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)

Advertisements

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.

 

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

 

SMH @ u 2

Dear Christian Friend,

Recently you shared a meme on Facebook calling CNN reporters liars because they reported that the people of Puerto Rico are not getting the aid they need. Indignantly, you commented, SMH!

Well, my dear, I am shaking my head at you too. You say you are a Christian. You frequently share posts about your faith. But I’m not seeing Jesus in you. And if I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, can’t see Jesus in you, what are all the non-believers thinking?

You claim to worship the God of Abraham, the God who gave Moses the commandment not to kill. After every mass shooting, instead of mourning the senseless loss of life, you are among the first to stand up in defense of inanimate objects that were designed to kill people. You worry that the government will take away the right to bear arms, even those military-style weapons designed to maximize carnage. It is sad to see you care more about your “rights” and about objects than you do about innocent human beings.

You portray yourself as a good, patriotic American, so much so that you were disgusted and enraged when black Americans took to their knees to protest racial injustice while the national anthem plays. Clearly, you love the flag and the anthem, symbols of this great nation. There is a lot to love about this country and about the brave men and women who have defended its ideals, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But you have made a religion out of patriotism and think you have the right to demand that others practice it. You freely express your opinions yet think you have the right to determine how someone else expresses theirs.

This nation is far from perfect. Its greatness has been tarnished by racism and other forms of injustice from the beginning. God has shown this nation what is good. And what does He ask of those who trust in Him? That we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Yet you refuse to see the injustices in the criminal justice system. You refuse to extend compassion and mercy to the oppressed. You refuse to even listen when black Americans tell you that their lives matter. It is sad to see you care more about symbols and a song than about human beings.

You have made an idol out of killing tools. You have made an idol out of patriotism. I shake my head in disgust at this. But I shake my head in shame at the mockery you have made of Christianity.

You’ve made no secret of your hatred of Obama and your adulation of Trump. You shared a meme that showed President Obama saying that this is not a Christian nation. Below the photo of Obama was a photo of your president holding a Bible.  If you believe what that meme suggests (and you must or you would not share it), you are actively making a  mockery of the Christian faith.

I don’t know whether Obama actually said that America is not a Christian nation but if he did, he would have been right. According to Barna, the organization that conducts surveys of religious beliefs, 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But only 31% of Americans are “practicing Christians” – those who attend church services at least once a month. And I am convinced, that if it were possible to look inside the hearts of church-going folks, you would see an even smaller percentage of people who actually understand what Jesus was trying to teach us about love and forgiveness, grace, justice, and mercy.

If you think that not standing up for the national anthem is disrespectful, equating your president with the Christian faith is downright blasphemous. You don’t become a Christian by holding a Bible. You don’t become a Christian by pretending to fight a war on Christianity, e.g. defending the right to say “Merry Christmas.” The only way to be saved is to confess your sins and to repent. Yet your chosen one has publicly stated that he does not believe he needs to repent or ask for forgiveness.

You claim to be a Christian with good moral values. But non-Christians see that you have put your faith in a man who is as anti-Christ as a person can be. You condone his behavior. The fruit of the Spirit, the evidence that a person follows Jesus, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is not hating and threatening your enemies. It is not anger and rage. It is not insulting and demeaning people who don’t praise you. It is not sowing discord and division. It is not uncontrolled twitter rants. It is most certainly not worshiping yourself.

Go ahead and call me judgmental. Call me a “libtard” if it makes you feel better. But please, please, please, stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t follow Christ. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t love your neighbor. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you follow an ungodly man. And most importantly, stop turning people away from Jesus with your hypocrisy.

Dear friend, we pray to the same God. I pray for you. I pray that God will soften your heart. I pray that you will have eyes that see and ears that hear. I don’t want you to be one of the hypocrites Jesus spoke about – the ones who will come to him saying, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and perform many miracles? And he will say to them, I never knew you.

You proudly say that you stand for the flag and kneel for the cross. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for justice. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for mercy. When you kneel for the cross, you walk humbly before your God. When you kneel for the cross, you love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your spirit. When you kneel for the cross, you love your neighbor as yourself.