I Don’t Know You

I don’t know you, though I once thought I did. We grew up in similar communities with  similar cultural influences. We were taught the same moral values. A man is only as good as his word. Honesty is the best policy. Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. Treat others the way you want to be treated. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

I don’t know you, though I once thought I did. We confess the same faith. We read the same Bible. We sing the same songs of worship and pray to the same God. You say you were saved by the Messiah and proudly identify yourself with the name Jesus Christ. But you are a modern-day Pharisee. You claim to be righteous and law-abiding, but neglect the more important matters of God’s law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

I don’t know you, though I once thought I did. I used to see you as a brother or sister in Christ. But somewhere on the narrow path, I lost sight of you. You heard the same Good News I did, but instead of taking root in your heart, the seeds fell on the path and the evil one came and snatched them away.

I don’t know you, though I once thought I did. We’ve both heard the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But he came along promising a different kind of blessing – to “make American great again.” He served up a huge helping of wickedness and you gobbled it up as if you were starving. You were filled with resentment and selfishness.

The ties that once bound us in a community of faith were severed by a darkness I did not see coming. I mourn the connection we had before the evil one came along. It broke my heart to see you go. I pray that God will lead you back from the dark one’s side. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

I pray that Jesus will be your moral compass, that his word will be a lamp for your feet and a light for your path.

I pray that the Spirit will speak to you with a still, quiet voice. I pray that you will hear His truth and understand with your heart.

Be still and listen, my friend.


The Sower (Sower with Setting Sun), Vincent van Gogh (1888), from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)


How will the Church respond this time?

I don’t know if my pastor realized it, but he was on trial today, the first Sunday after the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history. I read comments this week on social media from purported Christians that were quite disturbing. So at 9:00 am this morning, I was anxious to find out if my church would respond in a way that is consistent with the word of God. I wanted to know, 1) will my pastor acknowledge this tragedy and 2) will he guide his flock to respond in a way that is consistent with God’s word?

My pastor is preaching a series of sermons based on a book of the Bible that he had never preached on before – the book of Obadiah. At one chapter, it is the shortest book in the Old Testament so it is understandable that it would be overlooked. It proved to be relevant to our times this week. Obadiah delivered a message from God to the people of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Obadiah predicted that God would destroy Edom for not aiding its northern neighbor, Israel (descendants of Jacob).

Pastor Brad used the book of Obadiah to make three points that are relevant to our own nation. One, the people were prideful and self-centered (verse 3). Two, God was not happy about their violence (verse 10) and three, the people were aloof or indifferent to the suffering of others (verse 11).

My pastor assured the congregation that the church does take measures to protect our safety. The church pays for the county sheriff to come to the services and sit outside. I see them, not just guiding traffic, but sometimes coming in and walking down the children’s wing. He said there are panic buttons or alarms in different places that can be used to summon help quickly.

I am happy to say that Pastor Brad did not tell us to come to church armed. If he had said that, I would have walked out. Instead, he had us sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He gave us scriptures about not fearing, like 1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

My pastor did not lay the blame for the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas on guns. He admitted that he owns a gun himself. He said that the problem is a heart problem and not a problem of weapons. I acknowledge that there is some truth to this argument. There is something very wrong with the hearts of Americans. In some situations, we can be very compassionate. For example, witness the American response to natural disasters or the illness of a stranger.

But when it comes to the right to own the weapons that take 33,000 lives a year, many Americans turn into rabid defenders of inanimate objects. They are so afraid of losing the right to bear arms that they won’t consider even commonsense controls to protect us from the worst and most sick among us. Why is that? When did this nation become so hard-hearted and self-centered and fearful?

More importantly, when did so-called Evangelicals become so hard-hearted, self-centered and fearful? We’re supposed to be a light in the darkness and I’m sorry to say that we are not. I had to admit that truth to myself a year ago when I saw that the majority of “Christians” were willing to cast aside everything that Jesus taught us in exchange for political power.

My pastor did lay some of the blame for violence, and rightly so, on individualism. Individualism defines American culture. Pride defines American culture. Violence defines American culture. But Christianity is not based on individualism. It is not based on pride or violence.

I said my pastor was on trial today because I was watching him to see evidence of something different. I didn’t want to hear NRA or Fox News talking points. I wanted to see light in the darkness. I wanted to see hope. I wanted to hear the word of God preached. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

The world is watching all of us who claim to follow Jesus. Jesus is not prideful and self-centered. Jesus is not violent. Jesus is not aloof and indifferent to pain and suffering. When we are tested by trials of these times, how will we respond?

Word of God Speak

On Monday, after hearing about the latest U.S. mass shooting, I called a stranger on Facebook a fool in response to her defense of killing tools. I stand by the truth of my comment but I was ashamed of myself because I was brought up to be kind. I guess my prayer for courage worked.

I am sad. I am angry. I am disgusted. I am sick and tired of grieving the senseless loss of life over and over and over again. Columbine. Las Vegas. I am sick and tired of hearing the same lame excuses why the elected leaders of this country won’t do anything to prevent civilians from amassing military-style weapons and ammunition to use against fellow citizens. I am sick and tired of learning to associate places I’ve never heard of with mass shootings. Sandy Hook. Sutherland Springs. I am sick of hearing people pretend that semiautomatic weapons are no different from scissors or knives.

Give me a freakin’ break!

I am so tired of mourning that sometimes I react with numbness. My sorrow always hits a wall of hopelessness when I see how hard-hearted and selfish Americans are.

There have been way too many of these tragedies yet the political response is always the same. Why is the loss of 33,000 lives a year considered a fair trade for the man-made right to own weapons that are illegal to use as intended?

The day I called a stranger a fool, a broken-hearted woman posted a couple of questions on a K-Love Facebook post. Wouldn’t now be a good time to talk about gun control? Doesn’t God want us to stand and say this needs to stop? One person laughed at her. Another woman condemned her for politicizing the issue and said we should be praying.

Thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers. As the compassionate and thoughtful woman on the K-Love post noted, thoughts and prayers do not bring innocent lives back.

And I have to state what should be obvious – talking about preventing deaths is not politicizing the issue, it is humanizing it. When you strip away the political identity that means so much to many Americans – to too many Christians – we are all human. We all bleed. We all want to enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to have our loved ones with us as long as possible.

This week I’m grieving even harder than after Las Vegas. Because some of the loudest voices I have heard in defense of killing tools are people who claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. Presumably, they’ve read the 10 commandments. You shall not kill. You shall have no other gods before me. Presumably they’ve familiar with the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. No doubt, they’ve read what Jesus says you should do if something causes you to sin. Get rid of it. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. So why do Christians arm themselves to disobey God’s word?

Speaking of God’s word, I opened up a notebook so I could write to express my grief. The last thing I wrote in this notebook were the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus repeated when addressing the hypocrites of his day:

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

The thoughts and prayers of people whose hearts are far from God are in vain. They won’t prevent the senseless deaths that result from this nation’s reckless obsession with guns. They won’t bring back the dead. Lips that defend objects that were designed for the sole purpose of killing do not honor God.

I don’t have the right words. I don’t have the answers to the sickness that afflicts this nation. But I do have the word of God in my heart and the lyrics of Mercy Me in my head. Everytime I hear these lyrics, I am comforted.

Word of God Speak. Would you pour down like rain? Washing my eyes to see your majesty. To be still and know that you’re in this place. Please let me stay and rest in your holiness. Word of God speak. I’m finding myself in the midst of You. Beyond the music, beyond the noise. All that I need is to be with You. And in the quiet, hear Your voice.

I’m still sad and I know I will feel this way again and again and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. But in my grief and even in my anger, I find myself in the midst of God’s presence, soaking in his grace, hearing his voice of comfort. Father, speak to us. Pour down like rain. Wash our eyes to see your majesty, your love, your mercy, your will. Heal this broken nation.


Shadowboxing My Way to Maturity

Sometimes we feel so validated by our inner voice of conscience, so sure of our internal convictions, that we confuse our own voice with the very voice of God. In rereading Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, a passage about the deeper voice of God brought tears to my eyes. I hear a voice that sounds a lot like risk, trust, and surrender but I keep pushing it away because there is too much safety and security in my protective shell.

There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of “common sense,” of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self, of soulful “Beatrice.” – Richard Rohr

Discharging my loyal soldier

Rohr wrote about how Japanese communities helped soldiers return to civilian life after World War II. Faithful soldiers were first thanked for their service and then were told, the war is now over. We need you to return as something other than a soldier. The communal ritual gave the returning soldiers the closure they needed to move on to the next phase of life. Rohr called this transition process “discharging your loyal soldier.”

Similarly, to grow spiritually in the second half of life, we must transition from an egocentric to a “soul-centric” worldview. We have to let go of or “discharge” the ego-driven “loyal soldier” that served us well in the first half of life. While the loyal soldier plays an important role in early life, giving our lives shape and purpose and stability, at some point, he starts holding us back from the life we were meant to live.

Who is my loyal soldier? What persona has served me so well in the first part of life? I would describe my loyal soldier as a dutiful Guardian, the name David Kiersey calls the Sensing Judging personality type. “Guardians are the cornerstone of society, for they are the temperament given to serving and preserving our most important social institutions.” Guardians are concerned with rules and procedures and right versus wrong, with making sure that people do what they are supposed to do. Guardians police social behavior by laying out the should’s and should not’s.

In his book, Please Understand Me II, Kiersey used the phrase “preoccupied with morality” to describe the Guardian personality type. I am not flattered by that description. I see the sinfulness in myself and I see how much I have struggled to do what I know to be right. I see that when I try to attack evil, I produce an ugliness in myself – anger, impatience, condescension, hypocrisy. And most importantly, I see the beauty of forgiveness and grace.

I have learned to let go of my innate compulsion to control or dictate what other people do and to let God do the work of changing people.  I am free to be something other than a finger-pointing Guardian of morality. I am free to be the grace dispenser I was meant to be.

Shadowboxing with myself

Rohr said that your persona represents how you choose to identify yourself and what other people expect from you. But we also have a shadow self – the parts we don’t want other people to see and that we don’t want to see in ourselves. He said that we never get to the second half of spiritual life without engaging in the inner work of shadowboxing with this false self.

Growing spiritually means letting go of the false self. For me, the self that filters and censors herself is a false self. The self that protects people from hearing anything critical, even when it is for their own good, is a false self. The self that avoids offending fellow Christians when she knows that God is on the side of justice and mercy – this is my false self.

Unfortunately, the work of confronting our own faults never ends. I am learning to face my faults, my contradictions, my fears. Just as David did long ago, I’ve invited God to shine a light on my faults.

Search me God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).

Getting out of my foxhole

Early in life, I learned to go into self-protection mode when I felt threatened by too much attention or too much social stimulation. I was socially awkward and easily embarrassed so I withdrew into my protective shell, my foxhole. If I kept quiet, I wouldn’t say the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time. If I didn’t approach other people, they wouldn’t reject me.

In contrast to the analytical, thinking me, my Protector is the sensitive, feeling part of me. My Protector is considerate of other people. She has empathy. She doesn’t want other people to feel bad. She doesn’t like to criticize. She respects the fact that other people have a right to their own opinions so she avoids controversy and conflict.

Now, I find that the self-protective mode that served me well in the first part of life keeps me from being obedient to the deeper voice of God. No one can hurt me. I don’t have to prove that I am worthy because I know that God loves me just as I am. I have experienced the power of God’s grace. My protector has outlived her usefulness.

I no longer want to be silent about my faith because I am afraid of offending someone, whether it is atheists or other Christians. When I hear Christians complaining about welfare recipients, I want to speak out on behalf of the poor. When I hear Christians say that we should live in fear of gays or Muslims, I want to talk about God’s love for all people. When Christians say that we should turn our backs on refugees, I want to ask them, what would Jesus do? But instead of speaking up, I hide in my foxhole and avoid confrontation.

I hear the voice of God calling me to be a voice for justice and mercy, to be a voice for genuine Christian discipleship. He has shown me that my purpose in life is not accounting; it is loving other people as I love myself. My purpose in life is not making sure that everyone follows my rules. It is seeing to it that no one misses out on the grace of God. I hear the voice of mercy with tear-filled eyes.

I hear the deeper voice of God telling me to bravely, courageously, and gently speak up. He did not give me a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). The thought of obeying this call is frightening. It means going against what feels comfortable and safe. It means stepping out of my foxhole and possibly into the line of fire, even from fellow Christians.

I will be honest, fear has held me back all too often. Rohr wrote, “once you have faced your own hidden or denied self, there is not much to be anxious about anymore, because there is no fear of exposure – to yourself or to others.”

I’ve said goodbye to my loyal soldier. Now it is time for me to get out of my foxhole, to say hello to the voice of risk, to surrender to the voice of mercy and love.






A Broken Ego

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr discusses the important task that must be completed successfully in the first part of life before a person can mature spiritually in the second part of life. Early in life, given the right environment and discipline, human beings develop what Rohr calls a strong “ego structure” or self-identity.

When we interact with other people as children, we learn that we are not the center of the universe. From our families, classmates, etc., we learn that there are limits and boundaries to our selfish wants and desires. We don’t get to have everything we want to have and we aren’t allowed to do everything we want to do. When we pursue our self interests, we butt heads with other people and learn that they have wants and desires too. So we learn that we have to share, take turns, keep our word, treat other people with respect, make sacrifices for the good of the group, etc.

We have all seen what happens if self-centeredness is not challenged. If a person is not held accountable for their actions and never has to face consequences for behaving badly, they will not behave well socially. An undisciplined person does not get along well with others. He doesn’t keep his word. He does not honor his commitments. He doesn’t admit his mistakes and he never learns from them.

I can’t watch the news these days without seeing a glaring example of ego development gone wrong. The leader of the United States boasts shamelessly of his accomplishments even when he fails. He brags about his intelligence though he is clearly unread and uninformed. He becomes enraged when criticized or held to account for his actions.

The POTUS has become the poster child for narcissism, a personality disorder characterized by a dysfunctional ego structure. According to Psychology Today, the “hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration.” Other signs or symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • self-aggrandizement
  • fantasies of unlimited success
  • arrogance, haughtiness
  • sense of entitlement
  • disregard for the rights of others
  • exploitation of other people
  • manipulation of other people
  • bullying
  • impulsiveness
  • jealousy, envy
  • dishonesty
  • lack of remorse
  • paranoia (believing conspiracy theories, seeing themselves as a victim)

How does narcissism develop? Narcissistic personality disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. As a child, the narcissist may have been excessively coddled or pampered, superficially inflating the ego, or conversely, have been excessively criticized and denied parental approval. Regardless of the cause, the narcissist does not develop a realistic sense of self. He develops a grandiose sense of his importance and must expend great amounts of energy building up his “false self.”

The narcissist needs to receive constant affirmation of his greatness from others. “Anything that builds the narcissist’s ego up and re-affirms his feelings of superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement” is known as narcissistic supply. Attention – good or bad. Applause. Being feared. Celebrity status.

The constant need for affirmation explains why the poster child of NPD surrounds himself with sycophants (more commonly known in my world as brown-nosers, butt-kissers, bootlickers or other unflattering names). It also explains why the narcissist-in-chief holds pep rallies so his fans have the opportunity to applaud, adore, even worship him.

Another characteristic behavior of narcissists is narcissistic rage. Because narcissists believe that everyone should admire, agree with and obey them, they become enraged when people don’t. They feel like they are justified in fighting back. For example, when the honorable John McCain, recently repudiated the president’s nationalistic rhetoric without even saying his name, the president struck back saying, “be careful because at some point I fight back…and it won’t be pretty.”

Narcissists rage at and tear other people down because they need to feel bigger, stronger, smarter, more successful than everyone else. According to Mark Goulston, M.D., when holes in the over-inflated persona are exposed, narcissists have to “spackle the holes in their core that lead to a feeling of instability.”

Of all personality disorders, narcissism is among the least treatable because narcissists rarely admit that they are flawed. So the president, although  not likely to ever lose his prestigious, powerful position because of his personality disorder, is likely to be stuck in a never-ending fight to maintain a false image of himself. He puts himself on a pedestal, delighting in the attention his position draws. He behaves badly, demonstrating willful ignorance, casual cruelty, shameless immorality, opening himself up to criticism, exposing the holes in his core. This enrages him because in his mind, no one is better than him, so he acts out like a spoiled child and is criticized even more by the adults in the room. Yet he goes on, strutting proudly and nakedly because the 71-year old emperor does not know that has no clothes.

Psychologically speaking, narcissism is never pretty. Spiritually speaking, I agree with C.S. Lewis. Pride is the great sin. Other sins are “mere fleabites in comparison.” Pride is the complete anti-god state of mind, the complete “I am god” state of mind. Narcissism is pride on steroids. Pride is competitive, comparative – the desire to be better, stronger, richer than someone else. Lewis said that pride is enmity, not just enmity between man and man but between man and God.

In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

For a couple of years now, I have struggled to understand why evangelicals admire and affirm a man who is clearly amoral, a man with an anti-God state of mind. His ego is broken and must be artificially propped up on a daily basis. Many of his supporters wish that his opponents would shut up and ignore his disordered personality. But what this wretch really needs is to be brought to his knees by the one true God – the one who saved a wretch like me.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:17


Narcissistic Personality Disorder

childhood roots of NPD

the pathology of narcissism

symptoms of narcissism