at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

the future of religion.

Posted in visual thoughts, written thoughts by Charles on December 5, 2011

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fear.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on October 5, 2010

i go through each day fearful of many things.  it can be something as basic as making eye contact with the fellow pedestrian.  it can be as complex as having to determine the next 10 years of my life… in one given moment (the absurdity of such a task is even more telling as i type).  fear, of course, rests on a continuum.  or perhaps even more deeply, fear itself is a continuum.  if one lives with such a belief that one state of being rests in relation to another… that one feeling interweaves with another… then we have a hard task in examining fear.  fear of what?  fear about what.. whom?

we live life in widening circles, don’t we?  circles because life seems to return to certain seasons.  that one promise, one problem, one notion is often returned to, whether sooner or later.  and widening because i wish to live life with a peculiar hope of expansion, of growth, of warmth.  yes, the very same kind of warmth that causes molecular structures to slowly let go of one another.  the kind of warmth that calms, soothes an environment… that allows free movement of that which was held so tightly.  or to be simple, the warmth of a hug… that evolves into another.. onto another.. unto another.

but already, something cascades within myself.  something that soars with elation.. into the depths of constraint.  it’s that thing we feel the moment we realize we want something.  it’s that barrier that surrounds desire.  the fear?  fear of grasping that which i desire?  fear of clasping that which amazes?  yes, fear.  the fear that lies self-imposed.

why are we so afraid?  why do we fear what we do not know?  what we cannot foresee?  and yes… what we create ourselves: illusions.

we have good reasons.  i have good reasons.  i have been hurt.  you have been hurt.  i have failed.  and you have failed.  and yes, to protect ourselves, we create what we imagine so that we won’t have to get close again.

i often have these moments when i play music.  there are moments where i feel that i am standing before a cliff.  the descent is endless.  i cannot see the end, nor see safety.  these moments always rest at a crux: they make demands.  they ask you to let go and follow.  they ask you to trust.  and they ask you to jump.  what you don’t know, of course, is just where it’ll lead you.  you don’t know what memories might be invoked.  you don’t know what emotions will rise.  and you don’t know what you may have to be honest about.  there are angels and demons within… and you don’t know which ones will be called.  such is the nature of human authenticity.  but there is also that hope isn’t there?  there is that lovely whisper that helps you believe… helps you foresee that with such a plunge, there is ascent.  that with a jump, you can fly.  the fall: a precursor to the rise.

ah but yes, i’m not really talking about music am i?  i’m talking about life.  that precious, fragile thing that all structures and expressions of existence rush from.  that feeling in your chest that tells you that you’re alive.  the reminder that you are breathing.. sensing.

why do we fear?  why do we stop when we haven’t even taken a step?  why… why do we believe our own illusions?

uncertainty.  isn’t it?

we fear what we do not know.  we fear what we haven’t felt.  we fear what we haven’t contained.  as kids, we didn’t really have a choice since everything was new.  wonder was the default state of being.  but as adults, we’ve replaced that with our own versions of life… some more visionary, most self-contained.  we’ve lost our ability to gaze.  to see beyond and into the possible.  to become what’s possible.  to be free.  to be human.

these moments are battlefields.  it is a war between what always has been and what could be.  the choice is whether we want what we don’t know.  whether we want what we cannot perceive.  and there is fear there.  of course.  in the pursuit of the wonders of science, we’ve intensified our capability of ending our existence.  with the journey into the soul, we magnify the potential of losing ourselves.  risk.  most definitely.

but is not the other end.. possible?  is not love available?  is not wonder on the fringe?

as much as we fear, can we not also love?

as much as we dread, can we not also hope?

yes, this is our juncture… this is our everyday moment.  this is our quotidian ledge from which we can choose to gaze into the face of our brothers and sisters, to act with warmth towards those who have known cold, to think with diligence in intensifying our care and our expressions.  i am, quite simply, talking about the ordinary.  that very simple question: how then shall we live?

…love?

creator.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on August 31, 2010

each night, my mom sits in her custom floor chair.  warm barley tea and korean crackers, korean dramas and kleenex.  this is her zone.  a nightly space carved for relaxation.  in the center of this scene is her canvas: a cross-stitch cloth where she intricately weaves colorful threads.. re:creating everything from van gogh to the last supper.  every night, unfailingly, she’ll do this for hours as she nods herself to sleep.

not too long ago, i asked her why she does this.

“all the tiredness from the day, the hardships of life, the worries about money… when i do this, i don’t remember any of that.”

she sang opera growin up.  in fact, her best friend went on to sing in the sydney opera circuit.  my humble mom says that she sang better than her.  this makes me think about if she were able to attend college, her voice may have been heard beyond the walls of our home, extend beyond the pews at church.  but opera’s boring she says, she wanted to be a pop star.  go figure.

my mom’s an artist because of the simple fact that she understands life.  the process, the dynamism, the seasons… essentially that you are not in control and at best, you can flow.  after all, is not art an arena where we try to be elemental, primordial… to communicate as the wind with the wave, as the… ?

one time, she came to one of my jazz concerts and remarked of the singer, “she has so much han in her voice,” while palming her heart.  han.  suffering.  soul.

i believe that she understands these things because art isn’t art to her.  i believe that many of us think of art as something detached, as something extraordinary.. a museum, a gallery.  we think that is where art resides.  in concert halls, art is there.  but is it not the ordinary, the everyday where art is meant to be, meant to come from, meant to be about?  that art is just an expression of life?  we forget that life feeds art.  that life, not technique, is the impulse of all that we create, do, speak, invoke, touch… that art is life.  or perhaps life is art?

to me, art is anything we do with intentionality and intensity.
anything that brings our being into focus, draws us into the flowing moment.

i think of the mechanic who meticulously cleans his tools.  who understands the intricacies of engines.  who knows how to navigate between problems and solutions, questions and answers.  who owns what he is doing.

or perhaps the kitchen.  the one who instinctually knows which knife to use when cutting the given.  what spices to use.  the timing in which to transition the stages of the food.  how to present it… and really… how to receive the reactions from those eating it.  enjoying it yourself.

children.  the sensual/philosophical/culturally/blah-ical task of raising a living idea into the world.. only to release it.  and watch, hear, feel, enjoy as it roams, journeys.

you get the point.

we are all creators.  creation is what we do because we are human.  art is what we do, what we are because we are alive.  we live because art helps us remember why it is we are breathing.

creativity is that peculiar power that brings us closest to God, i believe.  to create.. is to mimic what God does.  or to put it differently, to create is to embody the image that has been marked in us.

but of course, it’s not easy.  but then again, i am speaking of disposition.  a posture.  a way of framing life in such a way that we live with intensity, with intention.  purpose, imagination.

my mom has done alterations for cleaners for as long as i can remember.  because of her weathered hands, i have been able to travel the world, attend top universities, play music, organize communities.  and in a beautiful way that i, she can only attribute to grace, her work has not overcome her.  she has taken the same skills of sewing… and has been able to love what she does with it.  to create something she purely wants.  and that is what makes her free.  what makes her peaceful.  that nightly space where she can be free of all that she must carry.

chicago.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on August 8, 2010

i realized over the weekend that whenever i have to make life choices, i come to chicago.
or to put it another way.. whenever i am at a sort of crossroads,  i somehow end up in chicago.

i discovered blue tones there.
i realized that i was more interested in questions of spirit and soul there.
and now, i was reminded to choose passion and what is life-giving.

you know how it is.  three times = a pattern.
or perhaps now, a ritual.

chicago, the soul city.
the home i go to discover that which is within.

things are all uncertain again..
but strangely i feel at peace.
i suppose that in ambiguity, possibilities are more readily accepted.

thanks again chicago.
as always.

what of hope?

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on June 3, 2010

C.D. Do you think intellectuals today talk too much? That they encumber what they say with a lot of stuff, much of it irrelevant to what they really have to say?

FOUCAULT The word intellectual strikes me as odd. Personally, I’ve never met any intellectuals. I’ve met people who write novels, others who treat the sick. People who work in economics and others who write electronic music. I’ve met people who teach, people who paint, and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals, never.

we exist in a peculiar situation don’t we?  and by we, i mean people… us.  we, us simultaneously noble and cancerous creatures, are really not that much different.  we all feel a spectrum of emotions.  we all bleed the same color.  we’re all incredibly fragile, though we like to assume that we’re of a bionic lineage.  but at the same time, we are different aren’t we?  or at the very least, we all strive to be unique.  that plaguing word that seems to woo our imaginative faculties, daily ponderings of how we can be different, or dare i say, better than the other.  or perhaps in a more basic sense, we long for a vital amount of distance.  distance both within, between, around…

we’re liminal aren’t we?  we’re of an in-between sort.  grandeur dreams of a united humanity… a peaceful, loving, creative arena where competition breeds not war, but great art, great culture, great politics, great society… just great.  but we also strive to be alone.  to momentarily be isolated from the other.  to be different enough where we’re not mistaken as another person.  sometimes (or sadly most times), a sort of distanced isolation that dangerously treads the cliff of entropy.

perhaps this isn’t always the case.  perhaps we can argue that most of humanity are trained to be a docile, order-following mass.  much evidence supports this very well.  after all, aren’t children generally forced to cap their creative imaginations with no empowering alternative means to channel it?

i don’t mean to be grim.  i’m just trying to be honest.  we got a lot of problems.  the evidence is usually against us.

so what of hope?  what is this elusive posture that seems to bloom out of cracked grounds?

i don’t claim to have any answers.  nor do i trust anyone who says they have an answer.  but what i feel is that hope is usually something that arises out of dissonance.  hope springs forth from an empty well.  just when our own contraptions have extracted all that we have believed to be there, hope is a rushing river that pierces the cobblestone tunnel.  hope is that which appears when all is haze.

but it’s momentary isn’t it?  it comes at those times where we most need it.  some choose to cling to it.  some don’t.  but it comes.  for some, it comes from God.  for others, from within.  perhaps for all, it should be both.  it’s like a moment that somehow clicks.  that all the dissonant sounds surging, ecstatically circulating around you… funnel into a river of tones.  a wave that carries you to and fro.  all you really do is ride it.  you are both in control and out of control.  the perfect, dynamic, trilling distance between, within, and around.

such hope is of the moment.  and it can only be such because the present moment is ever in flux.  it’s dynamic.  it’s motion.  it’s movement.  it is something you are only able to cling to if you too are willing to fly.  it is by letting go, that you grasp.

essentially, all this bullshit that i just wrote… i’m just trying to say one thing: we are people.  and i mean that in its most basic, intuitive sense.  we’re not bankers.  lawyers.  cleaners.  homeless.  intellectuals.  blah blah.  we’re people.  and as people, we have a certain gift, a certain privilege.  we get to be conscious of the moment.  we get to be in flow.  we get to experience the utter joy of being utterly present.  that in the present, no past is unredeemable.  no future is unreachable.  that now, this very moment, is where we breathe.  where we feel.  where we commune.

for me, that’s what it means to be a person.  to be ever-changing, to be dynamic, to be.  and it is that i cling to.  it is that space where God is, was, will be.  it is where human frailty communes with divine creativity… where our chains meet a sacred key.  surely, it is a holy distance.  both intimate and to be reached.  both found and wanting.

sign of the times.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on May 8, 2010

“no braiding, no bbq-ing, no drumming”

this is one of many signs hung up around marcus garvey park in harlem, nyc.

it wasn’t too long ago that a sign limited the kinds of people who were “allowed” to drink from certain water fountains.  i would assume that there were many more “white only” signs than “colored only”… probably forcing colored folk to walk much further for a drink.  it’s a dark chapter in american history.  i mean, isn’t it heinous to take something so elemental to life and control its fluidity through arbitrary divisions… all because of the belief that privilege abides by color?  but sadly, many would like to believe that this dark chapter is self-standing, it’s own finished story.  hey, we have a half-black president… post-raciality we grasp!

but this is no finished story.  this is a chapter.  one juxtaposed next to past, present and future chapters that all indicate a master narrative… that certain folk will always fall by the wayside.  that power is in the hands of those wealthy blue-eyed folk who mask their presence with an illusory veil.  and the rest, well, we have to hitchhike rides from those who would be “kind” enough to bring us along for the ride… that is, until their convenience is tested.

i’m a big believer in hope.  that we see glimpses of that-which-we-can-be.  but i also know that these are glimpses.  what is more real is the struggle… the challenge… the reality of oppression.  it is from these tumultuous grounds that we must learn to resurrect the dream.  but never forgetting that there is a tint of blue.

marcus garvey was a radical black nationalist.  he fought believing that freedom can arise in his people.  and an expression of this freedom… is the freedom to be.  to create culture.  to create a community.  to create.  create who you are, who you want to be, who your community is, what your dreams are…  to create.  to be alive, to be a living, breathing agent in a world, a society marked by coercive constraint.

now i wonder… what would he think walking through his own park today?  how would he feel seeing the new complexes displace his people?  how vast would his anger be seeing those signs that prohibit the very things that made his park what it was?

i would imagine him asking:

how is this any different than “white only”?

over there.

Posted in heard thoughts, written thoughts by Charles on April 28, 2010

i often think of what’s better “over there”.  that perhaps i’d be more happy, more joyful if i were more like that person over there.  that i’d be a better musician if i could play like that guy over there.  that maybe i’d be more content if i were as smart as that person over there.  that things would be greater if my situation was like that over there.

from this sentiment, i often impose my ideals and life-thoughts on others out of this need to get them to that “over there”… even when that “over there” is an illusion, or perhaps that no one actually knows what “over there” is.  and really, that it is out of my own fear of not having what’s over there.

the “over there” is often opposed to your “right now”.  maybe it’s the restlessness of the moment.  perhaps it’s dissatisfaction.  maybe it’s tragedy.  whatever it may be, the “over there” is our greener pastures.  the “over there” is the unrealized dreams of the future… the longings of our past.

but i’m learning.  i’m realizing that the greener pastures don’t really exist.  even when we reach what we think is our over there… we meet yet another fence that separates us from our unrealized goal, whatever that may be.

i’m learning that all we really have is right now, the present moment.  that is all we are promised.  and i’m learning that from this place… i don’t have much that i can impose.  because i often don’t know what helps me get in here.  my blanket reason is that God helps me be present.  and at the heart of the matter… for me… that’s really the only way i know how to describe it.  i can try to discipline myself to meditate… to pray.  but that doesn’t mean that i’ll always be present.  or in another sense, i can play with the same band, at the same place, at the same time, with the same tunes night after night… but that doesn’t mean that we’ll all get lost in that groove.  it doesn’t mean we’ll encounter freedom.

so it is from this place that i am trying to write… or rather… it is this place that i am constantly searching for.  and it is from here… that i can’t impose anything on anyone.  my sense of spirituality, my understanding of the world and God, my feeling of how things can be.  all i can really do is try to help people get into that similar space.  that realm where you can feel deeply, be awake, and encounter an openness to where you’ll be led.  sometimes… this is a smile.  a kind gesture.  a prayer.  a moving conversation.  offering a song.

whatever helps me express what this moment means… and whatever helps you feel it.  that is all we can ever really do.

that here, i can be content.  here, i can be joyful.
here, i don’t have to look that far to find something beautiful.

the great sins.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on April 21, 2010

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. -Matthew 3:16-4:1

i’m a troubled-yet-grateful product of the korean-american evangelical church.  for all the issues that i hold against the church, i am thankful for the love that i deeply felt.  much of who i am today, i can recognize pathways that lead back to those wonderful times where i’ve encountered God deeply.  whether it was during the times of heartfelt worship, whether it was the passionate preaching, whether it was the loving hugs and beloved gazes, whether it was the warmth of families coming together for a purpose much greater than the struggling realities of immigrant life… i only have tears of joy for the dynamic space in which i encountered God deeply, beautifully, and powerfully.  it was where i first glimpsed what it meant to be a part of a family bonded not by blood, but by love.  i learned about and felt community there.  and in many ways, i am often on a perpetual search to find that other sense of home, outside safety of my immediate family, in the places i am placed.

often times, i also wonder whether it was just love that brought my church(es) together.  i wonder if we came together more because we had a common enemy: sin.  i wonder if it was more the fear of sin and its eternal consequences that drove us together… rather than the courage of unconditional love.  i wonder.  i wonder.

sin took on many forms as i proceeded through my faith journey.  as a person who desires deeply to follow after my beloved jesus… to be engulfed in the grace that is divine love… i was always presented with a barrier.  that sin marked a clear boundary between my own sense of being and the consuming grace that calls for a costly sacrifice to wade in its presence.  that sin must be dealt with.  though impossible on our own, though perpetual because of our flaws… it was something to be let go of.

sin first most vividly occupied the realm of sexuality.  that almost all sexual practices were deemed heinous in the eyes of God, unless done within the confines of what the church deemed as sacred.  but perhaps even then, the eyes of God are relentless… searching… judging… condemning.  sin then took the form of certain social practices.  worldly actions: cussing, listening to unholy music, reading ungodly texts, disobeying your parents (even if one’s parents’ wishes posited your self-detriment)… these actions took the forefront.  it’s interesting when these notions of sin came into play… late elementary/junior-high school then high school as you went into college.  of course, these notions aren’t confined to just those time periods… they arise from a certain perception about human progress and evils that exist for its detriment.  in short, these ideas of sin (as well as many others) are threaded throughout one’s life, given the sort of circumstances that i grew up in.

but then came college, aka good ol’ liberal values found in the halls of secular academia.  be suspicious of everything.  personally, i saw academia as another tool for reflection.  in light of my faith posture, this meant expanding my horizon of sin to encompass other things: poverty is evil, war is heinous, homophobia is hurtful to jesus, etc.  these notions, of course, didn’t fly so well.

i mention all this not out of an angry spirit, but rather one of honest reflection.  i pose this trajectory because i truly desire to understand the category of sin in a biblical, theological, and humane manner.  i want to show that “sin”, like other biblical concepts, are fluid.  fluid in that the content changes with the times we are in.  for example, what is commonly perceived as sin today, may not have been what it was during jesus’ time.  that perhaps sin might have occupied other elements way back when.  or perhaps we modern readers of the bible have a remnant perception of what these theological categories meant exactly throughout all time.  i’m not being sarcastic… i’m just pointing out that the burden of proof falls on those who hold such a stance.

so what am i trying to get at?

i’m trying to open up the question of sin.  what is it?  how do we perceive it?  how do we fight it?  and perhaps the most important existential question of all: are we missing the point?

i find it interesting that jesus, that mysterious lover… the force of all love and beauty behind the cosmos born in poverty, straw and horse shit… this very jesus peaced out after God bestowed his blessing and spirit on him.  instead of running into the marketplace, he chose instead to fast and chill in the desert with the devil.  how’s that for mysterious?

an interesting move: to be called a beloved son and receive godly favor before he ever did anything… then to occupy a place where he confronted the greatest sins (my reading… after all, would not the devil want to tempt God-incarnate with the craziest sins?).

these sins were to be overcome before he began any of his work, his ministry.  thus perhaps the gospel writer is compositionally framing jesus’ ministry in light of this fierce confrontation.

so what are the greatest sins?

1. abundance of food
2. wealth
3. power

let us stop here.
let us reflect deeply on these great sins.
and let us recognize that we in the modern-day roman empire hold all that.

what is sin?
or perhaps more terrifyingly… how do we repent?

the sampler, the sampled & the sample.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on April 19, 2010

i had a good conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  it was mostly about what it means to create, to be a part of a collective and/or a network.  much of this conversation was centered around the difference between organizing a group of people as a collective, which requires much more commitment and self-reflection within a community setting, and a network, something that is more loosely based and organized based upon the needs of a certain project.  now of course, much of the time, these two understandings share many traits.  and often times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  but for me, a collective is defined heavily by method.  to pursue a project as a collective, the decision-making and organizing principles rest upon profoundly democratic principles.  not just that each person has a voice and an equal weight to their opinion, but also that there is some sort of shared basis, a common vibe between all the involved individuals.  a network, on the other hand, is much more malleable in that it can be hierarchal, democratic, whimsical, etc etc.  the point is… a collective is much harder to maintain and more fruitful (in my opinion) to be a part of… at least in a long term sense.

so when thinking about what this means for the production of art… we hit an interesting hill.  if i may assume that a good work of art rests on a continuity with a given community, experience, and/or group that is couched in everyday experience, then we have a pretty cool departure point from where we can think about collective art production.  it illuminates the difficult process of creating a work that is both honest/authentic to who you are and where you are situated as well as to the wider aesthetic sensibilities roaming about in the wind.  in short, it’s particular… but in its particularity, you may perhaps hit at something humanly shared.

so i guess at this point, some examples are needed to demonstrate what my friend and i were talking about.  a most pertinent example would be the hip-hop movement.  now i’m not talking specifically about top40s… i’m mostly referring to 80s.  i’m talking about a particular cultural movement that arose from the neighborhoods of new york.  i’m talking about the origins of a multi-billion dollar, global phenomenon… which happened to come from a bunch of kids who society predestined to not produce anything of worth.

we’re talking about that guerilla perspective, graffiti.  that body rock, breaking.  that grammar-interrupting flow, rhyming.  and that streamin melodic rhythm, djing.

now what hip-hop presents to me… the gift that its given to the world… is a modern (perhaps postmodern?  who knows what these terms even mean anymore), contemporary aesthetic.  hip-hop music, after all, is really an aural collage.  the use of multiple samples from various sources.  the juxtaposition of dynamic rhythms.  the open space left for the improvisational to happen.  the form of hip-hop… is about framing these intersecting complexities.  a gift from jazz… and a direct child of the jazz movement.  you create a form that frames all these various sources into a space where something is supposed to happen.  you place certain restraints.. but only dynamically so in order that the unknown is more readily accessible.  in other words, dissonance is harmonically framed in such a way that beauty is its offering.  but we must remember, beauty doesn’t mean clean and tidy.  the beautiful is a subjective description of the persuasive.

hip-hop is a contemporary aesthetic.  if you listen closely to the grooves coming out of nyc jazz clubs, they’re in dialogue with it.  they have to be… or they’re not relevant.  if you pay attention to dance… the striking movements of hip-hop are seething through.  these are of course sweeping claims.  but these are also my personal opinions and experiences.

what makes hip-hop so dope is that it presents a new form of communication that expresses vast amounts of information in severely limited and constrained amounts of time.  perhaps a lesson for us youtube/googled-out folk.  sure, this could be a bad thing.  sure, maybe we’re losing our ability to focus on one thorough text.  sure, soundbites are no alternative for deep, prolonged listening.  but perhaps this is an indication of how we are processing information today.  and let us remember, most folks were never able to read anyways.  much of what we know as “history” is an oral narrative passed from generation to generation.  so maybe we can see this as a challenge for a new era.  maybe we ought to bring ourselves up to the task of figuring out new forms that harness this current internet-based sentiment.  in short, we should take a cue from hip-hop and move forward.

of course, i speak of hip-hop in its ideal sense (if there is one).  i love to hear the stories of how these dj’s got started at house parties.  i love watching ciphers on street corners.  i love to watch those young artists mark their place in the urban landscape through painting on trains, walls, and the like.  i enjoy it… because it produced a culture.  one that is potentially fruitful and damaging.  but powerful nonetheless.

hip-hop had a particular origin.  it came from an oppressed folk who slowly saw their dreams and opportunities crushed by the national machine.  and in the face of the tragic, they chose to create.  they chose to bring forth a new attitude.  a “fuck you” posture of living.  and it was in speaking from and through those particular spaces… that they hit at something profoundly human: freedom?  love?  justice?  fairness?  hopes?  who knows.  but whatever it is… it can’t be ignored.

is hip-hop dead?  perhaps.  whatever its life-status… there’s an aesthetic that we need to learn from.  and continue to unpack.

palm sunday.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on March 28, 2010

the day jesus is remembered to have rode into jerusalem.
a week before he is to be crucified as a political enemy.

i remember today…
that he was put to death by the roman empire,
a foreign superpower occupying a colony.

those of us who desire to follow after that very man…
may we remember, reflect and reveal who it was that crucified him.

and in the same spirit,
may we remember today who the greatest power on earth…
continues to put to death.

today marks the beginning of passion week.
let us learn what passion means in light of solidarity.