Mean Women in the Church

Qualification for an Elder: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:5

Qualifications for a Deacon’s wife: “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” 1 Tim 3:11

Recently my family and I were visiting a church. My daughter noticed that a woman I knew from a former Bible study group was on the church worship team. She turned to me and said, “Hey mommy, is that one of the mean girls?” At the age of seven, my daughter is exquisitely attuned to the realities of my life. She knows and understands quite well the meanness I have endured from women. As far as the mean behavior of women goes I have been subjected to every form known to man from an early age on.

Educators now are much more sensitively attuned to the reality of bullying since we now have child terrorists who plan and engage in murderous attacks against schools. But back when I was little no such awareness existed. So when I was in first and second grade I had the fun business of going to school only to be excluded from the group by the lead female bully. Every day the ring leader would give the “ok” signal in class to a girl sitting nearby. That girl in turn would return the signal to her and then turn and give the signal to another girl as the sign of inclusion. If you did not receive the signal and you tried giving it but did not receive it back from another girl, you were not “in” for the day, which meant you would be excluded at recess. I remember the sick feeling of anxiety that would settle in the pit of my stomach when I did not get the signal. My method for coping with this varied. I would alternate between attempting to placate the ring leader and trying to be in her good graces, to giving up in despair and going and playing soccer with the boys. One day I pushed the girl bully in the bathroom. She went back and reported to the teacher that she had a stomach ache because I pushed her and so I got in trouble. If I had known I was going to get in trouble I would have made it worth my while and punched her in the mouth. No teacher ever intervened in the situation and it went on unabated. In third grade I called her up on the phone and told her to “go to hell.” Pretty bold for a third grader but I had had enough of her and no one else was coming to my defense. She was a sociopath in the making. She was a schemer and a pathological liar from an early age and this continued until her untimely death at age thirty six by cancer. Psalm 55:23 says that “bloodthirsty and deceitful” men will not live out half their days.

woman-1346522265KDb

As I have previously stated, educators are now much more aware of bullying because our schools have turned into war zones. But how about our churches? Are they war zones too? They can be. Women wage war very differently than men, but they wage it just the same. They mostly wage war by murdering people with their tongues and using the medium of relationship to destroy. Psychologists have now come up with a name for this type of warfare: “relational aggression” and women specialize in it. Relational aggression is also known as “covert aggression” or “covert bullying.” It is a type of aggression in which harm is caused to one’s relationships or social status.

Men have been given power and authority to lead the church. A part of that power and authority is supposed to be used to “protect the flock.” Yet male leaders in the church are often either woefully unaware or purposefully blind to aggression perpetrated by women. According to one article on relational aggression there are three main types: 1. Excluding others from social activities 2. Damaging the victim’s reputation with others by spreading rumors, gossiping about the victim or humiliating him in front of others. 3. Withdrawing attention and friendship. Psychological manipulation and coercion can also be a type of relational aggression. What are some of the consequences in general for women who experience relational aggression from other women? Regularly experiencing aggression can cause many short term and long term consequences such as depression, behavior problems, poor social skills, lack of close peer relationships, difficulty in academic performance, low school engagement, undermined feelings of competence, low self-esteem, and physical symptoms of distress. These are some pretty profound consequences which would obviously affect our ability to have authentic fellowship with others in the church as well as affect our ability to serve using our gifts.

Though there are no “qualifications” listed for elders wives, one of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy is that an elder is to be hospitable. He also must be able to manage his own family well. It specifically outlines qualifications for deacon’s wives: women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, temperate and trustworthy in everything. Certainly if you are a woman who engages in any form of relational aggression you most definitely are not trustworthy and not acting in a manner worthy of respect. Nor are you showing respect for other people You also most likely are using your tongue in a manner which harms others. Elders, which include the pastor, need to take seriously whether they meet the qualifications to lead the church, but also take seriously whether their wives meet them as well. A part of leading one’s family well is knowing one’s wife. Does she meet the description above? Temperate? Not a malicious talker? Trustworthy? How does SHE personally treat ALL women in the church? Does she speak well of them? Treat them with kindness? Is she inclusive? Do you know? The church is supposed to be a family of believers reaching out to a lost world not a social club where members sit around and congratulate each other on their righteousness. Churches should be places where ALL women can find acceptance and belonging and be loved by their sisters in Christ. It should not be a place of favoritism where some women are welcomed into the exclusive clique and others rejected. The church belongs to Christ, and it is a great honor but also a great responsibility to oversee it. It’s a difficult task and one not to be undertaken lightly.

Let’s look a little closer at the qualifications listed for a Deacon’s wife.

What does it mean to be a woman worthy of respect? Well certainly it means to be a person of integrity. In other words someone who is consistent in character. Women who are worthy of respect are women who fear God and thus are women who have respect for what God has made. So it would mean a woman who shows respect for other people in general. In particular she would treat other women with honor, with kindness, with compassion and care. She would consider other women above herself and look out for their interests. (Philippians 2:4) She would be a woman who welcomes other women into the church and embraces them. She would be an encourager to other women and treat them with dignity and respect. She would support other women in the church as they use their gifts. These kinds of actions cannot take place if we harbor pride, bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts (James 3:14). We will not act as women worthy of respect if we see other women as our competitors. Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement” showed this kind of honorable conduct to the Apostle Paul. He embraced Paul and took him to meet the other disciples who were afraid of him. He also encouraged and supported Paul in his missionary journeys. He took the attitude that “Paul’s success is my success” since we are working toward the same goal.

What does it mean to be a woman who is not a malicious talker? The Greek word here for “malicious” is “diabolos” and means slanderer. It is not hard to see the reference to the devil who is diabolical and the “accuser of the brethren.” We are told he accuses them night and day before the throne. We act like the devil when we accuse others and judge them falsely and render false reports of them. It is not honorable behavior to talk badly of others. Yet women often engage in gossip and have eager and receptive listeners. Proverbs says that the words of a gossip are “like choice morsels” that “go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:8) But even though hearing gossip initially is akin to eating a tasty treat, it’s ultimate effect is not so pleasant. Gossip effects the gossip, the listener as well as the victim of the gossip. We cannot listen to gossip without having our opinion about another person be changed, even if it is very subtly. The next thing we know our actions toward that person have also changed. We are treating them slightly different because of what someone has told us about them. And what if that report was false? Proverbs says “A gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28). It does not say that a gossip separates friends. It says close friends. Thus the effect of gossip is to cause division among people who were once dear to one another. To gossip is also to destroy another woman’s reputation. Proverbs states that a person’s reputation is very important: “A good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) So to be a part of destroying someone’s good name then is a serious matter. It is akin to murder. Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue has the power of life and death and that those who love it shall eat it’s fruit.” To use our tongue to slander others is to murder them. It creates the destruction of lives and relationships. The word malicious means “having or showing the desire to cause harm to another person.” If we are women who are worthy of respect we will be by the grace of God trying to live out the two great commands of loving God and loving others. We cannot love others with a tongue fueled by hate and set on fire by hell (James 3:6).

What does it mean to be a woman who is temperate? The Greek word for temperate used here translates to “sober minded, circumspect.” To be circumspect means to carefully consider all circumstances and possible consequences. The business of the church often calls for discreetness. The elders and deacons are privy to many private matters which occur in people’s lives. I am sure they share many of these matters with their wives. Knowing such private information about people requires that women be able to be discreet. It requires them to have wisdom which involves knowing the right thing to do in the right situation. It is also about knowing what not to do in certain circumstances. Wisdom is forward thinking. It thinks ahead to what the consequences for an action or a word will be and weighs that consequence. Thus a woman who is sober will be a woman who gives thought to her ways and particularly to how her actions may affect her husband and the church. Positions of leadership require this ability of circumspection. The foolish actions of a woman can cost both her husband and the church a great deal.

800px-Whisper_(7707045544)

What does it mean to be a woman who is trustworthy? The Greek word here is “pistos.” It means to be sure, to be true. Some translations say “faithful in all things.” There are many days in my cynicism where I am not sure any trustworthy women can be found. People in general are good at presenting fronts, but women in particular have honed this into an art. I have a name for this, I call it the “smiling assassin.” Women can smile to your face, speak pleasantly and seem genuinely concerned about you. However, as soon as you are out of earshot they are speaking about you in the most critical manner, assassinating your character. The only person we are lying to is ourselves when we act this way as women. The truth of the matter is that we are little more than hypocrites and liars when we act as if we love someone to their face when in fact we hate them in our hearts. Do we really believe God is fooled? Jeremiah in his prayer in Jeremiah 20:12 describes God as “the Almighty, You who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind.” God is never fooled by our hypocrisy and eventually and usually unwittingly we give ourselves away by word or action. Those moments when I’ve been with another woman and they’ve just revealed themselves to me is never pleasant. However I will say it is helpful for me when women play their hand, and they always do. I’ve told my husband many times “I really have to stop having lunch with my enemies.” But it’s dang tough sometimes to know who your enemies are until they play their Ace of Hearts. It is impossible to trust any such woman who acts like this. A woman who is trustworthy is someone who truly loves God and shows her love for Him by her genuine love for people. She is someone you know has your best interest at heart and she is able to keep a confidence. If I were to devise a single test to determine the trustworthiness of a woman it would be this: can she keep a confidence. That test alone would leave a heck of a whole lot of women in the dust, because it requires self-restraint of the tongue.

One can see why these characteristics, being worthy of respect, not given to slander, temperate and trustworthy would be very important as the wife of a leader in the church. Women who think they are submissive to their husbands often show that they truly are not by engaging in the types of relational aggression previously discussed. They may “behave” while around their husbands, but if they are engaging in behaviors which cut down and destroy other women, they are undermining the leadership of the church just as much as any man. Men, including leaders of the church, walk around impervious to this kind of aggression which is going on. I have seen it happen right in front of male leaders and they are completely oblivious to what is unfolding in front of them. I am not sure what it is going to take to get male leadership in the church to both understand and take seriously the aggressive behavior of women. There have been several stories which have made national news of female teens who have committed suicide due to the bullying of female peers. Is it going to take this kind of tragedy for the church to wake up? If we have a zero tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace and the schools, should we tolerate bullying in the church? Should we tolerate a climate of rudeness, disrespect and incivility? If we have had to wise up to violence in the workplace and in the schools, should we not wise up to it in the church? One of the ways we need to “wise up” in the church is understanding and dealing effectively with the hidden aggression of women. Men need to be courageous and man enough to stand up to women and deal with their poor behavior, even if it is their own wives. Anyone who has seen Shakespeare’s play Othello knows the devastating effect one unrestrained liar can have.In the same way, one unrestrained sinful woman can bring down an entire church. If there is one thing the last five years has taught me it is that the Christian life is serious business and so is the leading of the church. Male leaders need to “wise up” and take the behavior of women seriously and deal with it just as soberly as they do men. When we treat the wound of sin lightly we make the church a dangerous place for all.

Feature Box Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo Credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: By Tiago Lima from Lisboa, Portugal (WhisperUploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mitigation of Justice: The Jodi Arias Trial

Mitigate: Make less severe, serious or painful

Justice:  The administration of the Law; especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.

Before I had children, I have to admit that it was easy for me to judge other parents. I would roll my eyes sometimes at parents whose kids were throwing tantrums in a store. I would think “cant they do a better job at controlling their children?” Then I had kids of my own and understand what it is like to be held hostage by a child throwing a fit in a store. The public meltdown is humiliating and you feel very helpless. The truth is you can’t “control” children. They are their own independent persons with a will of their own, a will that exerts itself against the very people who love them.

In the same way I can’t exactly understand what it is like to be called to be a juror of a murder case where the death penalty is a possible option. I know the jurors in the Jodi Arias case went through much. I know it had arias2to be agonizing to sit through all the testimony and then ultimately be handed the decision of her fate. Yet even though I commiserate that it is not an easy job, just like parenting isn’t an easy job, I still expect a parent with an out of control child to execute some kind of disciplinary measure to reign the child in. In the same way, I expected the Jodi Arias jury to execute a disciplinary measure towards Jodi Arias commensurate with her crime. The fact that the jury could not ultimately make a decision was excruciatingly painful. The whole point of their job was to “administer justice.” That is what they were called to do, no matter how painful it was. I understand that nobody asks to be a juror. At the same time, nobody volunteers to be a victim of a crime either. So just because a decision is hard, and you are forced to hear difficult things about the ultimate break down in social relations, does not mean a decision should not be made. I cannot but help to express my disappointment with the jury’s failure to do it’s job.

The law in Arizona allows a new jury to be formed for the penalty phase if a mistrial occurs, which it did in this case since the jurors deadlocked. A new jury, if an unprejudiced one can even be found, will only hear a fraction of the testimony this jury did, and then be forced to decide the “penalty phase.” If this jury couldn’t decide after hearing months of testimony, how is another jury going to feel confident deciding with less testimony. In essence by deadlocking, this jury is making it even less possible that a just decision can be made. If they don’t feel comfortable making that decision, do they feel comfortable handing the decision over to people who have less information? Do they feel justice will be better served that way?

By refusing to come to a unanimous decision, the jury played Pontius Pilate. They convicted Arias of first degree premeditated murder. They also agreed that the murder was especially cruel. Yet they couldn’t decide what punishment to give her. What they really decided is that they “wash their hands of the whole thing.” Pilate didn’t want Christ’s blood on his hands because he found him innocent. Four members of this jury didn’t have the guts to “have blood on their hands” by handing down a just punishment to Jodi Arias for a heinous crime they agreed she committed. Their decision was extremely disappointing. Did they not understand that handing down a punishment WAS their job from the beginning?

For those not aware of the case let me describe the crime. Jodi Arias, a woman in her twenties met and began dating a young man named Travis Alexander in February of 2007. Jodi did all that she could to hang onto Alexander, which included events as disparate as being baptized into the Mormon faith and engaging in wild sex. Despite her desires, the relationship did not work out and they broke up in June of 2007. After the break up Arias moved to Mesa Arizona where Alexander lived. Alexander communicated his fear of  Arias to friends. In April of 2008 Arias finally left Mesa and moved in with her grandparents in California which is where she was from. Alexander told friends he was relieved. However Arias wasn’t finished with him yet. On June 2nd she rented a car and drove to Mesa. She showed up at Alexander’s house. The two engaged in sex. Afterwords Alexander took a shower. Jodi had been taking photographs with her camera. At this point she claims Alexander attacked her because she dropped the camera and she then killed him in self-defense.

She attacked Alexander while he was naked, cornered and defenseless in the shower. In “self-defense” she stabbed him at least 27 times, slit his throat from ear to ear, and then shot him in the head with the same caliber of gun that had been stolen recently from her grandparents home. She put the digital camera in the washing machine. She returned the rental car after cleaning it. She then proceeded to a new “love interests” home where she engaged in kissing him. Her initial story was that it was a break in and that Alexander was killed by intruders while she fled. Then when she knew she was cornered by the evidence later recovered from the digital camera, she changed her story to Travis “abused her” and she was reacting in self-defense. Murdered on June 4th, Alexander’s body was discovered by friends from work on June 9th. In their 9-1-1 call made after the discovery of his body, they mentioned to police that Alexander had a girlfriend whom he complained was “stalking him, accessing his Facebook page, and who had slashed his tires.” Alexander was survived by seven siblings and his grandmother who raised him. His parents were both deceased. His grandmother would die before his case would come to trial.

Five years later the trial eventually commenced. At great hardship to them, two sisters and a brother of Alexander were at the trial every day. At the end of the trial one sister and a brother read “victim impact statements.” This is allowed by Arizona law. In very moving statements they described how the crime had impacted them personally.Alexander’s sister wept openly as she read her statement. Arias on the other hand, never showed any true remorse for her crime and lied repeatedly to the jury over and over, trying to and succeeding in manipulating them time and again. Prosecuting attorney Juan Martinez did an excellent job of juan-martinezprosecuting the case. DESPITE ALL THIS, the jury STILL COULD NOT DECIDE HER PUNISHMENT.

Let’s look at the “mitigating factors” in this case. The jury is instructed to consider these factors during the penalty phase. To mitigate means “to make less severe, serious or painful.” These were as follows: age, no prior criminal history, she was a “good friend”, she lacked support from family, she suffered abuse and neglect as a child, she tried to make the best of her life, she tried to improve herself, she is a talented artist. Let’s take these one by one.

  1. Age: Should Arias not get the death penalty for a brutal crime it was proven she committed because she was young? To me age does not make the crime “less severe.” If anything, it should be considered a strike against you that you could commit such a heinous crime at such a young age. If she is that hardened by age 28, she hasn’t been a practicing saint for some time.
  2. No prior criminal history: What we SHOULD say here is NO PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY ON RECORD. It was clear from the stalking and the slashing of tires and the inherent threat in such activity, not to mention the robbery at her grandparent’s house where she stole the gun she used to kill Alexander that “prior criminal history” did exist.
  3. The was a good friend: Prosecutor Juan Martinez covered this one. A friend, he noted is one whom you have a trusting, reciprocal relationship with. Since Arias proved herself to be a pathological liar, could she really have been a true friend to anyone?
  4. She lacked support from family: Many people lack support from their families. Should we use this to cut them a break in committing a heinous crime? There are legitimate means of finding support as opposed to killing an ex-boyfriend who you feel “owes you” support. We are all required to find legitimate legal ways of meeting our needs. That is a part of growing up and doesn’t excuse us when we don’t.
  5. She suffered abuse and neglect as a child: Interesting that they did not put “she suffered abuse” from Alexander as a mitigating factor. Again, many children suffer abuse and neglect as children and have to overcome that hardship. Of any of the mitigating factors, this is probably the only one that has any substance. In terms of the crime, the only way abuse should have been a mitigating factor for the crime was if Alexander abused her. A previous girlfriend of Alexander’s testified under oath that he was never abusive toward her. I think abuse could be a mitigating factor, if it were true. Since Arias is a pathological liar, can anything she says be believed? Was there enough tangible proof there that Alexander was abusive? Abuse by our family of origin does not justify not giving the death penalty for a heinous crime.
  6. She tried to make the best of her life: If you call trespassing, harassment, stalking, vandalism, lying, stealing, and murder “trying to make the best of your life” then I guess it’s a mitigating factor.
  7.  She tried to improve herself: What evidence do we see that she was trying to improve herself? The only thing she tried to improve was her “image.” In her media interviews she was very concerned about her looks. She wanted to powder her nose and make sure her make-up was just right. She knows one thing about America, “we like things to look good.” I notice she was not a blonde bombshell in court. For court she dyed her hair mousy brown, wore glasses and demure clothes. She was going for sympathy. Arias knows how play on the emotions. She is a master at it.
  8.  She is a talented artist: I really appreciated the “survivor” t-shirt she displayed in court. It gives me great joy to know that if we give her life in prison she will continue to make these “survivor” shirts for victims of domestic violence, after all that is what she is. I have to agree that she is a talented artist. She is a talented CON ARTIST. Even while standing convicted of especially cruel first degree premeditated murder she has the audacity to play the victim card in front of the Alexander family and the whole court. I don’t know how defense attorney’s sleep at night when they defend such humanity.

I think it is striking that no one, not even her mother or father, got up to say anything to the jury about why Jodi should get life and not the death penalty. That is pretty rare. Yet even that can be a sympathy factor for some jurors. “This poor girl, not even her family is defending her!” I really wish they had called in Robert Hare, who is an expert in Sociopathy. He wrote a book called “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. In his book he talked about the main weapon Sociopath’s use to get what they want: SYMPATHY. Ironically sociopaths themselves show a marked lack of empathy. They do not truly “connect with other people.” They show no respect for their boundaries. They don’t care about others. People are merely things for them to exploit to get what they want.

Maybe if the jury could realize that about Arias, they wouldn’t make the mistake of regarding Arias as “a person like themselves” and shown empathy for her. Several of the jurors, including the jury foreman, expressed arias3difficulty seeing her as a murderer. She just didn’t “look like one.” She was too demure, to soft spoken, too mousy.” I think they even felt sorry for her when she cried on the stand when Prosecutor Juan Martinez grilled her “Were you crying when you stabbed Travis Alexander over twenty times.” Poor, poor Jodi. He is SUCH a mean, aggressive prosecutor. How dare he make her cry on the stand? Do they understand that for a sociopath crying is just a performance like everything else? In a sense their whole life is a performance, and the rest of the world are just their pawns in a grand game of manipulation.

At the end of the day some of the jurors got sucked in to the sympathy card Jodi Arias plays so well. That and probably unrecognized prejudices about putting women to death, especially attractive, articulate, pretty women. How can we put such a delicate petal as her under such a harsh penalty? One of the jurors said, “Well she still get’s death,” meaning life in prison is as good as death. But life in prison is not as good as death. Not to the Alexander family and not to anyone who is concerned about justice, such as me. I am truly baffled at this jury’s inability to make this decision. I am not only baffled, I am acutely disappointed. Are we really, truly confused about what type of crime should incur the death penalty? If an exceedingly cruel premeditated first degree murder does not deserve this penalty, what does?

One of the jurors’ implied that “the system worked.” Yes, maybe the system did “work”, and maybe that salves their conscience, but the system is imperfect. The bottom line is that this jury failed to complete their job. Yes I have sympathy that it was a hard job, it was brutal and emotionally taxing. I agree it was a difficult decision, but we were relying on them to make it and they let us down. What they did is essentially elegate a difficult decision to someone else. They did not execute justice, they obscured it.

A jury member reading this might say, “Easy for you to say. You weren’t there.You weren’t on the jury. You don’t REALLY know what it was like.” I have to admit that is true. However I would say to that, that I do know what it is like to be a victim of a crime by a woman sociopath who has never been brought to justice. Like Arias, she too does criminal activity without getting caught because she hides behind a facade. This jury’s decision makes me very sad, because it makes me feel I too would never be able to get true justice even if I could get a trial and present the evidence. Most of all I am sad for the Alexanders who not only received no justice, they have lost their beloved brother forever. Some of these jurors obviously could not live with themselves by putting someone to death. I hope they can live with themselves knowing they mitigated justice away.  

People Of The Lie: A Critical Analysis

“The only question of ultimate significance is whether the individual soul will be

won to God or won to the devil.”  – M. Scott Peck

Cover of the book People of the LiePeople of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil  is a dangerous book, so says author M. Scott Peck. Its contents “have the potential to harm, to cause pain, and the misuse of its information may harm others.” In offering a critical analysis I hope I will indeed handle the content of his book with care. Peck declares that “Jesus Christ is Lord and that his commitment to Christianity is the most important thing in his life and is, he hopes, pervasive and total.” Though he and I are in agreement about this commitment, I am not in agreement with all his viewpoints in the book.

Attempts to define evil will always be somewhat elusive at best, because it seems to evolve. Yet because it is ancient, and because all God’s created beings act with a certain degree of order, I think there are things we can say about evil with certainty. Peck identifies the first of these: Evil people are people of the lie. Thus the title of the book. What does he mean? He writes in his book of various encounters he has had with what he believes are evil people. Some are clients. Some are parent’s of clients. Some are exorcism’s that he has witnessed. Though he admits that very few evil people are willing to submit to psychotherapy, he writes of at least one evil woman he worked with at length. In his various encounters with evil people, one thing that often results is confusion. Why? Because lies confuse. And as he says so well, “evil people are people of the lie, deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception. He talks about if a therapist finds himself confused by a patient, one of the questions he needs do ask is “is the patient doing something to confuse me?”

I think Peck is very on the mark to call evil people, “people of the lie.” The devil is described as the Father of lies.

The nature of his activities are clarified: he comes to steal, kill and destroy, just like the proverbial fox in the hen house. Only the fox kills to sustain his life. Evil doesn’t kill of necessity. It kills out of many motives such as wrath, pride, vengeance, cruelty, malice, envy, or even pleasure, but it does not kill out of necessity.

If an individual soul is not won to God, by default he is won to the devil. So I think we can say with certainty that evil people will be liars, and their behavior will also exhibit the nature of stealing, killing and destroying. C. S. Lewis once remarked that “deceit is habit forming.”

Proverbs chapter six includes a list of seven things that are abominations to God and one of the seven is a lying tongue. People often think about the fact that lying to each other is wrong, but they rarely think about the fact that lying to themselves about their own behavior is equally wrong. God hates lying because it by very nature destroys community. You cannot at once love your neighbor while simultaneously deceiving him. In dealing with an evil person one is almost always at a disadvantage. When people set out to deceive you, as liars do, you are already behind the curve. It may take you months or even years to come out from under the deception to understand what you are dealing with. Such is the power of a lie.

Peck describes this well. He says “The feeling a healthy person often experiences in a relationship with an evil one is revulsion. The feeling of revulsion may be almost instant if the evil encountered is blatant. If the evil is more subtle, the revulsion may develop only gradually as the relationship with the evil one slowly deepens.” Revulsion, he notes, is a “powerful emotion that causes us to immediately want to avoid, to escape the revolting presence. And that is exactly the most appropriate thing for a healthy person to do under ordinary circumstances when confronted with an evil presence: to get away from it. Evil is revolting because it is dangerous. It will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence. Unless you know very well what you are doing, the best thing you can do when faced with an evil is to run the other way. The revulsion counter transference is an instinctive or, if you will, God-given and saving early-warning radar system.”

I don’t know if I would call it “counter transference” or just God-given “intuition” that gives us warning that is beyond reason. The most evil person I have ever known has been a woman. What makes her the most evil person I have ever known is that she is evil that disguises herself behind good.

2 Corninthians 11:13 says “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their means.”

She is the only person I have ever known where I felt the revulsion Peck describes. The revulsion developed slowly the more I came to know her. It reached the point though where I was extremely uncomfortable whenever I was in her presence. When I am in her presence I can “sense” it even if I cannot visually see her. That is very eerie.

If the first characteristic of an evil person is that they are a liar, not only to others but also to themselves, then the second characteristic is that they are murderers.

I John 3:15 says that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” The scripture describes Satan as a murderer and says he has been a “murderer from the beginning.” Peck says, “Evil is in opposition to life. It is that which opposes the life force. It has in short to do with killing. Specifically, it has to do with murder – namely unnecessary killing. Killing that is not required for biological survival.”

We see that murder entered the world very quickly after the fall of Adam and Eve. Cain murdered his brother because he was of the evil one and because his brother’s actions were righteous. He murdered him out of wrath and envy. He cared not that he was his brother. He cared only for himself. Evil people not only commit physical murder they also try to kill the spirit, in fact this may be an even greater pleasure for the evil one. “Let’s let him live, but destroy his soul.”

One of the ways evil kills the spirit is by oppressively controlling and using another human being. By very definition evil is parasitic. It feeds off the life force of others and saps them of vitality. Peck notes: “it wants to quell independence, to discourage people’s capacity to think for themselves, to diminish originality, and to keep people in line.” In this way people’s very lives are stripped from them. This is murder.

Evil by very nature is a thief. No one likes to be ripped off. We feel very angry when we are cheated. We feel particularly devastated when the product we have been sold is a “person” and that person turns out to be deceiving us as to who they really are. That is one of the most bitter experiences on the planet.

Since evil people are very adept at making the victims of their evil look like the perpetrators, one is doubly punished. Not only has one been sold a lie, but then the liar turns around and makes you look like the bad guy.

That is the silencing effect of evil. Abuse is about silencing. So evil is not only a thief in personage, but evil also rips you off of individual goods. The most severe thing it can rip off from you is your life, as we have talked about in the above paragraph. It can rip you off of love, of passion, of a good reputation. It can rip you off of money, possessions and property. It can rip you off of vitality, truth, life. It can rip you off of your very soul, and this is its most deadly aim of all.

Peck is right when he says that the only question of ultimate significance is whether a soul is won to God or the devil. One can only be won to God by the truth. The devil tries to come and “steal” the truth from an individual who hears it, thus prohibiting him from finding Christ who is the “way, the truth and the life.” These purposes are the polar opposites of the purposes evil.

Peck makes some other distinguishing comments about evil people. He notes that evil people cannot necessarily be defined by the illegality of their deeds, nor even the magnitude of their sins. For example there may be a person in prison who has committed a crime. Their act was evil. Perhaps it was even a very great evil act.

For example, let’s say a mother has murdered the drunk driver who killed her son. Her act is evil, but she herself may not be an evil person. Peck makes the point that evil people are defined by the consistency of their sins. He says, “their destructiveness is remarkable consistent.. This is because those who have ‘crossed over the line’ are characterized by the absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness.” Not only that but as Peck also notes, evil people also exhibit extraordinary willfulness. This definitely rings true of my experience with evil people.

He says, “They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. There is remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others.” They exhibit a “malignant narcissism” in which they and they alone count in the universe. Moral choice involves consideration of others. For the evil person, there is no choice. They simply exert their will. They want what they want, and it doesn’t matter the cost to others to get it. Others are merely extensions of their ego. They feel themselves to be “above the law.”They are entitled to have what they want.

King Ahab, one of the most notoriously wicked kings in the Bible, sulked because he could not have a man’s property. His wife, who was just as renowned for evil as he was, said, and I paraphrase: “Don’t sulk darling. I will just arrange to have the man murdered.” Problem solved.

Despite the fact that evil people display a malignant narcissism, the kind which we often display as infants, I am not sure if I would call evil a kind of immaturity as Peck does. If evil people are immature almost gives them an excuse for their behavior.

We often excuse children for what they do because “they do not know any better.” (Folly is bound up in the heart of a child). Children need to be trained. They need to be taught to make good moral choices. Yet even children who are taught right from wrong, can choose to be evil. Their choice is not out of immaturity, out of willfulness. They have become vengefully uncaring of anyone other than self. I see evil less as immaturity and more as sloth.

Evil people know the right course. They do not want to make the effort to be good. That takes too much work. They only want to “look good.” As Peck says, “They lack the motivation to be good. It’s even more serious than that. In a certain sense all people apart from God are bound over to sin and can only sin. Yet evil people have given into sin and do it habitually. However some evil people intensely desire to “appear good.” They are cognizant of social norms.

Thus it is that C.S. Lewis once said, “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” To be evil is to be by definition morally lazy and to be a coward. It must be noted however, that not all evil people care about their reputation. Some don’t give a rip that they are evil and even enjoy the reputation of being so.

As Peck points out, evil people are common. Not only are they common, but their evil actions are subtle.

This is a point I feel most people seem to be ignorant of. The average person thinks the evil people are in jail, and that the cops are chasing down the others who are yet to be put behind bars. Yet there are many, many evil people who exist who are not in jail. Many who have committed crimes and are so good at deceit, lies and manipulation that they have not been caught. This could be the little old lady down the street, the grocery store clerk, your business partner, the choir member, or your pizza delivery guy.

In 2007, Michael Devlin, who was an Imo’s Pizza manager, was arrested for the kidnapping and sexual abuse of two boys. He had held one of the boys hostage for four years. He lived in an apartment in a sought after suburb. He didn’t even try to hide his victim. He allowed the child to ride his bike in the apartment parking lot.

Most people seem “shocked” at these kinds of events, which tells me that they perceive evil as something that is far removed from them. Evil is not far removed. Evil is around us all the time and it is subtle, very subtle, in addition to being very disturbing and extremely dangerous. To not understand this truth is to be naïve. In kids videos, evil people always “look” evil. They dress in black and look menacing. In this world, evil people can be some of the most physically beautiful people you will ever meet, with impeccable manners. Why else have some of our poets described the devil as “a Gentleman?”

Let’s look now at what Peck describes as the “thesis” of his book. Peck, since he is a psychiatrist, is partly writing the book out of what he sees as a need for evil to be “studied.” He states clearly that the thesis of his book is: “That evil can be defined as a specific form of mental illness and should be subject to at least the same intensity of scientific investigation that we would devote to some other psychiatric disease.”

A part of the reason he feels that evil need to be “studied” is so that evil can be “healed.” He states: “The attempt to heal the evil should not be lightly undertaken. It must be done from a position of remarkable psychological and spiritual strength.”

He gives three reasons why he believes people struggle with the idea of evil as a mental illness.

First, we think of illness as suffering, and evil people often don’t seem to suffering. They in fact think that there is nothing wrong with them. Yet Peck points out, the absence of our knowing we are diseased, does not in fact mean that we are not. For example, we may have the condition of heart disease many years before we actually experience the symptoms of heart disease.

Second, we struggle to see evil as a mental illness because to us someone who is ill must be a victim. He says, “We tend to think of illness as something that befalls us, a circumstance over which we have not control…..a curse in the creation we did not anticipate.” He makes the point however that we often have an active hand in bringing on disease, such as the alcoholic who eventually succumbs to cirrhosis of the liver.” His point is that although they have a certain degree of responsibility for bringing on their illness, we still consider them ill.

The final argument against labeling evil an illness is “the belief that evil is a seemingly untreatable condition. Why designate as a disease a condition for which there is neither known treatment nor cure?” Peck says, “The fact that we currently do not know how to treat evil in the human individual is the best reason to designate it a disease. For the label of disease implies that the disorder is not inevitable, that healing should be possible, that it should be studied scientifically and methods of treatment should be sought. It is, he states, “the central proposition of this book that evil can and should be subjected to scientific scrutiny. We can and should move form our present state of ignorance and helplessness toward a true psychology of evil.” Peck says that “The designation of evil as a disease also obligates us to approach evil with compassion.”

To be blunt, I cannot agree with the very thesis of Peck’s book. First and foremost I do not believe that evil is a disease. Secondly, though I think certain truths can be said about evil, many of which I talked about above, comprehensively I don’t think evil can ever be fully “defined.” Finally, I do not think evil can be “cured” by psychotherapy.Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Although evil has some similarities to disease, it is not a disease. It can be similar to a disease in that when evil people practice and give in to evil, it corrupts that whole person. It is also “disease like” in that it is harmful and can destroy not only the host but others (disease spreads). Like a disease, the destructive nature of the person’s evil may not be transparent for a long time. Though he acknowledges that men can live in such a way as to bring on a disease in their body, I think too many times the “disease model” makes men think they are not responsible for their choices. “I can’t help that I am an alcoholic. It’s a disease.” Similarly one could say, “I can’t help it that I only think of myself, I have narcissistic personality disorder.” Too often men use the disease model to excuse themselves.

Since the advent of psychology, moral categories have gone out of vogue. We no longer talk about sin. We talk about “Borderline Personality disorder.” I for one get very sick and tired of hearing about “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Just once I would like someone to have the courage to say “what they did was evil.” Never have we looked so intensely into ourselves and yet seen ourselves with less clarity. Peck defines illness as “Any defect in the structure of our bodies or personalities that prevents us from fulfilling our potential as human beings.”

Evil is much more than a deformation of personality. Evil is much more than something that prevents us from fulfilling our potential as human beings. Evil is persistent, pernicious sinning. To sin is to violate God’s moral law. It is direct rebellion against one’s Creator. Sin destroys a man at his core. Sin also separates a man from God and from his fellow man.

Secondly, I don’t think evil can be “studied” like a scientific endeavor. This is not to say that certain things cannot be said definitively about evil. Yet evil manifests itself in so many ways and forms how could one ever define them all? Peck felt evil should be studied so that we could understand it and then humanely treat it. He says, “I do not think that we shall come any closer than we are today to understanding and, I hope, curing human evil until that healing professions name evil as an illness within the domain of their professional responsibility.”

I am not quite sure how Peck can reconcile this statement with the one he made earlier about “Jesus Christ is his Lord and that his commitment to Christianity is the most important thing in his life and is, he hopes, pervasive and total.” Nothing could be more antithetical to Christianity than to say evil is an illness that can be healed by psychotherapy. To think the healing of evil is within the reach and scope of man is not only arrogant and foolhardy, but nullifies the very need for a Savior. Why should Christ have to die on a cross if we had within our grasp the hope of healing ourselves of our own evil? The only hope now or ever for the healing of evil is the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The apostle Paul makes clear in the book of Ephesians that men without the spirit of God are dead men. Men only have the life changing, transforming power of the spirit if they have place their faith in Christ. Only God’s spirit can radically transform dead men to life again. Until a man is changed by the transforming power of God he is bound over to sin. Even if an evil person would submit themselves to therapy, which even Peck admits they rarely do, it would be futile to discuss their evil behavior with them.

Evil can only be curbed and contained and this with great force and consequence. This is why we have police officers surround a murderer with guns, handcuff him and then put him in a jail. This is why the angel grabbed Lot by the scruff of the neck and pulled him back inside. Lot was standing outside the door of his house trying to reason with the men of Sodom who were insisting on raping the visitors he had at his house. Evil people, by definition, are not reasonable. As was stated earlier, not every person in a jail cell has given themselves fully to evil, though every person in a jail cell has done an evil act.

Chuck Colson works with the prison population because he believes they can be redeemed. But the redemption he offers those in Prison Fellowship is the same redemption he discovered himself: the redemption of the cross. He even tells a story of visiting a jail where he asked the warden how many of the prisoners were “mental cases.” She replied, “all of them.”

He was appalled by this reply. Then he relates this story: All the prisoners were treated with “therapy.” “Therapy” for one of the prisoners included being escorted by a female guard to see a movie. On the way to “therapy”, he overpowered the guard, raped her, then murdered her. One only needs to hear this story to know the power to cure evil is, and has always been, only by the grace of God. Man’s only hope is to bow in humility before his creator and acknowledge there is nothing that can be done to cure his condition but to accept Christ’s death on the cross as payment for his sin. If Peck wants to work with an evil person in therapy, his work must begin there.

The Long, Slow, Agonizing Path to Justice

 This post is dedicated to all the victims of Jerry Sandusky and their families. My thoughts, compassion, mercy and prayers are with you.

Those who have never experienced a serious injustice cannot comprehend what is like to be a victim waiting for justice to come about. Probably there is no greater frustration than to be a victim whose hands are tied.

One who has to sit back and watch as more people are victimized by an evil person who is hidden behind a facade of good. It is maddening. It is agonizing. Not only does the victim experience the helplessness of being victimized in the first place by this more powerful evil person, but then they experience the helplessness of being unable to bring the evil person to justice because of the overwhelming odds of being believed. I understand that situation in its entirety. I have lived it and am living it. The persons who victimized me have yet to be brought to justice. Thankfully in the case of sexual predator and serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky enough victims were able to unite against him and an investigation was launched which led to him being arrested and charged.

Sandusky was a former Penn State football player who began his coaching career at the University in 1969. As one of the victims was quoted as saying, “Sandusky was known to everyone as this pillar in the community, this outstanding, wonderful, friendly man.” In addition to having a long successful career there, Sandusky also founded a nonprofit in 1977 called “Second Mile” which was dedicated to “helping troubled boys.”

As is clear now, Sandusky used this organization as a means of gaining access to his victims and “grooming them.” Sandusky’s “alleged” crimes date back at least 15 years. In addition to his crime, bystanders at the University who either saw, or knew about his evil actions, stood by and did nothing. The University police investigated a report that Sandusky showered with a boy in 1998. The case was closed and no charges were filed. In 2000, a janitor sees Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy. He tells a co-worker, but no report is made. In 2002, Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach, sees Sandusky performing anal sex on a boy about 10 years old. He stops Sandusky and then tells head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno alerts the athletic director of Penn State Tim Curley and the senior vice president of finance, Gary Schultz. Sandusky’s keys to the locker room were taken away, but no police report was filed. Finally in 2008, a parent of “victim 1” calls her son’s school, which alert authorities and an investigation is launched. In addition to resulting in Sandusky’s arrest, Penn State’s president, athletic director and senior vice president all step down; the latter two were arrested for perjury and failing to report a crime. Head coach Paterno was also fired after a long and distinguished career.

People of course are expressing shock. How could this happen they ask? I am not sure why we are so surprised at these events, considering the recent scandal and the scope and magnitude of the clergy abuse of young boys in the Catholic church.

Evil will always hide behind good whenever it can. We should never be shocked by that. That is the most pragmatic guise for its efforts. What is more shocking is that people knew for years about Sandusky and did nothing. Do we really believe that we can be a bystander of a crime and bear no responsibility for bringing that to justice? Each person involved in this case seemed to feel as long as they told their superior they had ‘done their duty’ and were off the hook. Was it really unclear to them that this was child abuse and that is a criminal offense? How did they go to bed at night knowing they were employing a man who was raping young boys? How does one live with oneself knowing that by not turning this guy in he further victimized countless children and ruined their lives? By their silence the bystanders came pretty close to being near accomplices. I feel incredible sadness for all the victims, but also incredible sadness that some of those might have been spared the victimization if just one person had the courage to do the right thing. I also understand what the parents were up against in trying to get people to listen and believe them in their complaints about the “revered football coach.”

No doubt Sandusky “needs help”, and I guess there are those out there with hearts big enough to work with such people. As for me, I have absolutely no compassion for Abusers of any type. This is not to say that I am a perfect person, or consider myself not to share the same category of “sinner” as abusers do. We are all sinners, and all do abusive things at time. By that I mean “little a” abusive. We are all capable of yelling at our kids, or speaking unkindly, or being rough in manner. We also are all capable of “big A” abuse as well, but thankfully most people do not engage in such atrocity. Some would disagree with me that “we are all capable” of that kind of evil. Yet I believe the depth of depravity of the human heart is such that I better consider my heart “capable” of anything in order to fight the evil in it effectively.

When you know the absolutely devastating affect abuse has in a person’s life, it is very difficult to have much sympathy for such evil people. I think of all the children that man lured to himself through his non-profit organization. These were children who trusted and looked up to him and thought that he was being kind to them because he was a good man. He used this very kindness to draw them to himself and then horrifically abuse them. It’s hard not to hate a man like that.

I hope that one lesson that will be learned from this is that if you know of someone who is being abused and you are a witness to that,either directly or indirectly, that you will have the courage to step forward. My prayer is that you will be an advocate for the victim, and that you will stand against evil by reporting the perpetrator.

Child abuse is against the law, and child abuse must be reported. Domestic and elder abuse is also against the law and must be reported. This is a non-negotiable. If a person tells you they are being abused, believe them, especially if it is a child. Don’t discredit their report because they are a child. Investigate the matter fully. It is the basic duty of every human being to stand for justice. We are to speak up for those who are poor, or oppressed, or do not ‘have a voice.’ Children cannot advocate for themselves in terms of abuse. They need others to believe them and stand up for them.

I just want to say that I am glad that Sandusky has been apprehended and that no more children can be abused by him. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families. Will there be justice for these victims? Sandusky being sent to prison for life or even given the death sentence would not even begin to be justice when one considers that he ravaged the beauty of an eternal soul. Yet it is a start. For the victims Sandusky’s path to justice has been long, slow and agonizing. Now that his path has begun, I pray that their path to healing and peace may too.

Get Low: A Look at Sin, Regret and Forgiveness

*Note: If you haven’t seen the movie and you want to, this post reveals the ending.

Anyone who tells you they have no regrets is a liar.

Anyone who says they are not lying about having no regrets, is a liar.

It’s impossible to live without regret. Those who think it is possible deceive themselves.The Mugshot in the movie Get Low

In the movie “Get Low”, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, the themes of sin, regret and forgiveness are explored. When I picked up the DVD, the movie intrigued me because it was about a man, Felix Bush (Duvall’s character) who had lived as a hermit for forty years who wants to throw himself a “funeral party.” The idea is that he is a man about whom many stories have been told, most of them disreputable. He wants to invite people from all four local counties to “come and tell their stories” about him.

Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray’s character), who is the director of a local funeral home. Murray is a bit down and out because nobody in the town seems to want to die, so business is slow. When his assistant hears this reclusive old grouse wants to spend his cash on this party, Murray jumps on it. So the mug shot of the recluse is taken and the invitations sent out.

Felix Bush talks to his preacher friend in the movie Get LowMeanwhile the hermit goes to visit an elderly African American pastor. He wants him to come to the funeral party so he can tell the man’s true story, because the pastor is the only one he has confessed it to. The pastor at first refuses, but then he relents and comes. The big day arrives and the whole town has converged at the “funeral party.” Instead of telling their stories about him, the man tells his own story and sets the record straight about his life.

It turns out that for forty years Felix has been living in self-imposed isolation as “penance” for his sin, which he now confesses to. Forty years earlier he had been having an affair with a married woman. One night he went to see her and when she answered the door she was covered in blood. Her husband had been beating her. Felix went in to the house to intervene. A fight ensued. The husband sets fire to the house. Felix attempts to get the woman he loves out, but he is not able to save her. He is not even sure how he himself gets out.

Felix had also dated the sister of the woman he was having an affair with. She did not know about the affair all these years, and being in the crowd she learns for the first time how her sister died. The crowd listens in stunned silence and leaves quietly at the end. Now they know the real story behind this mysterious figure about whom so much has been told.

The movie rather poignantly portrays several things about sin. First it exemplifies the weight of guilt people carry for the sins they commit. Even if no one knows, they know somewhere deep in their hearts the wrongs they have committed and they carry this weight like a pack on their back. It also showed that the consequences of sin affect many people. Sin is like throwing a stone in a pond. The ripples move out in concentric circles. Yet even those who are farthest from the center are still impacted.

The whole town, to some degree, was affected by Felix’s sin. He was so “notorious” that many stories had spread about him, some of which were untrue. The movie illustrates that sin and its effects are like a prison. In Proverbs 5:22 It states: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Felix’s self-imprisonment was a physical illustration of what was already a spiritual reality. The irony of sin is that it seems like freedom and instead is a prison. Another facet of sin that it exemplifies is that sin leads to alienation. Sin alienates us from others and even from ourselves. In the movie the man’s affair was an attempt to escape his isolation, but the sin brought further alienation for him and death for her.

Interestingly Felix Bush is not interested in receiving forgiveness. He says “People say I need to ask Jesus for forgiveness, but I ain’t never done nothin’ to Him.” He Felix Bush gets ready for a time of confession in the movie Get Lowfeels that he has “done his penance” by choosing to live in self-imposed isolation to atone for his sins. The preacher tells him, “You know it isn’t enough.” There is no remedy for guilt other than forgiveness and there is no true forgiveness found in penance. The only true forgiveness to be found is by believing that Christ died for your sins and accepting his death as payment for yours.

This is a position of humility because it recognizes that there is nothing one can do to “pay” for their own sins. We certainly do experience earthly consequences for our actions. Yet these are not “payment” for our sins. They are consequences. The man’s statement that he “never did nothin’ to Jesus” is an untruth. Scripture makes clear that all sin is primarily against God. King David in his famous Psalm of penitence says “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4) Sin is betrayal. We betray the one we are to love the most. We put another God in His place and worship it. This is the breaking of the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other God before me.” No one on earth will be able to say to God “I never did anything against you personally.” We all owe a debt to God. That is a non-negotiable truth. The negotiable part is how we handle the debt.

Felix Bush was able to tell his story and share the regret he had bottled up. It shows him at his death walking toward a figure dressed in white, presumably the woman he had an affair with who has now “forgiven him” and they now will presumably be reconciled in the hereafter. In reality all he had done was share the regret of his story. He did not relieve his guilt, nor did he receive forgiveness, because he did not make peace with God to whom he owed the debt.

Ironically the movie is entitled “Get Low.” Obviously we “get low” when we are laid in the earth for the last time. Yet if this man had really “got low” and humbled himself before God and asked for forgiveness, he wouldn’t have needed the communal confession which did him little good. Maybe it’s a good reminder for us all. It’s high time to get low before we are brought low.

A Walk On The Wild Side: Reflections On Getting A Tattoo

I must admit that I have a fascination with tattoos. I wonder why people get them. I wonder why they choose the particular image they do. I wonder what it says about them. Is it a statement? If so, what does it say? Certainly it does catch the attention.

This past weekend I attended a “Renaissance Fair” with a good friend. She is rather a free spirit. So when she suggested that we get a henna tattoo, I was all for it. This could partly reflect that I am losing my mind. Or this could partly reflect that I never sowed any wild oats in my youth. Or this could partly reflect a mid-life crisis. You choose. Whatever the case, we went for it. I once read that if you are thinking about getting a real tattoo, you should try getting a henna tattoo first. So I found myself going through the simulated experience of what it would be like to get a real tattoo. My free spirited friend was not the least bit worried. She had them free-hand a vine-flower bracelet around her wrist. Me on the other hand was scouring the books of designs trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to brand myself with. When it came down to it, what symbol really defines me? I looked at flowers, hearts, butterflies, initials, geometric shapes, animals, birds, sayings. I looked at every book. I couldn’t make up my mind. I am a person who can’t decide what to eat for breakfast. How can I decide on something that is going to remain on my body for the next six weeks? Not only do you have to decide on an image you have to decide where to place it. That’s a whole other dilemma. Do you want it to show? Do you not? If it doesn’t show what is the point? What if you place a tiger face on your belly and then you gain weight making it look less like a tiger face and more like Jabba the Hut? These things have to be carefully thought through.

Finally it was my turn and I was sweating bullets. Though I really wanted to engage my wild side, when it got down to it I was a big fraidy cat. The young girl in front of me was getting a huge flower design which covered half of the side of her abdomen. She was squealing delightedly. Then comes me. With sober face I sit in the chair and immediately ask, “How small can you make it?” My thoughts are if this thing goes south and I am stuck with it forever, I don’t want to have to explain a large scorpion for the rest of my life. The tattoo artist smiled at me amusingly. She explained assuredly that a henna tattoo meant good luck. I wanted to explain to her that my experience with good luck was very limited. Just recently a grandfatherly figure at my kids school came up to me and gave me a picture he took of a four leaf clover. “Here you take this for good luck.” he said. “Use it as a bookmark.” I took it home. Promptly my dog got a hold of the photo and chewed it. It is now wrinkled with teeth marks. This is somehow a metaphor of my life and my experience with luck. But how do I explain all this to a woman dressed in Renaissance garb holding some sort of medieval instrument who is about to give me my first tattoo? (Other than the adhesive one I put on my hand of Yoda). Instead I sat there and prayed for it to look decent.

henna butterfly tattoo

Fast forward to the evening. Now I am sitting at a Jazz Bistro with my same friend, celebrating her birthday. She has her henna bracelet and I have my minute butterfly on my right hand. They are now invisible because the henna flakes off and then your skin absorbs it. My friend is delightedly telling our other friend how her and I got henna tattoos at the festival today. Our other friend immediately frowns her disapproval. After all GOOD Christian women do NOT get TATTOOS. Then she tells us of a show she saw recently where this person got a henna tattoo and it would not wear off. My heart fell to my stomach. I wanted to run to the bathroom and immediately start scrubbing. My cohort in crime looked at me withering in my chair and said with a smile “Don’t you dare wash that off!”

I must say the whole experience has given me a real appreciation of people who do get tattoos. I admire that they have the guts to do it and the ability to make decisions. Now obviously many people do get tattoos impetuously and without thought. But I think some people do put thought into it. I don’t think I could get a tattoo unless I thought about it for a long time very carefully, but that’s just me. I don’t judge people by externals, though I know many people do. What God cares about is the inner condition of our heart. I know many people who look squeaky clean on the outside, but inside their heart is so black it is rotting. For now I think I am just going to admire other people’s tattoos. Next up for me? Belly dancing.

An Anatomy of Avarice

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”

Mark Twain

“Avarice distracts those who might do more serious work such as many of

our artists and writers, into the avaricious pursuit of possessions that

neither their work or their lives in fact require, and in the end pervert

and destroy.”

Henry Fairlie

If I am going to write about the subject of greed, surely I am going to talk about Ebenezer Scrooge, or his modern day equivalent Bernie Madoff. Actually I am going to talk about Mark Twain. Twain once defined himself as “the American” and in many ways he was. He is certainly one of the greatest writers we have produced and one which spoke the American voice so well. He was no doubt a brilliant, funny man. At the height of his fame he had a lovely wife and three beautiful daughters. He built himself a magnificent house in Connecticut called “The Hartford House” which was furnished in lavish style and they entertained many guests here in high style. The family had at least seven servants and the children had a governess. He would live in this house with his family from 1874-1891 and write many of the works he is most famous for here, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He would call this time the most wonderful time of his life.

Like many geniuses Twain did not have good business sense. His appetite to live the high life caused him to make foolish investments in new inventions. The family was forced to move from the Hartford home. Since they couldn’t afford to maintain the house, they moved to Europe to economize in 1891. In 1894 his publishing company failed and Twain went bankrupt. He set out on a world lecture tour in order to earn money and pay back his debts. Things went from bad to worse. Back in America his favorite daughter Suzy got spinal meningitis and died. She was twenty-four. After her death in 1896 the family never returned to the Hartford house. The home that had brought Twain so much pleasure in family life. Twain’s wife Livy would die in 1903 and he would also lose his daughter Jean On Christmas eve 1909 to an epileptic seizure. Twain himself would die four months later. Though Twain did eventually manage to pay off his debts and restore his monetary fortunes, he was never able to restore his real fortune: family life. Once the family moved from the house, they were never together again as they once were. He was not even able to be present at his beloved daughter’s Suzie’s death or funeral. Twain blamed himself for her death.

In America our greed rules our lives, just as it did for Twain. Fairlie in his work “The Seven Deadly Sins Today “says “Avarice in our societies is a harassment difficult to push aside. We are harassed into working in ways that are unsatisfying, so that we may buy things that we have been harassed into believing will satisfy us. What we complain about today in the increased tempo of is its harassment, and it is caused in part by the Avarice that our societies employ in every hour.” Fairlie also point out that greed is a “distraction.” Certainly many years of Twain’s life went to working to pay back his debt. I wonder how many wonderful books were lost to us because of the distraction of his greed? Fairlie defines Avarice as “not so much the love of possessions, as the love of merely possessing.” We often think of a miser as someone who hoards his wealth. Yet Twain did not hoard his wealth, but lived lavishly. So a miser can also be someone who surrounds himself with many possessions and “runs his eyes and hands over them exactly as the miser does over his coins.” Fairlie quotes William F. May: “Counting is the main object of Avarice and the main pleasure of the miser. Money is the chief object of Avarice, not only because it provides for the control of many objects, but because it offers the very simple satisfaction that it can be counted.” We think of the children’s nursery rhyme: “The king is in his counting house counting out his money.” But for all our love of greed it does terrible things to our hearts. We think of the line from the Grinch which explains the Grinch’s problem: his heart was three sizes to small. Fairlie says it more strongly: “Avarice leads to a form of self-annihlation. Those who surround themselves with things that they do not need, and do not even really want, soon cease to know what they do need or want; and in a little more time they cease also to know or be able to be themselves.” It makes our hearts unfit for eternity. Jesus warns: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24.

In the end Twain truly was “The American.” In America success is worshiped, and money is a sign of your success. It was Twain’s great drive for success and the privileged life that led him to make foolish investments in an attempt to gain even more wealth. At the end of his life his success was all he had left. He was not living as Sam Clemens. Sam Clemens had lost everything. He lived his latter years as Mark Twain. He epitomizes, as so many Americans do, the folly of Avarice and the chasing after wealth. A sad end for a man so greatly gifted.

Pop Culture: Big Mac for the Mind

hamburgerIn his book “How Now Shall We Live” Chuck Colson challenges that the first step to examining “the worldview behind pop culture” is to find “ a workable definition of pop culture.”  So combining different thoughts Colson  suggests in the chapter we might say that pop culture is: “a new culture, mass produced and standardized, light in substance and meaning,which transcends particular ethnic groups and invades all cultures.”  He states that “the call to redeem popular culture is surely one of the most difficult challenges Christians face today, because pop culture is everywhere, shaping our tastes, our language, and our values.”  Perhaps one of the greatest challenges it poses is the threat to becoming a person of substance.  As he points out in the chapter, most aspects of the Christian life require discipline and concentration.  What pop cultures offers us is easy distraction, mindless entertainment.

In the documentary “Supersize Me”, a man decided to see what the effects on his health and body would be if he ate McDonalds at every meal for months.  The film documents his daily visits to the food chain and the end results.   Aside from the obvious result of just being sick of eating fast food, he gained weight, looked gross, and felt sick and sluggish.  Anyone who watched the film would think twice about eating fast food.  Yet we daily infuse our minds with a diet which is no less healthy.  Colson refers to Marshall McLuhan’s famous adage “the message is the medium.”  What this means is that it is not only that the content of pop culture is of little substance, but so is the form in which it comes.  Pop culture is full of forms which require us to use our intellect very little.  The form is such that it is meant to be entertaining but little else.  One example is the book “Twilight.” It is an enormously popular book and netted 70 million dollars as a movie on its opening weekend.   Not bad for fluff.  A friend of mine suggested we read it.   I picked it up and read the first paragraph and then put it back down.  I said, “Forget this. Let’s read the greatest vampire novel of all time. Let’s read Dracula.”  I wanted to see if Bram Stoker could really depict evil as I have encountered it.  He did not disappoint.  The book was riveting.  Half way through the novel I had already looked up twenty vocabulary words I was not familiar with, and that’s not just because I am stupid.  The book had weight and substance.  It required me to come to it with curiosity.  It made me grapple with evil.  It engaged me in thought.  It was a long book, which required discipline to finish.   In short it was a classic.

If we want to be weighty people, people of substance, we have to look at our diet.  We have to, as Colson challenges, read things that “challenge our mind and deepen our character.”  We must strive to feed our minds and listen with our ears to things of excellence. There is no more excellent thing upon which to feed than the word of God itself. What kind of people would we be if we stopped watching t.v. And used that time to read the word of God? We would be transformed and the effects would be eternal.

Colson, Chuck. How Now Shall We Live. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999.

The Death of Injun Joe: Reflections on God’s Providence and God’s Mercy: Lessons from Tom Sawyer

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and his crush, Becky Thatcher, get lost for several days in a cave. Out of candles, hungry, and desperate Tom and Becky spend those days in the cave fearful and almost feeling as if death is inevitable. Miraculously Tom finds a way out and the two escape. The townspeople are joyously relieved as they had been anxiously searching for them. Judge Thatcher, Becky’s father, makes sure no other children will get lost in the cave by having a big door put on the entrance. At this news Tom turns white as a sheet because while in the cave he discovered that “Injun Joe” was also there using it as a hideout. Earlier in the book Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn witness Injun Joe murdering someone in the graveyard. Tom later testifies to this at a trial. Injun Joe escapes and Tom remains in fear of him. Tom says, “Oh judge, Injun Joe’s in the cave!” When they reach the cave the sorrowful sight of Injun Joe’s dead body awaits them. He was lying stretched upon the ground with his face close to a crack in the door, as if to look longingly upon the light of day until the last minute. Tom is moved because he knows first hand “how this wretch has suffered.” They notice clues around the cave as to how he has been living. He had been trying to hack through the door with his bowie knife, a fruitless endeavor. He had been eating bits of candle left in crevices by visitors to the cave. He had also caught and eaten a few bats. It had not been enough to sustain him and he had starved to death.

Injun Joe also left evidence of how he was trying to keep alive by drinking what water was available. Twain says this: “In one place near at hand, a stalagmite had been slowly growing up from the ground for ages, builded by the water-drip from a stalactite overhead. The captive had broken off the stalagmite, and upon the stump had placed a stone, wherin he had scooped a shallow hollow to catch the precious drop that fell once in every three minutes with the dreary regularity of a clock tick- a dessert-spoonful once in four and twenty hours. That drop was falling when the Pyramids were new, when Troy fell; when the foundations of Rome were laid; when Christ was crucified; when the Conqueror created the British Empire; when Columbus sailed; when the massacre at Lexington was “news.” It is falling now; it will still be falling when all these things shall have sunk down the afternoon of history and the twilight of tradition had been swallowed up in the thick night of oblivion. Has everything a purpose and a mission? Did this drop fall patiently during five thousand years to be ready for this flitting human insect’s need? And has it another important object to accomplish ten thousand years to come? No matter.” It is here on this point I want to reflect. In reading Twain it amazes me that though Twain does not personally come to terms with his maker in his life, God still uses Twain’s incredible gifts to bring Himself glory nonetheless. In this statement Twain is pondering, just for a brief moment, both the providence and mercy of God. Theologian R.C. Sproul once defined God’s providence as “God’s seeing something before hand.” but he also said that the Doctrine of Providence “includes more than simple foresight with respect to a deity. Providence involves far more than just seeing what is taking place. God has the authority and power to change what he sees and to bring about whatever he desires to bring to pass.” Sproul challenges that “the broad question of providence is one of the most fascinating, important and difficult doctrines in the Christian faith because it deals with the difficult questions.” Twain just for a minute contemplates if God in his providence would have formed this stalagmite over all those thousands of centuries because in His mercy He knew it would provide some water to a dying murderer. Wow. What a question to contemplate. Most people feel that if there is a God he surely has abandoned His world or is merely a spectator of events here. Even if we feel that God might be involved, we think that his providence is only contained to what happens in this lifetime. Twain pushes us farther. Though he doesn’t put it in these terms he in essence says “what if God’s providence was unfolding for you millions of years before you were born?” I am particularly moved and also in awe of the thought that God could know, was thinking about and forming over millions of years a drink for a dying evil man who didn’t deserve it. That is just one man, just one situation, just one drink, in one moment in time. Can you contemplate just for one second how complex God’s interweaving of Providence is in his world? His providence doesn’t just involve people, he has all his creation at his disposal to bring about “all that he desires to pass.”

Church CrossPeople in our day don’t feel that God is involved in His world. Yet there are examples of his involvement screaming out to them all the time. Let me give you a recent example. In October 2010 sixty-four year old real estate broker Ed Rosenthal was hiking in an isolated canyon deep in Joshua Tree National Park when he lost his way. He survived six harrowing days in the remote scorched canyons. The one thing he was in particularly short supply of was water. He had left two huge bottles back at his hotel. He said simply “Your mouth turns to sand.” In desperation he tried drinking his urine, but he could not stomach it. Not being particularly devout Rosenthal prayed for rain. Ten seconds later it rained. In his words he “lay down in amazement as the drops wet his parched tongue.” A drink for a dying man from God’s creation. Twain already predicted it. He just asked us to think about how long that rain had already been formulating. When I think of God’s providence and mercy in these terms I am in awe. It’s more than I can imagine. I can only hold it in my mind a second and then it’s too much to entertain. It’s not that God is not involved in His world. It’s just that we fail to perceive and attribute His providential work to Him. We attribute it to luck or chance or worse yet we think nothing at all. God wants us to know him. He speaks all the time. In order for Mr. Rosenthal to hear him God arranged in His providence to meet him in the desert. A desert is a good place to get people’s attention. It’s the most barren, desolate place on earth. It’s harsh, unforgiving, merciless. In this sun scorched setting at the point of Rosenthal’s greatest desperation and need, God spoke. God spoke and drops of tender, merciful rain came down. Rosenthal said “There was definitely a miracle. I am much more religious now than I was. Seriously. I prayed for rain and it rained”, he marveled. “My conclusion is that God is real. Really. I have to tell you. God is real.” There it is. God finally getting the man’s attention. In the man’s own words he acknowledges that he now knows there is a God. He marvels. Yes, he marvels. That’s what men do when they meet God. These kinds of events which showcase the providence of God happen all the time, we just do not marvel at them or attribute to God the praise, awe and adoration he deserves for them.

All of us are born into this world dying men. From day one we are in the same desperate condition as Mr. Rosenthal. Sin has separated us from God and a relationship with him. Yet God in his Providence for all humanity sent Christ to be the sacrifice to pay for our sins so that we might be restored to Him. In a sense all events in history are either a providential lead up to Christ’s coming, or a providential play down to His return. It’s not just that the whole story of the Bible is about him. It’s that everything for all time and in every way is about Him. He is, as He says, the alpha and the omega. Today, right now, God is speaking to you. Do you recognize yourself as a dying man in need of a drink? Have you accepted his beautiful cup of water? Christ. Our only hope.

Porn As Wallpaper

retro seamless wallpaperIn an article in New York Magazine author Naomi Wolf mentions a quote by David Amsden: “Porn is the wallpaper of our lives now.” I love pithy phrases and that one certainly nails the truth. I remember a house I once toured as I was looking for a home to buy. Every room including the stairwell was wallpapered. Every single room! The effect was overwhelming. In addition to wanting to keel over from a heart attack like Fred Sanford, I came out of there never wanting to see wallpaper again for the rest of my life. The idea behind porn is the same. Pornography is so prevalent we are saturated with it. The effect is diminished, not increased desire for real sexual intimacy. The article puts it more eloquently: “The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.”

Naomi apparently travels to college campuses talking about the effects of porn on relationships. Women and men list different effects of living in a porn saturated society. Women feel it is hard to measure up to pornographic images. In their sexual lives they wonder if they can “ask for what they want.” They worry that “as mere flesh and blood” if they can “get, let alone hold, a man’s attention.” Men report that they have learned sex from the school of pornography and how it does not help them “to be real with a woman.”

Wolf reported in the article that when she brings up the subject of loneliness “a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young women and young men alike. They know they are lonely together even when conjoined and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness.” In conversation with a young man at Northwestern she asked him “Why have sex right away?” His answer: “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone. I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it is going to happen. It gets rid of the tension.” “Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” Wolf inquired. “Doesn’t (having sex right away) also get rid of the mystery?” “Mystery?” He looked at her blankly. Without hesitating he said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

“Sex has no mystery.” That has to be one of the saddest statements that I have heard. King Solomon, one of the wisest men to ever live said: “There are three things too wonderful for me, four that I do not understand: the way of the eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship in the sea, and the way of a man with a woman.” Proverbs 30:18 This comes from a man whose wisdom was as “vast as the sands on the seashore.” Even with that breadth of wisdom he had to admit that the beauty of the sexual relationship was a profound mystery. So profound he could not search the depths of it.

Sin is always about the shortcut. Always. C.S. Lewis says it most profoundly in the Screwtape Letters: “An ever increasing craving, for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” Pornography is the easy shortcut to intimacy. Men can look at it and fantasize about the “perfect relationship with the perfect girl” in their imaginary world. Fantasizing gives them a high, so they need to look at the images again, but the next high isn’t as great. Meanwhile they diminish their ability to have real pleasure with a real woman. They could spend their whole lifetime learning to love one woman sexually. The pleasure would increase and they would never be able to plumb the depths of even one woman. Lust glances, but love gazes. It gazes on the beloved in wonder, in awe. Wolf was right when she said, “a powerful, erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.” How often it is when we take down wallpaper we uncover some beautiful hidden architectural treasure. In the same way, when we take down the wallpaper of pornography we can begin to discover the profound mystery of sex and the beauty of a real woman.

Can A Match Burn Twice?

Can you remember the first time you experienced cruelty?  I can.  I was just a little kid.  An older boy in my neighborhood came up to me and asked me if “I had ever seen a match burn twice?” I was trusting, naïve, curious and intrigued.  I said, “No.” He proceeded to light a new match, blow it out and hold the still burning match to my skin.   I never forgot the lesson and I still remember his name.   Cruelty has a way of permanently encoding itself in the memory as do those who perpetrate it.  I should know, I have experienced a lot of it.

I find that it’s not the meanness of evil people that confuses us.  It is the kindness.  I never used to understand this proverb:  “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but even the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10  How can kindness be cruelty?  Kindness is cruelty when it is used to draw us close so that we may be used, manipulated, deceived and further exploited by an evil person.  Evil people are experts in cruelty. They know how to take poison and serve it up like the most delicious dessert you have ever tasted.  There are both men and women out there who have sucked in a spouse with their “false kindness” and who have been eating them alive from the inside out ever since.  Of all predators, the human predator is the worst.

Does a match burn twice?  No.   For cruel people it burns for a lifetime.

Elizabeth Smart: A Hero Of Our Day

I drove home behind a veteran the other day, who had license plates indicating he was a recipient of the highest award for valor: the purple heart.  If I could, I would award one to Elizabeth Smart.  Smart was 14 when she was abducted at knife point from her Salt Lake City home by her kidnapper Brian David Mitchell.   She has now spent three days on the witness stand describing her nine month ordeal.  During those months she was sexually assaulted, forced to drink, use drugs, view drugs and initially she was tethered between two trees to prevent her escape.  She was also given a different name.  All of these tactics would be to break down the inhibition of the captive and to strip them of dignity and identity.  I stand in awe and admiration of her courage to come to court, be in the presence of her tormenter once again, and to tell her story.  I don’t think people realize that having to recount her story is almost akin to being re-victimized.  The one thing you don’t want to do is live it again, not that you can ever really forget.  Yet in order to bring justice that is exactly what has to happen to all victims of rape and other crimes.

When people are living in horrific conditions you always wonder what enables them to survive.  What gives them the will to live?  To go on?  Smart described that she came to a point where she felt utterly worthless, and as if no one could ever want her again.   She reasoned with herself that even prostitutes had a better life than what she was living.  The thought of her family and making it back to them helped her survive.  She fought to keep her connection with them alive.   She talked about her parents with her captor.  She saved a safety pin that was on the pajamas she was wearing the night she was kidnapped.  She bit the lip of her captor when he tried to kiss her.  She tried running away.   I am sure there were many, many other small ways she fought back.  I stand in awe of her courage.  It is worth repeating that she was only fourteen at the time.

I praise God that Smart was found and reunited with her family.  She stands as a living symbol of hope for all those who have been victims of crime.  She deserves a purple heart because she is truly a woman of valor.

Bites Like A Snake, Stings Like A Viper

“Alcohol makes you feel better and then makes you feel worse and then remorselessly very bad indeed, but then alcohol will make you feel better again.  It is the cure for the dog that bit you, and how easily you forget it is also the dog.”

Roger Ebert

Have you ever noticed how things that are terrible for you look SO GOOD?   Scripture says alcohol is like that.  In describing a drink it says “it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly.  Afterward it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper.”   Now I have to fess up here.  I wouldn’t know a thing about it.  It’s not that I don’t have vices, alcohol has just never been one of them.  I figure I don’t need any further help in making a fool of myself by engaging in drinking.   To tell you the truth, I am terrified of the stuff.  My luck, I’d take one drink and be addicted for sure.  So I am a teetotaler and have always been.

The university I attended however, was a party school.   It was a small university town with an inordinate amount of bars uptown.   In fact the Halloween party was notorious.  People came from far and wide to attend the drunken fest.   The University didn’t try and stop it.   They just did their best to “contain it.”  I know for sure I was one of the rare few who attended sober.  I went up with a group of friends.  We went as the “Wheel of Fortune.” My friend was Vanna White and her boyfriend was Pat Sajak.  The rest of us went as letters.  What did we spell?  In a nod to my future home, we spelled “Busch”, as in “Busch beer.”   I did my best to keep the drunken letters together as we wove our way through the sea of people.  I am quite sure most of the night we spelled “schub.”  After surviving the surging, thronging mass of drunken, half-costumed party-goers on Court Street, we made it safely back to my friend’s room.  There her boyfriend, Fred, kept asking me “Do you want a beer Stace?”  He was so courteous in his drunkeness.  I would just smile and politely say “no.”  Then my friends proceeded to throw pumpkins out their second floor windows David Letterman style.   For that, they did get in trouble.  It was a surreal night for sure, made more surreal by being sober.   I don’t know why, but my friends always accepted me even though I didn’t participate in their drunken escapades.

I did enter a few bars uptown with my friends to go dancing.  One night a very drunk guy named Phil made his way to our table.  He kept telling me over and over “You’re beautiful!”  It was amusing.   You know how these stories usually go.   The next day Phil’s friends razz him: “Do you know you were telling the ugliest girl in the bar last night that she was beautiful?”  Then they laugh at him uproariously for his stupidity.  To my surprise Phil remembered me and continued to call me for weeks.  It was good to know his opinion of me didn’t change when he was sober, but I wasn’t really interested in dating a drunk.

Just to show you how corrupt the university I attended was, on my twenty-first birthday an R.A. (resident assistant) nicknamed “Twig” knocked on my door and entered my room carrying a back-pack.  He proceeded to unload all the ingredients to make me a Screwdriver, which is apparently a mix of vodka and orange juice.  I just stood there and laughed.  I lived in a co-ed dorm and apparently some of the guys decided it would be great fun to see if they could get me drunk.   They were sorely disappointed.   I refused the drink and my friend Steve ended up drinking it.

Let me cut to the chase.   Though these stories are amusing, drinking is not.  They just came out with a study that showed that alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack.   “Both in terms of medical consequences as well as societal consequences, alcohol ranks very high in overall harmfulness.”  Just this past year I was in a group with a woman whose stepson drove drunk and wrecked his car into a tree killing his best friend, who was an only child.   It was wrenching to hear her talk every week about her stepson’s life now.  Just this past month another good friend told me about her husband’s slide into alcoholism.  He started drinking when he was a teen.  Now at forty he goes on binges and sometimes can’t reach the bathroom in time at night and pees his pants.  Addiction is glamorous isn’t it?  In America we think we are not drug abusers as long as we are using a “legal substance.” Please.

Here is the end of the matter.  If you drink to excess and do so frequently, you are a fool.  Stop letting the snake charm you.  The truth is you are on the straight path to ruin.  Wise up and turn yourself around and be done with self-destruction.

A Culture Of Voyeurs

I am probably one of the few people who signed up for Facebook without realizing what the heck I was signing up for.  This is how I got suckered into it.   My graduate school sent me an e-mail saying they were going to have “a Facebook page.”  They also said one of the professors had reviewed a book and was giving his thoughts on it.   They gave a snippet, but in order to read the full review, you had to go to the page.  Of course you couldn’t go to the page unless you personally had an account.  Thus I created my Facebook account.  I read the review and moved on.

Then the friendship “requests” started coming.  One woman from my former church sent me one of these such requests.  What I found intriguing was that this woman really had not been a friend to me in real life, and by gosh I sure could have used one.  She couldn’t manage to be a real friend to me while in the church, but she sure was interested in what the heck I was up to now that I was no longer at the church.  Another mother in the community I was trying to befriend would tell me lots of updates about people.  She would say “Oh did you know so and so had their baby?  Did you know so and so just got back from Europe and they returned to a flooded basement? “  I would always say, “Oh, do you hang out with them?”  She’d say, “No, I just keep up with them via their Facebook page. Are you on Facebook?”   I had to admit I was, but I was beginning to feel a little queasy about it.   I realized quickly it wasn’t just a “social networking site” it was also a popularity contest.  I had to admit I would feel bad when I saw other people’s pages who had 356 friends and I had 8.  I began to wonder if this was good for me.  Do I really want to know that Jane is making cookie dough right this very minute and that earlier little Tommy threw up?  Do I want to spend my time reading this or do I want to have a real life connecting with real people?  When I started receiving messages saying that someone had planted a “lil’ strawberry in my strawberry patch” I knew I was in over my technological head.  No one told me I had to maintain a garden if I signed up for Facebook.

I never shy away from calling it like it is.  The truth is we have become a nation of voyeurs.   From reality t.v., to Facebook, and Twitter we have opted out of real life and settled for peering into others.  Americans are notoriously envious despite all our privilege.   One way we can tell if we are “keeping up” is by seeing what others do and have in their private lives.  I think there is a place for social networking.  Facebook can be fun if you use it to keep up with friends you can’t see often.  My problem is when people use it as an alternative to real relationship and spend more time keeping up with their e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook messages than they do interacting with real people.  I realize I have to hold myself to that same standard with blogging too.  One night I laid in my bed and listened to a mockingbird singing it’s many calls.  The wind blew softly through my window as I marveled at the beautiful sound.   Most of us have lost the ability to experience “wonder.”  We need to stop peering into people’s lives and really experience our own.  Then we really have something to share with the world.

How To Befriend A Sociopath

Listen up! This one I have some real expertise on. If you want to meet a sociopath, take yourself to the local library. That’s where I met the one I befriended. What I mean to say is that’s where I met the one who preyed on me. People who have no conscience should be required to wear shirts with a big scarlet letter “S” on them (for Sociopath of course). Then one could know to run for their lives. Instead they invite themselves over. Now one would think it is safe to let someone you meet at a story hour for kids over to your house. Wrong. It’s never safe to let a sociopath in. Oh, but they are so charming! They come armed with flattery. They smile, they wink, they toss their hair! Then at some point they deploy their greatest weapon of all: sympathy. The number one way you know you are dealing with a sociopath? They play upon your sympathy. In fact they play on everyone’s sympathy. They manipulate people like pawns on a chessboard who unwittingly do their will. They lie, cheat, steal, and deceive. They slander, gossip, criticize and condemn with their vicious tongues. They are a whirlwind of harm, always causing hurt, ruin and destruction in people’s lives, including their own family members. Yet they turn on the waterworks if anyone throws an accusation their way. Poor, poor them! They are always the victim and never responsible for anything. I ate many a meal at this sociopath’s table, and I’ll tell you I wish I could vomit up every one. This sociopath was a “Christian” too. If ever I thought of becoming an atheist, it was after meeting her.

In the Bible, the most notoriously evil woman written about is Queen Jezebel. After her evil husband King Ahab has been killed, the new successor Jehu comes to take out his Queen too. As he drives his chariot into town like a madman, Jezebel comes out to meet him. She has prepared for the meeting too, putting on some make-up like a true witch. I can see her defiantly standing out there on the castle wall, her red lips sullenly pouty. As Jehu enters town he shouts out “Who will throw her down for me?” Several people willingly jump at the chance and over the castle wall she goes. Dogs lick up her blood, just as it had been prophesied. I think about that story often. All I can say is that I hope my sociopathic “friend” is putting on her lipstick. God is riding his chariot into town for her and there will be many who will gladly give her a push.

The Number One Disease In America

There are surely many and numerous deadly diseases out there which can kill you. In America there is one disease that is killing more people than any other. It’s the disease of loneliness. It’s a form of suffering so palpable you can taste it. It can strike you when you are alone or when you are in a crowd. Of all the human diseases it is the one I wish I could most find a cure for. Certainly no song captures loneliness more poignantly than the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.” That song is absolutely gut wrenching. Thinking of a woman putting make-up on for no one, and the guy who is darning his socks alone makes me want to scream. I can’t stand to see someone eating alone in public. I have to fight the urge not to join them. The Beatles haunting question is the question of our time: “All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?” I don’t know, but I surely have been one of them.

I have observed myself and how I deal with loneliness. I always respond to it with “too much.” I eat too much, I work too much, I spend too much, I cry too much. You get the idea. Some people go to darker lengths: they drink too much, take too many drugs, watch pornography.

It’s becoming more rare to find people you really connect with on a heart level. If you find someone like that, hang on to them. You have found a gem. Americans have become a people who are great at making a living and terrible at making a life. Our wallets are full but our hearts are empty. We Facebook, we e-mail, we Twitter, we text, when really we just want someone to touch us in a meaningful way. We long for someone to know us. We want someone to engage us, to stimulate our minds and move our hearts. To do that one must be a person of depth and those are getting more rare too. I know I desire to relieve the loneliness of others. I try to make it a point to physically touch people. I give them hugs. More importantly I try to influence and move their hearts in the deepest places. I try to offer words that encourage and build up. If I relieve the loneliness of one person I consider myself to have made a difference.

What Makes A Woman Captivating?

Captivating. What a word. It means to attract and hold by charm, beauty or excellence. To hold the attention of by fascinating; enchant. An archaic definition is “to capture.” Tony Blair used the word. He said he found Princess Diana captivating. Quite a compliment from the former Prime Minister. It got me wondering. What makes a woman captivating? It certainly means the woman has a “special something” about them. I was always a Princess Diana fan. No doubt she captured the imagination of us all. She certainly was beautiful and glamorous. Is that all it takes to be captivating?

I think it surely must be more. Of course we all notice the outward appearance first. Yet no one could deny that Mother Theresa was also captivating, and she had no external beauty. I think to be captivating you must have internal fire. That spark of passion that runs deep. You also have to have heart, courage and a driving purpose. I suppose there are many individual characteristics that captivate. Some things I find captivating are strong moral character, intellect, imagination, curiosity, humor, passion, ambition, compassion, courage, heart, empathy, being well read, being a great conversationalist, being adventurous, liking to have fun, being glamorous. Is it acceptable to say beautiful eyes, a nice smile and being a good kisser are captivating too?

Do you know a captivating woman? If so count yourself lucky. They are a rare breed.

On Being Branded A Loser

Is it possible to come out of junior high without being marked for life as some kind of loser? My entire eighth grade year I sat behind one particular boy whose name just happened to proceed mine in the alphabet. Truth be told, I liked him. Not romantically, just as a person. I thought he was smart, funny and I enjoyed talking to him. He got to know me pretty well that year. He frequently put me down and called me “a hoser” which I assumed meant some kind of loser in general.

One day another guy comes running up to me after lunch. He said, “Did you hear what so and so said about you?” (So and so being this guy who sat in front of me in class). “No. What?” The snitch proceeded: “He said you have a great body if only you had a better face.” I can’t be for sure, but I think I crawled home from school that day. None but a junior high boy can decimate you to that degree. That one went deep.

Fast forward to high school. My high school combined three smaller local schools in one. By that time all the boys were sick of the girls from our elementary school and couldn’t wait to cast us aside to date the “Newport Girls.” My “friend” and I parted ways and I didn’t see him much in high school, but he was chosen for homecoming court to escort one of the “beautiful girls” from one of the other schools. He got to know all those beautiful, popular girls during his four years there.

In the end he had the last word. He wrote one of the most unique messages in my yearbook. Most people just said “Good Luck!”, but not him. He wrote that I was “a girl of high caliber.” Apparently he had learned something in the last four years. Upon reflection it seems he had come to an appreciation of me he did not have earlier. It didn’t make up for his earlier cruelty, but I was glad he finally gave me some respect. Maybe as he got to know all those “beautiful girls” he saw there wasn’t much substance there. It’s a lesson we all eventually learn. Some of the most beautiful people who walk the earth would not turn any heads, and some of the ugliest people are stunning. I’ll take the ‘high caliber.’ It doesn’t fade.

The Anti-Jerry Maguire Girl

It’s the most famous scene in Jerry Maguire. Realizing he has been a fool, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) comes back to apologize to his girl (played by Renee Zellweger). He enters to a room full of women who have been sitting around dissing relationships. All eyes turn to him as he enters the room and asks for his wife. He begins to speak to Renee as he walks to her. She interrupts him and tells him to be quiet then utters the famous line: “You had me on hello.”

How many people I wonder have waited for this ending. I did. I even had the moment. I was a bridesmaid at my high school classmate’s wedding. I am at her reception. I am dressed in an emerald green gown with flowers in my hair. My ex-boyfriend is there. I think perhaps he has come to talk to me. Maybe we can patch it up. Maybe. I wait for him to approach and eventually he does. Instead of words of kindness he speaks to me with cruelty and contempt. He cuts me down and lets me know in no uncertain terms he thinks I am worthless. I try to deflect him with humor, but he would have none of it. He left that day and I never saw him again. I went home and wept. I wanted to be that girl that was worth coming back for. The one where the boy says, “I am crazy to give you up.” Instead I was the anti-Jerry Maguire girl. It still affects me to this day.

Last words are very important. They often define us. Choose wisely. Every single human owns a weapon and that weapon is the tongue. The tongue has the power of life and death. Don’t miss your opportunity to speak words that bring life. Speak with kindness and love. It will be a legacy of untold riches in someone’s life that they can mine for years to come.

“The tongue has the power of life and death and those who love it shall eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

Faith, Fortune Cookies and Woody Allen

Let me start by saying I don’t admire Woody Allen. He has made some terrible decisions in his personal life. Yet there are two things I can say for him. One, is that he is quite funny. Two, is that he is a man who has really wrestled with the big questions of life, even if he hasn’t answered them yet. Those two things make him intriguing. He has a new movie coming out which is going to explore the concept of having “faith in something.” He feels, bleak though it may sound, that we need to have some “delusions” to keep us going. He feels that people who delude themselves are happier.  So he explained that he felt there was “no real difference between a fortune teller, or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They are all equally valid or invalid really. And equally helpful.”

I wanted to explore that concept a bit. So I went out and bought a package of fortune cookies and opened every one. What I want to do is to compare a fortune with a proverb from the Bible. The Proverbs are always a fascination for me. I like anything that is pithy. The Proverbs are like cold water in the face and I like truth that smacks me straight up. What amazes me about the Proverbs is their ability to tell a profound truth in one or two simple sentences. I stand in awe of them. Most people can’t spit out a profound truth if you give them a page let alone a sentence. Let’s try a comparison:

Fortune: “A special moment lies ahead.”

Proverb: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Now I can’t tell you for sure if a special moment lies ahead. I can tell you though if you get into an argument at the airline counter with the clerk and she gives you an angry response, if you apply the proverb you will diffuse the situation. Wise men always diffuse, foolish men stir up. If you give a harsh word I can guarantee that a special moment lies ahead, and that is your special moment of getting a smack down.

Fortune: “You have good ideas to share with others.”

Proverb: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2

Don’t get me wrong. Maybe you do have some good ideas to share with others. Then again maybe you don’t. The overriding wisdom here is the focus on understanding. One cannot understand a matter unless one is listening. Fools don’t listen, they talk. They interrupt. They air. They share. They delight in hearing their own voice. It’s music to their ears, and usually theirs alone. The older I get, the more I realize it is better to be a man who listens than a man who talks. In order to share a good idea, one has to understand a situation first.

Fortune: “Others are deeply moved by your presence.”

Proverb: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”  Proverbs 20:5

If others are moved by your presence it might be a compliment or it may mean you need to change your deodorant. It’s hard to say. To really move a man, you have to be able to touch his heart. Can you do that? The heart is deep. I love how King David puts it in the Psalms “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.” (Psalm 42:7) God man mankind complex and the depths of our souls cry out to Him. Because our hearts deceive us, we cannot always understand what we purpose by them. Someone who is a man of understanding can sit down and listen to us and draw deep things out of us. He can help us see our own heart better. That is the art of truly moving a man deeply by your presence. It can only be done if you have humility, wisdom and love. It cannot be done simply by a piece of paper telling you that you do so.

Fortune: Good common sense makes you smart.

Proverb: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7

There are many, many smart people out there. I marvel at the brains some people have been given. Yet many, many smart people are very unwise. Smart and wise are not synonymous. There are very few wise people. It is true that the Proverbs display “common sense.” However, they allow you to discern much more than that. Wisdom is the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting. It is having great insight. King Solomon supposedly had more insight and understanding than the sand on the shore. I can’t imagine it. Wisdom is only found by fearing God, because wisdom comes from God.

Smart people know they are not smart enough to figure out life by themselves. They acknowledge there is truth and they seek it. There faith is placed in the wisdom God has laid out about how to live in the universe He made. They understand there is a vast difference between a fortune in a fortune cookie and a truth contained in a Proverb. Allen is right about one thing: we need to have faith in something. We need to have faith in God. Where he errs is presuming that all options are equally valid or invalid (since we are all deluding ourselves). The problem with wisdom is not that men don’t intuitively understand that it is superior. The problem with wisdom is that men have to acknowledge they are inferior in order to receive it.