’t have the courage to do it. I even told someone else how to do it, but I didn’t do it. I was content with my mediocrity.

Last Sunday, I removed the log. I took my own advice. I rode the lift to the top of the mountain, and pointed the nose downhill. A thrill of adrenaline, and then I was moving fast, faster than I can remember! I nearly fell, but I caught myself because of the control that came with speed. The fear melted away as the thrill of carving down the mountain set in.

I pray that we would overcome our fear and trust God completely. Only when I lost control, did I gain it. Only when we give up our lives, can we save them. I pray that we would remove the log. I pray that we would rise up and live according to the radical teachings of Jesus. I pray that we would lose control, but then realize this was the only way to ever get it.

(2) Brooks, Arthur “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving.” Hoover Institute. http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577