Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Christian View of Affirmative Action

My college roommate wrote a history thesis that went on to be published in the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal. His essay concerned views of Providence from both sides of the Civil War. Providence is the belief that God will provide in one's favor despite adverse circumstances. He argued that Christian leaders from both North and the South firmly believed that God would vindicate their respective causes. He cites Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.
Lincoln acknowledged that both North and South believed that God was on their side. And it was only in the aftermath of the South's defeat that anyone could say that the North was right, slavery was wrong, and justice was exercised. But it wasn't clear then. And it certainly wasn't clear to Southern Christians. Lincoln's speech demonstrates that although the North won, it doesn't mean the North was "right". After all, we prevailed over Native Americans but that didn't make it "right".  

My point is not everything is black and white. It is possible to be a committed follower of Jesus and have widely divergent political views from other Christians.

Most political views of a given issue hinge upon one's view of the role of government. Generally speaking, a liberal view sees government playing an active and moral role in the public sphere. A conservative view tends towards the other extreme. A libertarian view eschews government intervention in many arenas and relies upon market forces and constitutional rights.

Below are three possible affirmative action stances with their corresponding biblical justification. It is in no way intended to be a comprehensive; it's just a quick gloss I came up with based on my understanding of Christian ethics.

1) In support of affirmative action - fight injustice
Zechariah 7:9-10  "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
God commands his followers to fight for justice on behalf of the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed. Christians are commanded to do the same. There is a systemic injustice in the form of racial discrimination that severely inhibits the progress of under-represented minorities like Latinos, blacks, and refugee Asian groups (Laotians, Cambodians). Due to the hardships these ethnic groups face, it is vital to help even the playing field and consider race in college admissions. Since a college education is one of the best ways to achieve socioeconomic progress, affirmative action gives students from under-privileged backgrounds a chance at the American dream.s

2) Against affirmative action - support outreach programs
Colossians 3:11  Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
This passage teaches that followers of Jesus, no matter their race, nationality, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, are united in love through Jesus Christ. Because race is secondary, we should not neither discriminate against nor in favor of. To do so would be fighting injustice with injustice. However since structures of injustice still exist and need to be addressed, it is far more effective and desirable to promote state-sponsored outreach programs at the preschool and K-12 level in economically disadvantaged areas. This is the way to live out the command of Zechariah 7:9-10 without in the spirit of Colossians 3:11.

(I recognize this passage can just as easily be used to justify affirmative action as much as against it. The same applies to slavery as well.)

3) Against affirmative action  - live kingdom values in your own community
Acts 17:7   and Jason has welcomed [Paul and Silas] into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king one called Jesus."
This view is more difficult to justify explicitly with a single verse but a theme runs through scripture involving the king and his kingdom. The Jews expected Jesus to be a political messiah - one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. Jesus was nothing like that. Rather, as Christians, we expect political justice upon his second advent. There's a theme (especially in the apocalyptic literature of Daniel and Revelation) that emphasizes both submission to and distrust of, governmental authority. God is the highest authority. The government, therefore, has no business playing God and should stay in its lane. It means as Christians we are skeptical of the government's role and activate ourselves as the church to fight injustice. This means living out redemption in the communities where we live.

Personal conclusion: There are strengths and weaknesses of each view and I've vacillated between each one. Right now, I'm not wedded enough to any one stance to fully commit. If you pinned me down, I would probably pick 1 or 2.

Monday, April 7, 2014

J. R. R. Tolkien taught his son game

A friend's of my wife's put on an amazing parenting workshop at our church. Her topic was talking with your kids about sex. She suggested, among other things, that as parents we can help articulate values for our kids by writing them a letter.

J. R. R. Tolkien did.

The author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy wrote a series of letters to his 21-year old son, Michael, after he was injured during a WWII training exercise. The longest of these letters (3000+ words), written in March 1941, deals with marriage and male-female relationships. The wisdom is every bit as applicable today as it as 70+ years ago.

1) A man and a woman cannot be "just" friends
In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'.
The platonic aspect of a male-female friendship may last for a season but if intimacy is sustained and/or deepened, sexual attraction will occur in one or both parties. I remember years ago, talking with a high school buddy about his close friendship with a girl. He assured me that they were "just" friends and nothing would happen. I was dubious. My buddy and his friend married each other two years later. Don't get me wrong here, it's not wrong to be marry your friends. I did and it's worked out fabulously. Tolkien's point is to be aware that any relationship between a man and a woman is susceptible to sexual attraction. 

2) Don't put women on a pedestal
[The romantic chivalric tradition] still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. [...] It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).
I love that line. Look not upon a woman as a guiding star but lead her as a companion in the shipwreck. When a man places a woman on a pedestal by striving for her approval, he torpedoes his dignity and sense of purpose. Supplicating also kills a woman's attraction. It's also a form of idolatry. Your guiding star must shine brighter than any mere mortal. Never lose sight of that.

3) For Christian men, monogamy is the greatest self-denial
Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.
There is no raw power like the male sex drive. It is God-given yet flesh-cursed. This is where we, as men, die to ourselves every day and are empowered by the Spirit to live holy and pure.

4) Stop believing the soul-mate mythology and love the one you're with
When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. [...] Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity.
Tolkien goes on to explain how the idea of romantic love will never cease to dazzle our imaginations; that the stories and poems of these kinds of couplings outnumber the actual couples that fell in love this way and lived happily ever after.

So stop lying to yourself. She's not the only person in the universe destined for you. She's not even the only one in your neighborhood/school/work/church for you. Get over your oneitis and move on.

But once you choose, commit. There is romance and mystery in the commitment. My wife and I have built a foundation of shared affection, experiences, and memories that is very difficult to compete with. We know each other deeply and it is very good.

5) Knowing God surpasses everything else
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. .... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.
Knowing God is the greatest joy; it gives meaning to every earthly relationship and the object of which every earthly relationship points us towards. As we negotiate the shipwreck of life, look upon Him as your guiding star.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Increased Desirability of Asian Women

As if Asian men, who are stereotyped as being passive, nerdy, and under-endowed, needed any more reason to feel insecure about our ability to attract women of any persuasion, here comes this article.

Essentially, the obesity of white women has increased demand for thin Asian women by white men. The article is full of pictures of svelte Asian women (they're working very hard to offend you). But if you can past the over-the-top nature of the article, there is some reality here:
Nowadays, the intermarriage rate is 15% overall, but it is 36% among Asian females. When Caucasian men marry Asian women, the couple is twice as likely to both be college educated and will make on average 20% more money than a white-white couple. [...] Even ten years ago, I found that it was comparatively easy to date an Asian woman or get her to respond to me online. But now, they are becoming more selective. The nation’s white guys have figured out that the biggest risk to a lifetime of marital happiness is a fat wife, and the best mitigating strategy is to marry an Asian.
The author attempts to explain this phenomenon as partly due to Asian women have better personalities:
Some men will argue that it is not just thinness, but better personalities which are driving the increase in white-Asian couples. This may be true, and certainly my own anecdotal experience is that attractive Asian women, especially foreign-born, are more likely to exhibit wifely behavior than pretty American white girls, but without being thin, these Asians would not get much attention.
Perhaps Asian women, especially overseas-born, tend to be more submissive or traditionally feminine? Thus, contrary to what Amy Chua might think, the female triple package is brains, submissiveness, and BEING THIN.  The author continues that the biggest reason for white guy-Asian girl coupling is Asian women's disinterest in Asian men:

Another possible explanation is that there are substantial numbers of Asian women who have little to no interest in Asian men. I often hear this from Asian chicks, but I’ve heard the same from black women as well about black men. It takes white guys wanting to date Asian ladies to make this sort of coupling happen. Still, the fact that many Asian women don’t want to date Asian men does propel Asian girls into the white dating sphere.

Ouch.

Asian men, if you didn't have enough reason already, it is time to up your game.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Envy and Dreams

Envy: a confused, tangled guide to one’s own ambitions.  
- Alain de Botton
This past Sunday I heard a great message on jealousy from 1 Samuel 18 and 19. Saul is king of Israel but David just defeated Goliath and is now the up and coming leader of Saul's army. David wins every battle against the Philistines. Saul gets jealous and tries to kill David. It's an age-old, tried and true formula.

Envy and jealousy are synonyms. Being jealous of someone's else accomplishments is envy. To envy means to covet another person's possessions and as a result, resent the fact that you don't have what they have while hating the other person in the process. 

We are susceptible to envy in the areas we find value. For men, it's work. And for pastors, there is really only one measurement of success: the number of people in your church. Numbers are tangible evidence. You can touch them. You take in the fragrance of success when you enter a crowded Sunday service.

So when I see or hear about pastors more successful than I am, I am envious. I feel a writhing in the pit of my stomach and life drains from my soul. In its place is a hardened resentment towards myself. I wonder what's wrong with me. I obsess about my flaws and weaknesses. I feel like I'll never amount to anything. The hatred I feel towards those more successful than me reflects a profound dissatisfaction with who I am.

Envy is a form of self-hatred.

I don't really care about having a big church. I don't care that much about money. And I don't care about fame in the conventional way. But I do dream about having a positive impact on a large group of people and to be viewed as competent in what I do. Envying celebrity pastors doesn't show me exactly what my dreams are but it gets me in the area. I see pastors of large churches as competent and having a significant impact - and that's my dream. Envy refracts my dreams for God through the cracked lens of my ego.
Saul was anointed by Samuel as king over Israel. He dreams about being the type of king that David is becoming. And David is a constant reminder that Saul is not that guy. That's what covetousness is. The object of our jealousy is an ever-constant reminder that we are not the person we're hoping to become. Saul's dreams of the kingship were shattered and yet he was holding on, no matter what. 

Envy also indicates in whom we are trusting to fulfill our dreams. Saul's jealousy of David tells us that he no longer trusted God to fulfill his dream of retaining the kingdom. He resorted to his own devices. When I envy, I am telling God that I do not trust him to fulfill my dreams. I do not trust his timing, I don't trust his plan, and I don't trust his provision. 

Envy is the dark side of one's dreams.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

3 reasons why the NBA should have affirmative action

A response to this well-written article.

I am unlucky. In the lottery of life, I came up empty. I lost because I have college educated parents who placed achievement over athletics, were Asian, not very tall, and not very good at sports. I live in a safe neighborhood and was unfortunate enough to have attended a local high school that had a nationally ranked speech and debate team but a very crappy basketball team. Due to the lack of diversity in my student population, I am not playing in the National Basketball Association. That's why I support affirmative action for the NBA.

I was shocked after attending a Golden State Warriors game recently. Most of the players were black. This does not reflect the demographic of California. Upon further research, I discovered the NBA is 78% black. I could not believe this lack of diversity. Clearly, blacks are overrepresented in the NBA whereas Asians are an underrepresented minority. We must begin reversing this trend today.

1) The NBA discriminates against unathletic and unskilled people

Compared with my friends, I'm very agile. I'm not that strong but I make up for it with dirty play. Somehow this is not sufficient for me to gain entry into the NBA. The league discriminates against people like me who can't dunk, block a shot off the backboard, or run a pick and roll correctly. I don't see how this is fair because I can make up for those deficiencies by fouling, missing shots, and turning the ball over at a prolific rate. I also take a fair share of ill-advised three-pointers and make poor decisions under pressure. Why should I be punished for my genetics and poor basketball upbringing? 

2) The NBA discriminates against short non-black people

There are two current NBA players under 5' 10" - Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas. They are both black. I am under 5' 10" but I am not black. Many of my friends who are also under 5' 10" and are not black, are not in the NBA either. Something is going on here.

3) The NBA's definition of merit is flawed

In the NBA, merit is defined by buckets. As in how well you help your team put the ball in the bucket and prevent the opposing team from doing likewise. This is a very narrow patriarchy-mandated definition. Character qualities are far more important. I think the definition of "merit" should be expanded to include sportsmanship - specifically shaking hands after the game, saying "good game", and making eye contact with opposing team members. I do this all the time after pick-up games. People truly appreciate the merit of this. The NBA should as well.

************************************************************************

Objection: But the "crown jewel" of the UC system, UC Berkeley, is supposed to reflect California's demography

Response: UC Berkeley is an elite public institution of higher education just as the NBA is a league of elite basketball players. Elite means not everyone gets to go there. In fact, most people don't. Reflecting the demographic of California is not the UC system's mandate (nor should it be) and goes against the definition of elite. 

Objection: But education is different, not everyone is entitled to play in the NBA but everyone should be entitled to an education 

Response: Really? Where does the constitution say that? I don't remember that. And I specifically don't recall any California resident being guaranteed a UC Berkeley education, much less a UC / CSU education or even junior college education.

Objection: But the current system without affirmative action is unfair and we're just helping to even an unequal playing field

Response: Yes. And affirmative action is supposed to correct racial discrimination by giving racial preference? It feels counter-productive. Wouldn't it make more sense to do this by economic status (which the UC system does today)?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Chinese Americans fear racial preferences today

I received two mass emails in the past month urging me to petition against Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA-5). And they obviously worked because the bill died in the womb. Here's how one email started out:

Hope you have all heard about SCA-5, which if passed, will reduce the ASIAN students enrollment at [University of California schools] by 60% from its current 38% to around 16%, purely because of being Asians.

The passage of SCA-5 as a state proposition would repeal the prohibition on consideration of race or gender in public education programs. This type of consideration is called affirmative action and was repealed in 1996 under Proposition 209.

Now imagine being a Chinese parent in Cupertino, Fremont, Palo Alto and other affluent bay area ethnic enclaves. Your kids live in a pressure cooker of AP classes, language immersion, sports, music, and legions of paid tutors and advisers. You hear stories about kids getting into elite schools because they started a company, wrote a book, have a patent, or performed groundbreaking cancer research. All your Chinese peers are no longer content with their sons and daughters being 1-2 years ahead in math or science so they sign them up for junior college courses before they can drive. And with each passing year, you read how the UC admissions rate keeps dropping as applications increase. 

An aspiring tiger mama reads an email like this and would seriously freak out. You mean you're going it make it EVEN HARDER for my precious not-so-genius tiger cub to get into UC Irvine just because he's CHINESE?

Putting aside the misinformation in the email (before prop. 209, the Asian population at UC flagship Berkeley campus was 37% and now runs around 44%), I can understand why Chinese American parents are upset about what is going on.  

I'm unsure where I stand on using race and a gender as a factor in university admissions. It's a complicated issue. But it doesn't feel like fear should be one's main motivation for opposing racial preferences. And I can't help wondering how many of these parents, if transported back 20 years, would protest against affirmative action when it would have benefited their children. 

We want it both ways

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everything is Connected

Most people see the Bible as a collection of sayings. It’s a book of pithy sayings, rules, and moral fables that have no relationship with each other. It’s a toolkit when you have a problem and you pick the right tool and fix your flat tire or hammer the nail. If you have trouble with careless spending, read Proverbs. If you have marital issues, read Song of Solomon. If you're depressed, read the Psalms. If you need some excitement, read Revelation. It’s not that the Bible can’t be read that way – it certainly can. But it’s so much more than a collection of wisdom, prophecy, and rules.

The Bible is a story of God’s creative and redemptive work in humanity. It is a love story. And everything in the book is connected to everything else. The beauty of a great story is its ability to make connections – to make connections within itself and to make connections with the audience. 

I read the Hunger Games trilogy awhile go and really enjoyed it. Suzanne Collins knows how to tell a story and each book in the trilogy is connected to the others. The third book is called Mockingjay. The bird is a hybrid of a mockingbird and a genetically engineered bluejay. And she begins seeding that image in the first book. Katniss receives the mockingjay pin and it later becomes a defining symbol of rebellion in the final book.

A good storyteller makes connections. God is an incredible storyteller and the Bible is full of connections. The scriptures are connected in so many ways - Old Testament with New Testament, Jews to Gentiles, different people to Jesus, and most of all, how God connects with us.

The question you wrestle with when you approach the Bible isn’t whether the section you’re reading is related to everything else. It is connected. The question is how? And as you get to know the text, you realize how closely connected everything is and there’s these myriad themes tied together that pull everything together.

In Breaking Bad season 2, they seed the beginning of latter episodes with a slow pan over the main character’s backyard. You see all kinds of carnage, figures in white radioactive suits, and then the camera zooms onto a teddy bear with its eye missing. And the camera just lingers there. And at least five episodes begin with this shot and each time they show you a little more but you have no idea what you’re looking at. Until you get to the end of the season. That's how the Bible unfolds.

Genesis 1-2 describes how God created the heavens and earth. He places man and woman in a garden with the tree of life and a river runs through it. The garden is God's perfection. God is seeding something here.

Later in Genesis 4, Cain builds a city in rebellion against God. In Genesis 11, mankind builds the city of Babel to reach the heavens. Cities are evil. Cities are man's creation. And yet God places his temple in the city of Jerusalem. He sends Jonah to reach Ninevah. He blesses the city. 

Finally in Revelation 21, a new heaven and earth arrive. The New Jerusalem descends out of heaven. And in the middle of this Holy City, a river flows down the main drag. And the tree of life straddles the waters.  The garden was perfect but the city is better. 

Between Genesis and Revelation, everything is connected. God seeded something in Genesis and the result at the end is a hybrid of the journey between God and man. The Bible is the story of how it all unfolds.

So when you approach the text with questions like what is being seeded here? What themes are being pulled forward and expanded on in this section? How does this connect with everything else?