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Archive for January, 2013

courtesy of wikipedia

Carlton Pearson, image courtesy of wikipedia

In one of my very first posts, I wrote that Julia Kozerski needn’t worry about losing herself while pursuing her goal of losing weight. My logic was that her movement towards a healthy body is inherently a dramatic, radical change, which, even if the change is positive, could feel like losing oneself since she was accustomed to defining herself by her unhealthy weight. One requirement of pursuing a big goal is re-evaluating how we define ourselves, and being prepared to release long-held beliefs if they become obstacles to our mission. I still believe that a pursuing a noble goal with a fulfilling journey is immeasurably valuable, and therefore worth pursuing at any cost, but one story educated me on how high that cost can be.

Last month, National Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story on Carlton Pearson, a once-superstar fundamentalist preacher and board member of Oral Roberts University who, in 2002, began to preach that all people, regardless of deeds, sexual orientation, or faith, will go to heaven. What would be known as the Gospel of Inclusion, Mr. Pearson discussed the night that convinced him to diverge from his fundamental theology:

“I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutsis were returning from Rwanda to Uganda… Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I’m eating the meal, and I’m watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains… And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said, “God, I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell,” which is what was my assumption.

And I heard a voice say within me, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

And I remember I didn’t say yes or no. I said, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” 

“And what would change that?”

“Well, they need to get saved.”

“And how would that happen?”

“Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved.”

“So if you think that’s the only way they’re going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we’re sucking them into Hell, why don’t you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?”

And I remember I broke into tears… I remember thinking, God, don’t put that guilt on me. You know I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can’t save the whole world… And that’s where I remember, and I believe it was God saying:

“Precisely. You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. Do you think we’re sucking them into Hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I’m taking them into My presence.”

And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves… I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

Mr. Pearson followed his heart, despite decades of believing otherwise and the material wealth that came with it. How high was the cost?

Russell Cobb Finally, in 2004, in an official ceremony, The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops formally named him a heretic. Carlton’s congregation, once 5,000-strong, dropped to around 200 people with some very worldly consequences.

Carlton Pearson I mean, my offerings dropped $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a week.

Russell Cobb $30,000, $40,000, $50,000?

Carlton Pearson Yeah. My offerings, my Sunday morning offerings, about half a million dollars a month almost. I mean, salaries of $100,000 a month. You know, how can you operate if I’m paying $100,000 a month in salaries?” Transcript, This American Life, “Heretic”

His congregation left him, the greater fundamentalist community shunned him, and now he was saddled with debt. Was it worth it?

“My friend, Bishop Yvette Flunder of Fellowship International in San Francisco, is a same-gender-loving female who’s been with the same partner for about 18 years. I spoke for one of her conferences two or three years ago. Most of the people that were there, if not all of them, were gay, but followers of Jesus and spirit-filled, tongue-talkers, deliverance, the whole thing.

When I finished speaking, and this has never happened to me in the history of my life, when I finished preaching, they stood and applauded me. I preached the Gospel of Inclusion. They stood. And she asked me to walk down through the center aisle and let the people hug me because she knew I had been bruised from my other people that had kicked me out of the charismatic world.

So these people start hugging me, and holding me, and loving me, and shaking my hand, and where everybody was crying and stuff. And when I turned around, she had come off from where she was. And they had a little vat, a little something, a container with warm water in it. And they asked me to sit down and take my shoes off, and they washed my feet. She washed my feet. That’s one of the holiest moments of my life.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

I won’t attempt to quantify these events to measure whether his radical philosophical shift was worth the hardships that came with it, but the fact Rev. Pearson continues to preach the Gospel of Inclusion speaks volumes. His story also makes me consider how wealth, fame, and power amplify action, and the burden that comes should such resources reinforce an action in conflict with our own heart’s desire.

Whether we agree with him or not, Rev. Pearson valued his own truth over the material benefits of someone else’s. I don’t know which path is harder to follow, but I do know the value of going to bed having lived that day following your heart’s desire. I pray Rev. Pearson has many such evenings.

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This past Friday I received a 30-day notice to move out. It surprised my manager too; the owner decided to renovate the house, so everyone, my manager, her mother, her aunt, myself, we all have to go.

Being forced to move doesn’t make me sad or angry. It’s just a transition. I’ve done this 9 times before. I know the routine. Go on craigslist. Set up appointments. Avoid the stressed out people. Also those with too many rules. Keep an internal checklist: personable owner, room size, location, kitchen privileges, parking, laundry access, etc. Have cash ready in the bank. Be prompt with the deposit. Put stuff in boxes. Move out. Move in. Life goes on.

I’m putting things in boxes now. This step is the most personal. I open cupboards, rediscovering these souvenirs of a life gone by as I prepare to take them to a new one: old photographs from an age when photos were still in vogue, programs of old performances, books read 7 years ago, action figures, random emo ramblings, old lecture notes from college. But as the boxes get filled, I realize the capacity of my memories exceeds the physical dimensions of the boxes, and I find I’m arguing with myself as I confront my greatest fear: throwing away mementos of my past.

Throwing an object of value away contradicts much of what I learned about saving. Saving’s importance was instilled in me at a very early age, when my mother gave me a box where I could save my completed worksheets from kindergarten. My mother was Queen of that kingdom. Her life revolved around respecting the value of everything that was given to her. Neighbor throwing away old clothes? Pack them in a balikbayan box; relatives in the Philippines will enjoy them. Not playing with those toys anymore? Save them; there’s a younger cousin out there who will want them. Promotional pom poms at the baseball game? Grab the extras left behind; they’re nice decorations.

Her penchant for saving extended to our memories as well. Walk into my parents’ living room and you’ll find displays of remembrances of the past 40 years, tiny trinkets from weddings, anniversaries, vacations and baptisms. Hugging the walls is a library of albums, more than 50, a remarkable photographic documentation of my family’s life in America. At least ten are dedicated just to my oldest sister, another ten to the other, eight to me. Her message was very clear: anything of value deserves to be saved and cherished. Now with three self-sufficient, college-educated children, my mother lived that philosophy to great success.

Upon my 10th move, however, personally applying my mother’s philosophy has had its challenges. Saving incurs a cost. A space to keep an object. Energy spent to recall it. Physical effort to move it. But the most valuable real estate taken up is mental. An object saved demands attention, a conscious effort to store, move, and utilize. So an act of saving implies a belief that the benefits of an object outweighs the cost of holding, moving, and remembering it. When one moves constantly, the cost of moving becomes higher, which makes the cost of saving increase, and therefore a higher level of utility is required to justify retention.

That decision is simple if the object in question is strictly utilitarian: a bed, a desk, a book case. But what if the object holds a memory? An old journal? A birthday letter from a good friend 10 years ago? Old phone numbers of classmates from a study group, some of whom were old crushes? What is the value of reliving a fond memory? If the object conjures up happy times, isn’t the object worth keeping? If it’s thrown away, does the fond memory die with it? And if it does die, am I a worse person for having done so?

I find myself revisiting this idea of physical manifestations defining one’s self-image, whether it’s a photo album, a trophy, a drug, or a number on a bathroom scale. Through this move I’ve come to greater communion with the subjects of this blog and the struggles they faced, fearing I’l lose myself while engaging in a radical self-transformation, for I find myself engaging in mental battles with every sentimental artifact I uncover, trying to audit how “much of me” is within this otherwise inanimate object, and how much of myself I would “lose” if I threw it away.

But this journey we’ve traveled, studying various subjects of success, suggests that true satisfaction derives from anchoring one’s self-image not to the physical but to the intangible, the spiritual, the infinite. To define oneself based on the desire to push the limits of human endurance, or to have a meaningfully positive impact on young men’s lives. Seeking the intangible provides a foundation that is not so easily lost nor broken. So if I focus on my mission, to tell impactful human stories, maybe I’ll realize that letting go of that letter won’t destroy the friendship that inspired its creation. In embracing my mission, maybe I’ll realize that reminiscing about relationships of the past, while entertaining, is far less valuable than living the relationships of the present.

So while I’ll try to preserve a few meaningful keepsakes of my past, I must remember that I’m moving into a home for living my life, not into a museum dedicated to it. The memories of which these objects remind are already living within me whether I physically have these objects or not, and if my mission is meant not only to inform myself but also to inform those I love, then I can freely release those objects that have served their purpose, knowing their release will provide a space for new objects and new memories that will further my mission.

So Randy, it’s okay to let go. It’s time to move on.

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courtesy of maxpreps.com

“It’s not about money and it’s not about a paycheck. It’s about a mission, and it’s about walking away from this life making your little acre a little bit better than when you found it.”– Coach Bob Ladouceur, at a Jan. 4th, 2013 press conference where he resigned as head coach of the De La Salle football team

If you followed any kind of Bay Area high school sports, you knew about the legendary De La Salle Spartan football program. Named high school national champions 7 times, 12 times as best the team in California. When California finally instituted a state championship bowl game in 2006, De La Salle appeared in all seven, winning five. Coach Lad never had a losing season in his entire 34-year career at De La Salle, including 19 perfect seasons, most of them strung together in one mythical run that captured headlines across the nation when De La Salle did not lose for 12 years (1992-2004).

Many have made pilgrimages to this Mecca of high school football, looking for some kind of shrine to football greatness, adorned with banners, trophies, a state-of-the-art weight room, maybe even a stadium that could rival a top Division I college program.  But if one were to walk onto the De La Salle campus, no such shrine exists. No banners. No trophies. No remarkable locker room or stadium. No idols of football greatness to be found. It would be like going to Warren Buffet’s house in Omaha and expecting a 10,000 acre mansion, and finding a modest 5-bedroom home that was bought for $31,500 in 1958.

That level of understatement is just how Coach Lad wants it.

It’s not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it’s about being a positive part of so many young kids’ lives. It’s pretty humbling.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

So how do you motivate teenagers to excel without the carrots of gold and glory?

“I think the key is not focusing on the wins because wins are outcomes and I keep telling our kids that if we’re going to gauge our success on how many wins we accumulate or how many losses we receive, they’re just not good indicators. We look for other things: learning of life skills, whether these kids can come together and truly respect each other and admire each other, and hopefully, in a certain sense, learn to love each other.”HS Coaching Legends: Bob Ladouceur, Football

So what does one do after receiving such motivation?

“Preparation is a high priority. It’s also about offseason hard work. I tell the boys that in order to succeed you have to be working to get yourself into a position where success is possible.”
“Preparation is not fun. It’s hard work and difficult, but doing something difficult builds character. It’s difficult to have fun with drudgery and repetition. The fun is on game night, making it pay off.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

Moving beyond the limited perspective of one’s self and individual accomplishment and focusing on the intangible, the spiritual, on supporting the team and one another. Focusing that motivation into a daily regiment of difficult, challenging, consistent practice, just looking for improvement every day. Such “drudgery” makes me believe success is only awe-inspiring from the outside; from the inside, success is the simple, daily combination of tremendous effort and the satisfaction that one has moved closer to something greater.

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“Another dance, another way, another chance, another day.“- Roger, “Another Day,” Rent

 

Well, we made it. 2013. And regardless of how well our 2012 journey went, we finished. Pray we never take that finish for granted.

A new year, another day, and another chance. How will you spend your gift?

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