Saturday, May 28, 2016

Does God Know Best?

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 8/24/2009)

There’s a fascinating and heartbreaking article in the current L.A. Weekly, written by Steve Friess; I’m writing in reaction to the article so I suggest you read it first and then come back here.

Friess hits the area of my focus right away:
In many ways, Penner’s path was standard-issue for those born male who have an inexplicable yet ultimately undeniable desire to be female. He would sneak into his mother’s closet in their Anaheim home to try on shoes and dabble with her makeup, then scrub it off shamefully before vowing never to do it again. Then, of course, he would do it again, a new helping of guilt raining down on his Catholic soul.
Why would Mike Penner feel guilty? And what does it have to do with his Catholicism?

Well, I can’t address all the alleged Catholic hang-ups about sex but almost anyone raised with a Bible-based religious core would struggle with a sense of “this is wrong” because, in fact, the Bible says it is wrong (Deuteronomy 22:5), that the person who cross-dresses is an abomination before the LORD. Note, however, that it’s not a stoning offense, as are adultery, male homosexuality, and bestiality (as I read it, the Hebrew scriptures don’t address female homosexuality, although Paul does in Romans 1:25-27), but it’s clearly an offense against God. Please note, I am writing from the perspective of one who is convinced that the Bible is indeed “God-breathed” and, while no translation is perfect, that God is capable of defending His word and the document evidence for the integrity of scripture is so strong I am convinced we can trust it, as God’s word. So arguments based on “the Bible is wrong” are simply not arguments I’m addressing; that’s someone else’s purview.

There’s a really interesting statement that Jesus makes in Matthew 19; He’s been explaining God’s design for human sexuality to some Pharisees who ask Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (this very liberal approach to divorce was the current practice in ancient Judea). When Jesus tells them that the only legitimate reason for sundering a marriage is adultery, they are horrified: His disciples say to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” And He responds:
“Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Right there we have evidence that Jesus (God in human flesh) knows that human sexuality doesn’t work perfectly. It this one of the multitude of results due to the fall of humanity? I suspect it is, coupled with an active enemy who preys on our more base nature and encourages us to exalt it. So I don’t see the argument that a person might be “born” with certain sex-related proclivities as bearing on what is the good and righteous exercise of our sexuality. Jesus gives us God’s perfect way and acknowledges that there are people who will not be able to accept it. He doesn’t damn them, He doesn’t advocate stoning them (that era had drawn to a close), He doesn’t even say, “If you don’t agree you have no part in Me.” He simply says, “This is how it is; accept it if you can.”

In this very sad story of Mike Penner we read of a man who is encouraged by sizable portions of society to embrace the temptation that caused him shame — and to reject the shame. I don’t know anything about the kind of psycho-therapy Mike Penner received before deciding to become Christine Daniels but I am quite confident that a significant portion of it would have denied shame and worked to make him feel “better” about his desire to cross-dress and encourage his fantasy of being a woman.

A “compassionate” world encouraged a man to make choices that separated him inexorably from his wife, who could not tolerate the essential change in identity which he embraced: she married a man, he repudiated being a man, she divorced the person who now identified as a woman.

I’m sure there are those who think that Penner’s wife is one of the villains in the piece, that if only she’d been willing to love Christine Daniels as she loved Mike Penner then everything would have been fine. There are certainly those who think society’s hang-ups (read: Bible-believers who persist in clinging to the values taught by the Bible) are the cause of Mike Penner’s misery.

The truth is there will always be differences of opinion and reaction; we cannot make society “perfect” — the longing for “utopia” is ultimately harmful because it interferes with the real work of improving the society in which we do live and minimizes the possibility of appreciating and enjoying reality.

So, in the real world, there will always be people who won’t support the fantasy: Mike Penner may have been happier ‘in his skin’ when he dressed and behaved like a woman* but he couldn’t get people in general to tell him he was attractive as a woman (this reminds me of the scene in Junior when an earnest Judy Collins tries to tell cross-dressing Arnold Schwarzenegger, the pregnant man, that he is beautiful); one of the realities that women experience on a daily basis is that we are not all equally beautiful, sexy, and attractive. A sex-change operation wasn’t going to make Christine into a beautiful woman; a certain amount of plastic surgery could have made her a more attractive woman but how acceptable is that, within the transgender community? Does the transgender community demand that society stop responding to beauty? Shades of early feminism demanding that men accept unshaved legs and stop preferring smooth ones, in high heels and nylons….

Ultimately Christine and Mike both were faced with the reality that life isn’t perfect and it isn’t “fair” and you can’t expect to get all the benefits and none of the liabilities. Chances are that, somewhere in there, somebody told Mike that if his wife really loved him, she would still love him as Christine, that the essential person hadn’t changed. While that might sound good and true in a greeting card kind of world, it’s just not reality. Mike’s wife wasn’t a lesbian and she wasn’t interested in having a wife; for her there was a huge loss, essentially a death: her husband was no more and, worse, he was choosing to be no more, to instead become female. Apparently Mike believed that, as he became Christine, that he could bring his wife around — but that was a fantasy, delusional.

Well-meaning souls who encouraged Mike/Christine in this delusion did him/her irreparable damage— good intentions simply do not change outcomes.

So what would the outcome be, if Mike had instead wrestled with God and the prohibition in Deuteronomy? Mike may well have continued to intermittently and secretly cross-dress and play with make-up and indulge the fantasy of being a woman in his head. And he would have felt ashamed and he would have resolved not to do it again. And he would be alive. He would not have had that heady year of transgender celebrity, the swirl, the attention, the fun. But the possibility of continuing to grapple with it, to reconcile himself to God, to try and figure out why he had to keep such a tight lid on “Mike”, to uncover and recognize the lies he had believed about himself, about what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman, to recognize and mourn the reality that we live in a fallen world and some people are “born eunuchs” and what did Jesus mean by that, anyway? He would have had the possibility of continuing in a marriage with a woman he clearly loved.

Which is the better outcome? Is the repudiation of Biblical morality and shame really more compassionate?

Footnote: *this raises a really interesting question: why did Mike think that as a man he couldn’t be gregarious and friendly? What if Mike had worked on bringing the qualities of Christine into Mike rather than changing the body of Mike to conform with Christine?

Our Unsentimental God

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 12/30/2009)

For the Niños Christmas book, 2009

I heard Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine, on the radio the other day. He was well-spoken and self-effacing and quite likable, but his thought processes revealed a series of devastating assumptions rooted in the human tendency to anthropomorphize things; in this case, God.

“How can God be jealous?” he asked and, because he conceptualized God as some kind of big human, he dismissed the possibility of God and can only conceive of God as an invention or projection of humanity. Jealousy is a bad thing, God says in scripture that He is jealous, therefore this whole God-idea falls apart — at least for Michael Shermer and other vocal atheists I’ve heard in the last few years.

But if we take a step backward and consider Exodus 20 where the word “jealous” first appears in scripture, we find another picture altogether: God is establishing the right boundary with His people Israel:
Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:1-6)
When God is jealous, He is outraged because that which is rightly His has been given to another. All of creation is rightly His and He may do with it as He pleases because it belongs to Him in the most profound way imaginable. The idolater makes an alliance with a rebel. How do we feel if we’ve gone to great lengths to make a sacrificial gift for someone and that someone proceeds to ignore us while gushing all over a third party, giving the third party all the thanks, credit, and appreciation for our effort.

Michael Shermer reveals his simplistic view of ‘jealousy’ — a little girl jealous because her friend is also friends with someone else, a man jealous because a coworker was promoted while he was not. But isn’t Shermer jealous of his wife? If his wife gives her body and her love to another man, isn’t Shermer appropriately jealous? So even within the context of human emotions, ‘jealousy’ can be right.

Going a step further, the Hebrew word used (qanna’) refers only to God; a different word is translated ‘jealous’ when it refers to human emotions.

I wish that Dr Shermer was a rarity in this kind of projection or that it was relegated to atheists and agnostics but I see an equally dangerous variant embraced by many Christians: anthropomorphizing God’s emotions in a sentimental way. I’ve seen some people read, “'As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’” and completely ignore the rest of the verse: “'but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ezekiel 33:11). They are tempted into universalism by God’s statement that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, as if that means God would prefer to tolerate wickedness rather than do justice if He cannot take pleasure in every aspect of it.

Think about the kind of deity we would have, if God were sentimental: Mary wouldn’t give birth to Jesus because what kind of God would put an innocent young woman through the trauma of giving birth as a virgin, alone with a husband in a crude barn, no midwife, no mother, aunt, or family present to assist or comfort? Rumors swirling around, her virtue impugned, “a sword will pierce your heart” — no, a sentimental God would never put a favored daughter through all that.

Sentimental Father-God would never ask God-the-Son to take on human flesh and pain and sin on the cross (and think how it would traumatize the disciples! No, that will never do). Sentimental Jesus, if such a Being could exist, would not say, “Get behind me, Satan!” to Peter when he stopped listening to the Holy Spirit and started listening to the enemy – no, that might bruise his self-esteem and how can Peter go on to be pope if his self-esteem is damaged?

Maybe the best argument against sentimental God is the existence of free will: sentimental God wouldn’t allow Adam & Eve to fall, taking the species and creation with them. Sentimental God would have been amenable to Lucifer sharing His glory – He’s got enough to spare, right? No skin off God’s nose…

As much as I struggle to grasp our Very Big God, I am so grateful that He isn’t sentimental, that He is jealous and holy, just and righteous and merciful. Jesus, fully God and fully man, laying down His life on the cross for the sake of all those willing to enter into relationship with Him — what a marvel! What a miracle.

Glory to God in the highest and, on earth, peace among men and women and children with whom He is pleased.


(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 10/9/2009)

I heard some small nattering about this several months back but recently a couple of bloggers I enjoy have addressed it (The Anchoress for one and Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) so something is clearly in the air…

And what is that smell? The smell of stupid. Or maybe presumption. A special new Bible for conservatives– sheesh!

Now I understand the impulse. There are times when I hear some agenda-driven bizarre fruit loop translation and I cringe and think, “God help ‘em, they don’t know what they’re doing. And please protect naive people from being taken in.” But I’m sorry, one doesn’t counter error by compounding the error. God is big, we are small, none of us grasp Him fully.

Others have referenced Jesus rebuking Peter (“Get thee behind me, Satan!” Matthew 16:21-26, particularly interesting as it immediately follows Peter’s great confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” when Jesus affirms that Peter has heard directly from the Holy Spirit) as an example of well-meaning humanity attempting to impose a human agenda upon God. But Joshua 5 springs to mind for me. Let me set the scene:

Moses (along with all the rebellious & unbelieving generation he so faithfully lead) has died in the wilderness and Joshua has just crossed over the river Jordan with this new generation, raised in the wilderness and accustomed to living by faith. Joshua is walking near Jericho on the eve of that famous event and he runs into an impressive man with a drawn sword and Joshua asks, “are you for us or for our enemies?”

I think this is a Christophany (because, if this isn’t God in human form, there’s a real problem with verse 5:15) and when you consider that God Himself selected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the patriarchs of His (chosen, set apart, holy, peculiar) people Israel, that God Himself pushed Moses into returning to Egypt, confronting Pharaoh, leading the former-family-now-nation into the wilderness and gave him the Torah – well, can there be any doubt? Of course God is on the side of Israel!

But wait– what does this mighty warrior say in response to the question, “are you for us or for our enemies?”

The answer is, “Neither. But as captain (ruler, chief, general) of the host of the LORD I have come—”

In other words, “it’s not MY place to be on your side but your place to be on MY side.”

And Joshua falls on his face (because he recognizes Power and Authority when it stares him in the face) and asks, “what does my Lord wish to say to Your servant?” — as complete a reversal as you’re ever likely to see.

I’m pretty aware of this and I still find I have to regularly stop and repent for presuming that Jesus will line up with me and then ask for help from Him, that I might drop my agenda and line up with His word and will. So the idea of going through the Bible, which I believe is God-breathed, and cherry picking concepts to spin one way or another literally terrifies me. It strikes me as presumptuous, dangerous, and very very dumb.

Sometimes You Can’t Believe Your Eyes

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 9/30/2009)

A liberal friend of mine posted a video on her Facebook page that gathered a lot of outraged comments: it was this video of President Obama’s proffered hand being refused while every person shook President Medvedev’s hand as he followed behind. A tremendous sense of outrage was expressed over the rude and racist reaction of these Russians. Out of a couple of dozen comments, one person said, “that’s not what’s happening, take a closer look, Obama is introducing these people to Medvedev.”

Hmmm. I was bothered by the video because it’s looks terrible and the expression on President Obama’s face isn’t happy but somewhat resigned – but I was also intrigued by the one comment expressing another point of view. So I went seeking source material and found the original video (linked above) on YouTube rather than the Facebook page where I first saw it. And then I started looking for larger, longer versions of this meeting between world leaders. And I discovered a video referencing “the snub that wasn’t” but I was put off by the goofy soundtrack so I dug a little further and found the video without added music. Those folks who refused to shake the President’s hand? They weren’t Russians and they really hadn’t refused to shake hands: take a look. You can see that first President Medvedev introduces the American President and the Russians shake President Obama’s hand and *not* Medvedev’s. Then President Obama introduces his people to the Russian leader and they shake Medvedev’s hand.

The confusion arises from President Obama using his right hand to indicate an individual, extending it partly across his body, rather than his left hand, and the angle of the camera foreshortens the distance between President Obama and the person(s) he introduces.

So I posted a response which linked the second video and asked if the person who said, “that’s not what’s happening” might be right. A bunch more people comment about how awful & racist those (Russians) are and I figured that most of them didn’t read the comments which preceded their own. Another woman posts a link to Snopes which explains the confusion in detail and presents both videos as well (I felt vindicated; the materials I found were the same ones that Snopes referenced). But even after the clarification, some people refused to believe that their President was NOT suffering a racially-based snub at the hands of the Russians.

Happily my friend put up the link to Snopes and said, “I’ve been had!” and apologized for not doing her own research to confirm what was going on; she also took down the original video and the long comment thread (which I wish she’d left up; it was instructive). But I don’t think she did anything wrong in the first place: she saw a video and took it at face value – then, when she had more information, she posted a correction – what more could one possibly ask? Not everyone has the time or inclination to go sleuthing before posting; what’s important is the willingness to let go of the error and embrace reality.

But don’t you just love those guards who open the doors at the beginning of the second video?!

note: original you-tube links are no longer working but here is a similar video of news coverage from Canada.

Friday, May 27, 2016

We Got More Numbers Than You, Neener, neener!

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 9/19/2009)

There’s a political jockeying over numbers of participants at rallies & events – who knew?! *I* didn’t know (stop laughing at me; it’s not nice) (actually, go right a head and laugh, I’m laughing myself) until a friend posted a link on Facebook and I responded with a link and she countered with better data. So in poked around and found out it really was better data and that lead me to learning a whole bunch of interesting stuff about demonstrations and rallies and events held in Washington D.C.

First, the National Park Service used to provide official crowd estimates but no longer, not since Louis Farrakhan threatened to sue them over their estimate of 400,000 attendees at his Million Man March. This lead Farrakhan to approach Dr. Farouk El-Baz of Boston University* to provide a more favorable estimate: 837,000 +/- 20% (20% seems like a large margin of error but maybe that’s standard; remains to be seen). Check out Boston University’s account.

Second, there were lots of excited estimates of how many people would attend the inauguration of President Obama during the last few months of 2008. These ranged from 2 million to 5 million persons. The early estimate of the size of the crowd on January 20, 2009, was 1.8 million which was later halved (no longer online).

Third, Jane’s (the intel source) does IHS satellite analysis of such crowds and they estimated the PBHO inauguration crowd as 1.031 million and 1.411 million people present (not including the 240,000 ticket holders presumed present – why they aren’t included in the visual count, I don’t know). There’s an interesting article from a St. Louis newspaper (no longer online) which cites the L.A. Times article linked above (no longer online) as well as other sources.

Fourth, people use these estimates to support their position or discredit the opposing position. That’s the part that hadn’t occurred to me. Actually, the fact that estimates have such massive fluctuations hadn’t occurred to me, either. It would be instructive to notice when various media outlets consistently use low-ball estimates for one group and higher estimates for another.

That’s actually the part that’s most weird to me: I can’t understand wanting bad data or being comforted by bad data. I have no problem that we have different views and opinions — that goes with being human and it’s always helpful to me to hear a different POV — it makes me consider my position: is this a position I hold out of habit? Have the facts on the ground changed? Is my philosophical underpinning sound?

So I don’t understand why anyone would keep bad data (e.g. the “Dan Barna of NPS” quotes re: 9/12 protest march which actually referred to the PBHO inauguration) up on their website without updating it or correcting it as soon as reasonably possible. To me, that impacts the credibility of the source because either they don’t care about the real facts, wherever the bad data originated, or they’re not responding to challenges or they’re not sufficiently connected with what’s “out there” (in which case, what kind of source are they?!). I dig around a little but almost everything I find is on the first or second page of my searches; I’ll refine my searches when I discover that I’ve aimed badly (!!) but I’m not searching by ideology. Here’s a blog which reports a lot of varying data, appropriately linked, and I appreciate that (check out the Gormogons link; it’s very entertaining, especially after the UPDATE).

Sometimes it’s really hard to tell what’s going on in real time and I think it’s inappropriate to accuse folks of lying when in fact they may simply be passing along reportage “in the moment” which later changes. Websites change, stories get updated, numbers are adjusted one way or the other. MSNBC made a pretty good on-site report and their local folks estimated hundreds of thousands.

Perhaps the whole “mine’s bigger than yours” contest should be seen as essentially adolescent in nature – and yet in a democratic society, numbers do matter. If you can marginalize the “other side” by dismissing their events as fringe, well…

And I presume goodwill on the part of others, at least until I discover someone is playing fast & loose or holds a very different view regarding the importance of accuracy in data. So – thanks for being my friend! And thanks for not laughing too loud.

You can stop sniggering now…

*Throughout his career, Dr. El-Baz has succeeded in conveying the excitement of scientific research and the importance of using advanced technology. One of his efforts resolved the 1995 controversy about the crowd size in Washington DC’s “Million Man March”. He estimated the number of participants in the march using the same computer techniques applied to counting sand dunes in the desert. From Boston University’s webpage on Dr. El-Baz Farouk.

Memorial Day

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 5/25/2009)

I published the poem below at BigBlondeBlog more than a year ago but it’s appropriate to remember my father and honor him as a veteran of World War II – he was the radio operator on a B-24; they were the lead crew, flying bombing missions over Germany. Happily he survived the war, unlike so many of his generation.

He didn’t talk about his war experience much when we were kids. I suppose children aren’t a good audience for war reminiscences: they lack subtlety and don’t understand ambivalence. But in the last decade or so of his life he started to open up more. I remember watching The Tuskegee Airmen with him and he told me about his good ol’ southern boy pilot and their bomb run over Berlin, how the Tuskegee Airmen were their air support, going up against the first jets, and his pilot just shut up because –racist or not– he could appreciate that the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber!

After VE Day they did a number of photographic missions; their regular pilot wasn’t available so a fighter pilot was assigned – and what a wild ride that was! An unladen B-24 has an awful lot of power and this pilot flew like he was still in a dogfight. When they landed back in England there were branches stuck in the bomb bay doors…

A Poem for My Father–

Shortly before Thanksgiving in 2007, while working with my organizer lady, I had a profound emotional experience; the next day I read in Diana Glyer’s The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community about Owen Barfield writing a poem for C.S. Lewis on the first anniversary of his death and it struck me that I should write about what happened the day before. Here is the result:

in sorting, shifting house
I came upon my dead father’s watch, a wristwatch
with large face and metal band
that marked it as of a certain time
in marking time

In my throat there caught and formed a swelling egg of grief, of loss

Brushing lightly across the well of tears
I staved them off
suppressed them as inconvenient
for I was working and not alone

Please, I pray, do not let this be a final dismissal
of his import or my gratitude

He was as large as life: expansive and wise
fixed and blindered
quick to laugh and quick to glare
too smart by half and always giving credit where perhaps little credit was due

I am his true child

I will miss him until Heaven.

November 15, 2007 © Lynn Maudlin, all rights reserved

To Bail and Succeed

(re-post from my other blog, the now-defunct Facile Nation, 12/11/2008)

I understand the dilemma for people who normally would say to GM and Chrysler (and kudos to Ford for not actually being in this equation), “sink or swim – if you’re not competitive, you’ve no one to blame but yourselves and your contracts and your choices.” But in late 2008, considering the global economic crisis, many of those market-driven folks think that America just can’t take the additional hit that these two companies would deliver, in total collapse.

But I respectfully point out that a bailout is only a bailout if it succeeds in turning these companies around. Without teeth to renegotiate the elaborate UAW contracts, all this money can do is delay the inevitable – or, worse, become the initial trickle in a massive ongoing stream of tax-payer funding to enable GM, Chrysler, and the UAW to continue “business as usual.”

Face it, the legitimate sense of outrage from the American people regarding the AIG bailout is that they did, indeed, carry on with business as usual. Junkets, salaries, bonuses – no. A company receiving a tax-payer bailout must immediately begin to operate in a different reality. Radical reduction in salaries, particularly at the top, from which the failure stems. Bonuses come back into the bail-out fund to help other companies, as needed.

Taking federal assistance needs to be painful to a company; they need to be motivated to look for every other possible alternative to dependence upon the American taxpayers because dependence on us is going to so radically change the way they do business.

Otherwise how do we succeed? How does anything turn around if we subsidize failure?