Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life Without Limits: Jeremy Lin and the Renewal of Faith

Without basketball, I would not be a Christian. Back when I was a raving skeptic of all things religious (I’m only a skeptic now, not raving), the only reason I went to Church as a self-proclaimed non-believer was to play good team pickup basketball with Pastor David Kim (an excellent point guard) and the other folks at The Garden. They were my first introduction to smart, passionate, articulate believers of Christ who didn’t seem to be “bat-shit crazy” (up to that point, my near-allergic exposure to Christianity had only been with the often-hypocritical, homophobic, bigoted, anti-science version pushed by “the Far Right”). What impressed me the most, though, was the joy, passion, and fearlessness with which the people I met pursued, and embraced, life. After months of hooping it up with them, I started to ask a bit more about Christianity to see how I could have some of that light in my life.

I see that same joy, passion, and fearlessness every time Jeremy Lin steps on the court in a Knicks uniform. It’s a radical difference in attitude. Yes, the talent was always there, but the attitude was not (just look at any of his minutes with the Warriors - he always looked a bit lost). In his interview with the Mercury News, Jeremy admits as much saying, “[with the Warriors] I was on pins and needles. I was putting all this unnecessary pressure on myself. Now, I feel like I’m free out there.” It shows. Unfortunately for me, six years after being baptized, I haven’t found that joy and freedom, but even worse - I stopped looking for it. Yes, I still go to church, I still participate in small groups, and I still play basketball with the guys at Cornerstone, but somewhere along the way I accepted the fact that perhaps the “joy and freedom” just wasn’t meant for me (unrelated aside - Pastor Joe Yoshihara is an excellent point guard as well - hmm something about point guards being successful pastors, perhaps? May point to great things for Jeremy after his NBA career).

Then, Jeremy Lin has a career game against the New Jersey Nets and craziness ensues (no puns for me, with a last name of Chu, I’m a bit allergic to name-based puns). I watch every game after because I’m psyched to see someone with so much in common with me get the opportunity to succeed: Harvard, asian-american, and a love of basketball. I am not watching because I am Christian.

After the winning streak goes to four, I start getting a tingling sensation that perhaps this may be just a bit more than just basketball. After the wins in Minnesota and Toronto, it’s pretty clear, this guy is just different now. He plays with a confidence and composure that seems unreal. When he says, “...I believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God who does miracles.” It’s clear that he believes it 100%, but more importantly it shows in his play as well as the play of his teammates. I’m back to seeing that “joy and freedom” clear as day again, and am once again left wondering, “How do I live my life like that? With trust in God and without limits?”.

What would my life be like if I could really trust God fully and live my life without limits?

I can’t help shake the belief that perhaps this is why Jeremy is playing so well. Is it crazy to think that an all-powerful, all-knowing God would elevate a single basketball player to a place of insane exposure simply to provide those struggling with their faith a reason to believe? Yes. Is a God that does all this to inspire His people to understand the potential of living a life of faith, without fear, one that I want to believe in? Absolutely.

Only a higher power would know that the juxtaposition of basketball and religion was the one sure way to renew my interest in faith. Work? nope. Science? nope. Politics? no friggin’ way. Basketball? Heck, Yes!

Am I there yet? Of course not. As Jeremy’s pastor says in the article, “It was hard. I could make him no promises. To trust what God is doing is definitely a lesson that Jeremy is continuing to learn and not to trust in his results.” Can I proudly stand in public and boldy declare that “I am a believer in Christ”? Nope, not yet. Am I back in the game trying to figure out how to get there?


Chalk one more assist to Jeremy Lin.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ambition by Barry Chu

Without it are we aimless, with no drive?
With it are we heartless, without concern?
Is it needed for a young man to thrive?
Or does it teach them to forever yearn?
Does too much too soon make ones self churlish?
Does not enough make ones self lazier?
Does too little keep the mind from flourish?
Or does it simply make us crazier?
It only works if spawned from within
But countless try to insert from outside
Its absence would mean less times of chagrin
Its presence can lead to excess of pride
Best to have it and fail, so to aquire
Both humble heart and unfettered desire.

Saw the trailers for the new Shakespeare movie which got me reading some Shakespeare stuff again (it's all available online). Thought I'd give writing poetry (specifically a sonnet) a try. lol...

Perhaps some kid will take this and try to hand it in as his shakespeare homework assignment one day. I wonder what grade I'll get...haha

Friday, April 30, 2010

The best book on Christianity I have read so far...

As sort of an uber-rational person I often find myself in an odd middle ground when talking about religion. For the folks that I know from Church I'm probably too cynical and skeptical and for the folks that I know outside of church I'm probably too much of a believer. A symptom of that middle ground is that while I am very interested in learning about religion and spirituality, my interest tends to be inversely proportional to the number of mentions of "Scripture" and "Jesus" in any book I read.

Recently though I ran across a book that I found fabulously intriguing. A book written by a life-long Christian that covers many of the points that have historically led to much of my skepticism about religion and Christianity specifically. Some of the stuff he talks about:

* If Christianity is about spreading the "good news" why is it so exclusionary?
* If Christianity is about acting like Christ, why has Scripture been used to defend any number of horrible acts (Crusades, massacres, torture, slavery, etc...)
* If Christianity is about being merciful then why is the penalty for simply not believing eternal damnation for all time (fairly harsh when you consider a murderer, rapist, thief can be baptized and not be damned for all eternity)

Interesting stuff...I'd recommend anyone that has the time or inclination to check it out:

I'd be curious as to what you think...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Recommended Book Mash-up: Evolution of God and Fingerprints of God

I happened to end up reading these two books at around the same time by chance, but if you are looking for something to read during the holiday break, or you are looking for a gift for a reader I highly recommend this combination.

The two books are:


It's an interesting combination to read together - Wright focuses on high concepts like politics, economics, and power and their influence on religion, whereas Hagerty focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the real impact of spirituality on individual lives. I won't go into it too deeply as I haven't written a book report since the 10th grade and don't intend on writing one now. Suffice to say, they are both good and interesting books and if you happen to read both and want to discuss them further drop me a line.

(Argh - ok, for those that really need more info before they can commit to reading a book here are two short summaries:)

Robert Wright covers the history of God to show how the idea of "God", gods, and god have historically evolved based on the political and economic realities of the communities. The basic premise of the book is that in order for a religion to thrive it needs to attract an audience. In order to attract an audience and grow, successful religions have to address some fundamental needs - either of the people who worship (in a more open society) or of the people in power (in a more closed society). Wright further argues that accepting the fact that human needs influence religion does not mean that "God" does not exist. In an interesting flip, he actually argues that the gradual historic progression of humans towards more understanding and compassion might be more proof of a divine influence rather than less. From that perspective, the evolution of God over time from multiple morally ambivalent deities to a single morally-just deity today may reflect God's plan for the moral evolution of mankind.

While "Evolution of God" focuses on large things like religion, politics, government, and power, "Fingerprints of God" focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the science around those experiences. In the book, Hagerty seeks to document the stories and experiences of those that have had deep spiritual experiences and delves into some of the new scientific studies that are being conducted around spirituality. The interesting takeaway for me was that there is a real, tangible scientific difference between people that have deep spiritual lives and people that do not (It didn't matter what religion they were, brain scans of Christian nuns and Buddhist monks came out remarkably similar in prayer and in meditation). However, even though there are areas in our brain that seem attuned to spirituality it isn't really clear yet whether those areas of the brain are acting more like radio antenna (and picking up signals from a divine source) or they are triggering the sensations themselves.

All in all - good stuff. BTW - the other reason why its good to read them at the same time is that its nice to have a break from the history of Egyptian deities at some point and read a personal story of someone's encounter with something (possibly) divine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

15 Things I Wish I Had Learned Earlier in Life:

1. Practice doesn't necessarily make perfect, but it certainly increases the odds of getting there
2. Persistence does pay off, but not necessarily in the way you expect
3. Persistence and Practice Build Confidence (in sports as well as in life)
4. Persistence and Practice without failure isn't really persistence and practice. (We need to push ourselves to the edge of our capabilities which means accepting failure as a part of learning)
5. We can control how we feel (if you are moping, you can decide not to mope)
6. Don't mope or complain about things you can't change (it's pointless)
7. Don't mope or complain about things you can change (just change it)
8. Don't underestimate what you can change (more than you think)
9. Don't underestimate the work required to enact change (more than you think and see #4)
10. True confidence is never brash, loud, and arrogant, but assured, steadfast, and humble.
11. Character and Integrity are more important than Intelligence and Strength
12. Who we choose to associate with in life matters - whether we like it or not, our associations influence our thinking and perception of the world and ourselves. (We should actively seek to surround ourselves with people that strive to be assured, steadfast, and humble with Character and Integrity)
13. Teachers, parents, and "old folk" aren't always right, but they are right often enough that you should really pay attention and think about what they say.
14. Human achievement is built upon the knowledge and effort of those that came before us. Learning as much as we can about the past improves understanding of the present, and gives hope for the future.
15. Leading a spiritually rich life can help achieve, identify or enable all of the above

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Are you a better person today than you were yesterday?

Decay happens gradually.

I hit 200lbs a few months ago, but I got there an ounce (or less) at a time.

My wife and I had at one point almost stopped talking to each other despite our love for one another.

I barely remember how to calculate an integral. (ok, sorry, I admit it, I don’t remember at all despite 2.5 yrs of Calculus – it was something easy though, I’ll have to look it up)

It seems obvious that without deliberate care and feeding our Body, Soul, and Mind decay.

Body - An artery can close from tiny bits of plaque accumulating over-time.
Soul - A heart hardens gradually as real or perceived slights, disappointments, broken promises mount up over-time.
Mind - what was I writing about?

I think we all recognize this on a intellectual level but following through day in and day out can be tough. If it isn't tough for you (and I know there are some of you mutants out there) then this is probably all part of your daily regimen already. If that's the case, I'm happy for you - really! (Now leave).

Here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to setup a simple spreadsheet here:

Within this spreadsheet I’m going to keep a simple log of whether or not I’ve done something that day that improves my Body, Soul or Mind. The rules will be fairly simple, each day that I do something that benefits Body, Soul or Mind I give myself a point for that day. Examples might include:

Body: Working out, Eating less, Deferring dessert, etc…
Soul: Praying, Doing something positive for relationships, Volunteering etc…
Mind: Reading a book, Practicing a new skill, Learning a new skill, etc…

Here’s my thinking behind this:

Building the inertia to keep things going is hard (e.g. that first workout after not having done any exercise in 3 months). It’s easy to get discouraged and it’s easy to give yourself excuses (“I woke up too late”, “No time”, “American Idol is on” etc…)

In order to build that inertia it seems to make sense to apply concepts that are effective in the workplace to myself. They are:

Accountability: A daily log is important. Lapses happen. The intent is to make sure that a single lapse doesn’t gain inertia in the wrong direction and quickly become two lapses, then three, then four, etc…There is relatively little value in me cheating (that would be a little sad frankly), so the point here is to provide some history to my progress.

Transparency: It really doesn’t matter a whit if no one ever looks at the log that I post. The important thing is that its out there with a clear goal, metrics, and a history so that if anyone ever does want to hold me accountable they can at any time.

Goal-orientation: My goal 100 points. Weight goals are tough (Lose 5 lbs in 2 weeks!) in that our individual bodies react so differently and the actual day-to-day progress is so difficult to perceive. My point system seems pretty straightforward and simple and gives the person (in this case me) constant positive feedback that I am getting closer and closer to my goal (as arbitrary as that goal may be). Regardless of how long it takes, I’m reasonably assured that at the end of 100 points I’ll at least be a better person at the end than when I started.

The pastor of my church mentioned today how, “some people age like fine wine and others age like milk.” I probably don’t need to explain this as the analogy seems pretty clear – as folks get older some get wiser, more caring, and more open, whereas others become more entrenched, close-minded, and mean-spirited. I doubt anyone ever expects or plans on becoming the crotchety old man (or woman), the unhealthy guy, or the could-be-smarter guy, but I can certainly see how it happens. I’ve certainly seen how it can happen to me. This is my plan for trying to age a little bit more like wine and a little bit less like milk.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why Religion? A Cynic's Evolution

I haven't written a post in ages - mostly because I originally started this blog to write about work.  However, work really hasn't been my focus recently.  Instead, I have been spending more time focused on family, relationships, and how I can learn to have a spiritually fulfilling life.  So, to the four people out there who read this blog (Hi Mom!), I am going to switch gears a bit and write about some of my thoughts on spirituality and its importance - be forewarned the oxygen gets a little thin in these parts.  Now with that aside...

I'm sure lots of folks out there share my background.  As with many folks with Asian backgrounds, I was raised to appreciate the power and beauty of math and science.   My parents raised my brothers and I with a profound appreciation for rational thought and a healthy skepticism of all things religious.  My parents were always concerned about the demagoguery and idolization that occurs in some religions and I grew up harboring a great deal of suspicion of all spiritual pursuits. All religions and all spiritual beliefs were superstition.  I didn't necessarily think they were bad, and the fact that they offered hope to so many people was a good thing.  It just wasn't for me.  I didn't need an artificial, cosmic source of hope and I certainly didn't need any help learning right from wrong.  I was a good person and would continue to be a good person without religion.  

Unfortunately, I kept running into very well-educated, intelligent, individuals with Faith and a passion for improving themselves and those around them that seemed perfectly sane.  They didn't seem to notice that their mere existence disrupted my world view (quite inconsiderate of them). As I came to know these people better, I could see the tangible positive influence that religion had in their lives.  Largely influenced by these encounters, I decided that I didn't know the first thing about religion and wanted to understand myself what makes religion tick before I passed further judgement.  As you might expect, it has been an incredibly interesting journey and I thought I'd share a bit of my evolution.  

Why Not Religion? The Danger of Religion Without Spirituality

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Spirituality as anything related to or affecting the spirit.  Spirit, in turn, is defined as an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms.  In essense, without spirit we have no life. 

Spirituality is the recognition of the inherent value of life and the interconnectedness of all life. 

Religion without Spirituality is Religion without an appreciation for life and the interconnectdness of life.  It is the dangerous and hateful cause of much violence and pain all in the name of "religion". Unfortunately all too many examples of religion without spirituality exist in today's world - ranging from the abuse of power within Catholic churches to terrorist bombings.  As a non-religious person growing up - these stories are what I associated with "religion" of any sort.

However, these stories also avoided the fact that the majority of people in the world practice a given faith.  A lot of them are well-educated, a lot of them are smart, a lot of them are doing great things.  There had to be something different about religion and specifically religion practiced with a strong spiritual center that had a real tangible affect on people's lives.  Today I thought I'd cover three tangible benefits that I believe have had a meaningful impact on my own life. 

Why Religion #1: Religion Provides a Forum for Deeper Relationships
I think the very first thing that struck me was how many of the relationships and friendships that these folks developed within their religious circles were much deeper and richer than my own. My own experience with friends and relationships sees the growth and development of rich relationships more as a product of chance than one of intention.  My closest friends were those with whom I had shared specific life experiences and rites of passage (whether it be fraternity life, business school, or even playing competitive sports).  But those life experiences and rites of passage never provided the right forum for discussing deeper issues of life and learning without some sort of catalyst.  It's unfortunate, but deep friendships among men alway seem to require an extreme catalyst for individuals to relate to one another.  Those catalysts can be positive, overcoming adversity to achieve in sports or in business for example, but more often than not, these catalysts unfortunately are most effective in negative contexts whether it be the tragedies of war and sickness to the no less tragic trials of failed relationships and broken families. 

Religion, and its constructs of church, small groups, studies, and fellowship provide a forum and a framework from which individuals can build deep relationships in a positive context.  Those same constructs are there to support when tragedy does strike, but religion provides a positive catalyst in its own right.

This is significant because I believe that if you grow up without Church and without some designated forum to discuss matters of the soul, it tends not to be discussed at all.  Without a catalyst, I personally found it awkward to try to deepen relationships built solely upon upon shared life experiences (school, work, sports) - particularly in the context of a culture that values the idea of the "self-made" and "self-sufficient" man.  

Why Religion #2: Humility and the Fallacy of the Self-sufficient Man

FYI: I personally have the most experience with Christianity at this point, so I'll write mainly from that perspective.  

One of the most powerful things an individual can do for another individual is meet them where they are and hear their story without judgement.  

It is funny how much we all fear being judged by others and how much we feel hurt from the judgement of others despite all of our mythology around being independent and self-sufficient.  Having been married for a few years now, I can tell from experience that some of the deepest hurts a spouse can inflict on the other are from judging the others action.  The fear of judgement is a the heart of many a wounded ego and many an argument.

Christianity teaches that all of us are flawed.  This is such a simple idea, but it is incredibly powerful.  Whether or not you believe it to be true, the power it carries for someone that does believes can be astounding.  Accepting that everyone has flaws (including yourself) allows two things: 1) the strength to ask others for help, and 2) the humility to not judge those that ask for help.  Religion, in this specific case Christianity, provides a context and a framework for individuals to engage with one another without loss of face.  It allows those that believe to confront issues with a transparency that is often lacking in a more material world where "appearances" matter.

Why Religion #3: Religion as a Framework for Spirituality

Religion enables the conversation about spirituality, but it also provides a framework for how to live spiritually.  Part of the beauty of the "we're all flawed" belief is that it enables one to acknowledge that we can all be better people.  This took a bit of adjustment for me as I used to believe that if you could be better that meant that you weren't good now.  The reality is that we are all on a continuum and though there is evil and evil people in the world the majority of us are somewhere on the continuum of "good" people - but, that doesn't mean we couldn't be better.

We all want to be better.  We want to be better at work, better at sports, and better at making lattice-like latte art in our coffee cups (ok, that last one might just be me - we just got a new espresso machine).

If we compared the time we spent improving our skills vs. improving our selves where would the percentages end up?  If folks are like me, their time spent improving is probably similar to what my split used to be: 30% Skills. 69% Slacking and 1% Self (Slacking requires practice - and I was/am a Master!). The world rewards us for skills but not necessarily for self (Sports salaries and our hero worship there are prime examples).  The result is that the spiritual side of ourselves - the side of ourselves that has to do with life and our fulfillment with life is sometimes ignored.  When it comes to our Selves, everyone generally thinks they are Good, but not everyone thinks they could be Better. 

Its more difficult than one might think to acknowledge that you could be a better person.  The tendency for most people is to feel like they are being judged, just as they would judge someone else who could be better. ("Why can't they be more neat?" "Why can't they exercise more?" "Why are they so lazy?")  When you see an area of improvement for someone else - it is very, very difficult not to judge.  So, when someone points out areas of improvement for you - it is very, very difficult to not feel as if you are being judged.  Religion provides a framework for self-improvement that withholds that judgement.  Within a religious framework, acknowledging that you could be a better person, does not imply you are a bad person now. 

Early in my life I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who would constantly challenge me to be a better person.  Everytime I went over his house, he would share with me specific ideas that he was working on about how he intended to improve himself as a person.  His focus, however, was wholly on being a better person in the interactions with those around him - whether it be being a better boss, a better husband, or a better father.  Throughout these interactions I could never help feeling like he was passing judgement on me.  I would think "Why is he friends with me if he thinks I'm such a terrible person?".  Over time going over his house sort of ended up being a drag - it began to feel like an exercise in inadequacy each time I went over ("Barry, here's how you suck at being you").  Now I believe that without a religious framework I simply had no way of processing his advice and criticism in a way that did not bruise my ego.  He took a great risk telling me what I needed to hear, but I simply wasn't equipped to absorb it.

This is because the criticisms are true are the ones that sting the most.  Unfortunately, though, I do not believe that people can come to understand and acknowledge criticisms on their own terms and in their own time unless they have a framework for ingestion that religion can provide.  

Very few people have the ability to absorb direct criticism without inflicting some mental stress upon themselves.  In the few instances where I have followed through on criticism it has usually been the result of "I'll show them!", rather than "This is what I want".  Religion allows us to confront those criticisms in a way that reaffirms us.  For non-believers, it seems ridiculous to think that the fact that a super-powerful, cosmic entity loves you for who you are is reaffirming, but again, the power of that affirmation for those that do believe can be amazing.  The belief that God loves them for who they are gives them the strength to want to change.

Does It Matter if Its Real?

The cynic in me sometimes wonders though whether it really matters if its real.  The belief structure of religion is in itself so beneficial that I'm not sure if it matters.  Simply believing has positive benefits on how you live and how you interact with the world.  If that's the case, why does it matter if God is real or not?  This is the question I had on my mind about three years ago when I was deciding whether or not to become a Christian.  It seemed like a Catch-22 in my mind, how does a non-believer believe when he's a non-believer?  How do you ask for guidance and help from a God that you don't believe in?  How does a God that only appears to believers appear for a non-believer in order to make the non-believer a believer?  I'm fairly certain that I drove my Pastor crazy with these questions - I find them awfully humorous today though because as odd as it may seem, I found my answer.  Or, I suppose, I should say more accurately that I'm finding the answer still.  At the end of the day I believe that people have to find their own way and their own answers.  The first step is want to find the answer.  At the very least I hope I can at least convince some people that the journey is worth doing even if they decide in the end that it's not real.  In the meantime, feel free to ask me questions, criticize me, or offer me suggestions on how I can be better - I promise I won't judge ;)